“From East to West: a Christmas Story,” by Natasha Moni

Dec 12th, 2012 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

Day 1: My Brother is Pelting Me with Hershey’s Kisses

Each festive chocolate pulled from the candy dish is swung over the living room planter en route for my head, trunk, or at least a limb.  With the older sibling advantage, his aim is precise.  For years he has practiced his technique, has mastered the maneuver of recon, sweeping up each fallen missile to prevent a return attack.  One eye on the target, one eye scanning the carpet.  His arms and legs, a unified machine with one purpose: to annoy.

He has learned to lurk behind the overgrown dieffenbachia, the finicky fichus, allowing his hair to blend below the level of dirt.  A steady hurl of Christmas against a darting body.  An occasional miss, snags Pops who’s home from work, navigating his way upstairs behind an armful of tins with homemade goodies from his patients.

I’d like to say that we’re seven and eight, but more like twenty-six and twenty-five or twenty-seven and twenty-six.  We regress.

My friends in the Pacific NW explain this as they leaf through their library books, borrowed with the purpose of unlatching their family dynamics.  We chat over morning coffee, afternoon coffee, after dinner coffee.   We take turns playing Psychologist, comparing notes.  I silently lament them not being here, to document my brother           the budding case study.

And though, I tell myself not to give in, not to turn around and dive belly into the carpet, I know it is only a matter of time till the Kisses fly toward his head (which in my mind is a far larger target).

Day 2: There is no day two, only years strung together like a popcorn rosary. 

Day 3: A Mechanical Pencil Enters My Brother’s Hand

I’m certain he would tell you it was my fault.  Sure, the pencil started out in my grip.  But  truth is far more absurd than fiction.  Yes, there was a border crossing and a sliver of graphite immigrated into my brother’s palm.  I’d like to encourage him to embrace the opportunity to host a foreigner, remember our own first-generation roots.  Or at least consider it a complimentary piercing, one that he argues, will earn him attention at airport security.  But my RN mother agrees he’ll survive and we return to our holiday programming.

Day 4: My Brother Tries To Liberate My Eyes

I return from the hospital, swaddled in a blanket, I imagine.  I wouldn’t know, I’ve just been born and apparently I’m not one of those individuals who recalls the agony of leaving my mother’s womb.  The forceps.  The cold slap into the new world of Hackensack, New Jersey.

My adoring brother, age 1 yr., 1 wk. and a few days, awaits me in the crib.  Ma sets me down in his wobbly lap and my brother attempts to pluck my eyeballs from their sockets like a child in a nursery rhyme plucking plums from a pie.  He thought you were a doll, my Ma later recalls and laughs.

Day 5: Time is like ice-skating with heated blades, at some point the tracks will blur and merge.  It is therefore important to never stop and ask your brother for directions or to tell it as it really happened.

Day 6: In our mother’s kitchen, we perform the cupping ceremony.

Our childhood persistence of eating frosted cereal for weeks, for proofs of purchase, has finally paid off beyond its primary benefits.  I retrieve the Tony the Tiger tablespoon from the silverware drawer.  I imagine it has been dormant, except for our annual Christmas visits.

There is only enough coffee for two.  Two family members have been eliminated on the basis of not being devoted enough (read: obsessive) about their coffee-drinking habits.  I’d like to think that my three and a half years of living circa Seattle has given me equal footing with my Dutch born mother.  Seattle, being the number one coffee-consuming per capita city in the nation against The Netherlands: the number one coffee-consuming per capita country in the world.  My mother, the last remaining competition for me, chooses what only a mother could choose: self-elimination.  And my brother begins to heat the water to below a boil.

In a matter of minutes, 2-3 tablespoons of four different roasts of coffee will be steeped in 6oz. of water in four different glasses.  Each glass will be stirred once and allowed to form a crust of coarse coffee grinds.  Once the timer chimes, we will begin the cupping.  My brother instructs me on cupping etiquette:

1. Break the coffee crust with the side of the spoon and collect one-spoonful of muddy liquid.
2. Slurp. Yes, slurp the liquid violently and swish it around a clean palate, then spit the liquid into the designated spittoon (for our purposes, two plastic party cups).
3. Decipher the coffee code.  Hints of berry? Chocolate? Oak?  Match the coffee descriptions, neatly printed out to their tastes.
4. Cleanse your palate and begin again with mystery coffee #2.
5. Repeat until completed.

My brother is not prepared for the amateur.  I will later be told that he has never witnessed such a thing, that I have been banned from further cupping.  And surely, I will not cry but go screaming through the day, “I’ve been banned from cupping” a smirk upon my face.

Minutes preceding the event, I can feel some arrhythmia.  My father, the Cardiologist, is somewhere on hand.  I have never even done a wine tasting and have been known to prefer $5 bottles of white to their drier, more expensive counterparts.  I am not sure I believe in bouquets other than the ones that yield tulips.

While my brother and I collect our first samples of coffee as others might collect freshwater samples from a pond, we worship the murky liquid on the altars of our tongues.  Or rather, he does as I gag.  There is coffee crust, a.k.a. grounds sticking to my teeth and each sample yields the same taste, no matter how violently I slurp and swish.

We laugh at the distinctions as my brother genuinely labels this one as earthy, the other with an undertone of blackberry. And as we laugh, my peripheral vision blurs till the two spittoons look like one and my hand brushes against them, setting the contents loose.

What looks to be primordial soup, is jiggling along the countertop toward my brother who backs away in disbelief, or what a passerby might improperly label as disgust.

Day 7: We are not Chinese, but we bow to the proverb as sibling credo.

I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.

I do and I understand.             —
Chinese proverb


Defenestration-Natasha MoniNatasha Moni was born in the North, raised in the South, and currently resides in the Pacific Northwest. Her fiction, essays, poetry, and book reviews are regularly published in journals including: Fourteen Hills, Rattle, The Pedestal Magazine, Indiana Review, and Verse. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best of the Web.

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