With thanks(?) to Berrien Henderson. This one is your fault!
The doublewide sat in a field littered by clumps of crabgrass, rusting tricycles, and the random husks of automobiles propped up on crumbling cinderblocks. Waylon Jennings crooned through an open window, but we could hardly hear him over the sound of our riotous laughter and exaggerated gossip. Uncle Vanya passed around a bottle of white lightning -- he drank the stuff like a baby drinks milk -- and we all took turns sipping and spitting fire. Cousin Geli -- affectionately nicknamed “Sasquatch” -- ate all the potato salad. She didn’t share any of it. That boy of hers, Tommi, jumped her -- the crazy ass fool -- and sucked bits of devilled egg and mayonnaise from the chest hair on top of the fleshy bosoms exposed by her tight hot pink halter top. Geli giggled, giggled, and giggled some more as we pulled Tommi away. I slapped him on the nose and chastised him. We decided it would be best if we cut him off -- he’d had enough for the day. We locked him in the tool shed out back, and he howled like a hound dog.
My brother, Skinhead Charlie -- so-called due to his hairstyle and not because of any ideological reasons, at least as far as I know (or his wife either for that matter; hiding it from her would be difficult indeed) -- stumbled around singing my long hair can’t cover up my redneck as loud as he could, and I laughed because the irony was totally lost on him. His wife, Clarista, and his boy, Natanyon, shook their heads in embarrassment. They looked around with apologies written on their faces. Her brown eyes met mine. I nodded to her, leaned over, and ruffled Natanyon’s overgrown knot of tight curls. I winked to Clarista to let her know it was all good, nothing we haven’t seen before, and besides, the night was just getting started. I’d met them in the city where they lived once. I spent the night in their clubs and grinded and bounced while the MC scratched records and the smell of sweet cigarillos filled the air. It was a good time, but she was wrong if she thought that that was the extent of what it means to party. That wasn’t a party. It was a good time, yes, but not a party. Our reunions are a party. If they survive, they’ll know the difference and never forget it. If, when morning rises, their sanity is left intact, they will be one of us. Yes, they’re family now, but there’s family, and then there’s family.
So, I got up and grabbed a Bud from our ancient mud-stained cooler, cracked it open, and licked the foam from my fingers. I walked over to the grill where Granny wore her finest plaid apron inscribed with the words “IF YOU SAY IT AIN‘T DONE ENOUGH, YOU CAN KISS MY ASS!” She had her own jug of moonshine. It hung from her pinky finger. She brought it up and took a big old side-sipped swig without even making the hint of a grimace. She smiled and pointed to me with the tongs she held in her other hand and asked well, what the hell you looking at, shit head? I smiled back and gave her a kiss on her wrinkled cheek. Despite the heat of the day, her skin felt cold. I said I was just coming by to check on the vittles, and she said fuck off. With a jerk of my hand I grabbed one of the ribs from the rack. It fell off the bone, tender as pudding. Granny slapped me on the back with her tongs and laughed. Then she kicked me in the ass, so I stumbled away.
And then the real festivities began. The sun dipped low in the sky. The surface of our small fishing pond shimmered in alternating bands of orange and red as the water rippled. The wind picked up and we smelled it -- the life of the party. A tentacle shot up out of the center of the water. I shouted and pointed.
The music stopped. Everyone stopped. We waited.
Uncle Vanya walked to the pond. His eyes were rolled back into his head; all we could see were the whites. He held back his neck and sang his song, a single wavering note. I heard Natanyon and Clarista ask what was going on. I would have told them it weren’t nothing to fear, but that’d be a lie, and besides, being scared is part of the fun. Uncle Vanya paid no mind to anything besides his song. We all sat in silence and listened to him. His skin began to pulsate around his ribs. It opened, just a slit, and the single note became a loud creaking croaking. The croaks emanated from his inner depths. He reached up a fist, his wiry arms covered in burly dark hairs, and thrust it into the slit. He reached around a moment -- you could see his arm moving under his skin -- and then grabbed something and pulled it free.
The catfish flipped and flopped in Uncle Vanya’s fisted hand a moment. The shell of skin that had once been Uncle Vanya collapsed in on itself. The catfish walked on its spiky fins towards the pond, but we all knew it wouldn‘t get very far. The water began to roil. Tentacles reached upwards and waved towards the dimming sky as if trying to grasp the stars that had not yet appeared. There was a thunder of applause and we hooted and hollered. Granny walked down to the pond’s edge and picked up the bloated catfish and tossed it into the water. She kicked Uncle Vanya’s shell behind her. The tentacles scooped up the worthless bag of skin and tore it apart. As the tentacles sank back down into the water, we could all hear Uncle Vanya laughing, laughing, and we laughed with him, and I was a little jealous. A selfish part of me hoped it would be me this year, or at least Granny -- lord knows she’s waited around long enough -- but we love each other, and celebrate for each other, and don’t hold no grudges. I sipped Vanya’s white lightning and said cheers under my breath, and I knew he heard me. They all heard me, all my relations, and sometimes, when I’m fishing, I can hear them down there. They’re always partying whether we're here for the reunion or not. For them, the party never ends.
Once Vanya was gone, and the ripples faded into a smooth glassy surface which reflected the rising moon, we all turned away. Skinhead Charlie pulled out his banjo and played his twangy version of David Bowie’s Let's Dance. I did as the song asked and danced with Clarista -- her eyes were wide with fear, or maybe wonder, but glossed over by confusion -- and I told Natanyon to cheer up, to stop crying.
It was a party, after all.
*No, not really. Just goofing off. My family is actually much weirder than this one.