When Christmas shows up,
first one without you, we leave your chair empty.
Mother says you would want it that way. Says the two of you had a private language, and that you told her that once.
Also, we leave your part of the tree undressed. Lower right quarter. near the base. The scent of it still strong and Mother squats into the pine.
Father says the tree looks silly, like a man in a one-legged suit. He likes to remember you his own way and hangs a postcard you sent him from sleepaway camp. Father does not like odor wafting through the room, from your naked part of the tree.
Sister doesn’t care much though. Says she’s glad you’re gone. That you always stole her boyfriends. That you were painted with evil, and how did we not see?
Mother goes back to your secret language and how you told her you were sorry. About the fire. About leaving Father almost dead on the floor that time.
That sorry seems enough, and anyway, it’s Christmas. Mother says forgive, And Father does, too.
But when we all sit down to dinner, Sister slides from her own chair into yours. Tells the room you are squashed now, even though the stink of you outsmells the glazey ham. And Mother doesn’t seem to hear, but rather carves a slice of meat, puts it on the plate in front of Sister, cuts it into bite-size chunks just the way that you would like.
Francine Witte’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, Passages North, and many others. Her books include Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) and (The Theory of Flesh.) Her latest chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) has just been published by ELJ Editions. She lives in NYC.
Photography by Kieran White