The late afternoon spring sun drifted through the immaculate windows, adding the appropriate amount of grace to the family fathering. Claudia had to hand it to Aunt Tiffany, the old lady knew how to stage family gatherings. Everything looked so casual, in this no-one-really-lives-here way usually found in magazines. The throw pillows appeared to match everything, from the carpet to the cake plate. There were two kinds of coffee (yummy and decaf) and several brands of lose tea in lovely caddies surrounding three perfect-looking cakes.
Claudia wondered why exactly Aunt Tiffany went to so much effort for her siblings and their offspring. Surely not because she liked them, that much was sure. These gatherings were tedious and boring, and Claudia would rather have seen her dentist than her family.
In the meantime, Cousin Biddy had realized her victim wasn’t listening. “Claudia, you’re being impolite!” she exclaimed.
Claudia managed to show the appropriate amount of shame. “Sorry, Bridget, what did you say?” No one called that woman Biddy to her face – not unless they wanted a public scolding and the wrath of Cousin Biddy’s Lord.
“I’ve asked you if you have seen one of the TV services by Father Gregory. I think I shall go through my tapes and send you the one on respect for one’s elders.”
“Really, I am sorry. And yes, I did watch one of his services. Last Tuesday it was, I guess.” Claudia tried to shift her weight. Her injured knee was giving her hell these days.
“Oh, that was beautiful! Don’t you think…” And Cousin Biddy drifted off on a sermon of her own.
Claudia was not a religious person, but Cousin Biddy’s elation had fueled her curiosity enough to make her switch on the TV and listen to a black-wearing guy with overbite and the largest spectacles she had seen in a long time. The sermon had been really good, however, touching on the necessity of telling people what you really feel for them. She remembered his intense voice, “Do not assume your loved ones know what you feel for them. Tell them, before it is too late. You will feel a better person for doing so. The Lord reaps each and every one of us, and wouldn’t you like to know that you are appreciated?”
Her gaze drifted through the room, following the spring sunshine from one person to the next. There was Aunt Tiffany herself, mistress of this gathering, throning at the far end of the room. Still, Claudia could hear her complaining about all the hard work she had to do “to keep this place inhabitable”, even though everyone knew she had not only one, but three Mexican girls coming over for cleaning and shouting at several times a week. One of them, in addition, had the ungrateful task of renewing Aunt Tiffany’s “natural hair color – really, I don’t know why I am so lucky, but there’s not a single gray hair on my head, and praise the Lord for that!”
Next to her, on a significantly smaller wooden chair, sat Uncle Ted, with his usual expression of adoration. The couple liked to claim that they were still feeling like newly-weds on their honeymoon, although everybody knew that Uncle Ted was a regular over at the “Parlor of Sins” and usually slept on the couch anyway.
And this couple was a good example for the whole family. Claudia hadn’t given up hope that there had been a glitch at the hospital, and that she really belonged with a different family. Her parents were in the kitchen, she knew without looking – probably pilfering goodies from Aunt Tiffany’s fridge and helping themselves to some booze. This way, they saved enough money each year for their cruise around the Caribbean, usually coming back with unhealthy tans and complaining about the bad service and lazy maids.
Then there were cousins who stole, other cousins with disturbing religious views, uncles who drank and were out of jobs, aunts earning money in less-respectable professions, … The only family member Claudia really liked was Uncle George, and he claimed having discovered that the world was pear-shaped. Every first Sunday of the month, they gathered here – had done so since Claudia was a toddler – and flaunted their shortcomings with pride based on stupidity and inbreeding. Nevertheless, looking around the room, Claudia felt a strange warm sensation welling up through her torso. Maybe it was time that she made use of what she had learned from Father Gregory.
Slowly, she came to her feet, her painful movement interrupting Cousin Biddy’s explanation of the “light of the Saints”. She tapped her faux-silver spoon against her water glass. Silence settled over the crowded room.
She opened her mouth. “Dear family.” Now she really had everybody’s attention. Her father’s head appeared in the kitchen door. He was chewing something.
Claudia cleared her throat, made a second attempt. “Dear family. You all are a bunch of disgusting, self-important, stupid inbreds. If anyone would happen to ask me where I came from, I would claim having been adopted. You annoy the hell out of me, and I hate coming here to see you.” Then she limped out of the room, leaning heavily on her cane. Her car was the last in the driveway. Carefully, she draped herself on the driver’s seat. A quick glance to the front door – no one. Maybe Aunt Tiffany had had a stroke, and they were dividing her tchotchkes among them. Claudia didn’t care. She enjoyed the silence. A smile spread over her face. Father Gregory had been right, after all.