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Jason Gusmann has not received any gifts yet
(an interpretation of the song by Jonathan Fire*Eater)
All the best families are plagued by addiction and insanity. My sister walked up to me the length of one of those seemingly endless red-lined hallways in my parents' home with her hands cupped like a child. She smiled and presented me with a smallish clay bowl with a mess of ashes and cigarettes within, covered with plastic cling wrap. As she gave it to me she pressed my hands around it, as if to accentuate its importance. "This is the birthday ashtray," she said, emphasizing the last two words before releasing it into my grasp. Soon afterward the men from the hospital came down that red-lined hallway, placed their hands on her smiling shoulders and took her away.
I didn't think much of the ashtray at the time but later that night I took off the cling wrap and looked at the contents more closely. One cigarette stood out, one long white thin cigarette with a thick ring of cherry red lipstick around it. Then it all came back - my younger brother's 21st birthday party, almost five years ago now. He is on a beach chair by the side of the pool wearing a pink bathing cap, camping it up for the camera. She sits on his lap, all legs, a model of some sort wearing a wig of silver curls that obscures her eyes. It was the last I saw of him. She is smoking a long thin cigarette. Her lipstick is cherry red.
I fly from the East coast to California for a record company Christmas party and get pretty drunk. I am staying in one of the older hotels in Hollywood and I see those lips everywhere, on every billboard, every magazine. Cherry red kisses, cherry red pouts. I start looking through the Hollywood directory for modeling agencies when the phone goes off in my hand. It's him. He proceeds to tell me he is in the desert and now that night is coming on it's starting again. I ask him where he's been the last five years as I sink to the floor. He tells me that once he met her he has never left her. And then he tells me about the fangs and the claws, the fangs smeared with cherry red. I ask him to describe his surroundings and it sounds like a motel, like one I'd been in before, the one with the green walls. I tell him to lock his door and stop answering the phone and I'll be on the next flight out, noon the next day at the latest. He asks why I can’t drive out. I smile and say because I am drunk. He laughs and then he starts to cry. The phone goes dead.
I am sad and sorry as I drift into sleep. My sister, my brother, both fallen to the curses of our family. I can only tell them in my weakest moments that I too know the fangs, and the claws, and the smiling shoulders. It's time to consider my options. Perhaps I'll sell everything and secretly begin to live underground - of course, only after the death of a long-lost relative in a strange, green-walled motel.