Blame it on the Wind Chill

Chapter 6

There’s a creepy painting in the foyer. I awkwardly avoid eye contact with the depressed Dumbo rubbing against a stick in the desert as I take off my shoes, slipping them into an empty cubicle on their sleek chrome storage system. Whoever said cubism was dead. There are a set of keys on the wooden bench that reminds me of a piece of a beach dock. That’s probably because it is; Uncle Eric loves stealing wood from Mother Nature and turning them into three weeks of solitude in the woodshop. I flick them and snatch them out of midair, the grooves pressing into my hand. I smile to myself. I’ll pocket it for now.

“Nice of you to join us,” says Aunt Helen, sitting at the table with a mug of espresso. Uncle Eric sits opposite reading the sports section, chuckling every so once in a while at Cathal Kelly’s latest anecdote about the shameful home team. Their table is set with a light checkerboard tablecloth. On it is a strategically placed arrangement of Aunt Jemima’s pancakes, expired Kraft Dinner, tin of Snausages that Uncle Eric keeps munching on unsuspectingly, and cheap green tea from the Asian store with pink little Sweet’n Lows on the side. Personally, what’s so sweet about type 2 diabetes?

It’s also beyond me why anyone would paint a kitchen yellow. A historical landmark of where I used to eat fruit loops is now a fully committed lemony hell, a shade reminiscent of grandpa’s teeth before he got falsies. My question is what was wrong with the old crisp white walls and geometric patterns on the ceiling? Sometimes when we inhaled too much Glade due to one of Aunt Helen’s OCD breakouts, it’d feel like we were under a kaleidoscope sky. On other days, when Uncle Ben stayed over, we’d lose him completely against the wall. It’s his fault for having an adhesion to coloured pyjamas and sun. I suppose they finally decided to paint over the years worth of obscene graffiti and elephant doodles. My cousin Tim was always obsessed with them. We don’t know what happened to him.

“Well, you seem cheery this morning,” she says, smiling a warm I-sponsor-underprivileged-children smile. I hop onto the marble countertop and start playing with the water vapour on the window. Water: vital for survival, not bad for stick drawings.

“What do you mean?” I reach for a sparkly clean mug with a jolly HO-HO-HO and start making some hot chocolate. I need to get them some plain mugs for Christmas, though I could see the irony in that. Don't tell me those are angel shot glasses beside the microwave. Where are they shopping, the North Pole? I know it’s a local flight, but have some self control please.

“Oh come on. Bounce in your step, twinkle in your eye, if you weren’t so ugly I’d think you just got laid,” Uncle Eric chimes in, grinning.

I nearly choke on the hot drink scalding my tongue. “Real mature,” I tell him. “My mother thinks I’m handsome. And well, Aunt Helen married you so I’m really not that worried.” I walk over and flick him with a purple dish towel.

“Hey!” she laughs. “Don’t drag me into this. Eric, please leave him alone. You guys are worse than children.” She rolls her eyes. “So what can I make you? Hungry?”

“I’m okay.”

“Well, that’s too bad. I was thinking chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup.”

“Did I say I was starving? Cause I am.”

“That’s what I thought.”


“I love you.” A steaming plate of pancakes is set before me, drizzled with just enough maple syrup. I really like coming to Canada. Maple syrup, bacon, and ketchup chips equate to a very tasty solution. Not together, obviously.

“Lose the gaga stare, son. Your eyes are going to bust out of their sockets, and I’d hate to clean up the mess,” says Uncle Eric, but I ignore him.

“It’s great, Aunt Helen,” I mumble. “More syrup please.”

“As much as you want,” she smiles. “You’re missing out in the States.”

As much as you want,” mocks Uncle Eric. “What the fuck is that, Helen? You’re always bribing him with food and being, God-knows-why, sweet to him.” He makes a face. “Well I’m telling you in twenty years he’ll be retired, fat, and witless. Guess who’ll be laughing then? Me!”

“Stop describing yourself, uncle. And my wit will never run out. I’m like an hourglass. If I run out of new lines just flip me over and I’ll regurgitate those that I know are a hit with you.” He pretends to look annoyed, but secretly I can tell he’s amused and impressed. He always does that, start little squabbles and whatnots that don’t really transpire into anything beyond further exasperation with him. I think he likes it. He’s always been like this, so you can’t really blame this one on menopause or, er, the male equivalent of that. I was too busy blowing condoms into balloons in health class to learn anything.

“Just let me know when. There’s a nice dumpster behind those new condos.” He spreads some cream cheese onto a sesame bagel. “See this is how you eat, boy. Unlike your BFF over there, I lead by example.” Aunt Helen kicks him under the table. “What?”

There’s an awkward silence as we’re all watching each other eat. This is probably one of the only times I’ve ever had to spend significant time with just them. There were always so many other relatives around this time of year. Everyone has their own busy lives now.

I’ve never really hung out with my aunt and uncle adults. There’s just not much to talk about beyond trading compliments with one and cracking jokes with another. Our relationships are easy like that, but I don’t really know anything deep or profound about either of them. Not that I’d expect anything deep and profound anywhere in Uncle Eric. I just wish there was a pooping cousin Tom or cries of Aiden-cut-me-in-half-again to break the ice. A polar bear would also work.

“So are any of the boys coming home for Christmas?” I ask. They look at each other, then at me. “I’m going to take that as a no.”

Uncle Eric flashes me a You-think? stare. I watch as Aunt Helen wordlessly takes her mug to the sink and proceeds to scrub every last microbe from Santa’s flavour saver.

You could say it’s been a while that their whole family was together on any occasion, never mind the holiday season. I imagine that visions of kids lying around on pillows watching Coach’s Corner on Saturday nights are distant memories tucked into dusty photo albums. Aunt Helen was never this excited for a visit from me. Then again, a visit from an NHL player? Come on.

They have three sons, all grown or in Tim’s case, still waiting for puberty at eighteen. The oldest, Jared, is a domesticated man with a family in Red Deer that I’ve never met. I don’t recall any standout memories of our cousinship, likely because he’s much older and when you’re kids, the shunning by ageism is pretty brutal.

Next in line of succession is Blake, who fulfilled the role of the cool older brother I never had growing up. He taught me everything in his very own “playbook” and is a nice, chill dude in general. He was the guy who had all the connections and was sure we got to go to the best parties when I came to town. He was the one with a stocked phone, the coveted LG Chocolate with numbers of everyone from the hottest chicks to the lovely grandmas at the Knitting Society. Party at Fabric Land, call ‘em up. He’s the type of dude that could be friends with everyone from groping babies to old guys sitting in front of TD Trust on Sunday mornings, shaking their watches.

In addition to hockey, we both loved baseball, a love uncomprehended by those strictly devoted to the puck. We were the all-around sports fans. Blake and I spent years hanging out at the ball field in the park over the hills and far away (where the Teletubbies come to play). It’s no wonder we got along so well. He’s in school so I haven’t seen him in a while, but he’s already got tickets for when we play Ottawa, so as long as I’m good by then, it should be a reunion to look forward to. I pat their wooden table. I’ve got my superstitions.

If Cabbie ever wanted to do another special on bromance, he need not look any further than Tim and I. We’re practically the same age, have the same taste in girls, and like the same sport, which makes up approximately 90% of our conversations. I’ll never forget when he decided to defer his admission to play university hockey to embark on an eight month stay in Kenya for a charity project.

“It’s my only opportunity to see the world,” he had told me. “I picture my life, five, ten years from now and if I don’t take this chance now, I’ll just do the school thing, get married”—he had a girlfriend at the time, whom he conveniently decided to break up with the next day—“have children and then what? I’m not like you; I don’t have a career panned out. Until then, I have to do what I have to do.”

“Oh fuck,” I said. “Don’t tell me this is one of those self actualization—have you been watching The Buried Life? Look, I respect your decision, but you’re good at plenty of things, Tim. You have better alcohol tolerance than anyone I know, you're the champ of Chubby Bunny, and you can grill a mean fillet.”

Despite my desperate persuasion, he knew his mind was set. A week later he found the courage to confront his father.

“Let me get this straight, you’re going to live in a shit hole for a year and you want money to bring your dog with you? Let’s put aside everything else, which, you remind me, to give you hell for later. You’re going to Africa, dumbass. What do you think they’re gonna do, shower your puppy with frankincense and myrrh? They’re gonna eat that motherfucker, that’s what. And anyways, I thought we agreed you pay for your own bitch. I’m an aging baby boomer with a shit pension, what do you want?

“You want me to visit you so I can see the animals? Fuck me, son. The only animals I need to see are penguins, buffalos, coyotes, sharks, panthers, and Raffi Torres. You know what, go screw an elephant, I don’t give a shit. Conversation over. Father out.”

“Sorry. Can I be excused?” I ask, returning to reality. It’s not hard to tell this breakfast is over.

“Yes, go do your business. Garage. 11:30.”

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Another filler...I've been busy and y'know....*comments & subs make me update faster :)*