Tomorrow’s the sales-contract deadline, but today’s immediate question is whether Joshua and I want to show up for Rich’s Christmas party. Three of my four brothers and one of my two sisters — along with in-laws and cousins — will fill this house for most of the afternoon and evening.

An hour before the party begins, Joshua and I leave. “Errands,” we tell Rich. We don’t really have errands. We just don’t want to face all those people. At least, I don’t.

“We’ll go over to Charles Street and hang out,” Joshua says. “I want to get a feel for the street, anyway.”

As we sit on the front steps of the Charles Street house, a skinny black cat with a long thin tail crosses the street and climbs the steps, looking at both of us. Then she goes up to Joshua. He pets her. She makes herself comfortable just behind us, wrapping her tail about her.

“That’s a good sign,” Joshua says. “I like cats.”

The next-door neighbor, who looks to be in his early thirties, comes onto his porch, puts on blue rubber gloves, and is about to clean his porch furniture. We introduce ourselves. His name is Kelly.

“Is this neighborhood quiet?” Joshua asks him.

“I thought maybe it wouldn’t be because of the corner bar that’s really popular with younger people, but it is. I’ve never had trouble parking, either. There’s always a space.”

“Does your house have an attic or a basement?” Joshua asks.

We know Kelly paid nearly sixty thousand more for his house than Joshua will pay for this one — if he buys it — and the houses, from the outside, are virtual twins.

“I have a hatch with pull-down steps leading to the attic,” Kelly says. “It’s unfinished and so is the basement, which I use for storage. You have steps to your attic, don’t you?”

Joshua nods. Kelly wishes us well, the cat leaves, and Joshua and I stand up, too. We walk to the little red car.

“Do you want to head back to Richie’s?” he asks. “The party’s still going on.”

My mouth is dry. I feel confused. I don’t know whether to go or not to go.

“Let’s drive around a little,” I say.

“You’ve always avoided your relatives, ever since I was little.”

“I know. I’ve avoided a lot in my life.”

We finally arrive at Rich’s. The family is gathered in the living room, playing a game involving the Christmas presents; they’re stealing them from one another. I can make no sense of this. They’re smiling, laughing. They seem to be having a good time.

“Have you eaten?” Rhonda, my sister-in-law, asks. “There’s turkey and a raw-vegetable plate and fruit salad. I made bourbon balls, too. You like bourbon balls.”

I go to the kitchen, pick up a paper plate, put a bourbon ball next to a slice of turkey, then add a few raw carrots. I bite into the bourbon ball. It’s so sweet and whiskey-strong. I take a bite of turkey, then dump it all into the trash.

Am I crazy? I can’t connect with any of this. I am so out of it. And what to do with Charles Street?



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My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 3-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.