Chapter 5 - Ech Weiss Ein Lieblich Engelspiel (I Know A Lovely Angel Game)

ANNA

 

"......how very.....spiritual....."

I held up the Barbie, dressed in what I assumed was once a white (now off-white and a little moth-eaten) robe, tied at the waist with a piece of fraying ribbon, with wings made out of wire and a pair of white pantyhose.

".....well, we were trying to make a statement about the commercialisation of Christmas...."

"....how very political activist of you....."

"....that's me, Taylor Hanson - political activist......"

"....more like Taylor Hanson - juvenile delinquent who stole his sister's Barbie and held it hostage on the top of the Christmas Tree.....I know you all too well....."

"....well.......it was Zac's idea....."

"......sure.......like that sweater you're wearing today was Zac's idea......? What did he do, hold you at gunpoint and growl 'the fluffy orange sweater - or the lego castle gets it !!'.......?"

I put the Barbie Angel back in the box and started picking the bits of lint off the sleeve of my sweater.

Mother Nature's second cousin removed, or whomever it was that was currently in charge of Oklahoman weather (probably the equivalent of one of those badly trained substitute teachers), had finally recognised her duty for winter and started to send down some vaguely cool weather. Well, sweater weather anyway.

".....so, what are you doing Christmas Day, An.....?"

".....apparently what I've done every Christmas since I was a zygote.....eat pie, go to church, watch 'It's A Wonderful Life' and listen to mom retell stories about her attractive youthful days to the soothing refrain of Boney M Christmas songs.....then I go to bed and dream about what it would be like to actually have family that crowded the house for a whole day that all tell me how much I've grown over the summer and little cousins who puked the turkey and cranberry sauce they ate for lunch on the new and very ugly sweater my grandmother knitted me in lurid yellow that I felt obliged to wear, and that even though they all annoyed me at the time I'd actually had fun on Christmas......instead of the actual reality of my very pathetic holiday existence....."

".......so come here for Christmas......."

"....excuse me....?"

"....I said come here for Christmas...."

".....as much as the thought of my mother's uninterrupted company for an entire day alarms me, I'm not about to leave my only relative to her own devices on Christmas Day.......who knows how much pie we'll have by the time I get home......"

".....so bring her along....."

"....we are not gatecrashing your Christmas, Taylor.....go back to sniffing those mothballs, although I'm sure they're affecting your grip on reality...."

 

(cut to Christmas Day)

 

Strangely enough, after this conversation, my mother and I found ourselves at the Hanson residence on Christmas Day.

Never before in my life have I seen so much food. And so many varieties of potato gratin. Mrs Hanson had warned me about the potato gratin. She was the only Hanson wife that refused to make it. I saw her point after that day. The world really didn't need anymore potato gratin.

Mom brought pie. Cherry and Pumpkin to be exact. I managed to avoid eating any, which is why I'm still alive today.

It seems that the Hanson gene pool was wide and probably at the top of the natural selection ladder in this social, media obsessed world of ours. You couldn't get more adapted to that than blonde hair, slender figures and stunning eyes of varied spectacular colours.

Anyway, if I thought there was a huge amount of food, it was nothing compared to.....relatives. Oy. Cousins of all sizes and degrees of loudness. Aunts with the immense capacity to 'ooh' and 'ahh' and pinch cheeks and tell you how tall you'd gotten over the summer (just as I'd predicted). Uncles who preferred to hide in the lounge and converse about the football or ice hockey scores.

".....and who's this now, Tay......?"

She had the broad accent of someone who'd lived in rural Minnesota much too long for the safety of their mental health.

"....this is Anna, Aunt Julie......."

".....lovely to meet you, Anna......you have gorgeous hair, honey, you should really think about maybe laye----"

This was......the Hairdresser aunt.

Taylor rested his hand on her shoulder, with a concerned look on his face "....Aunt Julie, it's the holidays, you really should relax and not think about work....."

".....true, honey, true.......well, I think I should try some of your Aunt Cassie's potato gratin.....would you two like any....?"

"....we'll get some later, Aunt Julie....."

"...okay then...I'll see you two later....."

".....I think we should go outside......"

"....race you.....?"

 

(cut to frosty outdoors. Tulsa had managed to snow for once - yes, Mother Nature's second cousin removed finally got her act together.)

 

I exhaled, watching my breath condense in a white cloud. I had this complete urge to start chuffing like a train like I used to do in Winter when I was three.

But I controlled myself.

Taylor, however, didn't.

"....chugga, chugga....chugga, chugga....."

".....you are too weird....."

"....don't give me that crap, you were dying to do it...."

"....well, that might be so....but I have some propriety left...." I replied primly.

".....propriety my ass....."

With that he leapt on me, knocking me to the snow covered ground.

".....HEY.......!! Get off me you big OAF......!!"

"....I'm an oaf now am I......?!"

He smushed a snowball into my face.

".....yesh, and OAF....." I struggled to speak coherantly with the mouthful of snow my face had just been presented with.

"....but a damn good-looking oaf if you ever saw one, right.....?"

He held a mutant snowball in his mittened hand menacingly.

Well as menacing as Taylor Hanson with pink cheeks in a huge yellow woolly sweater and mittens could be.

".....damn good looking oaf......." I repeated.

"....see, that's all they need.....some good old fashioned discipline...." He directed that comment to some invisible forum for the males of the world, before sitting up rather awkwardly.

"....I'll give you discipline, damn it....." I ditched a handful of snow at his head, hoisting myself up and taking off for the mock 'forest' of Kensington Estate "........that was for women's liberationists the world over....." I yelled over my shoulder at the yellow blob just standing up dazedly.

All of a sudden, after an eternity of staggering across the five inches of snow, I think he did a leaping tackle and I was brought down by the legs.

He then sat triumphantly down on my stomach.

"....do you mind.....?"

"....no.....I don't mind.......they should start manufacturing you as a new type of chair...."

He wriggled his ass around, prodding my stomach.

"....I'm not a Laura Ashley homeware, can you kindly remove yourself from my abdomen....?"

"....oops....my mistake...." he covered his mouth in mock astonishment, but stood up nevertheless and offered me his hand.

".....I'm fine thankyou....." I said snottily, pushing myself up and brushing the snow from my coat. Actually most of it slid off my coat considering it was leather.

See, that's what was keeping Taylor and I together - our common love for leather clothing.

We trudged to the lake in the centre of the estate. We could have been in Connecticut for Christ's sake, it was so homogenised, planned living.

".....if I have to live here more than three years I'm going to end up with an accountant husband, 2.5 kids and a teacher's job, making decoupage on my weekends and holding facial nights with the other moms down the street....."

"....you're going to have half a kid.....?"

"....it's a figure of speech, Taylor....."

"....stick with me and you'll have seven or eight whole ones...." he nudged me in the side, grinning.

"...I have no doubt that you're a procreating machine, Taylor....but my life's aspirations are somewhat more than living in a semi-rural homestead in the outskirts of Tulsa making multiple lunches for my brood....."

"....so what do you want to do then....? You've never told me...."

"....sorry, what with knowing you a week and a half I completely forgot to hand you a copy of my autobiography to get you up-to-date on my life thus far....."

"....we'll do a swap, 'Totally Taylor' for 'Anna McLaren's Life Thus Far'......."

"....it's a deal...."

We shook mittens.

"....so what exactly do you want to do....?"

"....the Nobel Prize wouldn't be bad......"

"....uh, realistically....."

"...I am speaking realistically....."

He looked at me with that eyebrow raised.

".....okay......I was thinking engineering at college until I'm twenty, then maybe build the eighth wonder of the world....then I'll retire from that, play trumpet in some mildly successful jazz band in New Orleans until I can't pay the mortgage with the salary I'm getting....then I'll open a resturant in, say, New York, which will do brilliantly well and I'll hand that over to my daughter, who'll then hand it to hers.....and then I'll retire somewhere, other than Florida, and do a little macrame and gardening, create a new type of hybrid daffodil, and then die peacefully and without regret.....preferably in my sleep, but you know, I'm open to options there....."

"....nice....."

"....how about you.....?"

"....do music for the rest of my life.....fall in love.....have a big family.....lots of kids......you know.......stuff...."

"....oh.....'stuff' ......" I grinned ".....yeah, 'stuff' sounds good....."

We grinned at each other.

Somehow, being part of his 'stuff' didn't seem at all bad an option. Actually, I probably would have begged him to be part of his 'stuff' if I wasn't a lot more stubborn and proud (and non-delusional) than I was.

".....we should go back in, they're starting carols soon....."

".....sure....."

We stood up.

"....Taylor......"

"....yeah.....?"

"....thankyou....."

".......for what.......?"

"......for 'stuff'......"

He smiled.

"....you're welcome........Merry Christmas Anna...."

"....Merry Christmas Taylor....."

We hugged - a bundle of multicoloured wool and leather - and then meandered back to the house, where tone deaf carollers were waiting to be heard.

On second thought there wasn't much chance of tone deafness in the family. Silly me.

 

ZAC

 

Ooh. Is it just me or are those twinkle lights a whole lot brighter?

Man, they were worse than Tay's evil eyes. And they can burn, lemme tell you.

I stumbled towards the coat closet for some eye relief.

Why do I keep bashing into walls? Hm. Maybe the walls are bashing into me. Ha! Never thought of that happening did ya?

I yanked the door handle open and fell into the closet.

"....oh....hey there An.....whas'up.....?"

"....did you just say 'whas'up'......?"

"....ge'down wit'ch-your bad self......."

"........another white boy 2Pac.....just what the world needs......" she looked at me ".....have you been getting into that egg nog, Zac......?"

"....nope....." I looked around the closet innocently.

"....you're a dork....." she giggled.

I giggled.

"....so whatcha doin' in the closet, An.....?"

"....just checking out the coats....."

".....that's EZ-ACTLY what I thought....."

That wasn't that funny, but I'll laugh anyway. I like to laugh.

"....are you going to puke on me Zac.....?"

".....nope......"

"......are you sure......?"

".....uh, yeeeeeeeah......"

"....you're sounding real sure about that....."

"....uh, An......my stomach's feelin' just a le-e-e-e-etle queasy right now......"

"....I think we should go to the bathroom, what do you say....?"

".....yep......bathroom's a damn good idea....."

Ooh. I'm gonna hurl.

 

TAYLOR

 

Anna was lying face up and had her limbs stuck out around her body in like a star shaped position on the rug in the family room.

"...An....you okay.....?"

She was looking the same colour as her sweater - green.

".......actually, I'm not feeling too hot......" she paused "....I think I ate some cheesecake cleverly disguised as potato gratin....."

"....yeah, that would be Auntie Cass' potato gratin surprise.....looks like a cheesecake, but surprise, it's potato gratin....."

".....your family really needs to find some new vegetables....."

"......probably, but it's like telling the Amish about computers......."

"....you know the Amish have a 1 in 14 chance of having Ellis-van Creveld syndrome in comparison to the normal 1 in 1000 chance....?" she paused thoughtfully "....that didn't actually come out of my mouth did it.....?"

"....I'm afraid so.......but I'm sure the next time I'm on 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' it'll stand me in good stead....."

"......you have a nice tree......" she mused, looking at the huge Christmas tree in the corner of the room.

"...it's not too bad....."

"....at least it's a real one.....we've always had a "realistic-looking" plastic one.....mom always complains about real trees making a mess on the rug and dropping all it's pine needles....."

"....that sucks......"

".....it does......"

"....let's go and get you a tree then....."

"......what.......?"

".....a tree......we'll get you a real Christmas Tree....."

"....Taylor, where are you going to find a real Christmas Tree on Christmas Day at 11:30pm......."

"......at a Christmas Tree seller apparently......"

"....which of course would bother to be open to cater to your every whim....."

".......look, are you going to quit making an issue out of every suggestion I make and haul ass to that little car out there so I can get you a damn tree for Christmas........?!"

She stood up and glared at me with her hands on her hips.

"....YES....."

.

Chapter 6 - 'Hey There, Georgie Girl'

DIANA

 

"....hi Anna...."

I waved at our young next-door neighbour and my son's 'girlfriend'. Girlfriend. It was almost unbelievable - five days and they had a classifiable relationship. They all move so fast nowadays. I remember Walker and I courted for what seemed like a decade before our first kiss.

Well, at least Taylor had chosen a nice girl (or so it seemed, and I like to pride myself on character judgement). My eldest, Isaac hasn't exactly been the best judge of relationship material thus far. It seemed a little strange to me since Isaac was always the unsaid leader of my bunch and knew just how to do things right with little guidance from Walker and I. Taylor on the other hand was always the dreamer getting his hands into everything and making trouble. And then of course there were Zac and Mackie, both a law on to themselves. The girls were a breeze compared to those four. Except for Avie who, at eight years of age, was exhibiting all the signs of becoming a female Zac.

She looked up from the mailbox and smiled broadly

"....oh, hi Mrs Hanson........I see baby hasn't yet decided to grace us with her presence....."

"......no....." I smiled ".....somehow I get the impression she won't be a limelight baby.....or maybe there's actually a medical explanation for her lack of punctuality..."

"....probably, but I doubt it's as interesting as making up your own theories......I take it you're not considering Zac's name choice...."

"....Hepzibah....? No, I can't say we are......" I laughed, then paused for a moment "...honey, you wouldn't be up for a shopping excursion would you....?"

".....well, at least this way I didn't have to hide myself in the trunk of your car to come along...."

"...great.........the rest of my so-called family seem to have abandoned me in my time of pregnant need...."

"......you should talk to my mom on that subject, she probably heads an expert committee....." she shook her head and laughed ".....I'll just grab my bag and I'll be right back...."

"....that's fine honey....I'll just get the car started..."

 

ANNA

 

Baby Gap. I always thought it was an evil of human civilisation, but it turns out I'm just as clucky as the next girl when it comes down to yellow overalls in size 000.

"......the pink or the yellow......?" Mrs Hanson held out the two pairs of overalls in front of her indecisively "....because if I buy the pink I'm just going to have to buy that cute little top over there....but the yellow I could get away with just buying the headband....."

".......I think the yellow is the better choice....if it turns out to be a boy then you could have people exclaiming over the lovely girl you've just had, just on the 'boys are blue, girls are pink' principle....."

"...good point.....the yellow then....?"

"....the yellow...." I nodded.

She held them up again and squinted her eyes at the two as if inside the fabric was a hidden message telling her the right choice ".....it's going to be a girl though, so it really doesn't matter about the colour choice....."

"...I thought you didn't have any tests done...."

".....no, I just know.....mother's intuition....after eight you really get the knack of it....."

"....I think you'd get the knack of anything after eight times.....though childbirth isn't exactly like learning to ride a bike..."

"...you'd be surprised...."

".....so what did you think Taylor would be? Or weren't those perceptive skills honed yet by the second one....?"

"....well, I had an inkling he'd be a girl....."

"....well, it wasn't as though you were completely wrong....."

She laughed "....he's a lot more testosteroned than you'd think he is....."

".....oh, I'm sure he is.....it's just I've never met any guy who really has that much interest in clothing before...."

She grinned "....that always puzzled me as well.....Zac and Isaac would always just get me to buy their clothes for them, they'd just about do anything rather than go shopping, but Taylor would always insist on coming with me and spending at least two hours trying on everything...."

We laughed and I went back to searching the racks for baby clothes I'd have no use for until about 20 years down the track. Mrs Hanson was still deciding on the overalls.

A hand suddenly clutched my shoulder.

"....Anna, honey, I think she's trying to tell me something...." she said calmly, resting her other hand on her belly.

".....she'd rather the pink....?"

".....no, that she wants to come out...."

".....oh.....my.....God....."

"....I think I could manage to walk outside if you could get the car and pick me up from the mall doors....."

She started breathing rhythmically. Oh my. This was really happening. Someone was about to have a baby next to me.

"....sure....but I'd better get someone to help....I'm not going to leave you by yourself while I get the car, anyone could take advantage of you in your state...."

She giggled "....I could always shoot the baby out as a form of self-defence...."

I didn't think you still had a sense of humour during contractions. Maybe it was a multiple births thing.

".....as much as you're a force to be reckoned with, Mrs Hanson....I think it'd be a good idea if I got someone....."

"....that's probably a good idea, honey...."

Somehow, when she said 'shopping' I didn't think childbirth was part of the offer. Two for the price of one?

 

(cut to hospital waiting room)

 

The shrill ringing of my cell phone cut through the disinfected bustle of the hospital waiting room. You'd think that a teenager with a cell phone was a new and scary species of animal from the room of heads which turned in my direction.

This must be Taylor.

It had better be Taylor or I was going to end up being the one holding the pregnant woman's hand and pretending I knew something about la masse breathing.

".....hello....?"

"....hey Anna......what was with that message you paged me with....?"

".....besides the fact your mom is having her eighth baby right now, nothing.....!!"

"....mom's----you're at the HOSPITAL.....?!!"

Loud voices in the background (clearly distinguished as Mr Hanson's and Zac's) exclaimed things like "Diana's having the baby NOW?!!" and "See! I knew we were going to miss out on something good!"

"....no, Taylor, we're at Rex's Fried Chicken getting takeout .......of course we're at the hospital.....!!"

"...is mom okay....?"

"...she's great, a pro....then again, you would be after seven..."

"....are you okay...?"

"....fine...just a bit flustered....just get here soon...."

"....okay, we'll be right there...."

".....bye....."

"...bye..."

 

(cut to maternity ward)

 

I felt like I was in a really professional episode of ER. I was garbed out in those weird shapeless green garments and people were swimming around me in a frantic but very organised way. And they were playing music. They were playing Enya. God forbid.

Personally, I'd opt for something a little more upbeat but, you know, whatever turns pregnant women on.

Mrs Hanson was a little too relaxed about the whole thing if you ask me.

I mean, she was about to have to squeeze a live thing out of her about the size of a watermelon and.....I really don't want to think about it.

"....Mrs Hanson, I really don't think I should be in here...."

".....don't.....be silly.......Anna....."

Her words were interspersed with deep breaths, then she exhaled loudly and spoke quickly.

".....I know what's going through your head, and if you and Taylor don't work out I'm not going to be annoyed that you were here witnessing the birth of my eighth child.....I'm happy.....that....you're here......."

Ow. That's my hand. That was my hand. It might need some medical attention whenever someone's free.

".....eeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrhhhhh..........!!"

I'm going to remain celibate for the rest of my life. Heck, I'll join the convent.

".......MOM.........ANNA........!!"

".....DIANA.......!!!"

"......oh my........ew, that's disgusting......!!"

Well, Taylor, Mr Hanson and Zac had arrived (in that order), all garbed in the green attire too.

"...oh, hi honey....."

Mrs Hanson smiled - sweat stained, glowing and still huffing loudly - as Mr Hanson kissed her forehead.

"....Tay.....Zac....come around.......this way....."

"...you didn't think I was gonna stick around this end, mom, did you....?

Zac looked partly shell-shocked. I take it this was a lot of people's first birth witnessing.

"....you okay mom.....?"

Taylor leant down and planted a kiss on her cheek before Zac did the same.

"....fine......Anna's been wonderful..."

They turned around and grinned at me. I think I blushed.

"...I'm just going with the flow.......although I think the flow's starting to make me a little nauseous....."

Mrs Hanson started breathing again.

".......you'll......be...... fine......."

No, I'll be seeing my breakfast.

 

(cut to later that night with a very pink baby lying in a crib with a fuzzy layer of blonde on its head)

 

".....so what are you calling her mom.....?"

"......Georgina Anna.......Georgie for short....."

".....couldn't give her a name we couldn't shorten and stick an 'ie' on the end, could we....?"

"...isn't there a song called 'Hey There, Georgie Girl'.....?"

".....so we don't have to write one....? Whoo-hoo!"

".....she's so....small....."

"....gee....wouldn't have thought, Jess....."

"...I'm just saying...."

"....hey, I thought we were going to call her Hepzibah....!"

"...and what? Hepzie for short.....?"

"..there you go, keeps in with the 'ie' theme.....Isaackie, Taylorie, Zackie, Jessie, Avie, Mackie, Zoe, Hepzie...."

"...you are such a moron..."

"...hey, I think she smiled...."

".....see, she thinks her older brother's funny already..."

"....she's laughing at you, not with you, Zac....."