In the morning I came downstairs and turned on the portable heater. The neighbor had her Advent lights on in the window, and I turned ours on too and then made the coffee. I lit a candle and a stick of incense and sat on the sofa as the coffee brewed. It was Monday and we were still in Europe. Four sticks of incense left, maybe I’d save the last one for when we came back next summer. It had a peppery, spicy scent that filled the house from the bottom up. Mom had a heavy sheet hung in the doorway at the bottom of the stairs to keep the draft down, and you pulled it back before entering like walking out onto a stage.
I’d made the tartiflette for Christmas dinner, that Savoy potato bacon casserole with the Reblochon cheese. It’s a pretty modest-looking meal but really hits, as the kids say. And we only have it once every couple years. I like getting a wheel of that bloomy cheese and slicing it down the middle like Laurent taught me, then nestling both halves of the wheel face down in the potatoes when it bakes. The cheese mostly dissolves and the rind turns crisp golden, along with the potatoes. Charlotte gets nervous around certain types of cheese so I basically hid it from her as we served so as to not draw too much attention to the cheese aspect, and it worked. We then watched TV and the girls sat beside us watching their phones.
Tonight we’d go to Martin and Roland’s for dinner. They were the first gay couple in town to get legally married several years ago and when the woman signed her name to certify the marriage Roland said she was so nervous she couldn’t stop her hands from shaking. They’d hosted me for dinner when I was here in August and began by showing me around the yard, where they’d acquired some large new animals, such as two golden monkeys, one named Peter, an elephant too. The yard was terraced and they’d planted grape vines several years ago. Out back they had a covered deck kind of like a green house with fresh bundles of lavender to keep the mosquitoes away. I asked if I could bring them anything from the States when I came back in December and when the time came, mom forwarded an email from Martin requesting a set of Little People figurines fashioned after the Golden Girls TV show. They couldn’t get them in Germany, but neither could I in time before Christmas. But as I searched the Little People options on my phone I found a set modeled after the drag singer Rupaul, and it was on sale.
I told Lily about it and she said that’s the gayest thing ever! And then I went to great lengths to make it fit in my carryon but was accused by my family of being tone deaf and insensitive because Roland didn’t really like the Little People, it seemed the Little People were something Martin liked to have on-hand when his nieces came to visit and it maybe embarrassed Roland, and now I was drawing too much attention to their gayness by bringing Rupaul into it. And this left me with a conundrum because I wanted to bring them a gift but didn’t want to make anyone feel awkward or ashamed. I held the box of Little People and searched their eyes for the answer and knew in my heart it was joyful and true, so I took a picture of the box and emailed it to Martin asking if it was okay and he said it would fit very good in his collection and made a smily face and all was right again. Sometimes I think we worry too much about things.
The light was up in the sky now, more a gray smear, and I checked if the neighbor still had her Advent lights on. We would take an apple tart to the guys’ house later and use the navi to find the way. She would bungle the pronunciation of the street names and we would all mock and make fun of her. At least there was someone in the world with worse Deutsch than us. And there was some solace in that.