I want to tell you about the night my baby cousin, Amby, died.
I don’t remember the date, but it was snowing that night and the roads were slick with ice.
I remember I was in the living room watching Lawrence Welk with my Grandparents when the phone rang. My Mom was sitting on her end of the couch, my Dad was sitting on his end and I was on the floor . I rolled over so that I could see them fight over who would get the phone.
They had this thing- when they argued they never said a word.
My Dad would look at my Mom, she would take a long hard drag on her cigarette and my Dad would huff and puff. Then she would slam her hand down and throw herself up to her feet and leave the room.
Sometimes my Dad lost those fights and when he did he would huff and puff harder then usual and then he would somehow stomp his feet hard enough to shake the floor and then he would stomp off.
That night my Dad lost that fight and as he stomped off to the dining room where the phone was. she leaned back and took another hard drag on her cigarette.
That was her version of a parting shot and it must have gotten to him because he stomped his feet hard enough to make the candy dish ( which served as a back up ashtray) and the actual ash trays which were always full dance on the coffee table.
I never got tired of watching those ashtrays dance.
I heard my Dad’s voice rumbled through the walls. ” God. No. When? ”
He came back out into the living room.
He held his hand out to my Mom and sort of snapped his fingers. She leaned to the side table and took a cigarette out of the pink quilted cigarette case I had given her for Mother’s Day and she tossed him one.
He lit it with the cigarette that was dangling out of the corner of his mouth and then he stubbed it out in the candy dish/ashtray I had made in Brownies.
“Velma went in to wake up little Amby- he was gone. It got him. Crib death. ” My Dad said.
My Mom who had went in to my little sister’s room a few years ago and found her gone the same way too, winced.
” We just can’t keep them, can we? ” She asked my Dad.
He sat back down and he reached out for my Mom but she pushed his hand away.
” You kept me. ” I said. I flopped back on my belly and watched Lawrence wave his baton from side to side. He was smiling. I liked his smile. ” I’m still here. ”
” You’re different. ” My Grandmother said from the side chair in the darkest corner of the room. ” Crib death didn’t take you. A car did. ”
” It took all three of us. ” My Grandpa reminded her from the chair he haunted next to her.
Lawrence’s audience started to clap and the bubble machine behind him went off.
I rested my chin in my hands and Christmas music from the tv floated out towards us.
Smiling, just a little, I thought about babies and empty rooms and stuffed dogs and cats gathering dust in rooms nobody went into anymore.