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     That was the first Christmas that my cousin Yuriko was around, though she was fifteen years old so of course she must've had fourteen Christmases before that, and since she wasn't Japanese I don't know how she got that name in the first place. Back in June or July, Hal and Vicky had taken her in as a foster kid, the first they'd ever had, and they'd told her if all went well she might stay through until Christmas and with seventeen of us coming out to the farm she'd really see what the Pattersons were all about. We had Christmas out there every year because Hal and Vicky had so much room. Enough room to take in a foster kid.
     My sister Franny was in her last year of biochemistry at Simon Fraser University and I was in my first year of theatre or something, I still wasn't sure, at UBC, so we rode the bus home from Vancouver together. We'd both had exams on the 21st of December so everybody else was at Hal and Vicky's already.
     "Mom called at two in the morning." Franny was so small she could sit cross-legged in the bus seat. "I guess she dropped that ornament with the elf on the sled."
     "They got a tree already?"
     "She was so funny, she was like, 'And I said, "Holy shit, Franny's going to kill me," and poor Yuriko must be sitting there going, "What have I gotten myself into?" so Vicky tells her, "Don't worry, Yuriko, Auntie Doe just really likes Christmas," God, she was funny, and Vicky got me up to bed but I had to come back down and call before you found out from somebody else,' and I was like, 'Mom, unless you want to quiz me on tetrahydrocannabinol I've got a shitload or work to do.'"
     "They had the box of wine going."
     "But I would've been pissed off if she'd broken my stained-glass Santa. And she said not to expect anything from Hal and Vicky - they got us tickets for the sleigh ride extravaganza."
     "Why couldn't she call and tell me that?"
     "She panicked. The elf on the sled."
     The only thing that ever bothered me at Christmas was when it felt like I was being left out of something.
     We got in at nine at night and Hal and Yuriko were at the bus station, but I hardly recognized them because I'd never seen Hal without a moustache and I'd never seen Yuriko in a parka, plus she had braces now though I knew enough not to ask whether it was Hal and Vicky or the Ministry of Child and Family Development that had paid for them. We all fit into the cab of the pickup, Yuriko and Franny were both so tiny. To me nothing said Christmas like the cold seat in Hal's truck.
     "It doesn't stink like cigarettes," said Franny. "What's going on?"
     "I quit since Thanksgiving," said Hal.
     She gave him her best shocked expression - to be honest, she was better at theatre than I was.
     "Yuriko had a pretty convincing argument after what happened to her grandpa, didn't you, Yuri?"
     She was crammed against the passenger door, using her thumb to draw cat-faces on the fogged-over window.
     "What happened to your grandpa?" I asked.
     She gave one of the cats a tail that went the whole way up the window.
     I could've guessed that. I'd just wanted to make sure he hadn't fallen asleep with a cigarette.
     "That's such a shame," said Franny.
     "What school are you at?" I asked.
     "Mom talked you into trying out for volleyball, didn't she, Yuri? Why don't you tell them about that?"
     She smiled and the green light from the clock lit up her braces.
     "Nobody else can bump and I'm the only one who'll bump!"
     A full moon hung right in front of us once we swung onto the highway. The fence-posts made long shadows on the snowy fields.
     "Did you bring the Hide-A-Bed in from the barn?" asked Franny.
     "Yes, I did." Hal took his hand off the wheel to show us a Band-Aid around his finger. "You people pick the stupidest things to get attached to."
     "Every year Kate and I have to sleep beside the tree."
     "They told me that," said Yuriko.
     When I was in elementary school I'd thought it was a Haida-Bed, and that while the poor Salish and Nootka were sleeping on the cold ground, the Haida had these huge beds that could fold back into couches. The headlights picked up green eyes out in the field, until whatever it was went bounding away.
     Mom came out on the porch as we stomped the snow off our boots, and after all the requisite hugs and whoops she threw an arm around Yuriko.
     "Did they tell you funny stories?"
     "Not … really."
     Mom gave Franny and I her patented dirty look.
     "I promised funny stories."
     The kitchen was packed full of everybody all wanting to know what the roads had been like, and with the woodstove cranked up it was just as hot as her apartment so Grandma was entirely in her element, chopping up garlic sausage and feeding the odd bit to the cat who wasn't allowed inside at any other time of year. Our sister Kate the dental hygienist cracked us each a Guinness.
     "Thank God," said Franny. "The moment has come."
     We all took a long drink. Yuriko hopped onto the counter with a can of Pepsi and three of us all looked at her sideways because we would never have presumed to sit on Hal and Vicky's counter.
     "I saw in the paper you were voted Meanest Hygienist," I said to Kate.
     "Must have been a typo because I'm the Cleanest Hygienist."
     "Not the Leanest Hygienist?" asked Franny.
     We all looked at Yuriko.
     "The Greenest Hygienist?" she said.
     Mom took Franny's arm.
     "It's about your stained-glass Santa."
     Auntie Colleen pounded away on the piano after that, and on Joy To The World we took turns seeing who sounded the most like Kermit the Frog.
     Every year the sleigh ride extravaganza was held at a farm across the valley. The sleighs just had hay bales for seats, so we squeezed together as tight as possible and spread the blankets across our knees, but the bales faced sideways so before the horses started we had to sit there staring at a red Massey-Ferguson tractor.
     "This is the coldest year yet," muttered Kate, which was what she always said. She had her collar zipped to her nose.
     "Why don't some of you sit with us?" asked Hal.
     The guy said, "Giddy-ap," the reins slapped, the bells started jingling and the wedges of frozen snow moved past our feet. It felt colder once we were away from the lights on the barn. Mom and Vicky cooed over how lovely it all was. We crossed the first field, bright with the moonlight, then slowed down to take a curve into the first clump of woods. The trees all looked knotted together. The branches brushed right past our faces.
     "It's dark in here," said Yuriko.
     "Better keep an eye out for Jerusalem Slim," I said.
     "Keep your eyes peeled," said Kate.
     "Jerusalem who?" asked Yuriko.
     None of us said anything. She'd had that catch in her voice that people sometimes got when they weren't sure whether we were joking around, so that made the moment too perfect to just start babbling.
     "They say he was a farm hand here," muttered Franny.
     "He did live out here," I said. "Before it was a farm."
     "What is that?" asked Kate.
     We were out in the open again. There was a falling-over shed across the field, and the fence-posts all looked very black.
     "What's what?" asked Yuriko.
     "Thought I saw something," said Kate.
     "It's easier to see him against the snow," I said.
      "You're talking about some guy who works here?"
      "I don't know if he ever did," said Franny. "I wonder."
     "No," I said. "I don't know."
     "Usually it's just the shadow," said Kate.
     "So what am I supposed to be looking for?" said Yuriko.
     "No," I said, "if you see him you're better off to look away."
Mom leaned back from her hay bale.
      "What are you telling her about?"
      "Jerusalem Slim."
     "Oh, Lord," she said. "This would be a night for him."
     We'd just made him up that minute and Mom played along like nobody's business!
     "Have you seen him?" Yuriko asked.
     "How lovely," said Vicky. "Yuri, listen to this."
     We were coming up to the first carollers, three guys and a little girl singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which sounded a bit freaky after what we'd been talking about, like the merry gentlemen had all been buried behind a hay shed or something. I flexed my toes inside my boots, it was that cold. The singing faded behind us and we came into another grove of trees. I looked up beside the horses and the light from the lantern was casting all of these shadows on the tangled branches and the clumps of snow. It made me think of Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I knew my sisters would think the same thing but I hoped Yuriko would just think about Jerusalem Slim.
     "Look up there," I said. "Isn't that weird?"
     The girls all leaned forward to look. Kate and Franny didn't say anything.
     "Yuri, look what's coming up," Vicky said. "The old abandoned homestead!"
     If a person was just thinking regular Christmas thoughts like 'I wonder why anyone in the world would roast chestnuts on an open fire,' then the abandoned homestead would only be a bunch of dilapidated old buildings, but if their sisters or their Uncle Hal had been telling them about an escaped mental patient who'd been tearing out the throats of cattle or that Christmas was originally a festival celebrating child-eating corpses, then the collapsed walls and black doorways were the last thing a kid would want to see. I glanced at Yuriko. Her eyes seemed pretty big. We'd never said what Jerusalem Slim looked like, but the shadows of the branches on the snow could look like a lot of different things. She was biting her bottom lip.
     "Anything?" Franny asked.
     "I think I-" said Kate. And left it at that.
     We came around the bend to the nativity, all lit up with tiki torches. The three of us sang along at the top of our lungs, "The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes!" but since the hippie lady was in the middle of breastfeeding him he was most likely awake already.
     There were two more sets of carollers after that, singing Winter Wonderland and, not surprisingly, Sleigh Ride, and after that it was the long haul back to the bonfire. We cut across a bare ridge so we could look over the moonlit valley and see the lights from all the farms scattered miles apart from each other. I was looking forward to the bonfire and hot chocolate and everything.
      "So," said Kate, "any luck with Jerusalem Slim?"
     "No." Yuriko wiped her nose with the back of her mitt. "But I was thinking - did you guys ever think how all alone he must feel, standing there watching you all go by, and you're sitting here laughing at him?"
     "Oh, Honey," Vicky said.
     "I'm just saying."
     We kept moving along, jingle, jingle, jingle.
     "They do that every year," Mom said. "If they'd wanted to exclude you, sweetheart, they wouldn't have said anything."
     "We weren't trying to be mean," said Franny.
     "It's just tradition," I said.
     The bleachers were freezing cold as usual so we clapped the hell out of our hands while we sang Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree while the guy played guitar, but none of us were as into it as we had been on other years. Yuriko clapped her hands once or twice but she spent most of the time looking back over her shoulder, and that got me thinking about old Jerusalem Slim, his bare feet breaking through the crust of the snow, feeling like he'll never be warm again, like he'll never get home. Which was quite an insight, I thought.


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