My Stepmother's Presents
The ugly red pot, 2005:
The Christmas I was thirty, I thought I'd finally circumvented her, because my father offered to take me Christmas shopping, and asked for help picking out gifts for my sisters. One sister has excellent, expensive taste, and I knew what she wanted—a fringed leather purse, the color of maple syrup. For the other sister, who liked to cook, I picked out a Japanese knife, so sharp it could cut paper. "And what do you want?" she asked, and I chose the Le Creuset roasting pot I'd been eyeing for years, my favorite red-orange color. But on Christmas Eve, when we opened up presents at their house, instead of the roasting pot, it was a heavy ceramic pot, an ugly red, like the cranberry sauce that comes in a can and still has slick ridges on it when you dump the cylinder onto a plate. I looked up, baffled, and my stepmother said to me, smiling, "I'd already picked this out." When I got home, I ordered myself that too-expensive Le Creuset roasting pot, because fuck her.
The duvet covers, 2012:
This is after she'd quit getting the adults presents, and they wrote each of us checks instead—much better, though my sisters and I all understood the aggression of the card to "Mrs. Richard Lombardo," "Mrs. Patrick Galloway," "Mrs. Noah Weinstock," when none of us had changed our last names. But she still gave presents to our kids, and that first year or two she asked us for gift suggestions. I told her sheets for their twin beds and matching duvet covers—the ones I liked were expensive. One had dancing girls in blue tutus, one had roosters with curling tail feathers. But after my daughters opened their presents, my stepmother said to me, "Did you see how disappointed they were? What kid wants a duvet cover for Christmas? Next time, I'm getting them something fun!" So that bad gift is on me.
The hoverboards, 2016:
One Christmas Eve they brought seven of them for the seven grandchildren. We walked from my sister's house to the nearby playground, and the kids all did laps around the empty tennis court. Violet, the youngest, was the best; she could make her hoverboard spin in place. She looked so thrilled. "You know these are fucking dangerous, right?" my husband whispered. "They spontaneously combust." "Does she want to blow up our kids?" my sister said. After we read in the news that airplanes refused to transport them because of the danger of explosion, we got rid of the hoverboards. The kids all whined.
No more presents, 2017:
"Don't give us anything for Christmas, we don't need anything," she said. On the one hand, I felt relief—no more wandering Gump's in a panic each December, spending way too much on some Venetian glass vase or porcelain candle holders, no more Googling "What to get for the people who have everything." But it was hard not to feel stung too, when she intended to sting. She was making it clear to me (as if I didn't already know it) that there was nothing I could offer that she would ever want.
lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. She is the author of the short story collection How Far I've Come
, forthcoming in 2022 from Gold Wake Press; the novel The Light Source
(2019), published by 7.13 Books; and the short story collection Undoing
(2018), which won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her fiction has been published in Booth, Craft Literary, The Gettysburg Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf
and many other journals. Her stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf's Top 50. She is the Editor-in-Chief and Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel.