The Christmas party.
A few months ago I offered up my apartment for the Christmas party we hold every year at work. In past years it was held at our boss' house, now in the midst of remodeling, or at work, in a space now filled with furniture (due to the remodeling). In a blaze of self-confidence I assured my boss that it would be no problem at all, and went on vacation for two weeks. And then I came home, and reality struck. For weeks I spent my free time moving stacks of books and magazines off windowsills and hanging clothes properly in the closet and shoveling junk mail out of desk drawers. Still-unpacked boxes were wheeled into storage; beds were moved around to open up the space. I called the piano tuner, who spent an afternoon tinkling away and removed a stray cashew nut from inside the piano, most likely a refugee from the last Christmas party we had four years ago, when we still lived in the old house.
It took weeks. Books I would never read again were taken to a used bookstore; I would go in with a few dozen old paperbacks and emerge with...five or six. Leaves were added to the dining table. Two days ago R. and her family arrived with a Christmas tree and miles of twinkling lights. I found our old tree stand in our storage unit - I thought it had been lost in the move - and our ornaments in the back of my closet. These ornaments go back more than twenty years, the painted wooden toys, the beaded butterflies, the tinkly golden bells. It is strange to see them here, and yet not strange, to have a Christmas tree for the first time since I was in college, or perhaps high school. My family won't be here, and I am used to that, but I still feel a pang as I email a picture of the lighted tree to my parents.
Then it is time for the party and I come back to the present. As always, there is a whole roasted pig in the middle of the table. The skin is shatteringly crisp, and every time I walk past I snag a piece and pop it in my mouth. There are platters of cheese and crackers, and a pile of Vietnamese spring rolls, the shrimp glowing pink-orange beneath the translucent white skins. There is a huge salad; at the other end of the table K. warns people that one bowl holds braised beef, and the other holds braised beef tendons. She doesn't want to waste perfectly good beef tendons on people who won't appreciate them. Plates of steamed white buns appear; they are for wrapping around the salty-sweet roast pork. Desserts are piled on the piano, brownies (which I have made with bittersweet chocolate chips) and cookies and a beautiful little bûche de Noël filled with mocha cream.
I bring out the last dessert, a croissant bread pudding just slightly burnt on top. (This oven is unpredictable). But it is rich and creamy and heady with rum, stuffed with raisins. We make fun of J., who has the biggest serving of bread pudding, and discuss amongst ourselves which of us is the pickiest eater. (Not me). Small children - and not so small children - scuffle happily on the floor and on the vast expanse of my pale green sofa. My living room is larger than I had imagined it to be, and I am grateful for the slightly uncomfortable couch of carved Chinese rosewood, which provides extra seating. Grateful for my parents, who passed on all this furniture, grateful that my co-workers and friends and family are all here and apparently enjoying themselves without spilling wine all over my carpet. Now I have only to maintain this unreal tidiness of my home until my parents return in January.