New Year's Day 2021 - Hoppin' John by Dudgrick Bevins (rated R)

She had said it that morning. She said it aloud, her eyes closed — all the rules followed: “white rabbit, white rabbit, white rabbit.” In response, Ernest rolled over and rubbed his wife’s swollen belly: “Are you craving rabbit stew now or worried about the white elephant gift?” In the light of the morning, white light through white gauze curtains falling on white sheets and a tangle of white legs.

“Oh,” she said, “it’s a good luck thing, Ernie. Nothing, really.”

He had laughed at her comment, saying, “I’m not sure you starting the year off with superstitions is all that helpful when you know this white elephant’s trunk always delivers.”

In that moment he had been in her hand. She had squeezed. She had released, smiling into his eyes as she heaved her delicate, yet gravid, body out of their cloud heavy bed. “Don’t lecture me about superstition when we have to get ready for your mother’s new year breakfast.”

With a groan he tucked himself into the waistband of his briefs and launched himself out on his side, saying, “at least you don’t have to go with a hangover.” For a moment, both remembered the previous night: stars, his cocktails, her grape juice, champagne flutes, clinking. Twenty-eight days from the due date: things were coming together — right.

“Every morning is a hangover for me right now,” she had said to him as they met at the end of the bed with an underwear-clad kiss, “thanks to you.”

He had responded with a sly wink of one blue eye, “you were there too, I recall.” This sentence was repeated an hour later as Ernest pulled his red truck into his mother’s driveway. Harmony was naming on each finger the family members she would feel obligated to remember.

“Yes, but that was a year ago, exactly.” Before opening the door, she sighed and saying, “Terry and Terrie, Chrissy and Christopher, Gene and Jean...”

“It’s not that bad,” he had said, kissed by the sun as his mother met them on the porch with gentle hugs.

“What’s not that bad?” slipped out of Ernest’s mother’s mouth.

“Oh, Harm’ here, keepin’ the homonyms straight.” She smacked him gently on the arm when he spoke. It would have been harder if his mother had not been watching, as she hated both that nickname and being embarrassed.

“It’s not her fault everyone married their twin,” the mother teased politely as Harmony nodded with her arms crossed. “And,” she added, “you should bring her around more if you want her to learn names.” At that she slapped even more gently than Harmony had at her son’s arm. “Come in now,” she had said, and they did as Harmony looked around as the brown grass and dried corpses of four-o’clocks and spider flowers in white light of the sun.

She had taken the moment to remember saying “white rabbit” in the darkness of her eyes; and as Jean passed her the cornbread and Gene passed her the collard greens, she chose to remember that remember on the porch, how she had thought the thought of thinking “white rabbit” and the baby inside her kicked just as a real white rabbit hopped through Ernest’s mother’s yard and into the cold blacktop roadway. She had sat both dishes down and chosen to remember the rabbit and the kick and the pristine velvet coat, as Chris and Chrissy quarreled lovingly with the others. She had asked, “what is the cornbread for, again?”

The mother answered in one breath, passing more food to Harmony: “The cornbread is gold, the collards are dollar bills, black-eyed peas are coins, and hog jowl is prosperity —“

“Ma,” he had said, leaning against the pine wood chair, bleak winter in full nakedness glowing through the window, “it’s all about money... money... money...”

“Oh Ernie, it’s about tradition more than money...” she sighed and everyone except Harmony recited in unison, as if singing in church: “it’s about people coming together!”

Harmony had been uncomfortable in the silence she occupied in the family choir. The child, too, felt some unnameable discomfort, Harmony thought as it kicked like a wild hare in the burrow of her body. She spoke through the family laughter: “My people had their traditions too... long histories,” she said starting to slur ever so slightly. “The God of Gateways opened... the door to the coming... darkness.” She felt, in that moment, a distortion: the infant drumming an ancient rhythm, it’s limbs reaching into hers, the faces around the table elongating, everyone’s perfect white outfits glistening in sparks of blue and purple and the iridescent black-green of stained glass dragonfly wings.

She had chosen to speak despite the heaviness of her head and the darkening of the room under the weight of Ernest’s family’s tinny cackles: “and Janus was there when the rabbi circumcised Jesus on this day, when he was named... eight days... after his birth...” She had felt their hands upon her heavy body; opalescent, gentle but forceful, they sparkled as they pulled her up. Drunk, but not drunk, she said, “and... then Janus and Jesus arrived... Catholics to Celts... calendar interrupted... labor of months...”

She had sensed her own heaviness. The weight of each limb, the gravity of her holy womb, each pulled into the earth as the reverse of a seed in doing. Dragged off like brush to a bonfire at autumn’s end, the whiteness of her world, she had felt, was collapsing ever inward; but, like the Earth’s own persistence to spin, she chose to speak.