This Christmas Cousin Jonathon has made the pinata. He slinks into the backyard with a giant plum pudding inside a black plastic bag. Well, that's what it looks like. No one's ever covered their pinata before. We usually parade it in, loud and proud. Jonathon is breaking with a tradition we didn't even know we had. There is to be an unveiling.
We attach the pinata to the clothesline. Tie the rope secure and strong. Like our family. Jonathon hangs around, eyeing us as if he's scared we might peek. Our children play hide and seek, waiting for the stragglers to come outside. The twins closet themselves in Christmas bush. The two-year-old stands on the lawn with his hands over his face, "You can't see me." It ignores him, tramples the basil and pounces on his sister. Tess's fairy wing sticks out from behind the wiz bin, a dead give-away.
We gather round with our wine and beer, and ice tinkles in our mimosas like bells. Our sister-in-law drinks water, she's pregnant. Again. Not that we've ever seen her drink alcohol.
"Ready," we call and the kids come squealing.
Cousin Jonathon swallows and wipes his hands down his jeans. He watches his dad who's preoccupied with his new young wife and her décolletage. She's squinting up at her ancient god as if he's luminous. Now, now, we say to each other. Enough of that. Where should our loyalty lie? Family, we chorus. Family! And we guiltily wrap Jonathon's mother back up with the chocolates he'll take home to her later. Jonathon's face is blank. He waits for his father. The pinata waits. We all wait.
"God, come on!" says six-year-old Callum.
"Don't say God," our sister-in-law frowns.
God. God. God, we chant under our breath.
The lovers come back to earth and Jonathon smiles, or grimaces, we can't tell which, and then he unties the purple wool bow holding the plastic bag closed. One side slips over the pinata's shoulder, revealing colourful horizontal stripes, but gets stuck as if it's hesitant to expose itself further.
Jonathon grabs the bottom of the bag. "Tah-dah!"
"Oooh, a rainbow," squeals Tess.
"A rainbow planet," corrects Callum.
Jonathon wears a funny grin. His eyes flick in every direction as if he's waiting for the first strike but doesn't know where it's coming from.
"Who's first?" says Jonathon's father.
Jonathon gapes. It's obvious our uncle has no idea what will spill out of this rainbow world. His wife, though, she stares at the pinata, blinking.
We hit the pinata in order of age. Our brother hoicks his toddler onto his hip and together they grip the mop handle. We steady the rotary clothesline. Tap. The pinata rocks like a pendulum counting down to something.
Our sister-in-law's says she's too busy keeping the children away from the back swing to take her turn. She fiddles with the gold cross on her neck. We flick our eyebrows at each other.
Nana is last. 'I'm ninety-five.'
"Yes, you are," we say, even if she's wrong. Our father ploughs her wheelchair through the grass, oblivious to the divots he's making. Nick flings up his arms but we ignore him. The grass will have forgotten in two weeks, even if Nick hasn't.
Round Two. There's no rule on holding back. We cheer the missed blows. Raise our glasses to new dents in the papier mâché. Our uncle fractures the equator of Jonathon's world. Nick belts the southern hemisphere all the way to the Christmas bush and it rains Fantales, Redskins, Minties, Sherbies, candy canes. The severed northern hemisphere swings from the rope. No hope now of putting anything back in.
The kids scramble for lollies. Callum carries the bottom half of the planet in the crook of his elbow, a bowl for his hoard. Our brother's over in the corner arguing with his wife. She's prising the lollies out of their screaming toddler's hands.
'Great pinata, Jonathon,' our dad calls as he jolts Nana across the broken concrete towards the house.
"Yes," the women agree, and waving their empty glasses go inside. The men head for the laundry tub where longnecks float on melting ice.
Jonathon's father looks down his wife's dress. No, he's bending down so she can whisper in his ear. His eyes go from that sweaty crevasse to his son's face, to the remains of the pinata, back to his wife.
The toddler throws himself on the grass and howls.
Jonathon's father puts his hand on his wife's back and steers her as in a barn dance across the grass into the house. Jonathon watches them go. His face caves in as if someone has smashed it with a stick. I'm on him in three leaps. Squeeze him.
"We...I love you," I say. I hear his breath catch and jump, feel his heart thumping against my breast. My body rides his breath. I don't let go until his breathing is steel steady.
"Here." I hold out my Redskins but he shakes his head and gives me a smile without teeth. I thrust them down his half-buttoned shirt. He laughs but I feel like crying.
The children huddle on the grass, their wealth piled up, negotiations in full swing. Jonathon goes over to watch and, God love them, they wave him down into their circle.
I pull at the rope on the clothesline. Suddenly my brother's eyeing me over the remains.
"What was that about?" he whispers.
"What do you think?"
His face is as quick to condemn as a tweet. I give him my 'careful' look and he blinks a few times. Then he smiles. "He just hasn't had a good woman yet."
"God," I hiss, but he's already halfway across the backyard to his wife who's throwing lollies into the wiz bin. His toddler howls and rips up grass.
I pick at the knot holding the shattered remains of the pinata. It slips undone more easily than I thought possible.