Nepomuk was the main attraction of the party, as if he had been the reason for the gathering in the first place. All the ladies’ eyes were on him, while the men’s eyes flickered back and forth between their wives or girlfriends and Nepomuk, disturbed to see the deep bond that had been established so quickly. If that was the effect of their first encounter, one had to be wary of the charm that the young man could develop over time.
The ladies were so taken in that they forgot all manners and etiquette. They interrupted each other, vying for Nepomuk’s attention. They babbled unintelligibly. They repeated their questions over and over. They didn’t even notice that Nepomuk was not the brightest man at the table and that his conversational skills were below par. The ladies took photos of him as if he was a pop star and only took their eyes off him when they needed to refill their glasses, getting ever more tipsy and dreamy as the evening progressed.
Nepomuk was not even one year old. He had been born in February and this was the first Christmas that Lisa and John had introduced him to his uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins. The family had spread out from Tennessee to pursue careers, jobs without careers and relationships in different parts of the country. Each Christmas they returned and got together. Every couple of years, they met for a funeral in between. In 2003, grandpa Sam had died on 19 December. That had been very practical for those who had a long way to drive.
John was a distant second in popularity after Nepomuk. But he was second. After all, he was the father. He had produced this little thing, and although Lisa was the one who had carried him inside of her, John was family and she was not. They weren’t married (yet) and that was strange, suspicious even. Or it had been until Nepomuk had shown up. Now they were kind of a family. Still, it was wrong. Grandma wondered “what Grandpa would have said about folks doing things the wrong way round,” thus discounting, as she always did, the possibility that Sam might have changed his mind between 2003 and now, had he still been alive. John had to fend off questions about any impeding engagement and at the same time he had to defend Lisa, for his family of course blamed her for this immoral state of affairs. She was from New Orleans and everyone knew that people down there committed more sins than those in the other 49 states combined.
“It’s not a priority for us.” The more he repeated that sentence, the more John stressed the “for us” part.
“It won’t change anything.”
“It’s too expensive.” Practical reasons resonated most.
“At least we do have a child.” John knew he had gone too far in defending his decisions when all eyes turned on his sister Sandra. “Ouch,” Sandra thought, saying nothing. “Sorry,” John indicated towards her. But it was too late. She was the only adult at the table who had never had a child. Heck, even some of the teenagers in the family had children already.
Sandra was 29 and worked as a receptionist at a hospital in Nashville. She saw enough sick children every day not to want any of her own, she saw enough pregnant women not to idolize that messy biological state, and she frankly had no time for a relationship. She worked different shifts each week and slept most of the time in between.
“How old are you, Sandra?” Had she been more alert, she could have pointed out that with an ever increasing life expectancy it’s not necessary to have children as early in life as it was in the 18th century.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Aren’t there any attractive doctors at work?” Ever since she had found the job at the hospital, her parents’ dream had been for her to marry a doctor. In her family’s eyes, this was much more prestigious than going to medical school herself.
“Don’t you think Nepomuk is cute?” Not when he’ll throw up tonight.
“It would be nice if he had a cousin.”
“You shouldn’t wait too long or the age difference will be too great.” Not to speak of the different places that they would grow up in, making it rather unlikely that Nepomuk would see much of his hypothetical cousin.
“You don’t look too bad, you know.” Thanks. “I think you could find someone if you tried.”
If Sandra had studied European history, she would have realized there and then that like a fascist society, her family would never respect her until she reproduced. Not having studied anything and being put into a corner by her relatives, she decided that she would surprise them next Christmas.
The following September, a girl was born. It was an ugly child.