Sylvia realized before she opened her eyes that she was sleeping in a bathtub.
It happened, just as snow fell in winter and rabbits left their burrows in spring. When she found herself destructively drunk, she somehow awoke in a tub, sometimes on the bathroom tile if she got too tired. Curled up in her coat, her purse her pillow, and usually about to disturb a headache originating from her sore neck. The headache was there now, and from how sick she felt, she knew she was about to pay for last night’s festivities.
She hoped. All she remembered from last night was Vincenzo’s voice.
And Mitsuko. A lot of Mitsuko.
Taking her time, Sylvia eased her way out of Vincenzo’s porcelain tub. At least she’d gotten home. Had he driven her back? They always drank together. One wouldn’t have drunk without the other.
She didn’t want to open her eyes and think, but her missing memories made her ponder. She now remembered looking out a cold window, wanting to roll it down and catch the snowflakes on her fingertips but stopping herself because someone had told her to keep the windows up.
She took her time to freshen up at the sink. She wiped off her day-old makeup, splashed her face with ice-cold water. The sensation shocked her and actually woke her up, as if standing up and functioning wasn’t enough. Usually, if she was hungover, she didn’t leave her bed until noon, but she needed to know if Vincenzo had come home with her.
After trying to fix her bangs in the mirror, she patted off her dress, folded her coat/blanket into the hamper, and opened the door.
Vincenzo was still fast asleep, cuddling three of his five pillows. Mezzanotte, swaddled under one of the quilts, turned to blink at her.
And Mitsuko, who seemed to have woken up as soon as Sylvia had, got up slowly so she didn’t wake the two others in the bed. She yawned as she patted the floor for her socks. “Morning.”
“Good morning,” Sylvia said. “Mitsuko, darling, why are you here?”
“Because I didn’t think he had other bedrooms to sleep in, but I underestimated how many bloody bedrooms blood money can get you. But I didn’t want to leave my warm spot. I also like this little guy.” She scratched underneath Mezzanotte’s chin, and Mezzanotte let her, as if Mezzanotte was the type of cat to do that and that Mitsuko was the type of girl to sleep in a man’s bed.
Sylvia rubbed down her cuticles. Something inside her was heating up. She loved Mitsuko and knew she’d never try anything with Vincenzo, but still. Goodness, seeing her and him in the same bed. And for Mezzanotte to be so friendly with her. She rarely slept in Vincenzo’s bed when Sylvia was near.
“But I know,” Mitsuko said, and slipped off the bed. “I know that look. Like I’d ever.”
“Oh.” She shrank back. She’d been holding her breath.
“Don’t say sorry. Don’t you dare. You’re essentially married to this man. Of course you’d be jealous of another woman sleeping in his bed.” She slapped where she assumed was his leg.
He moaned and rolled over.
“There he is. You’re doing well, aren’t you?” she asked Sylvia. “You fell asleep in the bathtub again.”
“You say that like it’s a natural occurrence.”
“It is when you drink five or so glasses of vodka and I have to drive you and all of our friends back to their respective homes.”
“So you drove us home?”
“I did.” She freshened up in the bathroom. “You and Vincenzo gave us a wonderful performance that would’ve made God blush. You remember?”
“Not at all.”
“Is that Mitsuko?” Vincenzo asked sleepily. “God, my head.”
Sylvia pet him where it hurt. Her touch made him fall back into the bed sheets, catching a few more hungover dreams.
“And after you paraded yourselves about like circus animals, I brought all of you—you, Vincenzo, Laurence, Dominic, and even that little funny man Luis—back home.” She brushed her hair with her fingers and a bit of water. “And then, right before I was about to depart to my abode, I decided it was much too dangerous for I, a petite little thing, to walk the streets by myself, so I slept here for the night.”
“Why is she talking so loudly?” Vincenzo asked. His eyes had yet to open.
“She’s talking normally, sweetheart, but I understand. Do you want something to eat?”
His body relaxed back into the blankets, and he snored once before his eyes went as wide as Mezzanotte’s.
Mitsuko came out wiping her face. “Morning. Again.”
Vincenzo cursed and covered his chest like an embarrassed lady. “Why’re you here?”
“Should I repeat myself?”
He kicked off the sheets and clawed out one of his sweaters from his drawer. “You scared the daylights out of me.”
“You should put on something less…revealing, Mitsuko,” Sylvia advised. “You’re going to make Vincenzo’s headache worse.”
She looked around the bathroom door, then stole one of Vincenzo’s bathrobes that he rarely wore. “I’m going to make some breakfast. When you two come back to life, meet me downstairs.”
Once she left, Vincenzo slipped back into his bed indent and covered his red face. “How embarrassing.”
“She said she spent the night. It’s alright. You know these…circumstances don’t faze her like it fazes most girls.”
“But it fazes me, like all men. I’m still nervous about you seeing me in my…” He looked underneath the blankets. “Undergarments,” he whispered.
She smiled and kissed him. “Let us eat and forget.”
Nonna was fully up and awake that morning and was helping Mitsuko make porridge, bacon, eggs, and toast. They talked mostly in English, but Mitsuko was kind enough not to say anything when Nonna muttered to herself in Italian.
It surprised Sylvia how skilled Mitsuko was in making a confident meal, but then she felt bad. She was a strong girl who could not only reject the joys of alcohol but also mother her friends when they couldn’t act properly.
Vincenzo, having no business in the kitchen, started a fire in the lounge area. With logs drenched in sap, the first floor warmed up the frosty November morning.
Sylvia made herself a cup of tea and sat close to the fire, feet tucked underneath her. The drink cleared her head. She remembered Vincenzo singing, and her playing her piano. Had Dominic been there? Hopefully not. She couldn’t remember if she’d rightly apologized to him for making him feel so uncomfortable.
She turned on the radio to commercials when the lounge telephone rang. Since living with Vincenzo, she never answered the phone. She had nightmares about picking up to Vincenzo’s father or scary gangsters demanding something from her. She gladly let Vincenzo pick up.
“DiFiore residence, Mr. DiFiore speaking.”
Sylvia tried not to eavesdrop as she drank her tea and learned about the wonders of a new sink cleaner that would change her kitchen. She nearly lost focus into the fire when she heard Vincenzo stammer.
His fingers played with the wire as he searched for something to say. “Uh, yes. She’s right here,” he said, and handed the receiver to Sylvia.
“Who is it?” she asked.
Sylvia took the phone hesitantly. Laurence never called unless it was urgent. He kept his questions to himself until they reconvened at the Black Kitten. Had she forgotten her schedule? Mitsuko would’ve reminded her.
She dropped her voice. “Hello?”
“Sylvia,” he almost shouted. “God, I thought I was speaking to Vincenzo’s father. They sound so similar. I almost, almost…It doesn’t matter. Sylvia, sweetheart, I think I’m fucked.”
At hearing the swear, Vincenzo turned and made sure their conversation was friendly. Then he tended to the fire, guessing that this talk was not for him.
Sylvia cupped the receiver close to her ear. “Talk to me.”
“Alright, first: Do you remember anything about what I did last night?”
“I can’t remember most of what I did, sorry.”
“Well, I do, and I easily ruined four people’s lives. So, I, uhm…” He settled in the bed or couch he was sitting on. “You will not speak of this to Vincenzo or Mitsuko or anyone else so long as you live, do you swear?”
“I do,” she promised.
“Okay,” he said. “Um, okay. I…I think I kissed Dominic last night.”
Sylvia immediately looked at Vincenzo. He either hadn’t heard or was pretending he hadn’t.
“I remember going up to him, a-and talking a lot with him, and then after, I…I kissed him.”
“That’s great,” she said.
“Great? It’s awful! Bad! Not a great thing at all!” He lowered his voice. “He’s a gangster, Sylvia. He lives off of dirty money. He’s in those shootouts that nearly cost him his life. It’s not safe.”
“That may be true, but do you like him?”
You keep going on about ‘liking’ someone. How can I? It’s not as safe as the songs make it out to be. We come from two different worlds, worlds that’ll never be compatible.”
“But are you two compatible?”
He groaned and flipped over wherever he was sitting. “Is this Confession now? Should I come out of the pews and confess that I may like him, that I may want to get to know more about him and am thus tormented by him and his coyness about opening up to us? He’s not there, is he?”
“He is not.”
“Oh, thank god.”
“Mitsuko is, though. She’s making breakfast. She allegedly slept over.”
“Oh.” He paused.
“Would you like to come over as well?”
“What? God, no. At least, not right now. My emotions are very high, and I’m still recovering from last night. Sylvia, do you think I should mention this to him, or should I act like I don’t remember what happened?”
“I think you’ll do right by at least talking to him. Was he friendly when you two last spoke?”
“…Yes,” he said. “Very.”
“Then you should try. You’ll do better than any of us.”
“Okay. Vincenzo had mentioned a Christmas party during one of his final songs. I might be keen on coming over then, if it’s still on, and if, uh, Dominic is coming.”
“I’m not sure. I’d have to ask.”
“Don’t do it now. Another time. Tell Mitsuko and the other one that I said goodbye.”
“He has a name.”
“And we do not speak of these boys any longer. I’ll see you at the Black Kitten tonight, won’t I?”
“If I can fight off this sickness.”
“Drink tea and eat small meals.” His caring voice raised to the point where it cracked. “Can I…Do you have his number? I know he lives close by. I feel like calling him would be better than talking to him face to face. If he hangs up on me, I’ll know that what happened between us was a one-time thing and end things there.”
“Of course, dear,” she said, and relaid his telephone number to him with Vincenzo’s help.
“Thank you again,” he said, “for listening to me ramble.”
“It’s not ramble. It’s love. You’re falling in love.”
“Oh, don’t say that. Spare me. Can you imagine, bringing him to dinner to meet my family, going out to the theater, together…” He trailed off. “Uh, anyway.”
“Good luck, Laurence,” she said, and hung up.
To her left, surprising her like a silent spider, stood Mitsuko, one hand in her bathrobe pocket, the other holding a bowl of oatmeal. “What was that?”
She didn’t budge. “He’s doing it, isn’t it? The reckless man.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“I’m sure you don’t, because you were asleep in a booth when it was all going down.”
“What was going down?” Vincenzo asked.
“Hush,” Mitsuko said. “Girls are talking.”
“Do you approve?” Sylvia asked.
“I approve neither of you falling for men.”
“So would you prefer us falling for women?”
“Okay,” Vincenzo said, throwing a log into the fire. “My Nonna might not understand English, but I don’t want this type of conversation permeating through her understanding.”
“What?” Nonna asked.
“Nothing, Nonna,” he said.
“I gave him Laurence’s number,” Sylvia told Mitsuko. “I hope that was alright.”
“Wonderful. Maybe now they’ll be on speaking terms before the Christmas party.”
“You’re having a Christmas party?” Vincenzo asked. “When? I can order extra drinks to the Kitten.”
“That’d be fruitless, being that the party’s happening here, at your house.”
“Last night. ‘My grandmother makes the best cod’ or something along those lines. You invited all of us over, and I’m keeping you to that promise. I love Christmas.”
Vincenzo sat beside Sylvia. “Another gap in memories, huh?”
“Yes. So, pick a weekday, preferably. And we need presents. We should get gifts for Dominic and Laurence. A box of chocolates?”
“Engagement rings?” Vincenzo asked, smirking.
“Don’t tease them, they’re in delicate parts of their lives,” Sylvia said. “Can you picture them sending us rings and flowers and silly gifts like that?”
“They’re not silly.” Vincenzo placed his hands on his lower back and stretched. “Let’s plan for the thirteenth of December. It’s in-between two business trips I have and it’s not too far away from Christmas Eve.”
“I’m fine with that,” Mitsuko said. “Laurence’s parents are coming down next week, and Lord knows I’m not speaking with my parents for a holiday they don’t even celebrate.”
“Then that’s fine. Sylvia?”
“That’s fine with me,” she said, absolutely lying to herself because, as they were making these holiday plans, Vincenzo had gained this jovial smile to him. He looked around the room, biting his lower lip, his migraine washing away.
“Then we should get to decorating,” he said to himself. “We have everything upstairs in the attic. We need to buy a tree. It’s a bit too chilly to put up the outside decorations. Maybe we’ll wait until this afternoon. Mitsuko, would you like to help?”
“Alas, putting up tacky Christmas decorations in thirty-degree weather in a home I don’t feel safe in is not how I want to spend my Saturday.” She looked at Sylvia. “Do you—”
“Sylvia, you can help with the interior decorating,” Vincenzo said exuberantly. “You and Nonna can collaborate. I’m sure she’ll let you take over some of the decorating. Nonna.”
She peeked around the corner.
“Do you want to get the Christmas tree this week?”
“Oh, yes, yes!” she said, and went on about her love of Christmas.
Sylvia…She understood it. Why people loved the holiday, why they decorated their lives for a few days near the end of the changing year. She supposed people liked sitting at a table and talking about how many presents they’d bought for their precious family members.
She wondered if she’d had any Christmases like that. The earliest one she recalled, her father had been yelling so loudly at Clara, the police had been called. The next year, he’d passed away, and that feeling of empty, lost sadness stayed with her every Christmas to come.
Mitsuko said her farewells after eating two men’s worth of breakfasts and stealing a pastry for the road. She crept carefully to her car like someone was watching her—there was, it was Sylvia. She kept looking down the street and sped off like someone might’ve been chasing her.
With the idea of Christmas now in the air, Vincenzo had switched moods. He went on ecstatically about how he’d arranged the Christmas ornaments. He re-dressed in a light grey sweater, pilly and striped and nowhere near his normal black attire. He was even smiling and he hadn’t drunk a drop of alcohol.
From the attic, he handed Sylvia small boxes that rapidly became larger and heavier ones filled with holiday trinkets. Half of the attic was comprised of holiday-themed boxes, with reindeer for the front lawn and Christmas lights for the outer deck and railings. He promised he set those up, as it was still too cold for her to leave the house.
“You can start with the kitchen.”
Some of Nonna’s decorations she liked, though many of them she didn’t understand. The fake presents wrapped underneath the Christmas tree for “festive flare,” the glass Santa Claus dolls set on the staircase. She must’ve had a hundred little men dressed in jolly, pointed hats. Vincenzo tucked many of them off to the side for later.
Sylvia went along decorating the house without saying much. She knew what everything was and where to place things—alongside Nonna’s guidance—but her smile was gone. The spirit radiating between these two family members, she couldn’t recreate it even if she tried. And she did try. For him. She’d never seen him so happy and she didn’t want to be the one to put a damper on the mood like always.
So, after trying to make a centerpiece work on the kitchen table and failing, she retired upstairs. She kept her steps light and didn’t creak any floorboards. She simply disappeared without them noticing and curled up on her bed.
She clenched her teeth to keep from crying. Why was she like this? One night of fun and she was back to her old self, lost in melancholy and only making it worse by subconsciously thinking about her woes. It shouldn’t have mattered if she hated Christmas, she should’ve felt happy for Vincenzo and this holiday that meant so much to him. All she was doing was making it about herself.
The door creaked open. Sylvia, mouth covered by her pillow, looked up.
Mezzanotte stared up at her with those golden eyes, ears up in case she needed to run.
She tiptoed to the end of the bed and hopped up. She must’ve wanted her gone so she could enjoy her afternoon nap alone.
Sylvia pouted and made herself more comfortable. This was her bed, too. They needed to learn to share.
A weight pressed deep into her side.
Mezzanotte, after making cautious bread on Sylvia’s organs, rested up against her, her black paws lost underneath her chest.
Sylvia cried at the cat’s acceptance for three straight minutes before the two of them drifted off into sleep.