On Easter that year it rained. I leapt from the top bunk at eight in the morning and ran to our front door to see that we wouldn’t be finding any chocolate outside. My parents were sleeping and their door was locked. Back in my room, I stepped on something and heard it break: a picture frame. There were four more beside it. I dragged my little brother by the ankle from the bottom bunk. He fell to the floor with a thump, but didn’t make a sound. He was used to this kind of awakening. Rubbing his head, he asked me if there was chocolate outside and I told him no it was raining, why the heck did he leave those frames on the ground, he was lucky I hadn’t cut my foot.
“Oh you broke a frame? I bought them with my own money. My grandma money. I had just enough. Couldn’t you be more careful?” He gathered the frames in his arms and looked at the broken one. The frame itself wasn’t broken, but its glass was cracked like a spider web. My brother sighed and then remembered Easter, “Well how about inside? The Easter Bunny could have left something in the living room.”
I told him no I checked there was nothing inside either.
“Well did you check under the couch? It could be there you know.”
I told him yes I checked under the couch and no there wasn’t going to be any chocolate this year.
“Well that’s not like the Easter Bunny. He’s not like Santa. He shows up, no matter how bad we’ve been,” said my brother. “What time is it. Maybe he’s late.”
I said I didn’t think so, and told him we hadn’t even been that bad.
“Well not that we know. But maybe he knows different. There was that time you stole Dad’s pills.”
I told him to shut up something was going on and we should wake our parents. At their door, we knocked, but no one replied.
My brother knocked again and said, “Mom, Dad, it’s raining outside and there’s no chocolate and maybe we did something bad but we swear we didn’t mean to and why isn’t there any chocolate is the Easter Bunny in trouble?”
I pushed him aside. Sorry about that, I said to the door. I heard rustling; from inside came the hushed waking voices of my parents.
“What do you want?” called my father.
“It’s Easter and there’s no –” I put my hand over my brother’s mouth and pulled him away from the door again.
I said through the door that we were just wondering if they knew why the Easter Bunny could have forgotten our house again, oh, and, Happy Birthday Dad. There was more rustling inside, then hushed arguing.
“Maybe he just hasn’t gotten here yet kids. Maybe he thought you’d be getting up a little later.”
“But we always get up this early,” said my brother.
“Well maybe you shouldn’t. It’s a week–” said my father, but my mother cut in.
“Will you listen to yourself? Don’t mind your father children he’s just tired. I don’t know what to tell you about the chocolate. Maybe the rain is slowing things down.” I heard more bickering inside.
Then the doorbell rang. “Oh listen. Maybe that’s him,” said my mother. My brother and I ran back to the front door. Through its window, we could see two big bunny ears. We opened the door to behold a tall man in a pink rabbit-costume holding a basket of chocolate and plastic eggs on a bed of shaved plastic grass. His face, which I did not recognize, was framed by dirty pink fleece and the front of his big rabbit ears, which had once been white, was grey. I’d never seen the man before, and I recognized his goods as the cheap kind.
“Hi kids!” He said with a huge grin. “Sorry about the rain. I’d have liked to set a little hunt up for you, but this will have to do.”
I pulled my head back a little when he extended his arms, to distance myself from the smell of wet fleece and sweat. He must have interpreted it as apprehension.
“Oh don’t worry kids. I know you aren’t supposed to take candy from strangers, but I’m not really a stranger. Your parents know me. If you don’t believe me, don’t eat anything until they tell you it’s alright.”
I took the basket and he said with a smile that crossed the entirety of his wet face, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to be returning to my duties,” then he added, pointing to the sky, “Somebody isn’t in a very good mood today.” His waterlogged ears sagging, he clicked his heels, pivoted and walked off to the van parked in front of our old Nissan. Painted on it were the words “St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Too Blessed to be Stressed.” We never went to church, and I wondered why that man thought we’d believe he was the Easter Bunny.
“That’s some pretty crappy chocolate he gave us,” my brother said after one glance at the basket.
We went back to my parents’ room, which was open. My mother was smoking a cigarette and my father was lighting one. They were watching “Style with Elsa Klensch,” which they often watched on weekends.
“Was that the Easter Bunny?” My mother said with affected enthusiasm.
No I said, that was a strange man from a church dressed up as the Easter Bunny.
“Oh, Bob,” said my father. “Yeah. He’s the guy the Easter Bunny gets to give out candy to poor kids when it rains.” He laughed absently.
My mother slapped him on the chest. “Will you shut up? Don’t listen to your father kids. He’s just tired. Come watch ‘Style’ and give me one of those chocolates.”
We hopped onto the bed and settled between our parents. My mother finished her cigarette and put her arm around my brother. On the television, women slinked toward us, their faces framed by strange wool hats. I ate my chocolate without a word and watched them. All-the-while I listened for the Easter rain to stop falling on our roof, hoping that when it did, my parents would get out of bed and tell us to stay. A little later they’d come back and lead us outside, where beneath the sun, we’d all hunt for good chocolate.
My brother left halfway through “Style,” and we later found him behind the couch — his “hideout” — trying to copy one of my father’s buildings with crayon. My mother said, “Keep up the good work honey,” and then below her breath, “what is he wasting his time copying those for?”
My father observed my brother’s bulky wax strokes. “Maybe it would’ve sold and been built if they’d seen this version.”
First, I think my father saw the melted chocolate on my brother’s fingers, dripping onto his blue crayon. Then he must have seen the brown fingerprints on my brother’s own design. My father’s sardonic smile vanished and he leaned close to my brother, where he saw the smears of chocolate on the houses and buildings he had drawn.
My brother put down his crayon and carefully unwrapped another chocolate, letting the wrapper fall onto another drawing. He put in his mouth and licked a finger, then he pointed to his drawing and asked, “You like it? It’s supposed to be a color version of your Folk Cabana Number– number– Cinco, I think? What does cabana mean?” He pronounced the “L” in folk, and said “cabana” slowly.
“What the hell did you do to my plans?” asked my father, and my brother knew there was going to be trouble. “Why is there chocolate all over every single one of the pages you have here? How long did you spend on that drawing? An hour, two hours?” He grabbed my brother’s drawing and tore it into four strips. “How does that feel? Do you have any idea how long those buildings took to design? Do you have any fucking clue what it is to work and work on something like that? To lose sleep over it for months, to finish it, to have everyone tell you it’s shit, and to have your six-year-old slob of a son smear chocolate all over it?” We’d always thought my father didn’t care about anything, that he sat in his room all day doing just that: not caring. We’d never heard him speaking the way he just had, and we both thought my brother might get a whupping. My father’s hands trembled. “You see this?” he let the four strips of paper fall to my brother below him. “You see how you feel about this? That doesn’t come close to how I feel about that,” my father pointed to his chocolate-smeared architectural plans. He turned around and went into his room, locking the door behind him. My brother began to cry immediately. He looked to my mother for comfort.
“Leave me out of this: Your father’s an asshole and you’re an idiot. I don’t side with either,” she said, and then wandered off into the kitchen to start dinner, a trail of smoke behind her.
My brother, who resembled my father in more than appearance, gathered all of the papers on the floor in his chocolate-soiled hands and sprinted into our room, locking the door behind him. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him or my father until dinner. I also knew I wouldn’t be let into my room, where my toys were, or my parents’ room, where the TV was, so I went to the kitchen to help my mother with the lamb.
I saw her putting chicken thighs in hot water to defrost them, and said I thought we were having lamb.
“Chicken was on sale,” She answered. “Get me some salt, and chop these onions up.”
I said, Chicken’s on sale a lot these days. Chicken and Ravioli– Why doesn’t Dad cook anymore?
I tried to approach my subject lightly.
I said, You know Mom, maybe you should talk to him, because when you work, I have to make dinner almost all the time now, just because he’s ‘busy in his room.’ I mean, I don’t mind doing it sometimes, but it’s getting worse and worse.
“I know honey.” She replied. “You’re being a trouper about this, but I don’t think me talking to Dad will do much. He’s just very tired these days.”
I said, Tired. He’s always tired. I’m tired too.
I chopped the onions quickly without looking down much. Then my mother said, “You know, it’s true. Maybe I should talk to him. It isn’t really fair to us is it?” I kept chopping, staring out at the rain.
At dinner, we chewed silently. My father and brother were both wearing bathrobes, and neither made eye contact. My brother looked at his drumstick, trying to figure out what part of the lamb it looked like.
I mumbled, Chicken was on sale.
My knife slipped on the thigh I was trying to cut and squeaked against the plate. I tried again, and again it slipped.
“Can you stop doing that?” my brother asked.
The chicken was overcooked and some of the onions tasted a little like blood. Cutting the chicken was particularly difficult for me, because the bandage on my left index finger made it hard to hold my fork.
After dinner my mother cleared the plates and turned off the lights. She returned to the table holding an Entenmann’s banana cake with four candles in it– “one for every 10 years.” She started happy birthday alone but I decided to join in, and she blew out the candles for my father after an uncomfortable silence.
Then she pulled three boxes from under the table. “Presents!” she said. My brother stared at the boxes and left the room.
“What do you think you are doing, come back here while your –” my mother called after him, but then she just glared at my father, like it was really his fault. He nodded, and opened the boxes: a blue sweater, a red sweater, and a green sweater.
“I didn’t know what color you’d want so pick one and I’ll bring back the other two.” Said my mother, as excitedly as she could manage.
Before my father could respond with what would inevitably be some variant on “it doesn’t matter,” or “just pick whichever you like best,” my brother returned in a huff, holding a box of his own.
“Well, look who’s back,” said my mother. He walked fast to the table, placed the box in front of my father and left the room, slamming the door behind him.
My father opened the box and looked into it. He bit his lip as he pulled out one frame. A wax drawing of Folk Cabana Number Uno. Dos through Cuatro also came out and were passed around, under my mother’s glare. My father looked inside the box and didn’t pass the last one around, but I knew that what he saw was Folk Cabana Number Cinco, in four torn strips, stained with cheap chocolate he couldn’t buy, and framed beneath a piece of glass that looked something like the windshield of our Nissan. n