We did not feel celebratory, but Mother insisted on presents. My husband and I had planned to spend the holiday states away from our families, eating Chinese food with friends from our grad school years. Mother had planned to mail us a holiday check. Instead, three days before Christmas, we buried my younger brother. The next day, Mother went shopping.
We needed nothing store-bought, but I gave her a list of things to purchase—whole bean coffee, roasted almonds, dental floss. I wanted nothing permanent.
Mother strayed. Now, whenever I scour the coat closet for a misplaced scarf and inadvertently unearth the things she bought—the houndstooth gloves for me, the video game for my husband—I think, those are the dead brother gloves, that is the dead brother game. There was also the dead brother candy: white chocolate truffles—my brother’s favorite, purchased for him, but repurposed, tucked in the top of my Christmas stocking.
I had never liked white chocolate. I believed I would throw the truffles away, that they would sprout mold in an Alabama landfill alongside my brother’s first collection of porn—the VHS tapes I had taken from the bottom drawer of his dresser so Mother wouldn’t have to face them when she went through his belongings.
I could write about epiphany, about how I drove home with those candies on the backseat, about the night I watched as one of our friends kept returning to our kitchen and slipping his hand into the silver-plate bowl, pulling out another truffle to savor. I could write about the day I finally decided to sample one of them, or about the morning weeks later when, eating brunch, I stole a spoonful of my husband’s white chocolate bread pudding, promising I just want a taste, then made the entire table wait forty-five minutes while the chef prepared another serving just for me.
But that’s another story, one for my mother, perhaps. This one is not about revelation. This is about absence. This is to say how I empty the bowl, how I keep refilling it. This is to say how I live with a thing named for something it lacks, how the sweetness coats my tongue, how there’s always a moment when I have to force myself to swallow, how I have to choke it down.