We walk into Lucia’s room, the afternoon sun shining in on her set up. It was like she had been preparing all day, and she had to have had help from the maids, because there is a huge blanket spread out on the floor with actual food spread out with, of course, tea. There are six spots with a plate and a fork arranged for everyone. A bouquet of fresh flower stands proudly in the middle of the blanket, sending off an aroma that fills the room with a sweet smell of new spring, right after the snow has melted. This is so something Mama would have done. She loved to plan spontaneous tea parties or picnics.
There is a knock at the door, the typical one-two-threefourfive of our family code so we know that it is one of us knocking, not a maid.
“Come in!” Lucia says, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
Philip, Elizabeth, Molly, and Papa walked in, right on time.
“Happy Birthday!” They all cheered in unison.
“Wow Lucia, did Lydia help you set up?” Elizabeth asks, always the first to notice things. The polar opposite of her twin, Molly. Molly is always daydreaming and never really knows what to say or when to say it. Elizabeth, on the other hand, does. She knows how to spin her words so that anyone will agree with her and tends to do the talking for the both of them.
“Nope! I did it all by myself. Although the maids helped me a little.”
“Aha! Just what I thought!” I think to myself, surprised that I was right.
“That dress was Lydia’s, wasn’t it Lucia?” Papa inquires, knowing exactly which dress it was.
“Yeah! She gave it to me for my birthday!”
“Can we eat, please?” Philip asks, always hungry, as every teenage boy is. As the oldest child in the house, he has to be sort of composed when at any social event, like a ball or dinner. But when he is at home with us, he lets loose of all the stereotypes. He is as goofy as Papa is, never taking anything too seriously.
“Did you all wash your hands?” Lucia asks, again sounding exactly like Mama and takes control of the situation. “I don’t want dirt in my cake.”
“Yes we did!” Papa exclaims, laughing as he does so, even though they probably didn’t. He takes things lightly and isn’t as strict as Mama was. No, not strict. Mama wasn’t mean, she was — nice strict. She made sure we did what we were supposed to, but was never mean about it. Papa, though, he takes life with a grain of salt. Flourishing about like everything is absolutely perfect.
“Alright, I guess we can eat now,” Lucia says, sounding a little apprehensive about whether her tea party would be good enough for us all. Maybe that was why she never asked us to come, because she was afraid of disappointing us and not living up to the standards we set for her since she was so much like Mama. We all miss her so much and I think we cling to Lucia and spoil her because she does look and act so much like Mama. I’m not sure if it is fair for her to be held to this standard, being only five years old, but we need a reassurance that Mama isn’t totally gone and that she still lives on in Lucia.
“Then let’s eat!” Philip says, diving into the chocolate cake with frosting letters that spell out Happy Birthday Lucia, “This looks so good!” It is just like Philip to skip over the main meal and go straight to dessert. No one cares, though. At least, not today, not when Mama has been dead for 5 years. Not when today is a special day for Lucia, her fifth birthday. She never knew Mama, so this day has always been about her, not the unknown woman who happened to give birth to her.
“This tea tastes just like the tropics!” Molly blurts, pulling me back to reality with her random exclamation. We are the only group of people she really feels comfortable talking to. At balls and dinners she secludes into herself and lets Elizabeth speak for her. She lets everyone else do the dancing and mingling. When we retreat back to our parlor to meet after the night is over, she vents about how awful the event was and how no one would ask her to dance or try to talk to her. I think she says this to try to make up for the fact that she doesn’t actually want to talk to people and dismisses them before they can introduce themselves. Discrediting them before they have a chance to speak. “I’ve never had anything like it! Where did you get this, Lucia?”
“I don’t know. The maids got it for me. I just asked for good tea since I don’t know how to tell if tea is good or not.” Lucia responds, slightly taken aback at her abrupt comment.
“Hmm, I’ll have to ask.”
“I have to say, this is the best tea party I’ve been to.” Papa says, clearly trying to lead the conversation back to Lucia’s birthday and her special day.
“Thank you, Papa. I tried to make it extra special today, I know what today is.”
“And Mama’s death day.” There. Someone had said it out loud. Every year we all try to ignore it and focus on Lucia. Focus on the light, not the dark. A tear escapes from my eye, the traitorous thing. Lucia scurries over to hug me. Then it became a huge family hug with everyone crying. No one wanting to let go.
“Well,” Papa sniffles, “I guess it’s time for presents.” We all laugh quietly, not wanting to leave each others arms. I peel away first, ready to have fun, ready to be rid of the sadness this day always brings.
“How many are there?” Lucia says, interrupting the somber mood with her question thinking only about herself. But it’s her day. Today everything gets to be all about her.
“I didn’t count, but I know you’ll be happy no matter what,” I say, “I know you love my present to you.”
“I do! And I know I’ll love them all!”
“I’m not sure if we can beat Lydia’s gift,” Elizabeth says to Philip and Molly, “I think we’ve already lost.”
“Yeah.” Molly agrees, following her twin’s lead, as usual.
“We’ll see,” Philip says boldly, “I think mine is better.”
“How could you beat giving Lucia a new dress? That’s all she likes!”
“Well, I think you just don’t know her as well as I do.”
Our pack moves downstairs, to the parlor, ready to spoil Lucia even more. To the parlor, where we will give her more than we had ever gotten, because she deserves more. So much more.