Timothy Liu

Last Christmas
November 23, 2022 Liu Timothy



Your best friend had brain cancer
and would’ve married you
but she knew that she couldn’t


turn you straight. The best of us
have tried, she laughed. This
was during the holiday season.


We had been driving around
in your brand new Jetta, the one
the insurance company replaced


after someone rear-ended you
in front of the county fair—a teen
who said he was going fifteen max


when it was more like forty-five,
you said, late on your payments
in the pre-pandemic, your gap


insurance expiring—a mistake
anyone could make. Somehow,
the money came through. Timing


is everything, and this was the car
we were cruising around in, snaking
through subdivisions and sprawl


on the outskirts of Rhinebeck—
looking for icicle lights hung up
in the eaves and neon blue menorahs


burning on the sills. Not too many
decorations out this time of year,
Susan said, and she was right—


religious fervor at an all-time low
if we were to judge by the kilowatts
per hour this community had been


consuming. We were driving around
with Susan instead of making love
is what I thought, riding alone


in the backseat. I wasn’t the one
who was dying, was I? Two hours
is a long time to be driving around


after sundown unless you knew
this might be the last time we
would be together. And it was.


So many women want to marry him!,
Susan tells me. Says she woke up
from a dream last night where doctors


told her that her cancer was a joke.
Susan laughs. Please! Someone tell us
this is all a joke. One house has really


overdone it this year—Santa and his
sleigh drawn by a dozen reindeer
all lit-up, life-size. Should we get out


or keep driving? How can we manage
to steal that baby from its manger
without leaving tracks in the snow?


Our moment for hijinks, shenanigans.
For all we know, this might only be 
a dream . . . blaring on the radio,


Jose James, Dianne Reeves, surely
we’ve heard them all before back in
Susan’s room where we divided


the spoils—vodka ice cubes melting
in her sippy cup, turquoise blue
American Spirits stashed in a box


of Depends. I was watching you
stringing up Xmas lights on the wall
behind Susan’s hospital bed. I was


admiring the few ornaments glinting
on a tabletop tree, an enormous
tenderness in something so small.


That was the last time I saw Susan.
Back at the car outside, you held
the front door open for me, my turn


to get in. I turned and thanked you
for including me, said, this is not
how I imagined we would be spending


the evening. Something in you broke,
misheard, I don’t know, something.
And you said: you were the one who 


invited yourself to tag along, I never 
asked for this, can’t stand to have 
any more disappointment in my life! 


You drove off in a huff, trail of exhaust
glowing red on the darkest night
of the year. I stood there, stranded


with my back to a nursing home
hemmed-in by rolling hills, moonlight
on the snow so bright, so clear.

Timothy Liu’s latest book is Down Low and Lowdown: Bedside Bottom-Feeder Blues. He lives in Manhattan and Woodstock, NY. timothyliu.net

(For more information on Timothy Liu, see his website).