Scenes From the Smith Family Christmas
By Zadie Smith
This is a picture of my father and me, Christmas 1980 or thereabouts. Across his chest and my bottom there is the faint pink, inverted watermark of postal instructions — something about a card, and then "stamp here." Hanging from the tree like a decoration is yet more mirror-writing, this time from my own pen. Does it say "Nothing"? Or maybe "Letting"?
I've ruined this photo. I don't understand why I can't take better care of things like this. It's an original, I have no negative, yet I allowed it to sit for months in a pile of mail on my open windowsill. Finally the photo got soaked, imprinted with the text of phone bills and Post-it notes. I felt sick wedging it inside my O.E.D. to stop the curling.
But I also felt the weird relief which comes from knowing that the inevitable destruction of precious things, though done in your house, was not done by your hand. What is that? Christmas, childhood, the past, families, fathers, regret of all kinds — no one wants to be the Grinch who steals these things, but you leave the door open with the hope he might come in and relieve you of your heavy stuff. And my God, Christmas is heavy.