The night before Christmas, my older brother--I'll call him Henry, because all fuck-ups are named Henry--was hitting the sauce but good. This was the year before he was saved by Christ, when the Devil still made him do silly, awful things.

I am a bit more protective of my mother and father, so I will simply refer to them by their respective nicknames, Screech and Doom. Our worst Christmas ever was the sodden, brutal Christmas of 1985, which ended only when the Swiss slut from down the street finally sobered up enough to return to her own home at noon on Christmas day.

Eighteen hours earlier, Henry had begun drinking. Screech had brought up her father from Philadelphia. This would be my last Christmas with my grandfather Arthur (he's dead, so I can use his real name), who was British, and, after two brandies, a racist. Doom had little patience for Arthur, while Screech, on the other hand, evinced a perverse, neurotic thrill in filling the house with people who made her uptight. As the party progressed, her voice rose in shrillness, and her eyes began to burn with the commanding dyspepsia of the overwrought host.

I went into the kitchen to steal liquor. There was a crash and a cackle, and Henry came rolling into the kitchen to pour himself another drink.

"Hey.... Hey!" Screech screeched, grabbing his arm. "You've had too much to drink."

"Oh, why don't you go wrap your head in hot towels for the next hundred years," Henry countered, pouring himself another whiskey. Behind them, the living room had fallen silent.

"You are not welcome at this party anymore," Screech said in a sharp whisper. "You can just go upstairs."

"You can just go to hell in a handbasket," Henry laughed, pushing beside her into the living room, where he tried to take a seat, but missed and spilled himself onto the floor. Arthur reached his hand out to him, scolding, "You are acting the fool, don't you know? Why don't you just go upstairs."

"Ah, go march off to war, you old hag," Henry replied, getting to his feet and gaining presence. Screech stood vibrating at the back of the room; Doom had vanished. Henry held his drink aloft, in a wobbling toast.

"Merry Christ-Ass, you stupid shits!"

When I awoke early the following Christmas morning, Henry was fucking the Swiss slut from down the street on the floor at the south end of the hall. He was still drunk--you could smell it. All I could see were his balls underneath the Swiss girl's ass, and I retreated into my room. An hour later, I ventured out again: Henry and the Swiss girl were both passed out in his room with the door open, still half naked. Downstairs, Screech was scowling as she drank coffee; Doom was outside working obsessively in the yard. God was certainly not in our house that morning.