THE ANNUNCIATION by Valerie Valdes

It started the Christmas I turned ten. Like most horrible things, it happened abruptly.

“Did I ever tell you,” my mother said, “that you were conceived on Christmas?”

I paused, one hand holding a shred of torn wrapping paper while the other held my very own copy of King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow. It had come out after my birthday and I’d been damn patient waiting for it since then.

“It was in a trailer at our friends’ house,” she continued, oblivious to my slack jaw and wide eyes. “What a night. We hadn’t brought any condoms, and of course your father wouldn’t take no for an answer. ‘It’s okay, it’s only the one time, nothing’s going to happen.’ Don’t you listen if a boy ever tells you that.”

“Mom,” I said finally. “That is so gross.”

“It wasn’t gross at the time,” she replied. “It was pretty great.”

I looked down at the box still clutched in my trembling hand. Twelve floppy disks. With any luck, the memory of that moment would be suppressed by the time my game finished installing.

But once my mother remembers a story, she tends to repeat it. For the rest of the day, she told and retold the tale of her unwilling seduction to just about everyone who called to wish us a happy holiday, then to family members over dinner. We probably had leftover lechon and moros and corn and yucca and plenty of other delicious things to eat, but it may as well have been cold placenta sandwiches. Playing hide and seek with my cousins only meant more time alone to ponder my concupiscent conception.

It didn’t stop there. Every year on my birthday, and on Christmas Eve or Day, and at sporadic points in between, she would remind me of the reckless lust and the rocking trailer at which savvy folks would know not to go a-knockin’. My overactive imagination and the onset of puberty provided me with unwanted images of my old, dumpy parents going at it like dogs in heat, although the California winter had probably been pretty mild at the time.

“Mom,” I would plead. “Please, don’t tell that story, it’s embarrassing.”

“You wouldn’t be here without that story, you know,” was the amused answer.

I was, in a sense, the anti-Christ; instead of coming out on Christmas, I went in. My mother was the deflowered Mary, or maybe more like Leda and the Swan. A shudder in the loins, Yeats had said. A frequent reminder that my parents didn’t just have sex, they had wild sex. In a trailer.

This continued until the year I turned 30. Like most horrible things, it ended as abruptly as it started.

Christmas Eve. What remained of a fractured family with multiple divorces and deaths and aging grandparents was clustered around a long table under a clear night sky. I’d made the lechon that year, and the rice. The leftovers the next day would be fabulous.

My husband cleared his throat and said, “We have an announcement to make.”

“I’m pregnant,” I said quickly, before the speculation could start. The whooping and congratulating lasted a few minutes. My grandparents in particular were ecstatic.

“You know,” my mother said, looking at me but talking to everyone, “you were conceived on–”

“Mom,” I interjected. “If you tell your story, then I’m going to tell mine.” I waggled my eyebrows and gave her what I hoped was a lascivious leer.

VALERIE VALDES was born on a pirate ship that was attacked by merciless Humboldt squid, who killed her entire family in front of her infant eyes. Saved by a pod of dolphins, who raised her as their own before being captured and trained as Seaquarium performers, Valerie has dedicated her life to eradicating the scourge of the seas by eating calamari as frequently as possible.

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