Liebfraumilch, cont.

     Vodka died one Christmas while we were away, visiting my grandparents. The neighbor found her, wrapped her in a plastic bag and put her in our freezer where she stayed until the ground was soft enough, in spring, to bury her. One night I found my sister out there in the garage, standing in her nightgown with the freezer door wide open, looking in on Vodka. It was weird, my sister standing in the freezer light, her breath making clouds. “Victoria?” I whispered, “Vicky?” But if she heard me she didn’t turn around. I went back to bed and left her there.

     That was our last winter in Amarillo. We moved that June to Las Vegas, where my father had been hired to be the comptroller of a private hospital just a few blocks off the Strip. Famous people used to come there sometimes: entertainers. I realize, now, that most of them were there for plastic surgery or detox, but my father never mentioned anything about their illness. He’d just say that so-and-so had checked in for a few days, and he’d pass on to us the opinion of the staff; this one was a prima donna, that other one was down to earth.

     I wondered what words the staff used to describe my father. “Exacting,” was the word my mother favored. “Your father’s an exacting man,” she’d tell us over dinner, arching one eyebrow ironically to let us know that she meant more than she was saying. This was her response to any incidental criticism he might level at her, or at us, ranging from the price or tenderness of that night’s pork chops to the quality of Vicky’s posture at the table, to my imperfect grammar. My mother’s arched eyebrow was shorthand and we took its meaning: I am not wounded by such criticisms, and you should not feel wounded, either.

     “Guilty as charged,” my father would say, every time. “Now tell me, judge. Where might I go to pay my fine?”

     She would tap the corner of her mouth with one long, painted fingernail, and he would get up, walk around the table and kiss her, very formally, on that spot....