A Christmas Carole

i

After a decade and two years without a drink, Harry Partridge awoke thirsty.

On this morning, the dawn of his 50th birthday, he drove Moira to the train and returned to his quiet house and chose this time to reinforce his coffee with the simple, clarifying taste of Irish whiskey. A “Little Zip,” as Aunt Clara used to call it.

At once things again began to piss him off. Little things. Like making coffee. Like his old boss with his pointy shoes. Like his life. Like the rides taking to Moira to and from the train station. He loved her with all his heart, but lacerated himself as Satchyayayuga County’s self-described Ugliest Hausfrau. It was a barb he’d created at his own expense to inoculate him from the scornful derision of everybody who, he assumed, could tell… that he’d been fired. That he was a superfluous man. In the mornings he’d return to the empty house and the fruitless emails, unanswered calls, and to wait, wait, wait for a new job. For something, almost anything, to occupy and activate his 50-year-old brain and fast-aging, oversized frame.

He left the TV on one of the foreign news channels with the sound off so he could be among the first to know if the shitty, unmanageable world were blowing itself apart. Under the female presenter, who wore a veil and headscarf, the scroller thing was rolling a beautiful cursive script left to right, instead of the normal way. Normal to him, that is.

A visual slightly vertiginous, he thought. He added whiskey to the remaining coffee, which was cold.

By 3:30, he had located the only other liquor that had survived from twelve years ago. It wasn’t that hard to find. He had, after all hidden it himself. It was a dusty bottle of körtepálinka, a pear brandy from Göcsej, in Hungary. He liked obscure shit. Three more hours passed.

Moira exited the train that evening in the icy December rain without her umbrella, a warning sign.

Harry noted her pallor from inside the car. No umbrella! Considering how carefully she tended and guarded her hair, Harry understood immediately that carelessly exposing it to the rain heralded a serious development.

He leapt from the car and hurried through the icy slop to the passenger side to open the door for her. A tune had begun, naggingly, in his head. The Stones’ 2,000 Light-Years from Home.

“What is it?” He asked her look of resolute despair.

“Nothing.” She climbed in the car. He hurried back around to the other side and clumped shut the door.

She wept.

How his heart tore at the sight! The pain he felt at her weeping eyes stabbed him. He felt terribly guilty.

“What is it, Darling?”

“They let me go. After twelve years. What are we going to do?”

“Well…” He tried not to exhale. He exhaled.

She sniffled, then sniffed. She started weeping with real abandon.

“Oh, God, no! Have you been drinking?”

ii

He awoke the next morning, hungover, to the sound of birds cooing in the eaves near the heating vent.

Moira had already risen, and could be heard making desultory, distracted noises in the kitchen. She’d been reduced to her default mode, which liked the house organized and clean. It gave her body something to do while her soul traveled elsewhere, seeking sanctuary. Which she would not find with Harry.

The doves probably woke her. How she hated them! She feared everything, all members of the animal kingdom, from ant to antelope. Even these winged messengers of peace purring next the chimney.

Harry hated everything else, which masked his fear of everything.

But he was afraid to think of that.

And right now, he hated not being a little buzzed. He needed a drink, and he knew to do it he needed to get past Moira with as little incident as possible. There would be no cooing from their nest this morning. Maybe never again. He removed from his bed, and slunk into the kitchen.

“I believe I’m going to an AA meeting.”

She made no reply.

She didn’t need to. He remembered what she’d promised, should he ever drink again.

She barely even looked at him. She was yet pale, still; her eyes stricken, empty. Thousand-yarders.

iii

Harry Partridge sat in the empty church, a flask in his pocket. He hadn’t quite made it to a “Meeting,” which, was, actually, occurring at that moment below his pew in the basement of this quiet suburban presbytery. He instead sat, inert, staring above the cross at the modest stained glass in the apse of the church.

He noticed he was hungry, and decided a nip from the flask might help.

It didn’t. It only made him hungrier.

He suddenly felt a great gust of emptiness and a giddy freedom. Come what may, he needed to eat. He arose, hungry for one thing in particular. Chicken. Fried chicken.

iv

Ernie’s Tavern had existed in Patapan Woods since Prohibition and was justifiably famed for its turn at fried chicken. Harry cheerfully engaged with its unique, crispy blend of secretive flavors at the bar.

The bartender, Carl, stood propped by one leg hitched up on the ice maker. He wore a neat green apron over a red paisley tie in a crisp knot.

Around a bent-double plastic stirrer in his teeth, he offered a friendly,

“Harry. Thought you were dead.”

Partridge kept inhaling chicken, unmindful of the irony of a Bird eating a bird.

“Thanks for keeping in touch.”

Harry’s stuffed cheeks glistened, which Carl noted, “But you look the same as always. Like shit.”

Over a raised, partially eaten chicken leg, Harry affirmed it. “Feel like it,” he gagged, over a greasy mouthful.

“Ah. Manners’re as nice as ever. Regal.”

Carl toweled a small spat-out piece of chicken breast off the counter in front of Harry. “Let me clean this up for you, Your Highness.”

He cocked a suspicious eyebrow at Harry’s empty highball glass and its residuum of ice.

“Nice to see you’re easing back into the drinking, too.” Carl refilled it with ice and whiskey.

“That’s one on me.”

“Thanks.” Harry’s eyes swiveled down the bar as he sipped at the new drink. Three middle-aged women occupied the other end, below the TV. They giggled like birds at his trencherman’s ways and his seeming lack of custom with knife and fork.

“I notice you never say, ‘That one’s on me’. Have you always said it that way?

“What are you talking about? That’s what I always say, That’s one on me.”

“You don’t hear the difference?”

Two trains of thought chugged slowly along in parallel tracks in Harry’s mind. They could be biddies from the nearby legal firm. Not too bad looking.

“Who are they?”

“Down from Canada. Their sons are playing hockey.”

Harry returned his attentions to his half-ravaged platter.

“Fuck this chicken’s as good as ever.”

“As you say, Majesty,” said Carl, forcing himself not to grin.

v

Harry awoke in the quivering old mattress springs of the Chingachgook B&B with a woman named Aude sleeping on his numbed arm. Yes. One of the three women from the bar, visiting mothers from Quebec City, as it turned out, down for their sons’ hockey tourney, as Carl had mentioned.

Occasioning Harry’s awakening from uneasy dreams–and eventual further discomfiture–was an insistent pounding from the other side of the hotel room door.

“Ma? You in there?”

Harry was making fast work of his pants and shoes, by then. For a newcomer to actual infidelity, he was quickly mastering the important protocols of hasty dressing, such as the primary importance of possessing footwear and leggings.

Which still left the issue of the door, and, recalling last night’s conversation, what would most likely be a young All-Quebec defenseman on the other side of it. Guarding the pipes, if you will.

“Ma! The bus is leaving! Where the fuck are you?”

“Moment!” exclaimed Aude, pronouncing it the Quebecoise way, and, like Harry, attempting to speed-garb herself.

Harry realized something. Wife, career, life, friends…

… Fuck ‘em! Music started in his head. The Stones. Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’.

“Hey,” he whispered, hunkering low and reaching for the knob, “I just realized something.”

“Ma! Is someone in there with you?” A harsh WHAP of what sounded like a hockey stick landed on the door.

He kissed Aude. Keith Richards began his incomparable solo, in Harry’s head. Awesome.

“The father of your son is an Anglophone.”

She eyed him more quizzically than anything, and Harry rushed the door.

vi

To his considerable surprise, Harry did not awaken in a police station or a hospital or a deep cold grave but in frosted morning sunlight in his deeply cold car, parked in the big lot under the sycamore behind Macswell’s Hardware in Loretta Groves. You know, just off Route 16.

He tried the keys and the car started. It occurred to shivering Harry Partridge to feel fortunate he hadn’t frozen to death. The defroster started up and he stared blankly through the slowly dilating hole in the frost of the windshield. No apparent damage, to car or him, save for a splitting headache and background nausea. He had somehow backed his car safely into this relatively unused portion of the broad asphalt lot, near the dumpsters. He let the car warm up for a bit, and turned on the radio. The college radio station played Art Blakey’s À la Mode.

The song was rather peppy for the early hour but it was just what glum Harry wanted, a Christmas gift from heaven to inspirit him.

For he was now somehow feeling festive, headache, dry mouth and all.

Reaching for one of the three half-empty pint bottles on the floor of the passenger seat, a plum brandy, he unscrewed the cap and splashed some into his system. Cold-hot. He found a desolate bravery in the act, a pain-joy. What to do?

Where his befuddled brain could think of nothing, his animal portion, perhaps nudged by the pruny taste of the slivovice, offered up a menu of suggestions of varying urgencies, and he acted, shifting the car into gear and driving across the parking lot to the five-ringed logo of the familiar Olympos Diner. He pocketed the brandy.

He entered and was surprised to see Carl sitting in a booth facing him, reading the paper over a cup of coffee and the remains of eggs, home fries and bacon. Harry did his best to unregister his notice of Carl and to hotfoot it undetected to the right and the far end of the counter, but…

“Harry!” Harry turned to face him.

“Oh! Hey, Carl!” He feigned delight, though his rusty and abused vocal cords made it sound phlegmy and indistinct.

Carl looked up at him.

“He lives.”

Harry seated himself across from Carl. A waitress appeared, the pin through her upper lip and pink Mohawk incongruous with her neatly pressed yellow smock, white collar and “Glinda” nametag.

Harry eyed Carl’s empty plate, then the girl. “May I have one of those? And…” he pointed at Carl’s coffee cup. His unshaven face smiled supplicatingly.

She broke into another appealing incongruity, a sympathetic grin that defused completely the initial forbiddingness of her appearance. Correctly diagnosing the condition of her newest charge, she offered, “Could I bring you a water, too, Sweetie? Slice of lemon?”

He gave her a nodding dumbstruck look of numb gratitude for her small and kindly civility.

She noted something on her pad and essayed off.

Within Harry, vital elements had pushed past urgency and were now frankly demanding attention.

“Excuse me?” He stood.

Carl’s eyes tracked him.

“Here, take the paper,” Carl offered, with an uncharacteristic, wide smile.

vii

Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Well, I’m in the shit now, thought Harry, from his ceramic throne. Prince Hal.

LOCAL MAN SOUGHT

FOR QUESTIONING IN

B&B HOCKEY BRAWL

He crumpled the newspaper and washed his hands, and found he couldn’t quite dry them, hard as he tried. His heart thumped unreasonably in his chest.

A neophyte to the world of, “… being sought for questioning,” Harry Partridge was unaccustomed to the clammy hand-sweat of his newfound fugitive status.

He splashed cold water on his face and risked a look in the mirror. The six-day stubble was the opposite of “cool.” Rapidly aging faces like his only looked worse untended, never were they modish or hip, he decided. He unpocketed his lockback knife and made a cursory run at it, but the knife lacked a razor’s keenness, and only pulled painfully at the beard. He gave it up and returned to the table with Carl and his waiting, room-temperature breakfast.

“Interesting story, eh?”

“Uh,” was all Harry could think to say. He poured Heinz on his home fries and began to eat as efficiently as possible.

“You all right, Harry?”

“You can read. All my sins revealed. Worse, they called me an ‘Unemployed copywriter.’ That’s a low blow.”

“Oh, yeah. That’s terrible. Not, ‘Battery,’ or, ‘Leaving the scene of a crime.’ ‘International incident.’ And I’m quoting. Those are all fine, right?”

“Well, yeah. But what if my in-laws find out I’m in advertising?”

Carl guffawed.

“That’s funny. But, as you’ve said, you’ve ‘Left’ the field of advertising. How is Moira taking the news?” They had been quite close with Carl, once, and his on-again, off-again tablemates. Quite close, thought Harry.

Harry merely raised his eyebrows, then thoughtfully asked,

“How’s your sister?”

“Ella? Thanks for asking. She died three years ago.”

“Oh, shit! I’m sorry…”

Carl’s attention was suddenly drawn behind Harry.

“Ahh… don’t worry about it, Harry.” Carl craned a little to look behind Harry, through the diner’s glass entrance and out to the parking lot.

“Why don’t you let me pick up this?”

Harry turned carefully to look behind. A Loretta Groves police cruiser had pulled into the handicapped spot adjacent the entrance.

Harry stood up casually.

“Thanks, Carl. My condolences. I’m really sorry.”

viii

Harry killed the birds by accident.

He’d been piloting the car out by Gosling Farms that afternoon, just flying, trying to fill a soda can bong while changing the radio station. Then, appearing around a right-bending dip in the country road, suddenly, there they were: an entire population of geese, a honking of big gray and white birds spilling across the road from one icy pond to another. They appeared around a sudden bend in the snowy pastureland that Harry… was… taking… Muchtoofast.

He flattened them. Six or seven of the poor brainless beasts thumping into, onto, into-onto, over-under, under, onto the speeding machine. By sheer generous Chance, his wideshield was spared.

“What were they doing this far north this time of year, anyway,” Harry’s thoughts screamed. “Were they depressed? Suicidal?

He emerged from the car amidst the dismayed honks of the surviving birds. Shaking with adrenalized dismay, he tried to remove what he could of the birds and feathers from the grill of the car.

His “fowl” deed still unwitnessed on this lonely back-road stretch, it occurred to Harry that these birds would probably be quite edible. Something to think about. He hurriedly placed the poor dead things in his trunk.

He got back in the car, smoked the can-bong with goose-bloodied fingers, and took off. Reception on the FM was superb. The radio pulled in the Caliyuga college station, way out there, faint in the distance. They were playing Charlie Parker.

Yardbird. “Ornithology,” no less.

Harry burst out crying with ironic joy and deep remorse at this synchronicity.

His tears, mixed with the merry weed, might have hampered his driving skills, who can say? For he ran into no more trouble.

For a while.

ix

They say it is a sign of robust health to possess an appetite, so by that measure, and perhaps that measure alone, Harry could be accounted healthy.

Now that a good 200-or-so miles separated him from the scenes of his alleged transgressions (as well as his real ones), Harry felt ready to start anew. He had abetted his overnight drive along lonely Route 8A with a significant portion of coffee mixed with bourbon, so he was feeling agreeably loose and alert as he pulled into the Brew-D Hen, just over the state line.

About now, a Hot Pocket would probably sit right, he thought, with guarded, if self-loathing, enthusiasm. With a side of Cheetos.

What was he to do? First things first: Eat.

He exited the car like a feral cat of considerable size, eager for food.

Upon his return, cumbered with a plastic bag containing a 40oz Budweiser, a Hot Pocket like magma in a foil wrapper and a jumbo bag of Cheez Doodles, Harry noticed a pickup had pulled up alongside his car.

The truck’s driver, a fellow in an Elmer Fudd duck-hunting cap stood looking at the front of Harry’s car.

“Looks like a little damage, there,” remarked the man, good-naturedly, continuing his scrutiny of the feathery grill and the blood-streaked hood.

“What’d you hit? Big Bird?”

“Matter of fact,” Harry was unaccountably cool, now, measured, precise, adroit. He lowered his packages to the ground next to the trunk, “Seven of ‘em.”

He popped the trunk. He hadn’t been thorough about the goose blood on the car before. A huge oversight.

“Gawd-DAMN!” exclaimed Fudd, there, in his hat, eyes a-goggle at the gaggle in the trunk.

Harry took an overhand grip on the neck of the 40oz Bud, the way you might a tennis racquet for your first serve. It connected with the head between the earflaps atop Fudd’s craning neck.

With a light-bulb POP, hard and foamy, Elmer dropped to the ground.

x

Well, “Man proposes and God disposes,” as they say, thought Harry.

Harry cruised farther west and away from home. He was “At-Large,” he adjudged. And from a certain point-of-view, not merely loose, but to be considered, to some who’s chose to see things in that way, “Armed and Extremely Dangerous.”

Dangerous? Not possible. He felt an entirely unwarranted cheer!

Yes, “Armed.” It was a new feature for Harry’s journey! You see, Unlucky Elmer, there, at the Brew-D Hen had come loaded for bear, but not for beer. A 40 did him in. Suckered him.

Harry had somehow mustered the strength to wedge the big unconscious, beer sodden man back into the cab. Harry checked to see he wasn’t bleeding too badly and that he was still breathing, then he quickly searched the cab and bed of the vehicle, quickly uncovering a loaded Colt revolver with some godawful big bullets, an AK-47 with six 30-round magazines and an Honest-to-God, double-barreled shotgun torn right out of Warner Bros, with six boxes of shells.

Hey, lookout! Stop!

   BLAM!

   You’re gonna hurt someone

   with that ol’ Shotgun,

   Hey, What’s Up, Doc?

He smiled at the remembered cartoon, of Bugs and Elmer cakewalking, Vaudeville-style.

Part of this windfall, in the form of the big handgun, now resided in the driver’s side door pocket of the reliable Fiasco. The rifle, shotgun, and the rest of the ammunition rode in the trunk with the frozen birds.

Well, the revolver wasn’t really in the side pocket much. Harry kept testing its weight in his hand, popping open the cylinder, etc, holding it below the window line of his Ford Fiasco, aiming it at things. It’s a real Colt .45, he noted. A real cowboy Six-Shooter. A high-plains hammer. A prairie Peacemaker. Like the wheelguns in Yosemite Sam brandished on those tractor-trailer mudflaps you see that read “BACK OFF”.

Hey, lookout! Stop!

He smoked a few more puffs, thinking, and laughing quietly.

It’s funny how we look at life through a Warner Bros lens.

xi

The night rolled on, and he with it. The gradually increasing frequency of budget hotel marquees and brightly lit service plazas climaxed with the brilliant illumination of the oasis at the Interchange of 9 and 81.

The intensifying vapor-glow and many advertised recreations of this rival world, encysted within the petals of the giant cloverleaf, beckoned Harry. Beckoning petals of the heavenly-scented Lotus of the Turnpike.

His desires began to coalesce around the idea of sleep, and finding it near the center… of the Lotus…

The sudden BRRRRRR noise of his wheels biting the wake-up strip paralleling the extreme right lane of the thruway terrified him back awake at 71mph.

Enough, he thought, heart maxing, adrenaline causing his neck and forearms arms to go all prickly with gooseflesh. Goosebumps! He quickly noted then ignored the sad irony of it.

He made the exit too fast and, tires chirping, braked precipitously into the cloverleaf in search of rest and refreshment.

Rest and refreshment–and else more–Harry would easily find at the center of the cloverleaf, at the gleaming oasis of the Nev-R-Est Stop, with its themed Euro-Circus-Truckstop-Burlesque ambience and motifs seamlessly embracing the CineSoixanteNeuf multiscreen adult theater, the Casinotel Gambling Hostel, the Gogotel Dance Hotel with its flashing yellow sign visible for miles across the plain, always in sight of anyone within ten miles of its halls, looming like some invert Chartres Cathedral, blinking:

Gee…

Aye…

Are…

Ell…

Ess

GIRLS… GIRLS… GIRLS…,

… and, of course, the Nev-R-Est Stop itself, this plaza, this Venetian trading post, alive with food courts, food embassies, really, of different peoples, truck and auto service centers, pharmaceutical and sundries shops, bait, ammunition, tobacco products, perfumes, auto and truck parts, a small “Knights Hospitallers” clinic, really? A Masonic Lodge?

All of these signals passed largely unheeded through Harry’s indifferent senses and numb, incuse thoughts. But the lights and symbols and signs pleased well the “baser” desires of the caveman he yet was.

Yes, Prince Harry the Hairy still functioned stubbornly, commanding food, mead, and, yes, Beauty!

You see, the offices of his higher-order thinking stood abandoned, like a skyscraper half-built then forgotten, overrun and overgrown by the mainly limbic impulses of Unter-Harry, his everyday lizard instincts, his nose running the show, interacting hormonally with his surroundings, the lovably potent Big Gorilla reaching for Faye Wray, who would, perhaps, be found clinging to a dance pole…

His was a musky rutting functionality that certain ladies would find irresistible and certain men would wish to tenderize with a pool cue. He was a bull. A bull on auto-pilot, still reasonably polite, oftentimes funny, still offering a reasonably normal affect. Kind of nice. As they say, you don’t rise to the occasion but sink to the level of your training, and in this regard, Harry’d been well brought up and he was thus an amiable vacuity, devoid of most emotions. His training bore him normally into the parking area of the vast truck stop. For, by this time, Sweet Reason had not departed but withdrawn, shuttered away deep inside him, braced against the southwest corner next the hearth, doors barred, reading barometer and Good Book by glass-chimneyed hurricane lamp, psalms upon her lips, hoping, nay, praying, to ride out this worsening storm.

Harry Partridge pulled his war-flecked machine proudly into a space among the imposing semis.

His heart brimming with compassionate joy, he flicked his empty bottle a clean fifty yards into the darkness, where it shattered, occasioning a displeased cry from some unknown neighbor to its impact.

“You fucking crazy?” came the shouted question from the darkness.

When had he lost his phone? Should be bring the gun?

“Sorry!” he offered to the still-swearing person downrange.

Then he turned and walked compassionately towards the beaming saffron sign.

xii

At PoleLand, just off the Gogotel main lobby, Harry sat amidst a crowd of similarly ill-shaven, largish men clad in a medley of denim scraps, coveralls, leathern vests patched with flags or Harley-Davidson insignias, motorcycle club affiliations, and other woven signs suggesting possible affiliations with fringe elements right and left. It was an ideal, in its leathery, unshaved way, of America’s proud diversity.

The pulsing thump-thump-thump you can feel in your pericardium, abetted by the gin, pleasantly smoothed what was left of his mind. He allowed his eyes to exult at the sight of the beautiful women, all particolored, stripping and strobing on their poles.

One of the topless girls soon attended to him, attracted by his habitual easy draw from his wallet.

He had cashed out his 401(k), after all.

She rode low on him, grinding a hot pink thong atop his tenting lap.

“I’ll bet you look great in a two-piece,” he mumbled, staring at her revealed breasts, an inch from his nose.

She couldn’t hear him.

“What’d you say, baby?” She leaned into his ear, emitting a scent of shampoo and fecundity.

“I said, What’s your name?”

“Carole.”

Wow. He really like her eyes, and told her so. They’re hazel, almost a sand color. Never seen anything like it. Could he buy her a drink? He placed a 50 in her thong, marveling at the closeness of the shave she must have recently administered, perhaps even to the mons pubis with which she now seemed energetically to be shopping him, test-driving, looking around for bargains and sizes and versions of his not-uninterested self for perfect fit. Oh it would fit! And snugly, most appetizingly.

The music changed tempo and she arose from their commingling, both a little more familiar and quite aroused from their efforts. She leaned in and reported “I get off in an hour.”

How he hoped she had well-chosen those words as a prophecy for them both!

As he waited for Carole, he considered his situation. The Big Picture.

He had never reproduced! Never sired! He was a genetic cul-de-sac, a turnaround. He offered posterity not even the shallowest of gene pools, but a small salt lake. An exit ramp. Until now!

He was going to plant a baby in that girl!

An hour passed like a decade. Harry practiced keeping his eyes from crossing.

She appeared. Utterly changed.

“I’m going to leave a little ahead of you,” said Carole, now wearing a parka and warm-looking ski pants over her long legs. “So my… boss doesn’t get suspicious.” She made a show of thanking Harry for his largesse, “Thank you so much,” and then whispered, “Meet me in the parking lot in 20 minutes. I’ll be near the casino in a blue Honda, near the Brew-D-Hen.”

***

“What have you been doing in here?” asked Carole, astonished at the chaos within Harry’s rusting Fiasco. She gingerly levered her body into the passenger seat, pushing aside burger wrappers, drinks cups and other detritus from the seat. Her long legs caused invisible bottles of to clink in various tones in the long-unrummaged mess below the dash.

“I’m driving across country. Never done it before. Don’t know when I’ll have another chance.”

They both noted a State Police car turn off I-9 and circle towards the Nev-R-Est, its headlamps flaring them for a moment.

“What if I told you,” she breathed. He turned to find her close. She inhaled his scent and kissed him, “That you can drive me someplace? Any place you want.”

What could he say? It was turning into a nice night. He put his arms around her and returned her kiss, dearly.

“Ooh,” she rubbed his face, and cupped it in her hands. He could feel the hot moisture when she spoke. She smelled of… vanilla.

“All scratchy.”

***

They lay together on the firm mattress of a really rather nice room. They nestled in the Motel Sacher in the lobe of the great 9-81 Cloverleaf opposite the Gogotel Plex. The Euro-theme continued here in another microworld done over in Art Nouveau motifs reminding one of Vienna or Prague.

“Do you cook,” asked Harry.

“I’m pretty good.”

“Ah! Not just pretty. Pretty good!”

“What do you like to eat?”

“Most anything. Partial to goose, right now. Just picked some up.”

“Hmm. Christmas goose. Yum.” She rubbed his ample stomach. “I like a man who likes to eat.”

“Is it Christmas?” Come to think of it, he’d been hearing a lot more tinkling bell noises coming over the radio. He’d ignored them at the time, thinking them symptoms of increasing derangement, or something.

“Almost, silly. What’d you get me?”

His eyes lit up and his smile fairly beamed off him.

“It’s Christmas Eve, really?”

“Yessir.”

“My, my. Well, matter of fact, I do have a Christmas surprise for you.”

“A surprise? Can I have it now?”

“It requires hand assembly,” he smiled benevolently, guiding her hand which he cherished below the sheets. “And adult supervision.”

She gave him the Raymond-Chandler-patented, Up-from-Under look, braced with an amused white smile and arched eyebrow, all made very film noir in the shadows of the 40watt lamp in the corner.

“That’s not very surprising.”

xiii

Carole slumbered. He wrote a note to her, outlining his situation.

He had heard somewhere that strippers receive the largest tips when they are ovulating. Thinking back, all the signals were there: her lusty dance, the shampoo-fresh sandalwood hair, other scents, some identifiable, some primordial, the play of her breasts, his own reaction, with the $50s–Thank You for Your Service, President Grant!–the frankly athletic, hungry, indefatigable replies of his own arousal, all conceived by busy, busty, lusty, languorous long-legged Nature to keep this human business rolling along, without any real interference, this eternal pleasing bustle of rounded bellies, softened eyes, ripened breasts and new seven-pounders entering bawling at the disturbance of their nine-month repose.

Nature’s–and Carole’s–tricks, tried-and-true, had done what they were supposed to, lashing him through the nose, joyfully, willingly, irresistibly enslaved by desire to prize her completely and, deep within her, through the short-term lens of possibility, intercept the impossibly small target with something impossibly smaller. She had yoked her demands to his, and how they had worked together! It had demanded everything of his grouchy old bull body. Including reward, for he was no Auroch, but a full-blooded Bull! No underemployed Eunuch, he! A full-blooded Man, baby! He felt eternal for a moment.

With a creak of rusted hinges, Sweet Reason had by now cracked the metal door of her storm cellar, to peek out and emerge briefly, crabbed over and fearful, to take a first and measured survey of the damage, ready to scuttle back below at a moment’s notice, for this might only be the storm’s eye.

He wrapped the letter around $10,000 in cash and put it all in a Motel Sacher envelope he marked with, “For Junior.” THAT would be a nice Christmas surprise. He took one more look at sleeping Carole. He loved her, he decided, with everything he had. He edged out of the room.

The stars shone like lighted jewels in the moonless sky and he exhaled frosted clouds. Orion the Hunter high in the sky. Why are we taught that’s a sword in his belt, when any open eye can see it’s where his … Harry laughed a little.

It always comes down to that.

Even up there.

He started his car. His wonderful, reliable, truly admirable car. The radio came on and he caught the very end of Perry Como’s version of the The 12 Days of Christmas.

It put him in a mood to turn north on Route 81. Hadn’t been up that way in years. And just after midnight, on Christmas Morn, he made the right-angle turn.

Time to get a goose cooked.

One thought on “THE TWELVE STEPS OF CHRISTMAS

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