by AC Henley
“But it's Christmas Eve!”
I know my eyes rolled. “I don't do Christmas anything. It was in the standard first date disclaimer along with the dent in my head and my partial plate.”
“We still have time to get a tree.”
“How about ice cream instead?” I wheeled the car through the last minute holiday shoppers in the mall parking lot. I had no earthly idea how I had been talked into this particular outing. I glanced side ways at my girlfriend and frowned. I knew exactly how I was talked into it. She's cute and she's very persuasive.
“They have a place here, we can get the tree as we leave.” Her blue eyes sparkled at me and I had a feeling she wasn't really listening to me. “Who do you have to buy for?”
“No one. I do not do Christmas.” I perked up as I spotted a weary mall customer burdened with a giant stuffed elephant come to a stop behind a Mini Cooper. I instinctively knew that after cramming that thing into that little car the woman would have to leave to unload. I closed the distance and signaled my intentions to all who would dare challenge me in no-man's land, then waited patiently in parking lot limbo. My fingers drummed the top of the steering wheel while I waited for the tiny car to vacate the coveted parking spot.
“I know just the thing to get your Dad.”
My poor father was just another of her hapless victims. He didn't stand a chance from the very first smile. It seems that even the fiercest of humans cannot withstand her charms. At least I had good company in my misery. My eyes narrowed at the far end of the lane where a banged up blue sedan had just completed its turn. My killer instinct kicked in as I readied myself for battle. I could be considered a mall lot rookie by most standards, but I was a quick learner and I wasn't queasy about testing the limits of this particular battlefield.
I figured the geometry of my optimum approach and closed the distance to my prize. I angled the front of my pick-up in a subtle aggressive manner and flashed my high beams at my opponent. I had little doubt I would be victorious. I could see my lover out of the corner of my eye move to the edge of the seat and survey the dwindling space between us and the blue car.
“I got it.” In actuality it was going to be a close call. I was at a disadvantage because the little Cooper backed out toward me leaving a gap big enough to maneuver a naval ship into the newly emptied space. I growled as the blue sedan signaled its intentions. My cantankerous mood lifted quickly though as the Cooper quickly found a forward gear and zipped ahead straight for the bigger car creating more than enough room for me to complete the nimble operation of parking my full size truck perfectly centered between two faded yellow lines. I beamed my partner a brilliant smile of triumph and was rewarded with a sloppy kiss on my cheek.
“Way to go sweetheart.”
“Thanks.” I breathed and rolled my shoulders to release the tension that had built up. My eyes glanced into the rear view mirror and I grimaced. My opponent was stopped directly behind us. “Shit.”
I turned in the seat to look out the split window to judge the situation better. “He looks pissed.”
“Tough, we called it first.”
I wondered briefly if there was a rule book out there somewhere on holiday parking lot etiquette. I sighed and opened my door. My canvas sneakers sank in to a puddle of slush and I just knew it wasn't going to get any better. I shook each foot to fling most of the icy mix back into the mushy abyss before making my way to the rear of the truck. I cautiously looked at the car occupants and shrugged.
“That was my spot bitch!” The man yelled out the passenger window across what assumed must be his wife. The way she flinched and blushed told me she wasn't condoning his irascible behavior.
“It's a big parking lot mister, I'm sure you'll find something.” I smiled at the mortified woman and finger waved to the two children in the back seat. I could be the bigger person.
“You should be careful dyke, someone might have a mind to put you in your place!” The woman's head dropped to her chest and her hand came up to cover her eyes as her husband continued his tirade.
My lover came to stand beside me and bent over just enough so she could see easily into the car. “Excuse me sir, you should watch your invectiveness around your children. If you would look ahead there's a nice Mercedes backing out two cars down.” I know she smiled at him then because his tight angry features relaxed as he glanced out the windshield in the direction she indicated. “You all have a wonderful holiday, and be safe. Merry Christmas.” She smiled again. Her tone of voice was soft and welcoming.
The man's umbrage completely vanished like steam through a vent. He nodded and a smile edged his lips. “Uh… thank you. You too! Merry Christmas.” He pulled up the two spaces and parked as the Mercedes pulled away.
She took my hand and dragged me toward the mall entrance. “You're something else, you know that?” I asked as I tried to keep pace with her hurried steps. She was totally hyped about this shopping adventure on this last day of the season.
“I just didn't want you to get all worked up.” My eyebrows rose in silent question. “You're not a shopping person to begin with. All I need is for you to get a big grumpy attitude before we even walk into the place. So I smoothed it over a bit.” She shrugged her shoulders.
It is true. I am not a shopper. I am a buyer. I know what I want and I know where to get it. There is no browsing and perusing needed. But happenstance would have it I am hopelessly in love with Ally Reed, Queen of the Mall Shoppers, a little known Amazon tribe from east Hoboken. I looped my arm around hers and pulled her closer to my side. She smiled over at me and placed a quick kiss on my cheek as she guided me with ease in through the mall doors.
We must have entered near the food court as my senses were immediately assaulted by the noxious odor of tater-tots and card board pizza. I glanced toward the Diablo Pub and had a fleeting thought of escaping to an afternoon of brandy and pool. I let out a girlish yelp as my side was viciously pinched by Ally, it felt like my ovary had exploded. I looked as apologetic as I could, “Sorry. I'm over it now.” I gave her a smile of acceptance of my fate. “What do you want to do first?”
A long list was unfurled in front of me. I had to blink a few times to focus on the neat printing that adorned the paper in two neat columns. It was organized by name and gift. I glanced at the list of names recognizing most but not all. “Who is Cornelius?” My eyes lingered a moment too long on his designated gift of a Mary Poppins DVD. Instantly Julie Andrews started singing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in my head. I rolled my eyes, just what I needed.
“Oh. He's the bus driver for the Montessori school down the road from the house. He picks up little Jimmy Newman across the street, you know, the kid who thinks he's a kangaroo?”
I nod. I'm familiar with child. Last year he thought he was a wombat. I wonder if his folks are from Australia.
“He waves to me every morning.” Ally continues as she pulls me toward the main concourse of the mall. “I noticed last week he wasn't driving the bus so I called the school. Seems he had an appendectomy a few days ago and won't be back to work until after the holidays. So I thought we would get him something uplifting to pass the time.” She smiled.
It was the smile that made the whole thing seem perfectly reasonable. Maybe school teachers and bus drivers had a special club or something. Although if I was laid up after a surgery for an extended period of time I would prefer a nice twelve pack of beer and a month of satellite TV service.
At the end of the short corridor just before we reach the great hall of the mall is a quartet of Rastafarian carolers singing slightly off reggae tunes about Haile Selassie's resemblance to the newborn Messiah. I raised an eyebrow at Ally who had cocked her head to the side and tucked her bottom lip under her teeth. She finally shrugged her shoulders at me. “Only in America.” I could only nod in agreement as my soaked sneakers squished out a counter beat to the steel drums.
“S Q U A W S H I S H.” Ally nudged me as she spelled out the letters. I looked puzzled at her for a moment before I realized what she was referring to. I rocked back and forth on my feet making my shoes repeat the sound. It was a common game we played in public, each of us trying to out do the other's onomatopoeia. I would have to pay close attention from now on to find one of my own.
We finally arrived at the vast openness of the inner mall and I gasped as I was confronted with an enormous effigy of a gnome wielding a golf putter in one hand and a glowing xenon gas filled arrow in the other pointing toward a sporting goods shop. I quickly wondered if there was some kind of jurisprudence governing decorations during the holidays. If there wasn't there should be. This thing was not only tacky it was plain scary.
“Who else besides your Dad?” Ally asks as I finally tear my eyes from the green monstrosity.
“Besides my Dad for what?” I counter as I followed closely behind Ally. I held tight to a corner of her sweater for dear life. We were obviously walking against the flow of traffic.
“Presents! Who else do you need to buy presents for?”
I could tell by the flabbergasted tone of her voice that she was losing patience with me. I sighed and pulled her to a stop beside a book store. “I don't do Christmas. I don't believe in any of this.” I waved my hand about indicating the grievous decorations.
“Do you think you can pretend just for a little bit?” She held up her fingers separated by a small space to indicate just how small of an effort I would have to put into pretending.
I thought about it as the parade of humanity continued to stream by us. Could I suspend my beliefs for a short period of time? Could I possibly embrace the fantastical calamity of retail Christmas? I looked back into Ally's dark brown eyes. It obviously meant a lot to her or she wouldn't be out in this mayhem buying gifts for bus drivers that she didn't even know. Then she smiled.
Three hours later found me sitting on a bench guarding all our holiday purchases. Ally placed me here about a quarter of an hour prior stating she didn't need my help with her next few purchases. I felt a strange unity with my fellow bench sitters with their own stacks of bags and packages to guard. Our benches surrounded a fanciful rock garden with giant black xenoliths shooting skyward. Small children scurried over the surfaces of the rocks like parasites on the back of an alien monster.
“Those two are mine.” The man sitting next to me commented aware of me staring at the children. “Maybe they'll be worn out enough tonight to go right off to bed.”
“They're cute kids.” I tried to negate my earlier parasite thought. Lucky for me I never suffered from xenophobia and got along well in situations with strangers.
“I thought all women liked to shop?” He asked indicating my stack of sacks. “You seemed so relieved when your friend sat you down.”
“Well its my year to be butch so I get to watch the bags.” If he was shocked at my admission he didn't show it. He smiled and nodded.
“I wondered how it worked with couples like you. So you take turns?”
I studied his face for any malice but only found an underlying mischievous glint in his eyes. “We've only been dating for eight months, we haven't decided who wears the pants yet.”
“Eight months? Isn't that like two years in a Lesbian relationship?” The man on the other side of me asked.
I did a quick study of the new comer and instantly recognized family. “I think the verdict is still out on the conversion of month to year ratio for Lesbian relationships, it is the ultimate conundrum of the twenty-first century.”
“I remember me and the Mrs. first Christmas together.” An elderly man interjected from the next bench over. He was gently wiping the runny nose of a little girl with curly blonde hair. “We had only been married for two months and couldn't agree on anything. I thought we were over before we began.” He smiled fondly before continuing. “She was a frou-frou debutante and I was a simple hillbilly from a West Virginia valley that still has no name.”
Me and my bench mates shared reflective glances wondering if this gentleman's effusive tale would take long. Perhaps this was a form of cosmic restitution that we paid for being less than enthusiastic about shopping on Christmas Eve. The man continued.
“I didn't have any concept of this Christmas.” He waved a hand to indicate the mall. “No where in the bible does it say a thing about shopping. Spending hard earned money on things that won't last to see spring. I was against it.” He shook his head defiantly. Then he smiled again, “But she showed me.” He scooted to the edge of the bench and shooed the little girl back into the fray of everlasting childhood. “She showed me all about shopping and waiting on benches. How to carry packages and spot a kick-ass sale on handbags.” We all chuckled, this apparently is some sort of training non-shoppers endure over time. Ally had pointed out several sales that she labeled as ‘kick-ass' during our little excursion.
“I learned that a simple piece of jewelry was rewarded by a juicy kiss. I learned that wrapping presents for strangers could be fun if done with the right person. I also learned that nothing was more precious than a waltz in the glow of the Christmas tree on a snowy night. But the best thing I ever learned about Christmas was not the shopping and the gifts, or the waiting patiently while she finished the shopping without me, the one truism I learned was that nothing, “ he pointed a long aged finger in our direction, “nothing can compare to making love to that one special person in your life under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.” Then he looked up past us and smiled. We all followed his gaze to find a sliver haired woman returning his smile. He stood and greeted what I assumed was his wife with a chaste kiss on the cheek. With clasp hands and call for the little girl who was playing on the rocks they began to walk away. He pulled his wife to a stop and ambled back toward us alone. We all looked upon him waiting for him to bestow more wisdom on us. He leaned in close as he spoke in a hush tone. “Nothing goes better with making love under the tree than some hot chocolate and toast with jelly.” He winked at us and hurried back to his wife.
We all sat in silence surrounded by our packages. I don't know what the other fellows were thinking about, but I was having licentious thoughts about Ally under a tree next to a small fire. I think I imagined paradise in those few short minutes before my reality came crashing down on me.
We didn't have a tree. How was I going to make love to my luscious girlfriend on Christmas Eve without a tree? I didn't know jack about Christmas trees. My head began to spin like a quasar. I needed help and fast. “Can I still get a tree?” I asked aloud in hopes that either one of my bench mates would bestow the knowledge I needed upon me.
“You're kidding right?” The dad asked with wide eyes.
“All I have to pick up is some jelly.” My queer mate replied as if relieved he wasn't in my predicament.
“I'm serious!” I throw my hands up in frustration. I needed help not snarky comments.
The dad thought for a moment, “I think there's a lot outside here at the mall. They might have some trees left.”
“Nothing bodacious that's for sure. Honey you need to buy trees early.” Nancy placed a concerned hand on my arm and gave me a reassuring squeeze. “But since this is your first Christmas and you've haven't moved in together yet…” He paused and cocked his head at me, “you haven't moved in together yet have you? I mean you Lesbians cohabitate faster than men jump bunks in a monastery.”
“No we haven't moved in together yet.” I answered a bit indignantly.
“Then a small tree will be perfect!” The dad says with a sharp slap to my back. “Did you get her a present?”
Twin groans answer me. I think I'm headed into some kind of fiasco this evening. No tree. No present. Could I possibly be anymore screwed up? “Wait. How about what the old guy said.”
“About getting nookie under the tree?” Gay guy asks with a wide grin.
“NO! I mean YES! Damn it.” I stood and set my bags on the bench. “The part about the jewelry.”
“Excellent idea!” Dad guy offers. “What are you going to get her? You're too new for a diamond.”
“Definitely too new for the rock.” Agreed our bench mate.
“Okay no diamonds, how about gold? She um… got her navel pierced a couple months ago and hasn't bought anything new for it yet, how about that?”
“Where do I go?” I ask in desperation.
Two masculine arms pointed past me and I spun around to find a small kiosk not far away displaying a sign that read Viceroy Body Jewels. “Watch my stuff please?” I didn't wait for a response knowing instinctively that my new friends would take care of my packages in this time of need.
It didn't take long for my optical nerve to lock onto the perfect thing. The post was solid gold with a gold apple on one end and an opaque iridescent jewel on the other end. The sales clerk informed me the jewel was an opal. She gave me a nifty little gift box and I wondered briefly if jewelry was a relationship manacle. I paid for my purchase confident that I wasn't proposing with bellybutton jewelry.
I returned to find my packages in good order and my bench mates made a big deal over my selection. It wasn't too long after that when Ally showed up to retrieve me. I bid my new friends Merry Christmas and followed along behind my love with my burden. Nothing was going to ruin my planned evening. I happily dodged the oncoming traffic of pedestrians and negotiated a bizarre tunnel of over sized stuffed animals, nearly tripping over a hippo and a dragon that seemed to be locked in mortal combat with a wayward unicorn.
“Are you okay?” Alley asked as we finally emerged into the clear.
I smiled. “I'm great. We need to hurry so we can get a tree.” I harnessed what strength I had left and pushed forward toward the mall exit. Ally tugged me to a stop and laid her hand against my forehead.
“You don't seem to have a fever. What happened back there on that bench?”
“Yeah with those guys.”
“We just talked.” I whitewashed my experience. It wasn't a Christmas miracle healing of leprosy but I would probably admit to an epiphany if pressed. I was having my own personal Christmas revolution and not even an asteroid crashing through the roof was going to ruin it.
She stared at me for a long moment then shrugged her shoulders in a gesture I have become accustomed to that meant she was giving up for the moment. I sighed in relief.
We stashed our bags behind the seat of the truck, it took a couple liberal pushes and shoves to settle everything in place. I knocked the icicles off my side mirror and backed out of my hard won parking spot.
The tree lot wasn't far and it seemed to be nearly deserted. A half dozen bare light bulbs illuminated a few scraggly trees. My heart sank into my stomach. The lot attendant approached us with a thin smile.
“Not much left folks, if you see something you like I'll give it to you for half off.”
I shook my head took Ally's hand.
“Did he smell like cantaloupe and strawberry rhubarb pie?” Ally asked looking back at our host.
“I didn't notice.” I mumbled.
“Just take a whiff when we pay.”
I made a scrunched face at her and she giggled. My mood instantly lifted. There had to be a tree here that would suit our needs. It just had to be big enough to make love under. I glanced at the limited selection, okay big enough to make love next to, I amended my thought. We took our time making our way through the middling of pine needles and wood chips on the ground. It was near the back of the small lot where I spotted a small but well formed tree that almost glowed a unique indigo blue color in the rising moon light. I pulled on Ally's sleeve and indicated my find.
“Oh, Shell, it's perfect.” She walked around the tree and beamed me a bright smile. “Go get the guy.” She took a hold on a small branch and planted her feet. No one was going to take that tree but us.
I found the lot attendant and dragged him back to our tree. I frowned when I found Ally in a heated discussion with another tree hunter. The man was jumping up and down in a willful display. I started to get angry as he expectorated at my girlfriend's feet and grabbed a branch on our tree, yanking it free from Ally's grasp with superior torque.
“Hold up there buddy. I don't need any Christmas Eve donnybrook breaking out over some runt of a tree. The ladies were here first.” The attendant said stepping between the tree and the pest who seemed hell bent on ruining my evening.
I was grateful for the intervention. I didn't need to end up in jail tonight for knocking this guy in the gourd. The attendant took charge of our tree and escorted us to the front of the lot. He helped me get it into the back of the truck and gave me the basics of tree care. I half listened and half daydreamed of the evening ahead. We were soon on the road.
A thought occurred to me as we exited the mall parking lot. “I don't have decorations.”
“I do.” Ally stated with a soft smile. “Let's go to my place and set up the tree. Then we can wrap presents. I still have some of that knockwurst and cabbage from last night, we'll have leftovers for dinner.”
My tummy smiled at the thought. Ally had the best knockwurst this side of the Atlantic. “Sounds perfect.”
“Are you sure you're okay? Four hours ago I wasn't sure I was even going to get you into the mall, now you're the ultimate Christmas elf. You kind of knocked me with a doozy here. What gives?”
I was silent for a long moment. What to say? Should I tell her I really just want to get laid under the tree? Wait. Is that all this is? Suddenly I felt like someone was banging a tambourine in my head. I was headed for a serious wipeout. Did I miss something in the old guy's story? I replayed what he said in my head. The shopping bit, the sales. The carrying packages. The making love and having toast and jelly with hot chocolate. Nope I was pretty sure there wasn't any hidden meaning there.
Then it hit me like an airplane slamming into the tarmac. It was about giving. It was about making my partner happy and in making her happy making myself happy. I only had to look at her and see how much joy she had this afternoon. It was crowded and smelly and we probably spent way too much money, but she was happy.
And damn it I was happy too. Maybe that's what this was all about. Finding someone you can be happy with doing the things you hate most. “I'm fine.” I finally say. “I'm having a good time doing this with you. Actually I'm having fun. So don't analyze it. We have a tree to decorate, and presents to wrap.”
She narrowed her eyes at me for a moment then smiled. “Okay. But I'm holding you to the Xena marathon tomorrow at Chance's. Don't go thinking you can get out of that just because you were good today.”
I cringed. I forgot about the all day Xena fest. Damn. “We could drive up to see my great aunt in Xenia instead. You know how you adore her quick breads and she makes that big spread for Christmas dinner.”
“You'll just end up swinging from those vines that cover her house like last year. She invites you so you can garden for her.”
“Well it is the perfect time to trim back the foliage.” I counter.
“Okay, how about this. We do Chance's tomorrow, then we'll go up to Aunt Mazy's on New Years. You can install the new door knocker we got for her.”
“No can do Honey.” I smile at her, “It'll be your year to be butch on the first. So you'll have to install it.” I backed the truck into her drive and slid out the door. I looked up into the clear sky just darkening with night. The stars twinkled back at me. Their light photons traveled billions of miles to brighten my evening. I smiled to myself.
Maybe the meaning if Christmas was different for everyone. Maybe the only thing that mattered was finding a bit of good and cherishing it. Life was never perfect but it could be good. Mine was great at the moment. That's all I needed this Christmas Eve.
Well that and some toast with jelly and hot chocolate.
Total words used: 120
Back to the Entries
Return to the Academy