I wish me a merry Christmas
The snow, falling slowly in little flocks, the day, the streets, it's all a perfect Christmas evening; except it's still the 23rd and, when I opened the door to my apartment, it was empty: not a single ornament to remind me of the large Christmas trees of my childhood; not a single present wrapped in colorful paper and big laces.
It might as well be the 24th, as it will be the same, only with much worse TV programs. Maybe I could rent something; a comedy, or porn. I wonder if I'd find porn with a Christmas theme. Probably. It would make me feel better, I guess, watching a girl wearing nothing but a red cap.
I look through the window, before closing the drapes. Two or three blocks away I can see somebody, leaning out of the balcony. It's a girl, I think. The apartment behind her seems to be empty. Why is she there? It's fucking cold. I wish she was closer, just across the street, so I could scream something to her.
But today it doesn't matter, it's late, very late, and I'm sleepy. I slept wishing me a merry Christmas.
The company is letting everyone out early. Nobody worked today, really. There was the office party, with the ridiculous exchange of CDs, in a poor parody of the Christmas spirit. It's not about getting something that costs money, it's about sharing something, life, and presents are not stuff that you spend three minutes buying, but something that has a meaning, that will be treasured for the intention more than for itself.
I keep my stupid smile all the time, though. Chris invites me to a party, promising me beautiful women and booze. I say I have other plans, in a carefully planned tone that could be interpreted anyway he wishes. He seems to think that I actually have something to do, and says ``too bad, man.''
``Maybe next year,'' I say. He shrugs. I'd hate to be in such a party. If it wasn't Christmas, I'd be there for sure. We're out of the office and it's barely noon. I decide to have lunch.
Of course, everybody decided to have a good lunch today. I can't understand why. I used to starve all day long, waiting for the supper when the table would be barely holding itself with the weight of food, plates everywhere.
I find a bar. It's still too early for Christmas drunks, I guess. Some will show up later, to prepare for a family that they hate. I'll be out of here by then. I don't want to get drunk. They have a good burger here. I should have thought about my dinner tonight, bought something. It'll be damn depressing to eat microwave food. The bartender asks me what I want, and I don't know. I just ask for a beer and a burger. I almost don't taste them, the made-by-millions-of-gallons beer and the burger whose meat who knows where it came from.
The streets are full. People buying gifts at the last minute, don't they learn anything? Long queues, what you want to get is sold out, there's too much people everywhere. I feel so out of place.
When I was a kid, I loved to see the shop windows decorated for Christmas. I was most fond of those with mechanical things. I remember one Christmas in which a large department store made as decoration a whole city, with a model train that crossed window to window, with signals, lights, little cars that I wanted to pick and move around. I could have spent a whole day in front of it, but I guess my parents were a bit tired after the five or ten minutes that they probably let me be there. I got a model train that year, but it was not even close to the one I had seen--or that had stuck in my memory.
I took a long walk, looking for places with less people but something to see. The park was my last resource.
The ice rink was not very full, but not empty either. I walked there, hoping to see some pretty girls in short skirts, trying every now and then olympic routines just to fall flat on their asses, and showing quite a lot of legs and panties in the process. Maybe that would cheer me up.
I approached the rail, on the south side, where it was higher than the rink by three or four feet. Not the best view point, it should be three or four feet below the rink, but, whatever. I just leaned on the rail, and, after a moment, glanced to the girl at my right.
Lucy, staring at me probably just as I was staring at her, mouth open.
Lucy, my first really serious girlfriend, the first girl I ever lived with, the first one I thought I'd marry (and that list only has one other name), the most painful breaking up of my life, which I'm still not quite sure why happened.
``Hi,'' I said, but practically no sound came. ``Hi, Lucy,'' I repeated, after clearing my throat.
Timmy, she was the only person ever to call me Timmy. Some people call me Tim, most just Timothy. Hearing that nick again brought me a shiver, a good shiver, of things coming back from the past.
``It's been a while,'' I said, for lack of something else to say.
``Yeah, since then.''
I looked around. She was alone.
``How are you?''
``Fine, fine,'' she said, quickly. ``What about you?''
I was going to say ``fine too,'' but I decided to say the truth.
``Not well. I had a terrible year.''
``Oh. That bad?''
``Well, if you don't count the car crash--twice--, being fired, two months out of work, bad luck with women, and not having money, then it was only bad instead of terrible.''
I smiled, and she giggled, half nervous, half nostalgic.
``Really? You never had much luck, did you?''
``No, I didn't. But this year topped them all.''
We stood in an uncomfortable silence.
``Do you want a cup of coffee? It's cold.'' Before she could say anything, I added, ``come on. Don't make my year even worse. I still have a whole week to survive.'' She smiled, and agreed.
Lucy, wearing a bright orange wool scarf and a blue blouse, colorful clothes as she always wore, perhaps to contrast against her pale blonde hair, her pretty cheeks that I loved to kiss and pinch, her small nose and thin lips, clear blue eyes; she is almost ten inches shorter than I, and I loved that, to put my chin over her head, making her playfully angry, the bouncy walk that I sometimes watched when she went away, that Lucy still existed and was by my side again. We walked to a nearby cafe in silence, but it was not uncomfortable anymore.
``Still love cappuccinos?''
``Two cappuccinos, please.''
The cafe was empty, for some reason. I guess people don't have time for coffee while buying gifts and wrapping them to be ripped off hours later and exchanged the very next day.
``Tell me about your year.''
``I want to hear it.''
``Maybe I don't want to remember it.''
She was sad for me, maybe pitiful. She just looked, her head slightly tilted as she used to do when she wanted me to do something and I said no.
``Fine. Balance of this year, let's see: three funerals, one wedding fated to failure, which at least wasn't mine, another one which I pity the bride--and I'm friend of the groom, so I know what I'm talking about--, one minor car crash, one very major car crash--I got a new, bad looking scar--, more visits to hospital than I've done in the last five years, including a two day vacation after my second crash, and no, I wasn't drunk, there was oil in the track and a motorcycle that I chose not to smash, going for the wall instead, two `nos' from girls I liked and I thought that liked me, one `no' to a girl--who, later I found out, loved me deeply, I swear I didn't know--that I didn't care for, leading her to a depression and, if it's to be believed (and I don't), a suicide attempt, one broken heart (mine, this time) after a four month relationship with a girl who then dumped me, pretty much every gadget I had, from my car, now resting in peace, to my bed alarm clock, deciding to break and requiring money to be fixed or to buy a new one, lots of money spent (I have less money today than I had an year ago), which is not surprising, considering that I spent two months without a job this year and had all these expenses. I stopped saying `things can't get any worse' in May, and right now I consider a plain day, one without (very) bad news, a reason for joy.''
She listened attentively.
``Did all that really happened?''
``Gosh. Your year really sucked.''
``Yeah, you could say that. I hope your year was better.''
``Compared to yours, it was great. Nothing bad happened. Nothing good either.''
``No, thanks,'' she smiled, sipping from the hot cup.
``Are you alone today? I thought you'd be home by now, preparing everything.'' I had spent a Christmas with her, one that reminded me of my childhood, right after my mother had died and any remains of my family tradition were finally buried.
``My father died last year,'' she said.
``He was very ill. My mother died two years ago, and he took the blow very badly.''
``I'm really sorry. You know I liked them.''
``Yes. My mother liked you, too.''
She was nothing like my mother, but she liked me. More than Susan knew.
``What are you doing for Christmas?''
``My sister did the party the last two years, but this year she moved away. It's only two and a half hours away, but everything is so full. And it was so sad last year, without either of our parents...''
``You were the one that always liked Christmas. Do you still do?''
She lifter her eyes from the cup directly to mine. Man, she is still very pretty.
``Sort of. I'm terribly lonely today, the party I was invited had nothing of Christmas, but I was walking along the shop streets and missing my childhood. Maybe I like its memories. What I associate with it.''
``So, you didn't answer what you are doing tonight.''
``Nothing,'' she said. ``But...''
``I don't want to go to a party.''
``I am not going to a party.''
``I think you shouldn't ask, Timmy.''
``If you want to have dinner?'' She just looked at me.
``My place. I can fix something. We can buy something now, go there and cook. Remember when we lived together, and--''
``Timmy,'' she called me, with her soft voice. ``It's not a good idea.''
``Lucy. Come on. What are you doing? Sitting in front of a TV, watching crap Christmas shows and thinking about all that, your parents, the sadness and loneliness, and now about us? Let's have dinner. I can tell you about my crappy year, you'll have some laughs, and that's it.''
She was playing with her spoon.
``Do you have a boyfriend, is that it?''
``No, it's not it.''
``Then... come on, Lucy.''
``We're going to fight again.''
``Yes, we will.''
``Fight over what?''
``It's all past. We were young and stupid. I was stupid. We won't go there again.''
``We will.'' She was almost childish, looking down, playing with her spoon.
``Lucy...'' I said, reaching for her hand, ``I promise.'' She didn't utter a word.
``Do you think you'd still like my roast-beef?'' Roast-beef, easy to make, lasts for days in the refrigerator. Great food for bachelors that insist in cooking every now and then.
She nodded, almost imperceptibly.
I left her at the corner, afraid that she wouldn't show up at nine for dinner, and that it could be the last time I ever saw her. With my luck, this year, this would be a perfect ending, a touch of gold. Or, I realized with a shiver after I had lost sight of her, maybe fate had something even worse in mind for me.
The good thing about believing in fate is having something to curse. This almost makes me believe in it.
As I walked to the grocery store, I hoped with all my will that buying meat for a roast-beef and a few other ingredients, maybe potatoes, I can cook potatoes, on December 24th would not be too terrible. That what I wanted would not be sold out, and that the queues wouldn't be a mile long. Of course, this was not the case. It took me close to one hour to buy not much more than the meat, potatoes, a bottle of wine, ice-cream.
I took a cab home. I was tired, and an empty one stopped practically in front of me, just to prove that I may still have a bit of luck left. I gave the driver a good tip, wondering if perhaps I wouldn't need that money more than him.
I enjoy cooking when I don't have anything else to do. When I'm late I make a mess, burn the food because I leave it do something else, or eat it raw because I don't have patience to wait for it, salt it too much, and so on. But when I have time, I enjoy it. It frees my mind of all other concerns.
This year, I tried to cook as much as I could.
When I arrived at the apartment and put the bags over the counter, it occurred to me that I should get Lucy a gift.
I left the apartment again, cursing everything that crossed my mind, except her.
When I got back to my apartment it was already dark. I left the package on my bed and started dinner.
I prepared the roast-beef with sautée potatoes, a salad like Lucy used to like, lettuce and cucumbers, ice-cream for dessert. Two bottles of wine and a bowl of chopped Italian cheese completed the feast. A shower, a shave, clean clothes.
Then I sat, waiting for the roast-beef to roast and for Lucy to come.
She arrived late, unlike her habit. Waiting for her, watching bad TV shows and glimpsing the lighted windows through my own window, without knowing if she would come was a little torture. She arrived when I decided she was not coming anymore, and was thinking if I should watch the end of the rerun of a sitcom or eat right then.
``Sorry I'm late,'' she apologized. ``It was hard to get a cab.''
I took her coat.
``You look very nice.'' She was wearing a long dress, dark blue, with long sleeves. To me it seemed twenty years out of fashion, but I don't know anything about fashion, and Lucy always did. It was pretty, though.
``Dinner is ready, we can eat anytime you like. I cooked it myself. That old roast-beef, a salad like you used to like. Come, let's open the wine.''
I felt uncomfortable, as if we were in a first date and I was again barely out of my teenage years.
``It's a nice apartment.''
``Oh, not at all. It's small, too distant from my work, but the price is nice, and the subway is just three blocks away.''
``It's nice, anyway. You live by yourself.''
``You don't?'' She hadn't mentioned anyone before.
``No, I have a roommate. I don't like her, she's too messy, and I hate her musical taste.''
``Still love romantic ballads?''
``Yes, there's nothing wrong with them,'' she said haughtily.
``And she loves hard rock?''
``Yes. I hate it. And she hates my music too.''
I filled our glasses with wine.
``Here. A toast. To a merry Christmas and a really very much better New Year. And to you, for being here.''
``Merry Christmas, Timmy.''
``Good wine,'' she said.
``No, it's not. But thanks.''
We started to chat, telling each other how our life was. On the afternoon we had still kept distant from each other, the remains of our breaking up still present. Now, things seemed settled again, back to when we first started seeing each other.
``Why do you think your year was this bad?''
``There's no reason. Coincidence. A few things lead to each other. I lost my job because I was cranky, and I was cranky because my life was really bad. Maybe that's why Pamela and I didn't...'' I cut my phrase short.
``The girl you dated for four months?''
``Did you like her?''
``A bit. Yes.''
``Do you still like her?''
``No. She was... I mean, maybe I was a pain in the ass, boring as hell, but my life was terrible. She could have left me without being so... harsh.''
``One day I met her in a restaurant, she looked straight to me and said that she thought she was losing her time with me, and that we shouldn't see each other anymore. Than she got up and left.''
``What about the other girls?''
``The ones you mentioned this afternoon.''
``The ones that said no? Well, I just said that to make my life look worse.''
``What about the one you said no to?''
``Oh. She is... a bit, you know, off balance. And it was not like... not my fault. I didn't do anything to her, we never dated. I just said no to her invitations, I thought she was just joking, and then one day she said she was serious, and I said that I didn't like her like that.''
``And she attempted suicide?''
``That's what her best friend told me, but I don't buy it. She is alive.''
``What about you, broke any hearts lately?''
``I didn't break your heart.''
``I didn't mean that. I was just joking...''
And then the silence fell again.
``I think I'll get dinner. Hungry?''
``Come, it's ready.''
The roast-beef was in the oven again, to heat. I served the salad.
``It's not much, but I still can only cook the same things.''
``You cook well. You should learn how to make other dishes.''
``I don't have time.''
``The salad is good.''
We ate in silence for a while.
``Are you still working on the same thing?''
``Yes, sort of. The names of the equipments change, they invent new buzzwords, but it's always the same thing. What about you?''
``No, I quit the fashion world. I realized I didn't have a chance to be somebody, and would die selling clothes instead of designing them.''
``I liked your designs. Is this dress yours?''
``What are you doing, now?''
``Well, you won't believe it, but I was stewardess for a while.''
``You're kidding me!''
``No, I'm not. I was. It was fun at first. I was not traveling around the world, of course. Local flights. Sometimes I was back the same day, sometimes I spent the night in some forsaken town.''
``I wish I had seen you in your uniform.''
``Timmy! You're incorrigible.''
``But I got tired of it. You know, all day serving people, moving up and down that narrow corridor. And some people are not nice at all. I hated it. If the people were nicer, or if it didn't take that long to get to the good flights, maybe I'd still be there.''
``What are you doing, them.'' She smiled, very nicely.
``I'm a teacher. Kindergarten.''
``Yes. I love it.''
``Really? Little children?''
``Yes, they are lovely. Well, sometimes they are rowdy, but I like them. They are so cute.''
``It kind of suits you, you know?''
``You think so?''
``Yes. I still prefer to picture you in a tight stewardess uniform, but being a teacher suits you.''
``Hm...'' I made a face. She giggled. ``Well, let's get the meat before it becomes charcoal.
Truth to be told, it was a bit well-done. Nothing too bad. I heated the potatoes and brought everything to the table.
``There's not much variety, but there's enough for three, so please yourself. More wine?''
``Yes, a little. Thanks.''
I served us food and drinks.
``How long have you been teaching?''
``One year and a half. This meat is good! Anyway, it was the best thing I ever did.''
And that was my best Christmas meal in a long time.
``Please, I'm full.''
``I bought your favorites: pecan butter and chocolate chips.''
``I'm fat enough.''
``Hm, let's see.'' I pinched her belly, playfully. She giggled. ``I think you could use a bowl of ice cream. Here.''
The second wine of bottle was almost half empty. I emptied in our glasses, and served us the ice cream generously.
``It's too much!''
``You have to eat everything, otherwise you won't get dessert.''
``This is dessert!''
``Then if you don't eat everything, you won't get your Christmas gift.''
``Did you buy me something?''
``If you did, you shouldn't have.''
``I won't give it to you, then.''
``Did you or did you not?''
``Hm, somebody here likes gifts.''
``I hate you.''
Then she turned to me, speaking quickly.
``I don't really hate you, Timmy. You know that, don't you? It's just that...''
``You made me promise we wouldn't talk about it.''
``Then eat that ice cream and I'll see if you deserve a gift.''
``We drank two bottles of wine already, Timmy. You know that's enough to get me drunk.''
``You're not drunk.''
``I'm not sober.''
``Well, I can't make you sober, but I can make you drunk. Here.''
``You want to get me drunk.''
``You want to get me into bed?''
When Lucy was drunk, she said whatever came to her mind. Nothing was kept unsaid. Maybe that was part of the reason why we had finally broken up, when we had a few discussions after too much alcohol and we said things that just hurt and didn't help.
``Maybe. I wouldn't say no.''
``You are a guy. You always want to get anyone to bed.''
``That's not true.''
``Only girls with two legs and between fifteen years younger or older than I.''
``Fifteen years younger? That much?''
``Fine, ten years younger or older. Is that better?''
``If you say so.''
I went to get her gift. I had hidden it in my cabinet, just in case. Since I was already there, I went to the bathroom first. I heard the music when I was opening the cabinet. A CD of old standards that she had left with me because she had another copy.
``You still have it,'' she said, without turning around.
``Yes. I couldn't throw it away. It reminds me of you.''
``Do you hear it?''
``Once every now and then. When I'm lonely and want to remember better times.''
``Were those better times?''
``No. They were the best.''
She turned around, and I was holding the gift. Her eyes were filled with tears. I had forgotten that drinking also made her emotional.
``For you. I had to buy it today, of course, so it's nothing fancy.''
She opened the package carefully, to not rip the gift paper. The gift was a small wooden box, handmade, with a hummingbird painted on the top, very delicately.
``It's very pretty,'' she said.
``I didn't buy it to see you cry.''
She dried her eyes with her left hand.
``I bought you something too. I wasn't sure if I should, but...''
She reached for her purse, and took a wrapping out of it. I opened, not so careful.
``Do you still like knives?''
It was a pretty retractable knife, the handle made of bone.
``Yes. I still have that little collection.''
``Did you like it?''
``Yes. Very much.'' I took the two gifts, placing them of the couch, then I pulled her to me, as what I knew was one of her favorite songs was starting.
We danced four songs without a break. When I stopped, I looked down, seeing her lovely eyes, and kissed her forehead. I held her that way, caressing her cheek with two fingers.
``Kiss me,'' she whispered. I did, a soft, warm kiss.
We lay on the couch, she on top of me, resting her head on my chest. Then we kissed again, for a few minutes, and she stood up, holding my hands. I followed her to my room.
She took her clothes off, and so did I. I always loved her pale body. She sat on the bed, the legs slightly apart.
``You've finally got a decent mattress.'' I laughed, sitting by her side, starting to kiss her legs.
``No, nothing like that tonight,'' she said. ``Come here, just make love to me.'' If it was what she wanted. I was soon inside her, kissing her and watching her transparent blue eyes squint every now and then. She came with a long sigh, and turned me over, to once again lie over me, and asked me to pull the cover.
``I never told you about what your mother said to me once.''
``What?'' she asked, with a sleepy voice.
``Were you sleeping already?''
``Hm, hm,'' she mumbled. But she probably was. Odd, because I used to fall asleep quite quickly after sex, and she wanted to cuddle and hear some romantic foolishness.
``She said she hoped we'd marry, someday.''
``When did she say that?'' she mumbled, after a while.
``On your birthday. I went to help her to carry trays or something, and she said that to me. In the kitchen. We were talking about something harmless, and then she said, quiet out of the blue. `I hope you two get married someday, Timothy.' Then she smiled, and gave me a tray to carry. It's my fondest memory of her.''
``Which year was that?''
``The last birthday I spent with you.''
I didn't utter another word, letting her sleep, and feeling her body against me. She has this habit of holding me like a pole or something, her legs clamping mine. I like it, her breasts against me, the nipples felt on my skin, her still fast beating heart slowing down.
Maybe the bad luck is over, and, well, things don't start or stop because a year is beginning or gone, it's all superstition. Like I said, I don't believe in fate, and I don't believe in superstition. A superstitious friend told me that these awful things would keep happening to me as long as I am an unbeliever. Perhaps, if I did believe, I'd be soundly asleep now, happy that Lucy and I were meant to be together, and not be worried instead, wondering if tomorrow she'll sober and leave to not ever come back again. I loved her once, and I think I still do, but tonight was not quite about love; it was about loneliness. And whether it's a foolish superstition, or the wine, the brandy and the sex confusing my mind, or whatever, there's still a whole week left in this year, and right now I'm afraid of it, more than I've been since it began.