“It’s a Wonderful Life is going to going on in a bit,” Rose said, looking at her wristwatch. “I love that movie.”
“Me too,” Paulie said. “It’s a classic!”
“What’s dat?” Da’Quarius asked.
“It’s garbage,” Helen said with a groan. “Every damn Christmas with this movie. Leave it off this year for God’s sake.”
“We can’t not watch it,” Rose said. “Da’Quarius, it’s a wonderful movie about a man who wants to kill himself, but an angel shows him what the world would be like if he was never born.”
“He should have jumped off the damn bridge and put himself out of the misery of living,” Helen said. “Damn hippy nonsense.”
“Oh!” Paulie exclaimed. “There’s no need to be so morbid. It’s Christmas!”
“He was gay you know,” Helen said.
“So are you,” Rose said with an eye roll.
“He is not!” Paulie said. “Don’t you remember how the movie studios made him prove that he was straight by banging hookers in that brothel? It’s Hollywood history.”
“Wow,” Da’Quarius said. “Hollywood sounds awesome!”
“I’m going to watch it,” Rose said cheerily. “You’re welcome to watch with me, Da’Quarius. You too, Paulie.”
“Why are you addressing them?” Helen asked. “Am I not here too?”
“You’ve been drinking,” Rose said. “And you’re being a grinch. I’ll talk to you when you can have a better attitude.”
“Madon,” Paulie moaned, rolling his eyes. “Here we go.”
“I’ll show you a better attitude,” Helen said, pushing on the chair’s arms to get herself up. “Get me my Santa suit and sit on my….”
The doorbell rang, cutting off Helen’s sentence. “Who can that be?” Rose asked, walking to the door.
“I’ll get my gun in case it’s carolers,” Helen said, following Rose.
“Oh stop it,” Rose said. “Why don’t you go to bed so the rest of us can watch the movie and have a pleasant night?”
“So dis guy sees what everyone does when he ain’t born?” Da’Quarius asked. “Sounds trippy. I wanna see it.”
“The angel uses magic to give his mother a back-in-time abortion,” Helen said.
“Helen!” Rose exclaimed as the doorbell rang again. “Maybe it is bedtime for you after all.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have been born,” Helen said. “Then you can watch your precious movie in peace.”
“Oh my!” Rose said, putting her hand on her chest. “I don’t ever want to hear you talking like that!”
Rose opened the door, and Manny and Antonio Garcia were standing on their front porch. “Merry Christmas!” they shouted in unison.
“Great,” Helen said, going back to her chair and crossing her arms as she sat. “The ghosts of Puerto Rican Christmas Present are here to pay us visit.”
2015 Christmas Special
“Merry Christmas!” Manny and Antonio shouted in unison again once they were inside.
“Feliz navidad,” Helen groaned. “Now get the fuck out.”
“Whoa!” Paulie said, getting up. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but it’s friggin’ Christmas.”
“And we brought you guys a bottle of coquito,” Manny said, holding out a rectangular bottle, wrapped in red paper. “We make it every Christmas.”
“Thank you,” Rose said, taking the bottle. “What’s in it?”
“It’s made from coconut milk and some other stuff,” Antonio said. “I don’t know all the ingredients. There’s rum though. A shit load of it!”
“How’d you make it if you don’t know all the ingredients?” Paulie asked. Manny and Antonio just stared at him.
“Madon,” Helen said. “The official Christmas booze of Puerto Rico, and you two beaners don’t know the stupid recipe.”
“Hey,” Antonio said. “We are not beaners.”
“I fuckin hate beans,” Manny added.
“I’m sorry,” Rose said. “Helen’s in a mood.”
“We ’bout to watch It’s A Wonderful Life,” Da’Quarius said.
“Oh shit,” Manny said. “That movie is awesome if you have some weed.”
“Do you have any?” Helen asked.
“Yeah,” Antonio said, snickering. “In our lungs.” He looked at his brother, and they broke down into a fit of giggles.
“You’re more than welcome to have some eggnog and watch with us,” Rose said.
“Fuck yes,” Manny said, sitting down near Helen. “Eggnog is the shit.”
Helen groaned loudly and snatched the bottle of coquito from Rose as she passed to get Manny and Antonio. “If were watching this garbage movie with the bean brothers, then I’m uncorking my gift early.” She pulled the cork from the bottle, and started gulping it down.
“Whoa,” Antonio said. “Take it to the dome!”
“Take it easy,” Paulie said.
“Really,” Rose said. “How many eggnog and brandies have you already had?”
Helen took the bottle away from her lips. “Damn pansies,” she said. “Put your stupid-ass movie on and leave me alone already. Maybe you’ll get lucky and I’ll drink myself to death, so you don’t have to pretend I’m not here.”
Helen woke up standing. The last thing she remembered was taking a swig from the Garcias’ coquito. She was on a cobblestone street and walking through a thick fog. “What the hell is this?” she asked.
“Good evening,” a man in a pin-striped suit said, approaching her through the fog. He had a warm smile and blonde hair.
“Who the holy hell are you?” Helen asked.
“You can call me Terrance,” the man said.
“You a fruit, Terrance?” Helen asked.
“I’m an angel,” Terrance replied.
“That’s not a no,” Helen said.
“Why would you even ask that?” Terrance asked. “Forget it. I’m here to show you what everyone’s life would be like if you were never born.”
“Am I dead?” Helen asked with an exaggerated sigh.
“Not yet,” Terrance said.
“Too bad,” Helen said. “I’d rather be dead then live through this clichéd scenario for another minute.”
“Watch what I have to show you,” Terrance said. “Then you can decide to live on or never have been born.”
“You think you’re going to convince me to stay and keep tormenting my family with my continued existence?” Helen said.
“Heavens no,” Terrance said. “I’m hoping to sway you the other way.”
“Then wave your magic wand, fairy,” Helen said, waving her hand around her head. “Bippity bobbity boo. Let’s get this over with.”
The fog lifted, and Helen was back in her home on Freedom Lane, only it was completely different. The furniture and decorum seemed to be fancier. The curtains looked like silk, and the coffee table was dark, polished wood. There was a very neatly decorated Christmas tree standing in the corner. Rose sat on the couch, reading a book while another woman she had never seen in her life read her book on the opposite end of the couch.
“Who’s that leggy bitch?!” Helen exclaimed, pointing at the woman. She had long legs, a slender figure, and grayish hair. She looked to be only slightly older than Rose.
“That’s Edith,” Terrance said. “You were never born, and Rose fell in love with her instead of you.”
“I’LL FUCKIN KILL THE BITCH!” Helen shouted. She charged Edith and floated right through her.
“You don’t exist here,” Terrance said, sounding annoyed. “We can only observe.”
“Great,” Helen said, rolling her eyes. “I’m trapped in limbo with the Ghost of Christmas Ambiguity.”
“Edith is Rose’s ideal mate,” Terrance said, ignoring Helen’s annoyance. “Her and Rose connected on a highly intellectual level when they first ran into each other. Edith is a retired college professor, and the two met at police auction. They both were bidding on a desk, seized from a drug dealer. Rose no longer felt the urge to send nude photos to female prison inmates once she became smitten with Edith, and the two became life partners soon after.”
“What do you want to do for dinner?” Edith asked, closing her book and putting it on the table next to her.
“I don’t know,” Rose said, folding the corner down of her own book and closing it. “How about that nice Italian place downtown near the train station?”
“You know Italian doesn’t sit well with me,” Edith said. “And the people there are always so boisterous.”
Helen huffed. “I’ll show you boisterous, bitch,” She said under her breath.
“Right,” Rose said, looking away while she thought. “What are you in the mood for?”
“How about we go to that sushi place on Chapel Street?” Edith suggested. “You always liked it there.”
“I do,” Rose said, smiling. “I’ve always loved sushi.”
“No you don’t!” Helen shouted. “I’ve never once seen you eat that raw fish jap abortion they pass off as food!”
“That’s what you think,” Terrance said as the den of the home on Freedom Lane vaporized and turned into a crowed restaurant full of hipsters, sitting on benches in front of wooden tables with their scarfs and fedoras next to them.
“What fresh hell is this?” Helen asked.
“Observe,” Terrance said, waving and arm. Helen saw Rose sitting across from Edith and laughing as she picked up a piece of sushi with her chop sticks before dipping in a small bowl of soy sauce.
“Come on!” Helen said. “Look at her, eating with those twigs! Might as well use your fingers.”
“That’s not what I wanted you to see,” Terrance said. “Rose does enjoy sushi. She’s much more compatible with Edith than she ever was with you. If you were never born, then Rose would have truly been happy.”
“Rose has eaten a lot of things, but never rice and raw fish,” Helen said, giving Terrance a stink-eye. “She’d rather have a plate of spaghetti with meatballs than that gook nonsense.”
“You don’t sound too sure of that,” Terrance said. “Let’s see how the night ends for these two lovebirds.”
The restaurant turned to fog, turning to the home on Freedom Lane once more. This time, though, Helen was looking at the bedroom she shared with Rose. The decorum was as nice in here as it was in the den. Even the hardwood floors looked nicely polished and clean. Rose and Edith sat up in bed, reading.
“Are you ready for bed?” Edith asked, putting her bookmark in a large, hardcover book and placing it on her nightstand.
“I am,” Rose said, folding the page of her own paperback and doing the same.
“Goodnight,” Edith said, giving Rose a peck on the lips. “I love you, Rose.”
“Goodnight,” Rose replied. “I love you too, Edith.”
They turned off the lights simultaneously and went to sleep. Terrance turned to Helen to give her a look that told her that he was right.
“Wipe that smug look off your face before I bite it off,” Helen said. “Let’s get to the next stop on this magical mystery tour, you pompous asshole.”
“We are going to visit your brother Paulie next,” Terrance said in the foggy alley where Helen had first met him.
“Joke’s on you, ding-dong,” Helen said. “Do your research next time. Paulie’s actually my son. If I was never born, then he was never born. You lose. Take me home.”
“Allow me to speak, and you shall be enlightened,” Terrance said. “Paulie’s existence on this planet was due to a short tryst between yourself and a man named Vincent Annuziato when you were both teenagers. Vincent had wild oats to sew, and he was going to sew those oats with or without you.”
“So Paulie just needed a sperm donor to exist?” Helen asked. “That prick Vincent just had to dump his donation in the most willing bin?”
“You realize that you are speaking of yourself and your son, right?” Terrance asked.
“Just show me what you want to show me, numb-nuts,” Helen groaned.
The fog moved, forming a house that Helen had never seen before. It was bigger and nicer than Rose and Edith’s home in her glimpse of Freedom Lane. A minora stood on a dark wood table. Paulie sat on leather couch, laughing as he spoke on his phone. His hair was the same black with gray on the sides, but it was nearly combed and gelled to stay in place. He wore a light blue button-down shirt with a dark-colored tie and khakis. “Then tell them to get off their rumps and sell sell sell,” he said in a sophisticated voice. He listened to the reaction on the other end of the phone, laughed again, and hung up.
“Meet Paul Fistberg,” Terrance said. “His grandfather took him under his wing after he was born, treating him like a prince. He had every luxury that your Paulie never had. Including a mother that didn’t pretend to be his sister, leaving him while she rotted in prison for eight years of his young life.”
“Boo-friggin-hoo,” Helen said.
“Unlike your father,” Terrance said, raising his voice. “Paul’s grandfather left him with a great sum of money, and he invested it well. He works maybe twenty days a year, and spends most of his time playing golf or traveling the world.”
“Wait a second,” Helen said. “Paul Fistberg. That’s a made up name! It’s bad enough you made him a Jew. You could have at least given him a real Jew name.”
“It is so a real name!” Terrance said. “And I didn’t make him a Jew. That’s how it would have happened without you!”
“Jews don’t have names with the word ‘fist’ in them,” Helen said. “It’s ‘Gold’ or ‘Silver’ or ‘Green’. You know. Green like money.”
“Just observe,” Terrance said, rolling his eyes.
“Who were you talking to, Paul?” a woman said, coming into the room from outside. Helen noticed the huge rock on her hand, and figured that it was Paul’s wife. She had long, curly black hair and a face and body that only money could buy for a woman her age (even though she was still at least fifteen years younger than Paul).
“That was just Calvin from the country club,” Paul said. “He invested with Seth.”
“Seth?!” the woman said, entering the den and sitting near Paul on the leather couch. “Why did you let him do that?”
“He’s going to take a bath, Babs,” Paul said. “But he’ll stay away from the Goulding’s stocks. I’ll get the shares he would have gotten, and make out like a bandit. Calvin will never know what hit him.” Paul laughed again while his wife watched him.
“Calvin’s married to my older sister,” Babs said. “Why are you so obsessed with my sister?!”
“I was married to her first!” Paul said, chuckling again. “What do you want me to do? Forget that it happened?”
“You could at least not give our in-laws shitty stock advice to line your own pockets,” Babs said, crossing her arms.
“Right,” Paul said, looking at Babs like she was a child who just said a dirty word. “And how’s that Mercedes I just bought you running?”
Babs looked a bit offended, but then changed her face into something more pleasing to Paul. “I’m sorry,” she said, kissing him on the clean-shaven cheek. “I’m going to freshen up and get ready to head to the club for dinner.”
Paul watched Babs walk up the stairs before taking his phone from his pocket. He almost immediately started sexting with his ex-wife, Babs’ sister.
“So you see,” Terrance said, walking between Paul and Helen so she could no longer read his filthy text messages. “Paul is rich, has a huge house, both a summer and a winter home, and is banging sisters.”
“I always wanted to bang sisters,” Helen said, looking away grumpily.
“That’s not all,” Terrance said.
The doorbell rang. “Can you get that?” Babs shouted from the second floor. “That’s Shronda!”
Paul finished sending his sext and jogged over to the front door. He opened it up and kissed the woman in the other side. She was a black woman around Paulie’s age with a small afro.
“Oh Madon,” Helen said. “Shronda’s alive, and he’s banging her too!”
“Stop it!” Shronda said, pulling away. “Your wife his home!”
Paul chuckled. “How’s Paul Junior?” he asked.
“Stop calling him that,” Shronda said. “Do you want to get busted?”
Paul just laughed again. “Did he enjoy the new car I bought him?” he asked.
“He loves it,” Shronda said. “But it’s too flashy. I have to work now. We’ll talk about our son when your wife isn’t home.”
“Fine,” Paul said, sitting back on the couch. He picked up the remote and turned on the news.
“Presidential candidate Tony Baloni spoke with his supporters in Washington DC today,” the anchor on CNN said. “He plans on bringing family values back to the White House…”
“Can we go yet?” Helen said. “Haven’t I seen enough?”
“Would you care to make our final stop?” Terrance asked.
“Are you going to show me how happy Harold is without me?” Helen asked. “Because that won’t help your cause.”
“He’s actually dead in this reality where you were never born,” Terrance said. “I don’t even know how that is even possible since you have never saved his life.”
“Well there’s another feather in your cap, Theresa,” Helen said. “Where are we off to next then?”
“Next, we will see to your adopted son, Da’Quarius.”
“You rotten bastard.”
“I’m so glad you decided to help us out with our fund raiser,” Principal Johnston of a Haven Hill school said, sitting at his desk. There was a young, black boy sitting across from him. Helen almost didn’t recognize her adopted son with nearly trimmed hair, a nice button-down shirt, and a polite smile when talking to someone of authority.
“My father and I are glad to help,” Da’Quarius said, handing Principal Johnston an envelope full of money. “We raised over five hundred dollars for the school at Lighthouse Point last night. The generosity of the people there was nothing short of amazing!”
Principal Johnston took a lock box from the bottom draw of the desk and placed the envelope inside. “That’s really spectacular!” he said, putting the envelope inside with the others. “We’ll get that new scoreboard in no time at this rate.”
Da’Quarius smiled. “I should go, though,” he said. “My father is waiting outside. He just wanted me to give you the money in person. He thinks it’ll teach me a lesson about charity or something. It’s a dad thing I guess.”
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” Principal Johnston said, smiling widely. “Run along. Have a great Christmas break.”
“You too!” Da’Quarius said, putting on his backpack and walking into the hall. Helen and Terrance followed, unnoticed.
“Wait,” Helen said. “So the kid has a father if I was never born? That’s bullshit. His scumbag of a mother doesn’t even know who his father is!”
“Just pay attention,” Terrance said, rolling his eyes.
Da’Quarius exited the school and walked up to a red Toyota. He opened the passenger side door and went in. Helen and Terrence were magically transported into the back. Helen was sitting behind Da’Quarius, and Terrance sat behind the driver. “Shit,” Helen said. “Let me know when you’re going to do that. I think I’m going to barf.”
“How was your day?” the man sitting behind the wheel of the car asked.
“I know that guy!” Helen exclaimed. “That’s not Da’Quarius’ dad! That’s that con-artist D’Lo Marten that tried to pose as his dad to scam us!”
“It was good,” Da’Quarius said. “Mo’ fuckers think I’m a model student an’ shit.”
“Good job,” D’lo said. “What about our donation?”
“It went smooth,” Da’Quarius said. “You was right ’bout layin’ on the sweetness. Mo’ fucker showed me right were he keepin’ da money at. It’s in a lock box in his bottom left draw. Da drawer probably locked, but we can break it open no problem.”
“Excellent,” D’Lo said, driving off. “We’ll come back after midnight and take it. “I’m sure the box will be gone after Friday.”
“What the hell is going on?!” Helen exclaimed. “They’re a father and son con-artist duo!”
“Da’Quarius was never adopted by you and Rose,” Terrance said. “He sat in the orphanage for months until someone came in looking for a boy just like him. D’Lo took him under his wing, teaching him how to play the con game. Da’Quarius was a natural, and took to these father and son scams.”
“This is just little shit,” Da’Quarius said. “How’s the big scam going?”
“Just as smoothly,” D’Lo said, smiling. “By summer, we’ll be sipping drinks by the beach on some island you can’t even pronounce.”
“And I’m still done at eighteen?” Da’Quarius asked.
“You can be done sooner,” D’Lo said. “We won’t need money ever again after this score. There’s no real reason to stick together. I’ve given you all the tools to work on your own if it’s not enough for you.”
“Thank you for dat,” Da’Quarius said. “Meetin’ you was the turning point for me.”
“Don’t thank me,” D’Lo said. “This has been mutually beneficial for us both.”
“You know,” Da’Quarius said, looking out the window. “I don’t see any reason to separate after our big score is done. Maybe we should stick together for a bit.”
“Yeah,” D’Lo said. “I’d like that too.”
“Stop the car so I can puke!” Helen said. “I can’t take it any more!”
“Which part?” Terrance asked. “Is it the fact that Da’Quarius is happier and more prosperous with D’Lo Marten as a role model? Is it the fact that a con-artist makes a better parent than you ever could? Which part is making you sick.”
“You’re stupid face,” Helen said. “Now get me out of this friggin’ car, you fruity stunad!”
“So you saw how your family would be without you,” Terrance said, now back in the foggy alley where he had first appeared to Helen. “Rose is happier in a more stable relationship. Paulie is rich, happy, and nailing sisters. Da’Quarius has the parental figure he always wanted and needed.”
“I suppose you want me to make my decision now that you’ve shown me all of that,” Helen said.
“Yes,” Terrance agreed. “You see how your loved ones would benefit if you were never born.”
“Oh, you’re so fucking smug,” Helen said. “But stupid.”
“What?” Terrance said. “I showed you the truth of how it would have been.”
“And your’e stupid for doing it,” Helen said. “Rose isn’t happier with that Edith bitch. She’s bored! All they did was read, eat a bunch of raw fish, read, and go to bed. Edith didn’t even try anything in bed!”
“Maybe Rose likes a quiet night without being groped in bed every other night,” Terrance said.
“Bullshit,” Helen said. “I know that woman, and she’s been dead inside ever since she hooked up with the brainy bitch. And don’t you dare tell me what my woman likes or doesn’t like in bed. I’ve made her squirt more times than a over-ripe peach. I bet Edith needs a cup of water on her nightstand to moisten her tongue.”
“Come on!” Terrance said, flinching.
“I’m just telling it like it is,” Helen said with a shrug.
“And what about Paulie?” Terrance asked. “He seemed happy with his money and women.”
“Just look at that asshole,” Helen said. “He’s a stuck up money-grubber. He may not be rich running his pizzeria; but he’s goddam happy doing it, and he doesn’t need to fuck sisters to be happy. Trust me, my Paulie would beat the snot out of that over-privileged asshole he’d become without me.”
“And what of Da’Quarius?” Terrance said, “Can you not see the merits of being adopted by D’Lo instead of you?”
“Da’Quarius was happy, and D’lo was doing a good job at being a foster father,” Helen said. “I’ll give you that; but D’Lo is still a con-artist, and a greedy one at that. He’ll either get busted or get killed when he crosses the wrong group of people, and where would that leave Da’Quarius? Either killed or in prison or homeless.”
“Or his big score will pay off, leaving them both happy and rich beyond their wildest dreams,” Terrance said. “Would you not want young Da’Quarius to have a chance at that life?”
“Look,” Helen said. “Show Rose and Paulie their lives of happiness and wealth and sister-fucking. Then show them that it would mean Da’Quarius being raised by a criminal. Big score or not, they’d chose to have my miserable ass in their lives rather than see that happen, and I’d agree with them.”
“Is this truly your decision?” Terrance asked.
“It is,” Helen said with a nod. “It’s not such a miserable life anyway.”
“Well shit,” Terrance said. “Now I shall never get my wings! I was going to get long, black and leathery ones. My enemies would tremble and loosen their bowels when they saw the shadow of my wingspan as I soared above them!”
“You’re one fucked up angel,” Helen said. “We about done here?”
“Pretty much,” Terrance said. “Unless you want to not be born for shits and giggles.”
“We’re done here,” Helen said. “Send me back to my earthly body and go fuck yourself, you fruit bat.”
Helen woke up to see Rose, Paulie, and Da’Quarius watching her. “Damn, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. “You just about fell through the floor when you passed out.”
“Holy shit,” Helen said, sitting up with her head swimming. “How long was I out?”
“Only a minute or two,” Rose said. “I was so worried. I thought we were going to have to call an ambulance.”
“I’m sorry,” Helen said, righting herself in her chair. “I didn’t mean to be a grump and drink all that Puerto Rican coconut wine.”
“Coquito,” Paulie corrected.
“Where’d those two gaggotzes go?” Helen asked.
“The Garcias freaked out and ran home when you fell,” Rose said.
“Well, you’re OK,” Paulie said, smiling. “You want me to help you into bed?”
“No,” Helen said. “If we haven’t missed it, I’d like to watch that movie with you guys.”
“You sure you don’t want an ambulance for her, Rose?” Da’Quarius asked.
“No,” Rose said, smiling. “It will start in a minute. Let me find the remote.” Rose went looking for the remote for the TV. She brushed against the Christmas tree lightly, causing a bell near the top to start ringing.
Da’Quarius looked at the bell. “My teacher says, every time a bell rings; it’s da convertin’ of kinetic energy of da clapper, swingin’ into da edge of da bell into sound energy, producin’ vibrations dat travel through da air you can hear,” he said. “It’s called acoustics.”
Everyone turned to look at Da’Quarius.
“What?” he asked. “He a science teacher.”
Helen pulled Da’Quarius in, giving him a poignant hug. “That’s right, kid,” Helen said. “That’s goddam, mother-fucking right.”
“Oh!” Paulie exclaimed. “It’s Christmas, Helen.”
“Found the remote!” Rose said, holding it up. “You ready to watch the movie?”
“Sure am,” Helen said. “By the way, do you know anyone named Edith?”
“Edith?” Rose said, thinking. “Oh yeah. There’s a woman in my book club named Edith. Nice woman. Used to be a college professor. Why are you asking?”
“Just curious, I guess,” Helen said, shrugging. A slow, menacing grin creeped up the left side of her face. “Just popped in my head just now. Don’t know why.”
Rose smiled and turned the TV on, and It’s a Wonderful Life started. Within minutes of the opening credits, Helen was fast asleep and snoring in her recliner.
“Just get it over with!” the eighty year old Harold Fuchs grumpily shouted from his large chair. “Enough with this damn display of grandeur.”
“Merry Christmas!” Lee (Harold’s slightly younger husband) lisped, plugging in the tree on Christmas Eve. The lights blazed in his Esmerelda Perez de la Hoya’s (Lee and Harold’s adopted daughter) eyes.
“Wonderful,” Harold said in his nasally voice, putting the legs of his recliner up and sipping at his martini. “I don’t see the minora up, though. Never do either.”
“D’jou’re Jewish?” Esmerelda asked. “D’jou never told me that.”
“He is only Jewish when he wants to be a drama queen about it,” Lee replied. “He gave his religion up decades ago.”
“It’s still part of me!” Harold exclaimed. “Do you have any idea what my people went through in the Holocaust?! And you won’t even let me light the minora on Christmas Eve.”
“Aren’t you supposed to light it when Hanukah begins?” Esmerelda asked.
“Isn’t that tonight?” Harold replied. “It’s Hanukah Eve too you know.”
“It is not Hanukah Eve,” Lee sighed. “Hanukkah was the first week of December,” he said. “I asked you, like I do every year, if you wanted to do Hanukah. You said, and I quote, ‘Fuck Hanukah and the assholes that celebrate it’.”
“And I meant every word!” Harold said. “There’s just no Christmas for me.”
“There’s this Christmas!” Lee exclaimed, waving his arms. “Did I not just light the tree?!”
Harold huffed and took another drink from his martini. He was evidently done with the argument.
“Can I open a present tonight?” Esmerelda asked, looking at the small pile of presents around the tree. “I’ll let you open something I got you guys.”
“I think that should be OK,” Lee said. “What do you think, Harold?”
“Bah,” Harold said. “Do what you want. You would have had eight presents if you celebrated Hanukah.”
“So now you know how Hanukah works all of a sudden,” Lee said with his hands on his hips. “You’re amazing. OK, Esmerelda. You can open one present tonight.”
“You’re going to like that,” Lee said. “I picked that one out!”
“He picked all of them out!” Harold grunted. “You think I went shopping with Joan Rivers over here?”
“May she rest in peace,” Lee said, looking up and folding his hands. “She was among the best of us until the very end.”
Esmerelda started ripping the paper from the package. When she was done, she opened the top of the box and peered inside. A confused look came upon her face. “What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a water color I did,” Lee said, clapping his hands lightly in front of himself. “It’s you with our dearly departed cat, Cecil. Look at how happy he is to be on your shoulder!”
Esmerelda looked the the picture Lee had painted her. Lee’s cat, Cecil, was sitting on her shoulder, and he looked as grumpy and pissy as he always did before he was eaten by Da’Quarius’ friend, Flounder.
“What do you think?” Lee asked.
“I love it,” Esmerelda lied. She knew the picture would be hung from her wall, and she’d have nightmares about that evil cat staring at her for the rest of her days on this earth.
“My turn,” Lee said, smiling widely.
Esmerelda rummaged through the presents and handed a Lee a pale blue bag. “This is from me,” she said, beaming. “I hope d’jou like it.”
“Oh,” Lee said excitedly. “I wonder what it can be!” He reached in the bag, parted the white tissue paper, and pulled out a blue purse covered in bright flowers.
“It’s not very wintery,” Esmerelda said. “But d’jou can save it for the spring. I kept the receipt in case…”
“I love it!” Lee exclaimed. “Oh my! Harold, look at this purse that little Esmerelda gave me.”
“Great,” Harold said. “Something else to prance in front of the mirror with while you call yourself Emma and act like you’re having tea with the Queen of England.”
“Now now,” Lee said. “I think it’s your turn.”
“No no,” Harold replied. “I just want to sit here and…”
“Harold’s turn!” Lee said. “Give him a present, my dear Esmerelda.”
“I missed Hanukah!” Harold snapped. “Mommy says there’s no Christmas for little Harold Fistberg. Only fucking Hanukah! Little Harold is too good for Christmas and red sweaters and a Christmas tree and Santa Claus!”
“What?” Esmerelda asked.
“Ignore that,” Lee said. “Just be grateful that it wasn’t a full blown….”
“Mommy said that Santa would come down the chimney and touch those little Catholic boys,” Harold wailed, tears falling down his face. “He’s going to poke them in their hiney-holes with his candy cane, she’d say! IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT, HAROLD?! DO YOU WANT TO BE POKED IN YOUR HINEY-HOLE?!”
“Oh God,” Lee said, moving towards Harold.
“Maybe I do, Mommy!” Harold sobbed. “Maybe I want Santa to come down and poke my hiney-hole with his candy cane! Why does it make me such a bad boy to want that?! WHY MOMMY?!”
“Shhhhhh,” Lee crooned, stroking a sobbing Harold’s head. “She’s gone now. She won’t hurt you. Quick, Esmerelda. Get him that rectangular package in the middle. That’s the one. Hurry up.”
Esmerelda ran over and placed the gift on Harold’s lap. He sniffed once and started feebly removing the wrapper. “What is it?” he asked.
“Open it,” Lee said.
Harold finished unwrapping and looked at the box on his lap. It was a brand-new fishing pole. “Lee,” Harold said.
“Your other presents are a tackle box and some lures,” Lee said. “I hate spoiling the surprise, but I bought you everything you need.”
“I haven’t been fishing in years,” Harold said.
“Now we can go to the cabin again,” Lee said. “You can sit at the dock, hang your rod over the water, and see what nibbles.”
Harold smiled. “I bet I know who might be nibbling on my…”
“Is that the door?” Esmerelda asked, eager to get away from Harold and Lee. “I can swear I heard someone knocking.”
“Go check it out, then,” Harold said. “Stop hanging around like a mistletoe filled piñata.”
“Damn puta,” Esmerelda mumbled while walking to the door. She opened it up to see nobody standing there. She looked down to see what was left. “Madre di dios.”
“What is it?” Lee asked, craning to see what was there.
Esmerelda walked back into the house carrying a basket. Inside, was a large, gray cat. “Someone left this with a note,” she said.
Lee snatched the note that was scotch taped to the front of the basket. The cat hissed as he did it. “He’s not too friendly,” he said.
“What’s the note say, Lee my dear,” Harold asked.
“It’s from Kwok’s Dry Cleaning,” Lee said, looking confused. “It’s written across the header of the paper.”
“Why on earth is our dry cleaner sending us a cat?” Harold asked.
“Dear mister and mister Fuchs,” Lee said, reading the note. “I am sorry I ate your cat. I hope you find solace in giving this one a good home for the holidays. His name is Oh Sprinkles. Merry Christmas.”
“Well is it signed?” Harold asked.
“It says it’s from ‘not Flounder’,” Lee said, looking more confused than ever. “Any idea what that means, Esmerelda?”
“No idea,” Esmerelda said, trying hard not to laugh.
“This raises so many questions,” Harold said. “Who is Not Flounder? Why is our dry cleaner sending us cats? Also, when did we have a cat that was eaten?”
“Cecil,” Lee said, looking surprised at Harold. “He went missing, and that hooligan claimed he killed and ate him. Don’t you remember shouting ‘Justice for Cecil’ for months?”
“Guess I forgot about Cecil and his murderer,” Harold said with a shrug. He looked at the cat in the basket. The gray fur was coming off in clumps and it looked like it hadn’t had a bath in years. “This guy looks ferrel. Did he find him living behind a dumpster or something?”
“I don’t know,” Lee said.
“Does the note say anything else?” Harold asked. “Like why this cat looks like he’s on death’s doorstep?”
“It actually does,” Lee said, looking over the letter again. He began to read. “P.S. This cat is fourteen years old and has feline AIDs.”
“Well that explains it,” Harold said.
“Doesn’t explain how whoever sent us a ferrel cat knows that, though,” Lee said. “I’m going to give him a bath.”
“Don’t you dare!” Harold snapped. “Bring that dying fur-ball to the street and leave it!”
“It’s Christmas!” Lee retorted. “Even if this cat only has days to live, I’m going to make them the best days of his short, little life. Isn’t that right, Oh Sprinkles.” He trotted off, upstairs carrying the white basket.
“This isn’t funny,” Harold said, looking at his new rod.
“I’m not laughing,” Esmerelda said.
“I see your face,” Harold said. “Get your little ass to bed before Santa pokes you in the nethers with a candy cane.”
“Yes, mister Harold,” Esmerelda said, mockingly. “Merry Christmas.”
“Felice navi-Hanukkah,” Harold said, taking another sip of his martini.
The Fuchs family awoke the next morning to eat Lee’s Christmas quiche for breakfast (his regular quiche served in a red and green bowl). Afterwards, the Fuchs opened the rest of their gifts around the tree. Harold sat down with a huff and had Lee or Esmerelda bring him his gifts. He opened a lot more fishing stuff (that he was genuinely surprised to receive), Lee got more accessories to go with his purse from Esmerelda (to Harold’s chagrin), and Esmerlda received lots of dresses and tan-skinned Barbies.
“Did you get Lee anything?” Esmerelda asked Harold.
“He knows what he got,” Harold said, smiling.
“Same present every year,” Lee said, also smiling. “And it never gets old.”
“If d’jou tell me, I’ll drink bleach,” Esmerelda said.
“What was that, dear?” Lee asked.
“Nothing,” Esmerelda said. “What happened to Oh Sprinkles? I haven’t heard him around.”
“He was napping in his basket,” Lee said, looking around. “But he’s gone!”
“Oh no!” Esmerelda said. “You wanna look for him?”
“You guys look,” Harold said, moving to settle into his recliner. “I’m going to take a nap.”
“OK,” Lee said, looking about with a worried look on his face. “Look under the beds upstairs, Esmerelda. I’ll look down here.”
“Alright,” Esmerelda said.
Harold closed his eyes and tried to tune out Lee and Esmerelda calling Oh Sprinkles as they looked about the house for the missing cat. He had a good sleep and dreamt nothing, but he was awoken by a panicking Lee in no time.
“Harold!” Lee exclaimed, shaking his husband’s shoulders. “Wake up. We can’t find Oh Sprinkles anywhere. He couldn’t have gotten out.”
“Oh,” Harold said, shifting in chair. Suddenly a smell hit his nose. “You woke me up too fast.”
“What?” Lee said.
Harold gave Esmerelda a sideways glance. He didn’t want to admit that he had crapped his pants in front of her. “I had an accident,” he whispered to Lee.
“Oh,” Lee said. “Esmerelda, can you go look around outside for Oh Sprinkles for a bit?”
“I thought you said he couldn’t have gotten out,” Esmerelda replied.
“I was wrong,” Lee said, beginning to get annoyed. “Get your coat on and get outside before I toss you out, you silly girl.”
“Fine!” Esmerelda said, rolling her eyes.
“We’ll look for that darn cat later,” Lee said after Esmerelda had left through the back door. “Let’s get you upstairs and cleaned up.”
“I don’t even know how it happened,” Harold said.
“Don’t worry,” Lee said. “Happens to the best of us. Let me help you up.” Lee grabbed Harold from under his arms arms and lifted him from his seat. “Alright. Let’s see how bad it is. I bet its nothing.”
Lee checked Harold’s backside and almost fell over when he saw what was making that awful smell. “Harold!” he said with a hand on his chest.
“What?” Harold asked, trying to turn to see. “I didn’t ruin my chair, did I?”
“You didn’t have an accident,” Lee said.
“Oh?” Harold asked. “Then what is it?”
Esmerelda came back in from the kitchen. “Oh Sprinkles isn’t outside,” she said. “I looked… Is that Oh Sprinkles?!”
Oh Sprinkles was stuck in Harold’s butt-crack. All four of his legs and his tail were spread out like a squashed spider. There looked to be a little clawing at Harold’s pants, but Oh Sparkles was too feeble to get through his pajamas.
“Poor guy,” Lee said, wiping a tear. “He must have suffocated. I just hope it was quick and dignified.”
“Quick maybe,” Esmerelda said. “But there’s nothing dignified when you’re killed by some puta sitting on your face.”
“What are you too talking about?” Harold said, spinning to see what Lee and Esmerelda were talking about. “What’s back there?”
“Hand me that shoe box,” Lee said, pointing to the pile if open presents and paper strewn about the floor. Esmerelda did as she was told, picking up the shoebox and dumping the green and red boots that Lee had bought her to the floor.
“Will someone tell me what’s in my ass?!” Harold exclaimed. Lee pulled whatever he felt between his cheeks out and let it fall into the box. Harold turned to see the stiff and dead body of Oh Sprinkles.
“Oh my,” Lee said, putting the top into the shoebox. He tried to push Oh Sprinkle’s little paws inside, but he was too stiff. He carried the box into the kitchen and came back a moment later. “Esmerelda, we need you to get the chiminea and build a fire in it.”
“Why?” Esmerelda asked.
“Just do it,” Harold said.
“We’re going to give Oh Sprinkles an honor that Cecil was never able to receive,” Lee said. “A Fuchs Family Cat Pyre.”
“How many cats have died here?!” Esmeralda asked, backing away from a very serious-looking Harold and Lee.
“Do as Lee asks,” Harold replied. “It’s about time you take part in our most sacred of rituals.”
The fire in the chiminea that Esmerelda built burned with a fury as the sun slowly made its descent towards the horizon. Harold, Lee, and Esmerlda stood around it, silent. After the long moment of silence passed, Lee picked up the shoebox containing the body of the cat called Oh Sprinkles. It was now full of kindling, newspaper, and the deceased cat.
“Upon his pyre ceremony, we consecrate this feline with oils,” Lee said, placing the box on a patio table next to an old notebook, an ink bottle, and a peacock feather quill. He picked up a bottle of lamp oil and gently poured a thin amount over the contents of the shoebox.
“We now give Oh Sprinkles to the flames to sanctify his spirit,” Lee said, placing the top of the shoebox back on. He pushed the shoebox through the gate of the chiminea, sliding it on top of the wood. He closed the gate once it was all the way inside. “Ashes to ash.”
The fire made its way into the box, igniting the oil and kindling around Oh Sprinkles. Flames shot from the top of the chiminea, sending the stench of burning cat fur into the Christmas Day air. Esmerelda tried not to gag, but Harold and Lee seemed not to be bothered by it.
Harold kept his head bowed with his hands folded in front of him as Lee picked up the old notebook. He opened it to the first page. “They say cats have nine lives,” he said. “But that isn’t true in the Fuchs family. Oh Sprinkles was in our lives for less than a day, but that doesn’t make his impact on our lives any lesser. We will now read the names of the cats that have passed on, urging them to welcome Oh Sprinkles into the Fuchs Halls of Kitty Cat Heaven.
“Mister Bojangles; Who was a Christmas gift from Harold to Lee. Died as Harold was wrapping him on Christmas Eve.
“Tittlesworth; Who chased a squirrel up a utility pole. Died from electrocution.
“Tom AKA Tom Tom Tickle Tush AKA Tickle Tickle Tom Tom; Missing. Presumably kidnapped and murdered by Helen Masters in revenge for Harold winning a bingo game.
“Bongos; Who fell in love with the beagle across the street. Died while making love to said beagle.
“Sassy Pants; Who loved long trips in the car. Jumped from a car window on the highway.
“Tubby Tubs; Who loved sweets and long naps. Died in his pyre during a very deep sleep.
“Helen; Who was a stray cat Harold found. Was dressed up like Helen Masters and drowned in the bathtub.”
“Milky, Silky, Dylan, Samson, Tabby, Jerry, Beefy, Bear, Ash, Crispin, Freckles, Pumpkin, Angel Cakes, General Robert Meow Lee and Stevie Wonderful; Who took part in the all-cat Civil War reenactment. All died when Harold accidentally put live ammo in all of the guns.
“Ginger; Who loved to play with balls of yarn. Died from autoerotic asphyxiation.
“Peepers; who took up smoking at a young age. Died from lung cancer at the same young age.
“Mister Pickle Puss; Who was possessed by the devil. Died during his exorcism.
“Beans; Who was sprayed by a skunk. Was released into the wild and never seen again. Presumed dead.
“Little Sassy; Who loved sitting on the couch on movie nights. Literally scared to death while watching Pet Sematary on HBO.
“Tingle; Who was murdered by his brother, Tangle.
“Tangle; Who was executed for murdering his brother, Tingle. Found to be innocent posthumously.
“Lorraine Licky; Missing. Presumably sacrificed by Rose and Helen masters during a witchcraft ritual.
“Johnny Swift; Who was dragged into a sewer drain. Presumably by Pennywise the Clown or Helen Masters.
“Mickey; Who liked to play in paper shopping bags. Died when he found one he couldn’t escape.
“Mittens; Who liked to help Lee test the line of cat toys he invented. Exploded while testing the spinning string ball.
“Winter; Who loved the outdoors. Taken by a hawk.
“Meowhammad Ali; Who was trained to be the best cat boxer of all time. Died in the ring, fighting Helen’s ringer, George Foremeow.
“George Foremeow; Who was kidnapped after the fight. Died in the ring, fighting Harold.
“Branford; Who got caught in the rain. Died when Lee tried to dry him in the oven.
“Barfy; Missing. Presumably hunted for sport by Helen Masters.
“Brownie; Who loved to nap on Harold’s favorite chair. Sat on to death by Harold.
“Pablo; Who was a surprise gift for Esmerelda’s birthday. Died while Harold was wrapping him.
“Cecil; Missing. Presumably cooked and eaten by Helen Masters.”
Harold and Esmerelda continued to watch the ground as Lee picked up the peacock quill, dipped it in ink, and brought it to the page of the notebook. “We now add a new name to the list,” he said. “Oh Sprinkles; Who came to us on Christmas Eve and died on Christmas Day. Sat on to death by Harold.”
Lee finished adding Oh Sprinkles to the long list of dead cats, put the notebook down, and rubbed Harold’s back. “Do you have anything that you want to say, Harold?” he asked.
Harold looked up. “I’m really glad I didn’t shit my pants,” he said. “And I finally feel closure for Cecil’s death. He never had his kitty pyre, and sanctifying the soul of his replacement in flames somehow brings me peace. Justice for Cecil.”
“Esmerelda?” Lee asked.
“What?” Esmerelda asked, looking up.
“Do you have anything you’d like to add?” Lee asked.
“Um,” Esmerelda said. “D’jou guys probably should have stopped getting cats after Tom Tom Tickle Tush. People have gone to jail for animal cruelty for doing a lot less…”
“We mean anything you wanted to say about Oh Sprinkles,” Harold interrupted.
“Oh,” Esmerelda said. “I can’t believe Harold sat on him for like three hours.”
“Amen,” Harold said. “Now lets get inside before we freeze to death.”
Not much was said after Oh Sprinkles’ pyre. Harold, Lee, and Esmerelda sat around the living room after Christmas dinner. Lee had made a turkey with all the trimmings, but nobody had eaten much of it. Lee wrapped up most of the dinner in tin foil and let it cool on the counter.
“We would sit in the cafeteria on Christmas night in the orphanage in Bridgeport,” Esmerelda said, no longer wishing to sit in silence. “We would all ask Santa for the same thing, even though we knew he didn’t exist. We all wanted loving families to take us in so we could have a warm fire and a Christmas tree of our own.”
“What are you trying to say?” Lee asked.
“I’m trying to thank d’jou for taking me in,” Esmerelda said, getting annoyed.
“Don’t get used to it,” Harold said. “You’re going back after New Years.”
“Harold!” Lee exclaimed. “Don’t be like that to her!”
“You want to try and get a third ticket for our cruise?!” Harold snapped. “Do you have any idea how hard and expensive that’s going to be?! Do you want to give up our balcony room for a state room with a second bed?”
“Oh yeah,” Lee responded. “Don’t worry, honey. We’ll come get you back out around springtime.”
“Probably,” Harold added with a shrug.
“Me cago en tus muertos!” Esmerelda exclaimed. “Putas!” She stormed off to her room.
“Was that ‘Merry Christmas’ in spanish?” Harold asked.
“I’m pretty sure that’s ‘Felice Navidad,” Lee replied.
“Oh well,” Harold said, settling in his seat. “I’m sure it’s a different dialect.”
Lee nodded in agreement, and started reading a book while Harold flipped through the channels on the TV. “What a lovely Christmas pyre,” he said. “We should really get a new cat. This house feels empty without at least one.”
“A new cat?” Harold asked. He sat up suddenly. “Oh my God!” He quickly shuffled into his office. Lee got up, worried. Harold came back into the den a moment later carrying a box wrapped in red and green. “I got you a surprise present.”
Lee took the box from Harold, and slowly took the top off. “Oh my,” Lee said, his trembling hand going to his mouth. “Didn’t you think to put air holes in the box?”
Harold looked confusingly at Lee.
“What was his name?” Lee asked.
“I named him Cecil the Second,” Harold said.
“We will now read the names of the cats that have passed on, urging them to welcome Cecil The Second into the Fuchs Halls of Kitty Cat Heaven,” Lee said, standing next to the chiminea with a fresh fire in it alongside Harold and Esmerelda. He held the old notebook in front of him while the stench of burning car fur once again filled the air.
“Mister Bojangles,” Lee continued. “Who was a Christmas gift from Harold to Lee. Died as Harold was wrapping him on Christmas Eve.”
“Goddamn putas,” Esmerelda mumbled under her breath. “Even ruined Christmas.”
Lotasha Venison Sherman sat at the kitchen table in the Bridgeport apartment she had been squatting in since before Halloween. She knew a little about the hispanic family that used to live here. She knew enough that the father had found a job in Indiana, so they packed up and left, not telling anyone that they were going. Lotasha knew the drill well. As long as she kept a low profile and made sure the mail didn’t pile up, it would take a while for the Housing Authority to catch on that this particular apartment’s tenants had skipped town without notifying them. It happened more times than she could count.
Lotasha stared at the two things she had gotten for Christmas. Both were by fate (she hadn’t even gotten a small tree for the project apartment). Her father wasn’t a religious man, but he would always say: “What The Lord giveth, The Lord taketh away.” She wasn’t aware that The Lord would do it on the same day.
The first of Lotasha’s Christmas surprises came as a winning lottery ticket. She had won a hundred thousand dollars from a single scratch ticket she bought with five dollars she found on the floor of a pick up truck. There would have been a long party with that money if she hadn’t opened that damn letter from her doctor first.
For her entire life, Lotasha only looked out for herself. He motto had been: “Umma do me!” (ever since she heard it in that rap song anyway). Now she wondered if what had happened was a sign. She had a strip of paper that would solve her problems and fulfill her dreams along side a piece of white paper that destroyed it. Fate was a cruel wolf-bitch to Lotasha Sherman. There was only one person she was thinking of now: her son Da’Quarius.
Her son’s new Uncle had said something that stuck in her head ever since she tried to play him for a few thousand dollars. He had told her to do the right thing with that money. She knew he didn’t fully trust her, but Paulie was a man who was betrayed by his dick easily enough. Although, maybe Paulie saw something in Lotasha she didn’t see in herself. Maybe he somehow knew that those words would stick, and they would pop back up as she wondered what to do with this last chance she was given to actually do the right thing.
“Fuck it,” Lotasha said to the tiny, silent kitchen. She got up from the table and decided to make a few plans before heading back up to New Haven, one last time.