Favorite

Christ, Their Lord 

A short story by Tucson's own Stacey Richter from her latest book, 'Twin Study: Stories'

What were we thinking? Well, it was June. June! One hundred and eight degrees every day. We had been looking for over six months. The house had a pool. A pool! The sign beside the curb said "reduced." Then there was the adorable 1950s-ness of it--the pink and white tile bathroom, the spangled Formica in the kitchen, the flying-saucer light fixtures. And this business about the tyrannical neighborhood association, about the streets being closed to cars and filled up with hay carts and carolers and schoolchildren and tourists, hay carts loaded with mentally disabled adults bellowing with marvel at the shiny, shiny lights, here in the subdivision of Yuletide Village, which so kindly puts on a display of holiday lights for the community for three weeks every winter--spreading the cheer, spreading it like manure--we thought ... What did we think? We thought I could handle it. But Jesus fucking Christ.

Outside in the street, I can hear people caroling--caroling, the most odious of verbs. And yet:

The Cuervo Gold

The fine Colombian

Make tonight a wonderful thing.

Trevor loves Christmas. He associates it with huge boxes filled with presents, glazed hams, furry mittens, hypnotic lights, pecan pies made just for him. I associate it with empty passageways in deserted malls where "Jingle Bells" plays over and over, followed by a glockenspiel version in Walgreens and "Deck the Halls" piped in to the parking lot, rendered by chipmunks. Meanwhile, edging in from the side is a memory of my mother sitting me down and instructing me how, as a Jewish child, to properly sing Christmas carols:

O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant

O come ye, oh come ye to Bethlehem

Come and behold him, born the king of angels

O come let us adore him,

O come let us adore him,

O come let us adore him! Christ THEIR lord.

Something happens to people's brains in the Sun Belt. I believe the constant overload of vitamin D has softened my skull and turned me nice, so that I've started to act like a nice person--though maybe with a little more of it, I will overdose and just come into my own nastiness. For it is innate, at my core. The true flowering of my being is bored and acidic and annoyed with the incredible idiots who surround me, always talking about themselves.

As an antidote I decide to read more great books so that I can keep company with the likes of Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Plato, but this time around, Socrates strikes me as repulsive, the kind of man who does not shower, does not cut his toenails, and cannot stop disabusing his neighbors of various innocently held notions. He picks food out of his teeth while explaining exactly how and why his fellow citizens are stupid asses--until finally they get so sick of his shit that they execute him.

Obviously, this is somewhat extreme. But killing one's neighbors. Now there's an idea.

Next door to the west are Jim and Cindy Nickles. She's a kittenish, fifty-year-old schoolteacher with long legs, dyed hair, and eyes loaded with mascara. I find Cindy's girlishness loathsome--her fakey hostess patter, fluttering lashes, house pride, her complete and utter dedication to the veneer--it's all freakishly like a Cheever story, but without the antique furniture. She talks and talks--the subject is Christmas decorations! Because the bad thing is starting, the very, very bad thing. Her husband, Jim, is handsome yet inert, a chair-sitter. "Jim thinks I'm terrible!" she says. Jim leafs through a magazine. Every now and then, perhaps preemptively, Cindy cries, "Jim, Jim, stop!"

In the first week of December, we enter the casual, laid-back ambit of Christmas hell. The neighborhood-wide decorations go up. The cherry pickers give me hope. They are sort of intriguing, with the men wobbling up there in plastic tubs stringing lights along the branches of the Aleppo pines, big, shaggy yetis that do not evoke the tannenbaum. Then, one by one, our neighbors begin to erect elaborate dioramas in their yards. Apparently, there is a contest. Cindy Nickles rings the doorbell and makes me come out and pretend to admire her Wise Men, which are wooden cutouts, decaying and faded like my mental companion Socrates. For some reason, when I look at them I go into a trance; this reminds me of the experience I had with the dead paloverde beetle under the stairs, three inches long and disgusting, eerily reminiscent of half a baked potato. I couldn't tear my eyes away from it. I just stood there for five minutes, zombied out, staring, thinking, Ick! Ick! Ick!

Possibly the pot smoking is not helping things.

A few words about Trevor: he is not my husband. We do not plan to marry. We do not plan to reproduce. We keep separate bank accounts, and when we go out to dinner, we ask the server to split the check on two cards. In any other neighborhood, in any other part of our mildly liberal desert town, our relationship would be unremarkable. However, we've masochistically chosen to live in the most conservative subdivision we could find, a little slice of I Love Lucy and Leave It to Beaver, a relic inhabited by school principals and policemen and old, old ladies, plumbing contractors documenting the evils of fluoridated water, a gnarled minister, people with flagpoles in their lawns and RVs named Windpasser or The Invader parked in their side yards. We ourselves seem so strange by contrast that the neighbors occasionally walk out of their houses and look at us if we are, for example, out front doing some yard work while wearing black T-shirts and black shoes with headphones attached to our heads. What are we? Satanic fornicating animal mutilators? And then there is the parade of homosexuals and curators and musicians and freelancers and enviro-activists and hunchbacks and dwarves and other unmarried people who occasionally visit us, our friends and acquaintances, degenerates all.

Anyway, Trevor. He is so cute. He has a dent in his chin and curly hair that sits flat against his head, like the marble hair on Michelangelo's David. Anyone who can do funny voices like he can deserves a medal. Sometimes I think he would drink fourteen martinis every night if he didn't think it would displease me, but he works hard all day in his little home office, designing Web sites that help people buy important things, like patio-misting systems, and is funny and sweet and only occasionally teases me about the dark hair growing out of the mole on my neck. I'm absolutely certain that he loves me, but sometimes, to make sure, I follow him from room to room like a hungry little dog.

You'd think that the Nickles house would have a nicer Christmas display, as everything else in and around their property is polished and controlled in a manner that makes a person wonder when Jim and Cindy stopped sleeping together. The poodle clip of their hedge, the Tombstone roses twined carefully over the trellis around the door--chuppa style, the style of my people, greedy eaters of borscht and chopped liver, and three slices of rye bread with that--for Jim and Cindy Nickles, everything must be outwardly nice. Must be nice! Of course, there's their thirty-five-year-old son who still lives in the back house, a sort of a converted shed with an air conditioner completely conjoined to the double-brick exterior via rust. I've looked inside: cot, dorm fridge, bong, cable box, a stack of comic books hiding a larger stack of porn. The son himself is as pale as a cave creature, though his palms have a faint orange glow from a diet of processed cheese snacks.

That he is roughly my contemporary disturbs me.

And that together we have been doing some bong hits.

I need a special sticker on my car now to get in and out of the neighborhood in the evening. The sticker designates me as an accursed resident of Yuletide Village as I honk and scowl and inch my way at five miles per hour through the smiling and entranced crowds touring the holiday lights, until I manage to terrify a lady in a three-wheeled Handy Cart out of the way and turn into my own driveway--a pool of darkness in a sea of light. For we have no decorations. No crèche, no baby Jesus, no rebellious Star of David. No animatronic carolers jerking to and fro like drunken frat dudes, no Charlie Brown in a snowsuit, nothing to delight children or adults or disabled adults or grandparents or sullen adolescents with creamy, sentimental centers who are not really so tough. What we offer the holiday crowd is this: a little of nothing for no one.

I fiddle with the CD player in the dash. I've been experimenting to see what kind of music cancels out Christmas music. I had hopes for hip-hop and thrash metal, but I've discovered that it's the mellow, pot-smoking music of the seventies that neutralizes merriness best. I sit for a minute in the driveway, cranking it. Steve Miller sings about how some people call him the Space Cowboy. Others call him the Gangster of Love.

As I make my way from the carport to the kitchen door, a random man yells at me. "What kind of a jerk doesn't celebrate Christmas?"

"My kind of jerk," I mutter back.

In the evening, Trevor sits me down. He says he has a suggestion regarding the decorations. He wants us to have some.

"Nothing elaborate or stupid. Maybe just a string of lights."

What Trevor doesn't understand is that My Hate is heartfelt and true and not something to be disregarded. My Hate must be respected. It is stately and grave and very sad, like an elephant in leg irons.

"I don't think so."

"Okay," Trevor sighs. "How about a log?"

We're sitting beside the flagstone fireplace, beneath the amoebae-shaped overhead lamp, in the bliss of our pure, never-renovated fifties living room. I'm wearing a puffy dress and an apron. He's drinking a martini from an angular martini glass. Previously, I had been in the back house doing bong hits with the revolting Nickles bat child, who's happy for the company, I guess. I guess no one has ever talked to him voluntarily. I knock at the window and stand outside as we pass the bong back and forth. I think it's clear to both of us that the interior of the shack is totally encrusted with semen and could be described as such, like some kind of nouvelle cuisine entrée, monkfish, and that it would be wholly unacceptable for me to set foot inside. So I stay out in the yard, leaning against the parts of the shack that have been rinsed by rainwater. The Bat Boy and I agree that the marijuana makes the lights look more interesting.

"A log?"

"Yes."

"A log and only a log?"

"Yeah. Here's the thing. It's pagan."

Trevor shows me an article from a Christian newspaper called Good News. It explains that Jesus was not actually born in December, but in midsummer. The article goes on to urge Christians to stop celebrating Christmas, because it is a pagan holiday bequeathed to us by hairy Druids who worshipped trees, wine, beasts, mind-bending herbs, and the holy fertility of vaginas.

"Those pagans sound just like Hell's Angels."

"Kind of," Trevor says, with some doubt in his voice.

I dust off my apron and pick out a log from the bin of firewood beside the fireplace and carry it out the door. There are maybe a hundred pedestrians on the sidewalk in front of our house at that hour, gawking at the decorations on either side, bundled up, singing, holding cups of spiced cider, faces awash in golden light--and they all turn to look at me when I open the door. Who am I? I might be Santa! Trevor leans against the doorway pinching a martini glass like Cary Grant. I walk to the center of the lawn. I heave the log from my chest and it thuds into the center of a square of winter grass and lodges there. A log and only a log.

It looks rather festive.

Sometimes I wonder what the Bat Boy thinks about all this. It's hard to tell. As I open the gate between our yards and approach the shack, he bounces up and down as though I'm his favorite babysitter and says, "Dude, guess what? Guess what? I watched the Twilight Zone marathon today!" He's pudgy, with close-set eyes sunk deeply into his head. His face is greasy, and sometimes a hair protrudes from his nose. Weirdly, the Bat Boy has a deep, baritone voice, which gives him an air of maturity undercut by his tendency to mouth-breathe, to chuckle vacantly, to rehash eighties slang. He often shields his eyes with his hands while we're talking, as though I am a blinding light. I don't mind, as he's so nauseating that I can barely bring myself to look at him full in the face, anyway.

"Any good?"

"Bitching," he booms.

I lean against the windowsill of the back house and accept the bong while, in the background, wafting on the breeze, floats the statement "It's a holly, jolly Christmas." The bong is made of blue plastic, and the little bowl is packed with pungent sinsemillan. The Bat Boy gets it from Fat Man, who comes by once a week, a lifetime supply of adipose rolling around beneath his T-shirt--one of his few other visitors.

The Bat Boy gestures toward the bong and says, "It's like it sucks your brain out, puts it in a Cuisinart, then pours it back in your skull all smooth."

Indeed, he is correct. I look out over the Nickles backyard and feel the smooth-brain beauty of night in the desert: crisp but not cold, the moon above like a spotlit Chihuahua, the Christmas lights blinking in the neighborhood beyond, so unreal. So totally fake, the cheer and goodwill and such. The Bat Boy starts his strange, guttural chuckle. Sometimes he seems just slightly off in his manner, as though he'd spent a few seminal years in another country--maybe France. Then he talks about going to the salad bar with his mother and filling his plate with raisins and I realize that there's something deeply wrong with him. I'm worried for the Bat Boy. He's thirty-five and has never done his own laundry. My God, who wouldn't be worried for the Bat Boy? He's clearly in the throes of something universal and corrupt. He smells sour. He doesn't floss. He looks at me with his sunken eyes. I'm probably the only woman who has ever spoken to him more than once, aside from his mother. He knocks the bowl against the side of the shack and the ashes sprinkle out. I have a question for him.

"You know that song 'Jingle Bells'?"

The Bat Boy nods.

"What kind of weird grammatical thing is going on with that 'jingle'? What is it? Is it an imperative verb? An adjective? The horse's name?"

The Bat Boy stares at me blankly, then says, "It's the bells." He chuckles and adds, "They jingle."

That is what the Bat Boy thinks of all this.

Later his mother tells me that he can play "Flight of the Bumblebee" on the piano flawlessly. But nothing else. Not even "Chopsticks."

Elsa comes over and talks and talks but doesn't listen, as is the way with Elsa. She's an artist with willowy arms, neck, and legs and a big fat ass that I would never dream of mentioning if I liked her better. She paints transgressive portraits of dead animals (as, curiously, have nearly all the artists I've ever known). Trevor finds her sort of relaxing. "Because you never need to worry about making conversation when Elsa is around."

"I know people who would kill for this audience," she says.

"Audience?"

"These crowds outside. These hordes of people. Where can you find a gathering like that? An audience that possesses the gaze, that sees, yet without anticipating art or even beauty."

"They're just here to look at our log." Trevor is sipping a cocktail called a Gibson, which is a martini containing something that isn't an olive--possibly a cotton ball.

Elsa continues on as though no one else had spoken. "Yet they come to behold, to witness a visual experience. Something transcendent, beyond the seasonal. Beyond the Santa or the Rudolph or the tripartite Snow Man."

"I don't really think of it as transcendent. More like torture."

Elsa fixes me with her chilly stare. "Right. Well, you can whine about it, or you can use it as inspiration to make something better." She bites a nail. "You should do something with this. You should make a statement."

"A statement?"

"Exactly. Like art. Like some really motherfucking intense art." Elsa walks to the window and flings open the curtains. She gestures toward the bedazzled neighborhood overrun with children and carolers and grandparents and horsies. They all look back in at us through the window. "What is this, if not a vernacular form of installation art?"

"Christmas decorations?" I venture.

Elsa looks at me with disdain, as is the way with Elsa. "Get out of your head," she advises. "Get out of your head and into the world."

I'm mellowing out with Steely Dan's "Gaucho," trying to block out the caroling, when my mother calls. My mother--always helpful, always striving. She's the last of that generation of women who were not expected to have jobs or even hobbies. Therefore, she's been forced to hurl herself into the business of others, endlessly, day and night, just to keep herself busy, the poor thing. She's become fascinated by the holiday occupation of our neighborhood.

"Wouldn't it be terrific if you had kids of your own," she says. "They'd be so excited!"

"I'm sure they'd be apoplectic. But wouldn't you want them to be more Jewish?"

"Of course, but I'm thinking about the lights. Lights don't have religion. They're universal."

"They twinkle." I start to laugh, because I'm stoned. Which is basically the only time that I get along with my mother.

She starts to laugh too. "They do! We had beautiful lights on the house on Lawndale Avenue when I was a girl."

"What?" I stop laughing. "What?"

"And angels. Fabulous, golden angels."

"What did you say?"

"I said 'angels.' Don't worry, they were nondenominational. There are plenty of angels in the Old Testament."

"You never told me this."

To honor our Jewish heritage, and according to my parents' wishes, my own girlhood was spent without lights, trees, stockings, Santa, eggnog, or goodwill of any kind. My parents generally spent Christmas day doing yard work while my brother and I watched undesirable Christmas specials on TV. An effort was made to substitute Hanukkah, but it drifted around on the calendar from year to year in a way that made it hard to take seriously.

"I didn't tell you? That's funny. I must have mentioned the tree?"

"What are you saying? That you had a Christmas tree?"

"Oh, well. Not every year."

"You had a tree?"

"It's not important. It just occurred to me that Grandma might still have the angels in her garage. Maybe we could send them to you. You could put them on the lawn."

"I don't want them."

"I'll just poke around."

"Did you hear me just say I don't want them?"

"Well, that's fine. That's not a problem. The last thing I want to do is go digging through bins of my mother's garbage."

The nondenominational angels arrive in a giant box two days later, overnighted. For some reason, perhaps because Trevor is busy working, I decide to take one over to show to the Bat Child. It's evening. The lights are just twinkling on, and the police barricades that keep out nonlocal traffic (except for horse-drawn hay carts) are just being set up. Christmas hangs in the air like a fetid odor. I have a terrible feeling in my stomach, true dread, as though I will always be exiled. I will be stuck in the most horrible place imaginable, a seventies fern bar, while everyone else is happy and full of cheer. Everyone else is gathered in front of the fire, decorating a tree, singing about love, while I sit alone on a dirty wooden bench with my feet scraping the orange shag carpet, droning Christ their lord.

The Bat Boy slides open the window and hands me the bong. He has the waxy look of the unwashed, and a fold of belly hangs out from under his shirt. I accept the bong and press my mouth to the plastic tube. It only takes a moment to realize that what we are smoking this evening is some truly choice marijuana, deeply spectacular. I look in the bowl. Within is a half-burned bud, sparkling with resin. The Fat Man has outdone himself. Almost immediately upon exhaling I possess a clarity that allows me to see the nature of things in their truest, deepest aspect.

"Good weed."

The Bat Boy nods sagely. "Most definitely. Excellent. Fat Man called it 'Truth Teller.'"

I nod. Yes, truth. It's everywhere.

"I've been smoking it all day." He looks into the middle distance and says, "Now I understand."

I giggle.

"Beam me up," the Bat Boy says, and I giggle harder. I feel something under my arm and look down to see the angel. I hold it up to show the Bat Boy. The angel has a sweet, porcelain face, like a genderless doll. It's as big as a three-year-old. He/she is dressed in golden robes that end just above a pair of little black slippers. The Bat Boy and I stare at the angel for a while. I can see the deepest, truest aspect of things, and what I see is this: the angel is adorable.

The Bat Boy shrinks back into his shack and, in his sonorous voice so full of wisdom and stupidity, says, "Holy shit. That thing is evil. Get it away from me."

Then he withdraws into the shack and snaps the window shut.

One advantage--the only advantage--to the Occupation is that it provides an excess of light, people, and police protection, which allows me to walk around my own neighborhood alone at night. Therefore, I am feeling very independent and stoned as I amble around later that evening, looking at the Santas dragging their bellies on the rooftops, the reindeer pawing the air, the lampposts striped like candy canes. I go all the way to Gavin Road, and it's getting so cold on the way back that I have to put my hood up. The streets are half-empty but the lights are still going full force, twinkling like demons. Some people really have gone all-out. One family has filled its front yard with polyester batting, to give us desert-dwellers the feeling of snow. Little soft-sculpture children throw "snowballs" at a floppy soft-sculpture man. Other homeowners have barely tried or tried strangely and failed, like the house decorated entirely in blue lights, glowing like a gigantic bottle of Windex.

When I'm nearly home I notice that someone is following me, darting behind me from tree to tree like a secret agent. Who is it? Why, it's the Bat Boy! Why is he following me? Because no other girl has talked to him in twenty years, so of course he's madly in love with me.

I guess I forgot to mention that.

Because nature abhors a vacuum, we put the angels on the front lawn, halfheartedly, propped beside the log. They are not properly lit. They are not staked to the earth and could be stolen. We are not trying very hard, due to My Hate, and I feel stupid and hypocritical to be trying at all. But Trevor has been bitten by the spirit of the season and thinks the angels are cute, so who am I to extinguish his joy and cheer and tell him not to drink so much? Why shouldn't he drink gallons and gallons of martinis? God knows, I'm getting stoned often enough with the Bat Child, who's probably imagining me posed in revolting sexual tableaux involving elves even as I stumble back into our swank, fifties living room with a slack jaw and bloodshot eyes, smelling like bong water. At this, Trevor fails to blink an eye. He has never asked where I go every night when I slip out the sliding glass door and disappear for thirty or forty minutes. I don't think he's even noticed.

But he does notice this: several days after we put the angels in the yard, we come home from an outing to find that someone has been tampering with our angels. Someone has been fucking with them, more accurately. There are four angels. We find that two of them have been buried head-down in the yard so that their little legs are waving immodestly in the air. The other two are splayed, cruciform, across a couple of prickly pear cacti, their garments rent by thorns. Oh my. It looks quite uncomfortable. But that's not all! Someone has been very busy. Written largely across the lawn, in tiny white lights held down by wires, is the word Evil. An extension cord snakes over to an outdoor outlet on the side of the Nickles house.

"Wow," says Trevor. "Wow. When did you do this?"

"I didn't."

Trevor follows me into the house saying, "I don't get you," and, "Did you do that to piss me off?" and, "That's actually psychotic," while I keep repeating that I didn't do it. But Trevor will not believe me until I finally break down and explain about the Bat Boy and the bong and the semen-encrusted shed and the evenings we've spent together, passing crackers smeared with orange paste back and forth through the sliding window, passing the blue bong back and forth, talking, giggling, until Trevor starts to get a wounded look around the eyes. Then finally he does understand, and goes into his office and says he doesn't want to talk to me right now.

"Hey," I say through the door. "Hey, why don't you come out for a minute. Do the Chinese restaurant waiter! Do the angry Belgian pastry chef!"

I wait. Nothing.

I guess Trevor is not going to do any funny voices for me today.

That night I sit in the splendor of our perfect fifties living room, in the dark, listening to the crowd shuffle by outside our picture window. Sometimes I hear nothing and sometimes I hear a kind of angry murmuring, the kind that might be made by a group of men in Klan outfits. For the moment I have switched to martinis. I imagine the gaze of the public falling upon our angels with buried heads. Our angels impaled on prickly pear. Maybe this is educational: when bad things happen to good angels. Every now and then I peek out the window. The log is still there! Valiant little guy. People are throwing trash at our display to express their displeasure. A couple of people ring our doorbell, hoping to express their displeasure in person.

I'm enjoying my martini. I can understand what Trevor sees in them. It's like smoking pot, but with more hostility and extra trips to the bathroom.

The next morning, I get up and start picking trash out of our front yard, feeling a trifle ill. The neighborhood looks truly desperate in the light of day, with everyone's decorations turned off and washed-out in the flat desert light, the road littered with piles of horse shit bisected by tire tracks. There is nothing like Christmas in Arizona, azure skies and seventy-two degrees, to make the world look fraudulent. Someone has put a Big Gulp cup over the foot of one of the angels. It smells somewhat uriney, and I'm wondering if someone actually peed on one of the angels when a feeling comes upon me, a little engine of prissiness. I decide what I'm going to do. I'm going to tell. So I march next door and ring the bell.

Cindy answers wearing a ruffled green and red bathrobe. She already has her eye makeup on, and she's talking on the phone. She makes me wait for a while and then rolls her eyes and tells me she's on hold--can I be quick?

I tell her that I think she should know her son has made an unholy diorama depicting the graphic torture of angels on our lawn.

She gives me a level gaze. "Floyd didn't do that. Floyd likes to stay in the back house."

"Yeah, but the thing is, he did."

She presses her lips together. "Floyd likes to stay in the back house. Jim! Jim?"

Jim's voice floats through the door. "What?"

"Honey, where does Floyd like to stay?"

He echoes her singsong tone: "Floyd likes to stay in the back house."

She looks at me through wide, mascara-framed eyes. "See?" And then she closes the door.

That night a police cruiser stops in front of our house and sits there with its lights flashing against our window for a while and then drives off. More trash is thrown. The doorbell rings twice. I ignore all this and spend the hours of the Occupation watching a movie called Endless Summer 2, about a pair of suntanned boys who roam the planet surfing beautiful, blue waves. Every now and then I get up and listen at the door to Trevor's office. He's in there, tap-tapping on his computer.

Of course, the obvious thing to do is to remove the angels. Why not? Really. I've already tried twice. But each time, I end up just standing on the lawn, staring at them, just staring like a zombie. I cannot do it. I just can't. We had good times together, the Bat Boy and I, smoking out, gazing off at his old tetherball pole with the withered globe at the end, his mother's voice whining across the yard from the big house. There is no sanctuary like the sanctuary of outsiders; there is no fellowship like the fellowship of the scorned. Deep inside we all have a Bat Boy, echolocating inside an empty cave, forever shunned, hated, misunderstood, smelly, flinging our ardor unsuitably, desperately, making strange things in the hope of attracting love. Who am I to say this is wrong?

Furthermore, we're in agreement. Christmas is evil.

Days pass. Somewhere, elsewhere, someone is opening the little doors of an Advent calendar. Trevor will not move the display and I will not move the display and it's obviously bothering him. I infer this when Trevor stops talking to me altogether.

"Hey!" I say as he passes me in the hallway, "who's the slowest mouse in the whole world?" But he doesn't even look tempted to break down and do the voice of Slowpoke Rodriguez, the stereotypical Warner Brothers mouse who I generally nix as too offensive, though Trevor does his accent so well.

I have forsaken the Bat Boy and his sticky weed for several days because I am a person of conscience and morals and his behavior has weirded me out. But Trevor won't talk to me, and our friends are off doing Christmas things that don't involve us, and no one likes me anyway, I've decided. I'm ill-tempered and bitter. Like Socrates, I cannot stop disabusing people of various joyously held notions and beliefs. Who wants to indulge my scowling? Nobody. Of course, people are warm and full of spirit at this time of year, but I am lonely, lonely--if only I had a wonderful little dog to look at me with adoring eyes, while I work alone in my drafty room and Trevor works next door, alone in his drafty room--I think about this until, finally, I feel so forlorn and sad that I decide to go back.

The light is on in the Bat Boy's shed but he's nowhere in sight. Usually he's waiting for me, leaning against the sliding window as if he's ready to take my order. I pad across the grass and look inside. Bat Boy is lying on his back on his cot beside a reading lamp. One hand is at his side, touching the bong. His face is relaxed. What is he doing? He's staring at the ceiling. I tap the glass.

In one movement, the Bat Boy swings his feet to the floor and starts loading up the bong. He leans over, chuckling softly, and slides the window open.

"I thought you weren't coming back."

"No, I'm here."

"Dude," he says, with sadness, "I thought you weren't coming back."

"Floyd."

"You're going to love this herb."

"Floyd."

He chuckles. "That's my name, don't wear it out."

"Okay, I just have to ask you. Did you do that to our angels? Did you, uh, reconfigure them?"

"Yeah, yeah. Wicked, isn't it?"

"Sort of. Some people don't like it though."

"They're just bugging."

"Yeah. They are. They're bugging on our doorstep."

"My mom and dad are totally bugging. They don't like it AT ALL." He chuckles and hands me the bong.

I take a hit of the sweet, sticky smoke. "Really? It's better than their lame-assed Wise Men."

"You think?"

"My God. A thousand times better."

The Bat Boy's hand creeps across the windowsill until it rests on top of my own. He squeezes. I'm pretty certain he's been picking his nose with those fingers. But for some reason, I squeeze back.

Elsa starts hanging around, taking photographs. At first she's half-angry, half-excited that we've taken her advice and created some really motherfucking intense artwork in the yard.

"I can't believe it," she keeps saying, and also: "I hope you're telling people this was my idea. I want full credit." Elsa on this particular afternoon is wearing a parka splattered with paint and a pair of shorts she found in the garbage--she is sure to tell us this, because she wants us to know that she thinks buying clothing is repulsively bourgeois. "This is great," she keeps repeating, snapping away with her camera, "this is anti-everything. Anti-religion, anti-neighborhood, anti-beauty. I can't believe your neighbors haven't lynched you."

If I could wedge in a word, I would wedge in the word yet.

Eventually Elsa stops talking long enough for me to explain that in truth, we didn't make the motherfucking intense angel thing. Trevor nods. He's not talking to me, but he'll talk to Elsa.

"We didn't make it. We just leave it there," he says. "We want full credit for that."

"It was our neighbor," I chime in. "Our autistic, pot-smoking, dysfunctional neighbor whose parents keep him in a little shack and pretend he doesn't exist."

"Oh my God," says Elsa, and stands there for a second, momentarily struck dumb. "That is so unbelievably cool."

Another day passes, another little door opens, and presto, it's Christmas Eve. What makes stupid things happen? Every schoolchild knows the answer to this: drugs mixed with alcohol. Even as I resume smoking pot, I keep up with my martinis, until finally all the lines get a little blurrier. All the elves get a little sillier. Okay, fine: I'll say it. On Christmas Eve, the Bat Boy and I get stoned and make out. He grabs my hand and looks at me with adoring eyes, then, while chuckling, he leans toward me until his lips are pressed against mine. I stand on the outside of the shack. He stays on the inside. We pull apart. He looks at me with his sunken eyes and says, "Dude." After a while I decide I'm cold and join him on the inside. I don't know what I'm thinking. I guess I want something new on a crisp, winter night: two people united in hate for the holidays. I think it could make the world shine and/or twinkle. I can't say I recommend it. Kissing the Bat Boy is like mouthing something that has been stored in a trunk for a very long time. Still, I feel assured that no one had been there before me, and no one will be there after, that for him at least, this is something very special. A sackful of joy.

Before I go, he says, "Don't leave."

"I have to."

"Let me come with you."

"Absolutely not." I climb back out the window and into the blurriness of his yard.

What can I say? There is no sanctuary like the sanctuary of oddballs taking refuge in one another. There is no loyalty like the loyalty of the scorned.

Two days later, the shack is empty. The bong is nowhere in sight. It's empty the day after, and the day after that. I corner Cindy in the driveway, who cheerfully tells me that Floyd the Bat Child has finally moved out. Out! He's moved in with his girlfriend, Elsa Hammer, a lovely girl and a fantastic artist. Did I know her?

"I thought Floyd liked to stay in the back house."

"Let me tell you a little secret." Cindy leans closer until I'm swimming in her perfume. "Floyd hated the shack. He always hated the shack. But we couldn't have him in the house. Not all day long."

"I thought he liked it. I thought he wanted his privacy."

"Are you crazy? He detested it out there."

"No."

"Yes. He wanted to be in the big house with us," Cindy touches a smug finger to the corner of her mouth, "but he was getting too old. We thought he should be independent."

"I don't believe you. It was his shack. He loved it."

"Floyd," says Cindy, "always hated that shack." And then, singing out: "Jim, what did Floyd hate?"

Jim's voice floats out of the big house: "The shack."

Eventually, Trevor starts talking to me again. Even after Christmas is over, I keep listening to my CD of the Steve Miller Band and Trevor makes up new words to the chorus: "I'm a joker / I'm a smoker / I'm a real estate broker." He mixes up a few martinis and we drink them together and then I do interpretive dances on the flagstone patio while he watches for a while, then goes inside to finish up some work. I dig the angels out of the yard and put them in the trash. Christmas is finally over, New Year's is past, Valentine's Day, Easter. The days get longer and hotter. In the afternoons, I put on my suit and float around in the pool, looking up at the clouds, feeling pissed off and betrayed while telling myself I shouldn't. What's the big deal? All Floyd did was use art to get chicks, as millions of painters and poets and guitar-playing boys have before him. Isn't that why people make things in the first place? To say all the things that have such power but sound so tame when we say them flat out: that we want love, that we're lonely, that we hate the shack, that we've always hated the shack, that we're afraid we're in the process of wasting our lives.

As for me, I've decided that I do not hate the shack, that I shall not conduct a life spent hating the shack. Yuletide Village is where we live. We picked this god-awful place, and a series of events will be happening here every December. Why can't our part of it be pagan? What did Elsa say--if you don't like something, you can complain about it, or you can make something better yourself? Fine. We can venerate our own gods. In our yard there will be no cheer, no light, no hope, no merriness. But I've decided there will be drunkenness, wild beasts, potent herbs, vaginas, and log after log after log.

We are designing the display now.

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