DEATH AT A PRESCHOOL CHRISTMAS PARTY
In the mirror, I attach the fake ears and tug the hat onto my head.
“It’s the wealthiest preschool in St. Peters,” K had said, “they’ll pay you a boat load to just stand around as an elf for their Christmas party.”
I sigh now, as I did then, resigned.
I wash my hands and step out into the hall. The Babushka rolls up to me. Her rock-face is polished. Her eyes are onyx.
She points. I nod. I follow her directions to a door inundated with Christmas joy. I go through.
The room is vast, a gymnasium almost. It is crowded with all manner of Christmas. Bells float through the air, jingling. Ropes of ornament covered pine snake along the walls. A fat tree absorbs the center of it all.
Children wander about the place. None are more than five or six years old. They are dressed almost exclusively in argyle. A snowman in the corner is telling a story as a small blonde girl secretly stuff bits of his backside into her mouth. On the other side of the room Santa Clause is red-faced as he picks up a small boy. A red-nosed reindeer stands calmly next to him, chewing on the inside of its own mouth.
Santa places the boy on the red-nosed reindeer. The boy begins to wail. A woman in a black sweater runs over and pulls the child down. The boy runs off across the room. I see him slide on his belly down a thin layer of ice. A young woman in a blue dress stands beside it. She claps.
A fair haired little girl walks up to me. Not dressed like the rest. A simple black dress.
“You got a cigarette?” she asks.
She sighs, “you got a cigarette?”
“I’m not a child.”
“Oh…are you a midg—uh I mean–dwarf?”
“I’m DEATH. And, I want a cigarette.”
I’m not sure whether to laugh or not.
“What do you mean you’re DEATH?”
“I’m not sure what else I could mean. That polished rock turd out there hired me to be here so…” DEATH shrugged, “I’m often in Russia this time of year anyway.”
I continue to stare at the frail looking girl. She winks. “Just between you and me,” she lowers her voice, “I never go anywhere I’m not needed. Even for the kind of scratch this place shells out.”
“Right,” I manage.
“So, you got a cigarette or not?”
“Let’s go have one then. Take my hand, everyone thinks I’m a child anyways. Pretend you’re taking me to the bathroom.”
She holds out her hand. I take it hesitantly. Suddenly she grabs it tight, very tight.
“Your time has come!” DEATH says, her eyes go black. I panic and jerk my hand away. My heart stops.
She bursts out laughing. She holds her stomach and bends over, a joyful tear falling from her eye. “You should see your face,” she gasps.
I feel like vomiting.
“Oh, that never gets old” she says, catching her breath, “but, seriously, let’s go.” She holds out her hand again, her eyes back to blue. I don’t take it. She steps forward and grabs my hand anyway.
“Don’t be a pansy,” she says. She leads me out the door.
The fear in my legs has subsided by the time we get to our destination, a closet. Inside I light up two cigarettes. She takes one. She smokes through her nose. I can’t wipe the frown of my face. It’s beginning to hurt.
“So, what are you doing here?” DEATH says through the cloud that’s sprouted up between us.
“Uh, I am an actor.”
She snorts. “Bummer.”
We finish our cigarettes in silence.
“We better go back,” DEATH says, holding out her hand again.
I take it this time, apprehensively. Before we leave I can’t help asking.
“What did you mean that you never go anywhere you’re not needed?”
DEATH looks up at me. She shrugs.
SANTA CLAUSE AT A PRESCHOOL CHRISTMAS PARTY
I’ve gotten used to Christmas away from home. Normally I spend it alone, unwrapping sips from a bottle. Instead I am here. In this Preschool’s Christmas party, pretending to be an elf. Ten minutes ago, someone put a basket of candy in my hand. I roam about with it. Occasionally a child will wander up and say:
“Give me candy.”
I walk in circles, occasionally exchanging coy smiles with the young woman in the blue dress. I look over at her. A small child is tugging at her dress trying to get her attention. But, she is paying attention to me. She slips her index finger between her lips, deep. She pulls it out slowly, nipping the end with her teeth.
I walk directly into the red-nosed reindeer.
“What is your problem!”
I turn. Santa Claus glares at me, red faced.
“I’m so sorry, uh, do you want some candy?” I try. Santa pushes me out of the way. He looks at the reindeer.
“Crap!” he says. I look at the reindeer, it seems fine.
“No, no, no,” Santa continues.
“What’s wrong? He’s fine.”
“No, it’s not that.”
Santa looks like he might cry. He is staring at the reindeer’s nose. I notice it now. The red nose is now only half red.
“That Babushka said I needed to bring Rudolph. He’s not exactly speaking to me right now. Oh, no! She won’t be happy. She won’t pay me! I need this money.”
His voice is shaky. He spits in his hand and tries to smear the remaining red paint to cover the rest of the nose.
I get an idea.
“I’ve an idea. Come with me.” I tell Santa.
I grab the reindeer by one of its horns and begin leading it from the room. Santa trails behind us looking around furtively for The Babushka. We make it out into the hall without trouble. I open the door a few down from the one we left. Success.
“In here,” I whisper. I lead the reindeer in. Santa follows.
I find the teacher’s desk and riffle through the top drawer. It doesn’t take long. When I turn around, Santa has stuffed himself into a small desk. He uncaps a bottle of something brown. I hold up the red board marker.
“Problem solved.” I walk over to the reindeer.
“Will he bite me or anything?”
Santa shakes his head. “I gave him a bunch of tranquilizers.”
He digs into his bottle.
I open my mouth to say something, decide better of it. I color the rest of the nose in with the marker.
“Good as new,” I say. Santa isn’t looking at me. He is staring straight ahead, glazed eyes.
“Look,” I say, proud of my ingenuity. Santa glances over.
“Mm, right,” he says.
I sigh. I walk over to the desk next to his. He passes me the bottle automatically. I take a swig and pass it back.
“I wouldn’t’ve pegged you for a drunk,” I say, chuckling. Santa turns to me. His eyes go dark.
“Oh, yeah!” he begins, taking a dangerous gulp of the brown stuff, “you wouldn’t peg me as a drunk? Do you know what it’s like to only have children that believe in you? It sucks; they give no support at all.” He kicks back another swig.
“I get chased by dogs, shot at by hillbillies. Do you think it’s easy trying to learn every language on earth just to be able to talk my way out of getting arrested every ten minutes? Which by the way, is only a millisecond to you. My one night takes over a hundred years! You people ever think about that, do you? No. And how do you pay me? With cookies!?”
He shudders, then spits on the ground.
“Who wouldn’t be drunk with my job!”
He is standing by the time he’s finished. He looks like he might hit me. Instead he downs the rest of his bottle and grabs the reindeer by the horn.
“I’m sorry,” I manage to say before he reaches the door.
“Go fuck yourself.” He says, and leaves.
ELSA AT A PRESCHOOL CHRISTMAS PARTY
Santa is so drunk I can smell him through the pine when I enter the room. The party has gotten livelier. The children dance about under a shower of snowflakes. The young woman in the blue dress is at the center. She is shooting the snow from her fingertips, up over her head. She is singing. The children sing along with her. Her voice is beautiful, she is beautiful. I lean against the wall and watch.
When her song ends all the kids come running in and hug her. She laughs. Even her laugh sings.
Something tugs at my shirt. I turn.
DEATH looks up at me.
“Please sir, can I have some more?” She says it in a cutesy British accent, then giggles. Her hands are cupped out to me. I place a candy in them. I look back at the young woman in a blue dress.
“It’s not her right?”
“Not her, what?” DEATH asks, pulling the candy off the wrapper with her teeth.
“That you’re here for?”
DEATH laughs. “No. But, you want some advice?”
The children surrounding the young woman in a blue dress have dispersed. She curls her finger at me and winks. I walk towards her.
“I guess not.” DEATH mutters at my back.
She smiles as I approach.
“Hi,” she says.
Being a little tipsy off Santa’s brown stuff I smile confidently. I hold out my hand. She takes it.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Elsa,” she says. She leaves her hand on mine as she talks.
“What do you do?”
She smirks. She waves her hand in the air between us. Snow falls from the spot onto the ground. It is soft and pure.
“Wow, that’s cool. Where are you from?” I ask
“Arendelle” she says. I try to think of where that might be, Latvia? Maybe…
“How’d you get here?”
She frowns, “they call it de-animation I think, they did it to my snowman too.” She motions to The Snowman in the corner. I follow her gaze. The Snowman’s backside has become cannon fodder for a snowball fight between two boys.
I smile. So does she. She leans in and nips the end of my ear. She whispers, “Do you want to go find somewhere quiet and do something nasty?”
All I can do is nod. She moans in my ear. She grabs my hand and leads me out of the room. Down the hall she pushes me into a classroom. I notice an empty bottle on the floor. Santa must have been in here.
“You have no idea how awful sex with animated men is,” Elsa says, pulling up her dress.
“I know,” I say, leaning in to kiss her, “wait, what?”
“When I am a two dimensional, the sex is awful. They’re always singing and they have absolutely no idea what to do with my nipples.”
“That sucks, wait–” I pull back, “–what?”
“When I am a cartoon.” she says.
She frowns at me.
“How do you mean?” I ask.
“De-animation, I told you. It’s awful. It feels as though I’m being filled up with concrete, then shaken out like a blanket.” She shudders at the memory.
I knock the remainder of Santa’s booze from my head. Elsa stares at me. She raises an eyebrow.
“So are we going to do this or not?”
I take a small step back. My brain is flooding with images of concrete filled private parts and Disney characters on clotheslines.
“I, uh, I…”
I back away further.
Elsa sighs. She walks to the door. She turns.
“I suppose I’ll have to find myself a real man,” she says, and leaves.
THE SNOWMAN AT A PRESCHOOL CHRISTMAS PARTY
As the party goes on I find myself getting bored. Santa Claus isn’t even trying to hide his drinking anymore. Elsa won’t look at me. The last child to touch her had to have warm water run over their hand for twenty minutes. I have been avoiding the entire side of the room she occupies.
The Snowman has completely lost his bottom ball now. His stories have grown stale and the children, bored.
“Is it him?” I ask, pointing to The Snowman.
DEATH shakes her head. “Nope.”
“Oh come on, how is he going to survive this?”
“He won’t, but, he doesn’t have a soul,” she says.
I look over at The Snowman. He waves and smiles. DEATH and I wave back.
“Poor bastard,” DEATH says, “shit,” she adds nodding to the entryway.
I look to the door and see The Babushka standing there.
“Please tell me it’s her you’re here for,” I say, quietly.
DEATH laughs. “I wish,” she mutters.
The Babushka is staring right at me. I pretend to cough and walk off. A group of children are sitting. They have one of the bells that had been floating through the air pinned to the ground.
“Candy?” I ask.
The kids jump up and flock around my basket. In the hubbub, the bell scampers free, returning to the ceiling. The boy who’d been holding it down scowls at me. I shrug.
The fake elf ears are starting to itch. I walk to a corner and place my basket down. I try to scratch just under them.
One of The Babushka’s minions, a woman in a black sweater, stalks up to me. She glowers.
“What are you doing?” she demands.
“I’m fixing my ears.”
“You’re supposed to be handing out candy!”
“Yes, Sorry.” I pick up my basket and walk away. I find a couple children having a thumb war. I hold out the basket.
“Want some candy?”
They turn. One of them, a small boy, has two lumps of gold where his eyes should be. He licks his lips.
I back away. A child across the room cries out. Everyone turns.
The Snowman who’d been robbed of his bottom half is laying on the floor, melting. His carrot nose has fallen to the ground. His eyes are in pursuit.
The children all run to him. They swarm around him. They try to pull him together with their warm little hands. It’s no use.
They hold each other, wet and sobbing. The woman in the black sweater walks over. She picks up the carrot.
“Who wants to feed Rudolph?” she calls. The children look up at her. She breaks off a piece of the carrot and walks over to Rudolph. The children follow her, clambering over each other to be first. Santa tucks away his bottle as they arrive.
I look back at the puddle of dead snow and tears. I look up at the clock.
One more hour.
THE MAGICIAN AT A PRESCHOOL CHRISTMAS PARTY
The final guest for the preschool Christmas party is a magician. What a magician has anything to do with Christmas, I am not sure. Why he is dressed like a pirate? I can’t figure that out either. I am only happy that no attention is being paid to me.
The Pirate-Magician is charismatic and loud. All eyes become drawn to him. I lean against the wall in the back and watch. He does many typical tricks. A rope gets pulls through him, a red scarf gets turned blue, a rabbit gets pulled from a hat; it sings a lullaby. The children are impressed.
DEATH comes and stands next to me.
“This guy sucks,” she whispers. I shrug.
“At least it means we don’t have to do anything.”
She nods. “True.”
The Magician calls for a volunteer. All the children raise their hands. One, in a blue argyle sweater is chosen. He goes up. The Magician goes through a whole act with him. The children seem to find it funny. The boys nose was full of coins. His ears, string. And a whole bushel of apples had been hiding behind his cheeks.
As the show goes on a rude boy, who was not chosen, begins to complain. His complaining becomes more and more obvious. The Magician talks over him, annoyed.
“Brat,” DEATH mutters.
“Right?” I say.
The Magician finally calls for another volunteer. The rude boy is the first with his hand up. He is chosen. On the way, he sticks his tongue out at the rest of the children. He stands on stage next to The Magician, smirking. The Magician circles the boy three times.
He takes a large silk handkerchief from his pocket. He places it on the rude boy’s head. He taps the boy three times. There is a little popping sound.
The boy vanishes.
The handkerchief floats slowly to the ground. The whole room cheers. The Magician bows. He steps off the stage. Everyone continues to applaud while he exits the room.
I stare at the spot where the boy had been, confused.
“So, that’s who you’re here for?” I ask DEATH.
“No, the boy.”
“What? No, he’ll be back in a couple years.”
I look around the room and notice that no one else seems too bothered by the boy’s disappearance. I look up at the clock. Fifteen minutes and I am free. I start feeling that weekend-feeling. I’m less tired. My toes are lighter on my feet.
The room falls silent. The bells stop jingling. The air is still.
“What was that?” I turn, but DEATH is gone. People are rushing out of the room. I follow. Down the hall they flood, children first.
The scream rings out again. A room down the hall. I walk to it. I shove my way into the room as teachers come swarming out, carrying children.
DEATH stands in the center of the room, desks tossed aside. On the floor, I see Santa Clause. He is face down, pants around his ankles; two rosy butt cheeks in the air. Beneath him, Elsa is gasping for air. DEATH turns and sees me. She chuckles.
“You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve been waiting for this scum-bag,” she says. She bends down and places a hand on one of Santa’s butt-cheeks. She winks at me. They vanish.
Elsa heaves a deep breath. She pulls up her underwear and sits, shaking. Someone shoves me aside.
“No, please no!” Elsa cries as The Babushka advances on her. But, it’s no use. The Babushka touches her with something I can’t see and she’s gone. The Babushka turns and glares at me. I want to look at anything else. I look down.
A child is standing next to me, trembling. A small boy, maybe five; mouth and eyes wide open. Tears run down his face. He makes no sound.
The Babushka advances on me. She grabs my arm and drags me from the room. She points to the door at the end of the hall, the exit.
I open my mouth to protest. But, I lack the courage. I walk to the door. I pull on my boots, hat and jacket.
Before leaving I turn. The hallway is empty. The air is silent.
Outside, the tranquilized reindeer is waiting. I sigh. I grab it by one of the horns and we walk off together, into the cold.
THE END. Merry Christmas.