In the mirror, I attach the fake ears and tug the hat onto my head.
“It’s the wealthiest Preschool in St. Peter,” K had said, “they’ll pay you a boatload 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 discreetly stuffs bits of his backside into her mouth. On the other side of the room, Santa Claus 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– a dwarf?”
“I’m DEATH. And, I want a cigarette.”
I’m not sure whether or not to laugh.
“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 off 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 smiles up at me and shrugs, innocently.