Jackson Winters comes homes for the holidays but still manages to stumble headlong into trouble when he sets out to fulfill the 12 Days of Christmas.
I’m sort of caught between thoughts as the doctor comes over; something about the sterility and quiet of an empty emergency room in the middle of the night just two days before Christmas has left me questioning the soundness of the last seven or so days.
It started simply enough; the stuffed partridge and pears, the two turtle doves—now named Larry and Bird—that are still cooing in my kitchen because of some inane return policy at the pet store. The colly birds were fine (though there were only three, one having died from the cold, I suppose, on the car ride over). And the rings, one for each finger, for each weekday; no real room to fuck up there.
But those swans…that’s when it really started going sideways. I guess when you pack six of anything, particularly six very large and angry birds, into a car, things will start to fall apart.
“Mr. Winters…” the doctor breaks in.
“How is he?”
“Mr. Ross? He’ll be fine. A little bruising, and he may need crutches for a week or two, but we gave him some painkillers and his wife is on her way.”
I let out an uneasy sigh and look up toward the white ceiling, not wanting to make eye contact. What follows is a series of “ums” and “ahs” and looking around which the doctor perceives (rightfully so) as an uneasy admission of guilt and graciously breaks it up, seeing my obvious disinclination for words.
“Mr. Winters…do you realise this is the second time we’ve seen you here in five nights?”
Maybe not graciously.
“Would you mind explaining again just what exactly it is you’re doing so that we might be prepared, say, tomorrow night for whatever misfortune befalls you?”
As stories go, this one starts off as most do, with a man questioning something about himself; it arcs with an attempt at a grand gesture, peaks with disproportionately disastrous results and ends, with any luck, without a lawsuit. Without delving too far into any of the details, character flaws and choice words that led to this, let me just say that for the past ten days I’ve been trying, with varying success, to reassemble the entire cast of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
Why? Well, for the same reasons any relatively normal man would go miles out of his way to do something as hopelessly stupid as this: a woman.
If I had to pinpoint where it all went wrong, it would definitely be the introduction of progressively larger waterfowl. The first few birds were fine, though the hens caused a bit of a fuss at a farm a few miles from town:
Saturday, December 15th: The Day Before the Third Day of Christmas
“Are they French?”
“The hens…Are they French?”
These are the types of technicalities that can turn a perfectly thoughtful (though poorly planned) Christmas gift on its head. But to be fair, I was asking a lot; it was ten days before the 25th, I needed three French hens and I needed them now.
“Do you think she’ll notice that they’re not French?”
It’s difficult to describe the look of a frazzled farm woman when you bend down to check under chickens as if down there, there might be some kind of clue, some telltale sign as to the make and model of these now quite frightened, flightless birds.
“They don’t look French,” I said, standing, now eyeballing them from afar.
“What do you mean, they don’t look French!? Look, buddy, you come to my house at nine o’clock at night saying you need to borrow three of my birds but that they got to be French? No silly city girl is gonna know the difference between three French fucking hens and 12 Canadian cockatoos. Now, you best be on your way with these birds before I change my mind.”
I suppose she was right. The intended recipient (at least for a little while) of these three “French hens” would not likely be up on all the poultry orders and phyla, let alone be able to distinguish between specific species, but having already received my rendition of a partridge, a pear tree and two turtle doves, she may be inclined to inquire as to their authenticity.
“All right, give me the damn chickens. Cornish, French, fuck it; if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, right?”
“Jesus, boy, what is wrong with you? These here are hens.”
Relatively speaking, though, those hens were well received, with absolutely no questions asked as to their origin, and were returned without incident. Ditto the colly birds, save the one we had to perform Last Rights and a burial service for in the backyard with its brethren looking on.
It was the geese, really, that I had stuffed unceremoniously into the back of my car that signalled this was getting out of hand and also prompted my first visit to the hospital after one bit my ear, causing me to swerve off the road and into a ditch. Granted, the whole ordeal only required a tow truck, ten stitches and a tetanus shot to remedy; when Rachel (her name’s Rachel) arrived at the hospital to pick me up she insisted that perhaps we forgo tomorrow’s seven swans and also insinuated that if she woke up two days from now to find eight maids-a-milking on her front lawn she would be less than amused.
So we settled for dinner and a movie and were glad to be done with the great animal kingdom.
Friday, December 21st: The Ninth Day of Christmas
“Jackson, where are we?”
“Hey…HEY! Keep the blindfold on. We’re almost there.”
“Is that music?”
Ruby’s is a strip club just outside of town, where in my more rambunctious days I was a regular, not because the girls were particularly pretty but because they had a Sunday lunch buffet and football on all the TVs. I’m still in good with the owner (my patronage was always appreciated), and so I got him to clear the place out for a half hour during their downtime.
“What’s that smell?”
“Nothing…okay, Frank, start it up.” The music goes on. The girls, their faces familiar, start dancing. “Take your blindfold off, baby.”
She does. The next few seconds happen in slow motion. Her face at first is one of churning confusion, as if she’s eaten something she’s not quite sure has gone sour. She blinks several times, her eyes adjusting to the strobe lights and the shock of the scene in front of her. Between us there is silence, but I can see the gears of her brain turning over, slow to start. My eyes are wide, my smile stuck open, waiting for a response.
It doesn’t come as intended. She turns without saying a word and storms back down the stairs. I call after her: “What? What’s wrong?”
“Jesus, Jackson,” is all I get, “this is a Strip Club.”
“Right, I say, “nine ladies dancing,” but she doesn’t hear me as she sidles around the corner and I can hear the car door slam.
The doctor is looking at me now with an awful awestruck expression, not fully believing the story he’s just heard. “You brought her to a strip club?”
“It was the only place I could think of on short notice that would have at least nine girls working, willing to dance.”
“…And Mr. Ross?”
“Ten lords-a-leaping,” we both say in unison, me rather listless, him with the realisation that comes with answering one’s own question, of a light turning on. “He slipped on the ice outside her place,” I continue, qualifying my own lack of foresight as if it weren’t already a forgone conclusion.
We both sit in silence for what seems like some time.
“Well,” he says, “you got, what, 11 pipers piping and 12 drummers drumming left? Shouldn’t be…too…much…” He trails off, seeing me nod as if this part of the story has yet to be told.
“After the strip club, I decided to go out with a bang and get all the pipers and drummers together with the lords…the total fine for the noise complaint the neighbors filed came to about $500.”
He laughs. He can’t help it. I do too.
I leave the hospital, having seen Mr. Ross will be all right, and return home to find Rachel standing in the doorway. She asks about the flailing lord and I tell her it doesn’t look like he’ll sue. She says that’s good and gives me a look like “You’re an idiot, but I love you.”
“Next year, Jackson, let’s keep Christmas confined to one day.”
“…With less leaping.”
“And no feathers.”