After the Big Night (Christmas Fiction)
Written by Staff on December 25, 2023
After the Big Night (Christmas Fiction) – story by Liam Sweeny.
She slept through the sound of him coming home, wrapped up in an eggnog-stained microfiber throw. For a woman who spent all year knitting seasonal blankets, it was an irony he dared not chuckle over, lest he wake her. The quart of eggnog was tipped over, empty, and the whiskey was low in the bottle. He sat back on his recliner and pulled out a pack of menthols. He smoked regulars throughout the year, but when they invented menthol, it was the right fit for Christmas Eve. He packed a carton before he took off yesterday morning. He had a pack left. If he had mortal lungs, they’d have sprouted tar-blossoms a long time ago.
The north wind rattled the windowsills, sucking in and puffing out the clear plastic sheeting that took the place of good windows. He braved the aches and pains of an overworked back, careful not to break it to fix the draft. He absorbed the shocks and twinges as he felt around for any stray hisses of arctic chill. A few patches, not as many as he thought. He’d be sure to put new windows on the list of things they needed at the shop. But not that morning. He was done with goddamn lists.
His night lay in the corner in a heap of red velvet and white fur. He had to punch a hole in his belt this year. He wasn’t exercising, not losing weight. It was his lot in life to be a fat man. Faithful little brats counted on it. No, he used to get quality belts, but his crew was getting lazy, and his big gut pushed down on them, warping all but the most durably made. He spent five minutes before he took off punching the new notch. On the one day a year that minutes mattered.
This one was amateur night. What the hell happened?
She groaned as she turned over in bed. She balled her hands into fists and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
“Yeah, hon’. Just got in a little while ago.”
Her hand shot to her stomach. “Oh shit, hold on.” She jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom, hand over mouth.
“Hit the toilet please. I still got a million pounds of cookies to shit out yet.”
He cringed at the sound of her sick splashing into the water. He turned on an American weather station. It wasn’t the Farm Report, but it wasn’t exactly farm season in the Northern Hemisphere. Not that they covered the weather so far north as the shop, but he had to watch something. He could hear the water running. He really hoped she hit the toilet.
She came out of the doorway, wiping her mouth with a jingle-bell-inspired towel, one of her own creations. She laid down on the couch, but didn’t go back to sleep.
“Run into any kids?”
“Any good stories?”
He took a drag and held it in for an extra second before letting it out. “One kid tried to beat me up with the baseball bat I left his brother.”
“Let me guess—you didn’t bring him what he wanted.”
“He didn’t believe I was me, because they didn’t have a chimney.”
“So what’d you do?”
“Well I didn’t explain quantum physics to the kid, that’s for sure. I got the fuck out. Just winked out.” He snapped his fingers. “Like that. Betcha’ he believes in me now.”
“Kids are getting smart these days.”
“Parents are pouring sugar and caffeine down their throats, wonder why they’re up all night.”
“It’s a sign of the times.”
He butted his cigarette. “You know, I used to actually enjoy this? Kids were simple. Hell, toys were simple, and cheap. You know what it’s like when we go from the rich neighborhoods to the poor neighborhoods? These kids are supposed to think I’m rewarding the nice and punishing the naughty, and how do you tell a kid they were naughty because their parents are broke? Not that I do, but still…”
She got up and sat on the arm of his chair, wrapped her arms around him.
“You’ve only been doing this for what, two hundred years? No one says you have to do it forever.”
“I won’t be doing this forever. Kids are getting on search engines when they’re still in their diapers these days. It’s getting harder and harder for parents to convince them that I exist. Eventually they’ll quit trying. Then I’ll just be some washed up spirit has-been.”
“You’ll never be a has-been.”
“I’m dying to be a has-been. Would you still love me if I was a has-been?”
“I’m fine with it. But the next scheme we pull on the world, I get to be top-dog, got it?”
He yawned. “Sure.”
“I got one. I want to run a New Year’s Eve thing. We bring liquor to all on New Year’s Eve. And we get their resolutions in return. I mean, that could be great for the naughty/nice list, right?”
“It would be nice to spend the year running a distillery up here. It’d be easier for those little idiots to make moonshine than video games.”
They held each other as a sleepy man and woman on the television, dressed in Christmas sweaters, stood before a map of the U.S., it’s northern half covered in white, blue and pink, all the places that the Arctic blasts have blessed with snow on the ground. He caressed her hair. She was right; they could start over, do something a little less impossible, a little fairer, and a whole lot more fun. And she had a Doctorate in Alcoholism. It should be her time to shine.
“Okay,” he said.
“Okay, your New Year’s Eve thing. We do your thing next year.”
“Cool,” she said. She got up, and picked up his suit. She laid it on the couch.
“So what are you going to tell Krampus?”