Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Jaysome Morning

I open my eyes to silence. For most people, silence would be safe. For someone who has spent four years dealing with Jay, silence generally means he’s hiding and did an ooops, or had an adventure. Or both at once. I form a ward from excited kids in the rest of the hotel and leave the bedroom, knocking on the door of Charlie’s bedroom and wrapping the ward about her as well.

“We can’t avoid coffee forever,” I say, half-joking.

“Yes, but we’re dealing with Jay. He’ll have – gifts.” Charlie pauses. Jay is eleven. He is also from far, far Outside the universe and terribly enthusiastic almost all the time. The concept of restraint is often lost on a creature who can do bindings at levels magicians can’t operate at.

I squeeze her hand and walk into the kitchen even as I hear the microwave go off. I almost stop, force myself to keep going and stop dead as Jay pulls out bacon and puts it on the dining room table in the hotel suite.

“I’ve been keeping the food warm for hours,” he snaps.

And there is food, because Jay likes eating. I’m not about to ask where he got it all from, really hoping he didn’t try and make it all. “Ah, Jay –.”

“It’s Christmas morning and I’ve been doing my present for you and Charlie for hours and waiting and waiting like a Jay can wait!”

The microwave didn’t explode. Nothing absurd has emerge from it. And there is a strain in Jay’s voice. I look at him in the way of magicians and also the way of a friend, and then step forward and hug him hard.

“Honcho! You’re not supposed to guess the gift,” he protests.

“What?” Charlie says. She looks about the kitchen, then at Jay. “What?” she says again.

“I made breakfast and and and found some of it,” Jay says happily, “but the real gift isn’t jaysome at all but I’ve done it and it will be a whole day without any adventures that’s all about relaxing!!”

Charlie blinks. Stares at Jay. She looks about to ask if he can even do that, catches herself. We eat a breakfast made by various chefs all over the world that Jay has done favours and helpings for all week to get this food and he’s beaming with pride at the end of it. Doing dishes without Jay doing any bindings on them is an experience at least.

“This takes so long,” Jay protests, because he normally cleans dishes with bindings so that there is more time to have adventures.

“Lots of jaysome things do,” Charlie says. We had gifts in mind for him. I was going to work out a way for Jay to enter the Grey Lands just to see how ghosts live. Charlie had found apps for his phone she was certain Jay would enjoy.

We set them aside without talking about it and have a snowball fight outside with other people who join in. No bindings, no magic, no tricks by Charlie and the god inside her. Just friends drawing other friends into it. Two forts have been built within the hour and Jay hurries over to me as I’m making snowballs, looking worried.



“Everyone is being jaysome, you know!”

“They are. Jaysome is something you are, Jay, not something you do. You can’t not be you, even if you’re trying to avoid adventures.” I ruffle his hair. “And you draw people to you because you’re you.”

“Oh!” He grins, and the snowball fight lasts until people are tired, kids have to go inside and we’ve used up a lot of snow in the area.

Afterwards, Charlie informs Jay that she and I are going to have an adventure and he gets to come along.

“But but but –,” he protests.

“The rule is that you don’t have adventures. Not that we don’t,” I say.

“But you’re cheating,” he wails.

“No. We’re being jaysome to you,” Charlie says. “A Jay without adventures is a gift to others sometimes, but not to yourself at all. So you’re coming with us and having an adventure. Or else.”

Jay giggles at the idea of being threatened to an adventure and bounds out the hotel after us.

We turn every piece of graffiti in the town into a kindness. It’s fun, tiring, and I use the time to gently undo some of the bindings Jay has done on himself against having adventures. If only to make the world far safer at midnight when this binding he has done drops entirely. Sometimes the best gift we can give is understanding, and jaysome at least can always be given.

The second snowball fight involves cheating on Charlie’s part.

Friday, December 23, 2016

That One Christmas

I used to hate summer more than any other time of year. Thighs scraping together, sweat pooling about my body like the worst superpower ever. One year I even wore a car air freshener almost ironically. But winter gets worse every year. I have a beard because it’s easier than not having one. I don’t think about it too much but every winter the kids stare, and then ask me if I’m going to be Santa. It’s not bad, with the little kids, but children grow up faster with every year. They know the truth sooner and sooner, and the question becomes barbed. Because of course there is no other job for you when you’re fat.

Only that’s not true at all. Santa is fat and jolly, but Santa isn’t obese. You see fat people as Santa all the time, but never anyone like me.

“Are you a Santa?” is asked from behind me. I turn, pause: the kid is eleven. I am too pissed off to register anything else – or even wonder how I know he’s eleven in the way people know hair colour and skin tones – and I give him my best glare.

“No. I’m not going to be Santa this year; you don’t get to be a Santa when you’re too fat to get into his grotto,” I snarl. “Or did you want to make a joke about how I ate Santa and Ms. Claus, or had too many Christmas snacks? I’ve heard it. Whatever joke you want to make. I’ve heard it all before.”

The kid steps back, eyes wide. “But I was doing an asking, which isn’t a joke at all most of the time you know,” he says.


He pauses a moment. “Oh! I guess a knock-knock joke is a question that is a joke, but I didn’t say all the time because I’m clever like a Jay!”

I manage to say what again.

“Is that a joke too? I sometimes miss human jokes even if Charlie says single words can be jokes but she means my name when she says that. I’m Jay,” and he says it as if we’ve been friends forever.

I check his arms for bracelets, spot nothing. “Uh, kid, are your parents around?”


“But you are a little odd,” I say. “Is your mother –.”

The kid stiffens. His grin vanishes and he stares up at me with an expression I’ve never seen before and hope to God I never see again.

“I – I – I didn’t mean anything,” I manage to get out. “I meant that you weren’t alone?”

“Oh!” And he grins. The word doesn’t do anything justice. The grin is huge and welcoming and I’d swear blind that my knees ache less just because the grin is so open and honest, but I can’t forget the look before it and the terrifying certainty he was closer to killing me than even he knew. The kid is eleven: that doesn’t factor into it at all.

“My name’s Rob,” I say. “Sorry. I just – this is a bad time of year for me.”

Jay nods. “Lots of people say that, even if it’s Christmas but people say that about every holiday and sometimes I wonder why humans have them unless they’re weapons to wound other people with?”

“Sometimes they are,” I say, managing to not make it a question. I thought something was loose inside the kid’s head, but now I’m wondering if it’s my head or if he’s real at all. I let out a breath. “I’m not a Santa, no. My beard isn’t white yet.”

Jay nods. “I don’t even have a beard, so I can’t be one at all! And I’m not allowed to be an elf.”

“Uh. Why not?” I ask because I can’t help but wonder what his answer will be.

“Because the kind of gifts I make aren’t nice like the ones elves make, even elves that aren’t nice at all.” He pouts. “And I try really hard at making them because I’m jaysome you know.” He brightens a moment later. “I bet I could help make your beard white for you! Charlie says I give her lots of grey hairs, so giving white ones shouldn’t be hard at all.”

“That’s not –.” I stare down at him. I’m certain he can see me, but I can’t shake the feeling he’s not seeing what other people see. “I’m fat, Jay. I’m so fat that I once tried to audition to be an extra in a movie – the fat background guy in a scene – and was told I’d need to lose weight to get the part.”

It’s a joke but also a true thing that happened. Jay doesn’t laugh. The kid just scratches his head. “I’ve lost lots of things, but not important ones and I bet you’d want to be a Santa, right?”

No one has ever put it like that, and there is something behind the words. “I would,” I whisper, which I’ve never told to anyone before. Not even to myself.

“Perfect! I have some friends you can be a Santa for,” he says, and grabs my right hand.

There are stories you don’t tell anyone about, because you don’t believe they happened even if you were there. I don’t have many of those, but seconds later I know this is going to surpass all of them as a Bigfoot stares down at me. It is at least eight feet fall and smells even worse than it looks. There is a fire in a fire pit, a circle of – some of them look like people. Others don’t look like anything I know of at all. Some hurt my head just to see, as if my brain simply can’t process whatever is in front of me. One of them claims to be named Ms. Apple and is an old lady only she’d not that at all.

“Jay.” The voice beside me is human, and resigned. I turn and look at someone so ordinary it calms me, his eyes full of wry understanding.

“Honcho! I found a Santa,” Jay says proudly.

I notice every thing else has moved to give the boy space; I’m certain he hasn’t noticed that at all.

“Of course you did.” The man called Honcho looks me over without a hint of judgement, and does – I think he gestures, or whistles. Calls. I know that much. He calls something, and I am wearing a perfectly fitting and comfortable Santa Claus costume a moment later.

“Honcho! He doesn’t have a sack of presents,” Jay says. “I bet I could get lots of them and –.”

“Meeting Santa is a gift, Jay. Being one also gift enough,” Honcho says. “You don’t need to give gifts when you are one: people forget that too often.”

“Oooooh,” Jay says. “I’m a gift all the time then!”

A woman beside me snorts. She looks human, though I don’t think that means anything here.

“Charlie. You don’t have to be mean,” Jay says.

“I snorted.”

“You did it in a very meany way though!”

I start laughing I can’t help it. The kid is somehow impossible and grounding all at once, and the man called Honcho is – I think he’s keeping me whole, sane, here, though I’m not sure why I feel this.

There is no grotto, but Santa is the grotto. I understand that and some of the things here were once human, or where human forms, or were never human at all. But they’re in a country where you almost can’t escape holidays. There is a yearning in them, and there is one in me as well.

I sit, and my voice sounds deeper than normal when I ask who wants to talk to Santa.

Some do. Some do not. I don’t remember most of it, which is for the best. Some of them don’t have voices. But at the end of it all I feel content and Jay offers up a huge that impossibly goes all around me and hugs me tightly. I think tentacles are involved, try not to think about that and am back home moments later.

My beard is white. I think it’s going to stay that way. It’s only the next morning when I realize my knees and back don’t ache at all that I realize I was given a gift as well. I just hope it’s not the kind that is secretly a burden. Not that I think Jay would do that, but I am not sure he’d understand it at all. I put clothing on, head outside. It’s snowing, and some kids ask if I’m Santa. Even the older ones don’t have as much bite to the question as they did before.

Maybe it’s the beard. Maybe it’s last night. I just smile and tell them that they should try being Santa as well, and that seems to leave them content. And I am content as well, which is gift enough for an evening I am already halfway to forgetting.  

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Cell Phone

You texted me that it was over. Not even words, just emojii you expected me to figure out before you blocked me. I’d kissed you goodbye at seven, you said I’d see you at five. We’d exchanged our usual grin after. You didn’t return any of my texts when I was on breaks, but I figured you’d forgot to turn your phone on, didn’t think anything of it until I came home to the apartment half-empty, the text on my phone. Your keys on the table.

No note, no explanation. I went for a walk, in the direction we always did. The habits of ten years don’t die overnight. I walked faster than normal, texted you to no reply six times. And did the only thing I could think do, the only thing that was real: I threw my cell phone into the ocean in one overhand throw of over five hundred dollars left on the plan. You never liked that I could think of things like that, but you’d never had to. There was a wall between us. I collected coupons. You barely knew what they were. I didn’t think it was insurmountable. I never thought anything between us was. The world is made of walls, but we are ladders: with our words, our poetry, our art and hopes. Every dream a rope ladder to the moon. If we both want it to reach. If we can trust that the other will carry us, and I would have sworn we did.

You’ll never read this. It isn’t for you. I don’t even know if it’s for me. I walked home, packed things up. The boy who arrived was from a few doors down, I think. I’m not sure. He was eleven and helped. He didn’t ask a question, didn’t offer a single word. Just helped me pack everything and after handed me my cell phone. I mean, everything was on it, as if it was mine but that wasn’t possible. Maybe I hadn’t thrown it, maybe I had.

“I made sure you’re unblocked,” the boy said, and his eyes understood everything. The understanding took my breath away. He hugged me and left, and I don’t know if he was real. Some days I think he wasn’t. On really bad days I pretend you weren’t, but I can’t do it for long. We were friends for five years, lovers together in that apartment for ten. We meant too much to each other to ever be friends again and that’s hard to say, harder to understand sometimes. But being friends isn’t the same, doesn’t have the same depth, the same richness. I couldn’t go back, couldn’t pretend that never happened.

I’m certain beyond telling that if I sent you a text now, you wouldn’t be able to block it. But I don’t. I hope I’m strong enough that I never will.