CHRISTMAS DINNER

By John Thomas Tuft

“In the collection of fanfiction for the Almighty, commonly known as the Holy Bible,” Miss Serena said, choosing her words carefully, “there are no happy endings. Just more struggle. Now mind you, I was at Woodstock in nineteen and sixty-nine, witnessed the great wars over the Devil’s music by all those white mommas like Tipper Gore, heard Billy Graham preach and gave my heart to Jesus because nobody else would take it. I’ll bet you a fried bologna sandwich, now mind you, that I can still sing all the words to American Pie and put a bullet into a rabbit from fifty yards.” She sighed. “But I have trouble remembering what day it is. And I’ll be damned if I know who the president is right now because, really, who cares?” She leans over and I catch the scent of an overdose of Emeraude behind the heavy layer of powder on her cheeks and nose as she pats my hand. “C’mon Preacher Boy, let me show you around.”

She shuffles to the day room, catching me limping. “You all right, boy? Maybe they can give you sumthin for the pain.” She waved a hand, dismissive. “They shove pills at me all day, every day. What good are pills, I ask you?” Miss Serena stops near the nurse’s desk, points to old Mrs. Marney, tied into the wheelchair with a posey. “Bless her heart, they park the poor dear here because she wants to put everything into her mouth. Just like a little kid, mind you. It’s Christmas but they won’t let us have no poinsettias because people like her will eat them, and then it’s call for the ambulance, go to the hospital and nobody wants to go there. You die there.” She grabs my arm. “Never go to the hospital, Preacher Boy. You hear me? Never. Say it now, say it.” I surrender. “I promise.” She nods her head, convinced. “Good. That’s good. Wouldn’t want to lose ya. Nobody else to talk to in here.”

We make it to the day room, where it feels like a pit stop in the tropics even while those nodding off are huddled in sweaters and oversized bathrobes. The television blares a showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Jimmy Stewart asks us all, “Do you want the moon? If you want it, I’ll lasso around it and pull it down for you…” And we all are Mary, saying, “I’ll take it. Then what?” And then what, indeed, I think as I look around the room. “Will you stay for Christmas dinner?” Miss Serena asks, hope writ large in her eyes. I nod. She looks relieved then thinks hard. “Can I ask you something?” Before she can ask, a troupe of middle schoolers traipse in to sing carols to the assembled souls. They hide their fear of this strange world behind masks of boredom, as do middle schoolers eternal.

After they finish with the obligatory Silent Night rendition and hand out candy canes, they give a heartfelt  “Merry Christmas” to the assembled perishables bending lo, near the earth, and are let out the locked doors by the attendants. Miss Serena is delighted by their visit and babbles joyously as we head into the dining room. “I just love Christmas dinner, don’t you?” she says, admiring the plastic flowers on the tables. The other guests wander in, assorted lost shepherds searching for their sheep, wizened wisemen who feel betrayed by their gifts, and bewildered travelers seeking any room in the inn. Over turkey loaf, reconstituted dried potatoes, and collard greens a tepid eucharist is celebrated.

When bowls of chocolate pudding are brought in, Miss Serena remembers her quest. “Can I ask you something?” she says again. “What became of the placenta?” I have the blankest of stares. She gestures to the creche in the corner. “When Jesus was born, what did they do with the placenta? Mark my words, when I had my Tommy, there’s a mighty push to get that messy sucker out. The afterbirth, I mean. Ain’t no time to be in polite company, believe you me. And from then on, he never was, was he? Jesus didn’t keep no polite company. You don’t suppose…” she hesitates. “No, you’ll think me the fool.” I open my arms wide. “We’re a ship of fools.” She sounds shyly triumphant, “The shepherds brought the sheep, and the sheep ate it.” In her eyes I see all the hopes and pleadings of a waiting world as she proclaims, “The lamb of God.”

As the evening moves on, I am lying in my bed hoping for a glimpse of a star, listening to the nursing assistants dragging the garbage bags down the hall as they make their rounds to change the diapers of their charges, lest the place stink like a stable. The nurse comes in to give me my meds.  “Don’t know what Miss Serena would do without you.” As she leaves, I hear the television on down the hallway. Jimmy Stewart is saying, “You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn’t…” And he is right.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.