AWAY IN A MANGER
Mitzi Gaynor

"This is a bad day for Mary... "

I'm loaded with two bags of groceries, hanging out in the shade of a huge mall sign at the corner of Eastern and Sahara. I'm waiting for Eddie. He borrowed my car to go buy me a Christmas present. He's supposed to pick me up here after he's done. Course, he ain't here.

There ought to be a word for this. Someone that pisses you off while they're doing something nice for you.

I move out onto the street, and look both ways. All the time I'm thinking, Fuckin' Eddie. One of these days, asshole, to the moon!

They ain't no place to sit. Ain't no chairs. So I sit myself down on a corner of this here manger scene. Me and these cardboard geeks stumbling into Bethlehem.

Fucking Eddie probably sat down in front of a television set in Sears and fell asleep. I gotta leave him. I keep forgetting, I have got to fuckin' leave him.

I'm studying the manger scene. There's this sheep that's bigger than Joseph. And the Christ child, they got him disguised as a sprained ankle.

If you've ever noticed manger scenes, poor ole Joseph is always dressed in brown. Course, this is a bad day for Joseph. His girlfriend got knocked up, and she's keeping the kid. This is a bad day for Mary, too. She rode all day on a donkey, then gave birth. Eddie, he feels a little like her right now. He's been up all night playing video poker, and he's gotta start his shift in half an hour. Joseph, Mary, and Eddie, all feel deeply gratified to be alive right now.

I check the street again. Just my luck the son of a bitch goes right by me cuz I'm farting around in a manger. Eddie, he don't never look in mangers.

Parking lot looks like a frozen tundra in the heat. Nine thirty in the fuckin A and M. Nothing moving.

Just then I see something I recognize--my sister's van. It's easy to spot. It's got angel wings painted on the front end. The Sistine Chapel of Volkswagen vans. My sister has a personal relationship with Jesus.

Her and the angel van pull up in front of me and the manger. She looks at me like I'm dog shit on her shoe. "I guess you know no one knows where you are," she says.

"You didn't ask the right person. I know where I am. Right here with baby Jesus."

My sister's staring straight ahead. Her kids lined up on the middle seat like peas in a pod.

"Don't crack your silly-ass jokes on me, " she says.

Right now I am thinking I would rather stand outside in the sun than look up at my sister in the shade.

"You wanna see something pretty," she says, "Go open the back doors of this van."

I do what she says. Inside are my parents hunched on bucket seats like aging cocker spaniels. Between them is a childhood chest of drawers. "Where the fuck are you taking the p's?" I ask her.

She shakes her head. She don't believe I'm asking. "Mother pulled a knife last night," she says.

That makes me laugh. "Mother pulled a knife? Mother pulled a knife on who?"

"She pulled a knife on me."

That makes me laugh even more.

Then my sister explodes. "Any day now," she spits, "any day at all now, you can start dealing with this life of yours. Any day at all."

"I was gonna deal with it. I was gonna deal with it later." My sister, she don't believe in later. Never has. Me, I'm killing ants with my foot. "So where you taking 'em?" I ask.

"To the bin."

I look back at the p's. They're sitting there like puppies in a pound. "So Ma, where you going?" I ask. She don't know, but she brought her wigs. She's sitting there with two styrofoam heads on her lap. Both of them loaded and ready.

I look at my old man. He's sick. His skin is transparent. He didn't bring his wigs, he says.

"That's okay, Dad. You can borrow one from Ma."

"Not my wigs," she shrieks, and clutches the heads to her chest.

I wink at my dad. He's got tears in his eyes. "I did my best," he says. "But your mother lost her brains."

"I know, Dad. I know."

"Now sister has to take us both to the bin."

"I'm taking them both," my sister says. "I'm taking them both to the bin."

"You don't have to take 'em both to the bin."

"I'm taking 'em."

"And you don't have to take 'em now."

My sister looks straight ahead like she's staring down the sun. "I've made up my mind," she says. "Mother pulled a knife. Dad's too sick."

I look at my dad. "Mother pulled a knife?" I say.

He nods. "Your mother pulled a knife, all right. I don't know how she got it open. I didn't open it for her."

"Ma," I say, "did you pull a knife?"

She looks at me like a bewildered calf.

My sister pipes up. She's tattling again. Just like she always did. "She used Dad's knife."

"She use your knife, Dad?"

"Of course she used my knife," he says.

He looks at me straight on. "A man always needs a knife," he says.

"He don't need a knife where he's goin!" My sister is voicing her opinion to no one in particular.

"Where is it, Dad? Where is your knife?"

He points. "On the chest of drawers next to my hat," he says.

"I already tried to take it away from him. He wouldn't let me have it." My sister is hissing away in the front seat. She's like a leaking tire.

"I'm gonna take it, Dad," I tell him. "I'm gonna take your knife."

"He won't let you have it either," she says impatiently.

He watches me. I reach in. "Don't," he says. I stop. "Don't...take my hat."

"I won't, Dad. I won't take your hat."

I ease my hand in like I'm reaching in the cage of an animal. I have it. I have his knife. He's crying again.

My sister is getting huffy in the front seat. "So you wanna get in this van and go with us or you just wanna just stand in the street?"

"You know, sometimes it's really hard to have you around!"

"Right, you have a lot to complain about. When's the last time you dealt with 'em? When's the last time you had 'em over for a meal? Too damn busy with the ninth man in your life."

"You're right. I been too busy to put my p's in the bin."

My sister peels out in a screech of dust. The Sistine Chapel roars away.

I'm standing in front of the manger again. The sun is a disc of metal hanging in the heat. It's so hot the earth is screaming. I sit back down on a bale of hay. "Away in a manger," I sing, "No crib for a bed. The little lord Jesus. Lays down his sweet head...."

I just hate Christmas. I just hate Christmas in Vegas.

END


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