I told you Santacon was a bad idea, and now you’re dry-heaving at the ATM with Rudolph, standing in your vomit, and I’m blathering to a snowman about how I was right. The snowman’s grabbing the zipper of his mask, nodding away. He has been since he escorted me from the dance floor to the curb. That’s where we found you, plucking candy canes for Rudolph from your Santa coat pockets.
You always have big ideas like this. You always think shitty things won’t be shitty like they should be. Remember Atlantic City, and I watched you lose three hundred dollars because that card dealer was negging you?
The snowman’s nodding, wiping tortilla chip crumbs from my lips, my hair. “Atlantic City sounds shitty,” he says. His mitten hands stroke circles on my back. You’re holding back Rudolph’s hair. Vomit’s splashing her red nose. She’s been with us since the Mexican restaurant. You plied her with candy canes. I drag one down my tongue to flick at her, but the snowman grabs my wrist.
Remember the whole drive to Myrtle Beach you smiled and held my hand saying, “Baby, I love you,” saying, “Baby, I’m so into you,” saying, “Baby, there’s nobody else I want to do this with”? I agreed. I felt like there was nobody else I’d do this for, drive to Myrtle Beach and skip my five-year reunion so we could take that vacation even if it had been demoted from Mykonos to Myrtle Beach. You threw a disc with frat bros and one vomited on our beach blanket and I sprinted back to the hotel, my cover-up billowing wings that floated me into our room, and I told you we were leaving in the morning when you returned three hours later. You drank strawberry daiquiris by the pool like we were on a tropical vacation, and I watched this despondence swell and puddle your face for hours from our pool-view room.
“This sounds like a pattern,” says the snowman. His inflatable costume envelops my head when I press into his snowball abdomen. I tell him he’s a good listener, which he gets a lot.
We get pastries in the morning and say we’re sorry. We surprise the other with a nice dinner and clean the dishes after too. At one of these dinners, when you were making up to me for losing the seven hundred you’d invested in your friend’s paddleboard business, and the check from my grandmother (inheritance, for Greece) had to make up the shortfall for rent, that night you said it when I was two glasses of Cabernet in and eggplant parm weighted me into my chair.
“Santacon,” you said. “Just hear me out.”
It’s festive. It’s fun. We could make new friends. The money goes to charity.
“It’s a drunken shit show,” I said. When I say, “No offense,” to the snowman, he shrugs. His boyfriend blacked out before ten.
Santacon arrived in our city three years ago. Every year more bars put up “No Santa” signs. I always liked to stay home that day, bake Christmas cookies, checking the night before we had every ingredient so I wouldn’t need to do battle with sloshed Santas for granulated sugar or vanilla extract.
“I just think this could be what we need.”
Atlantic City was what we needed.
Myrtle Beach was what we needed.
Investing in paddleboards and moving to this city and not talking about kids was what we needed.
“Baby,” you said, moper, heart-melter.
So we got the costumes, you a Santa suit and me a forest green shirt and tights that I strung with earrings and tinsel garlands. You bought these mini candy canes at Duane Reed for us to hand out to new friends we might want to make. Our other friends had moved into apartments they’d bought, held hostage by five-month olds. New friends could be our way to “freshen up.” Maybe new friends were a hidden love language one of us needed to speak.
When I got back from my run on Santacon Day, you had brunch ready–peppermint French toast, mimosas, sugarplums. “Babe, you’ll want more than a banana before Santacon.” And you weren’t wrong because at ten when we reached our first stop, the Irish pub next to our laundromat with the lady who hates you but maybe not me, Santas and Mrs. Clauses and Christmas trees were yakking in a huddle, pooling a yak puddle, and I remembered we were technically late to the festivities.
You ordered us the special, six-dollar hot toddies, and I guarded mine on a cocktail table, the cup too hot to hold even though the door was open because there were so many bodies, and perfume, candy canes, vomit thickened the air.
You didn’t notice when we left and the lady who hates you was smoking and eating her pastrami sandwich and growled, “Haven’t you had it with this place?” but then she saw my Santa hat and sighed and lurched back inside the laundromat. And you didn’t notice your New Friend Jed offered me The Good Stuff at the Mexican restaurant. And you didn’t notice Jed and an elf having sex behind a fish tank at the Mexican restaurant. When spit dribbled out my mouth and into the chips, all you said was, “Don’t be gross.”
And it is gross, the vomit, the fish tank sex, the snot up my sleeve. The snowman slips his hand out of his mitten to squeeze my knee. He asks, “Did you really think he’d notice?”
Did I really think you’d notice that I matched you drink for drink, throwing back PBRs and peppermint schnapps, dancing with this burly snowman at the gay bar? Or the joint the snowman passed me, his snowman head pulled back like a hood so he could smoke and say, “I think you know what you have to do,” as we watched this tête-à-tête unfold, you and Rudolph squeezing, smiling, kissing, vomiting, lighting up the ATM red.
Michael Colbert loves coffee (his favorites are Costa Rican and Ethiopian) and horror films (his favorites are Candyman and Silence of the Lambs). He is currently an MFA candidate in fiction at UNC Wilmington, and his writing appears in Southern Humanities Review, Press Pause Press, Avidly, and Kyoto Journal, among others.
image: Amee Nassrene Broumand