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Sunday, December 14, 2003

A slightly less brief moment of fiction

Christmas in Vinyl-ville

The neighborhood Christmas parade inched up Park Road (Jenny liked to call it Park Avenue) in a much too jerky fashion. The grand marshal's bullhorn tore at window screens and scared sleeping dogs from slumber. The sirens from the Park Point Fire Department trucks screamed more of impending disaster than a merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Jerry didn't much give a damn, though. He was inside and not feeling in a holiday spirit. The TV talked and talked, and Ed Bradley moved his mouth in time with the words. Joey--Jenny had named him after learning what a baby kangaroo was called--had stretched out in front of the TV and stared up Ed's nose.

And Jerry sat with a glass of ginger ale in his hand.

"Merry Christmas, Park Point! Merry Christmas! Woooo!" Jerry didn't know the woman's name, nor would he recognize her face in the grocery store. But he did know the voice. He knew it by it's slow, nasal drawl and three years of living in the sprawling expanse of vinyl siding known as Park Point. Each year, that voice rode at the front of the holiday parade and called out to the Park Point residents. Jerry could tell by the sound of the voice that its owner was just pleased as Christmas punch to have such a grand responsibility.

Bitch.

It had been a little more than a year since the first time he heard the voice through anything other than a bullhorn. He'd had a bottle of Johnny Walker red in his hand. Sam's Liquor Hut had wide aisles that seemed to go on for miles. When Jerry was ten years younger, he was sure the long aisles were passageways to a more troubled, and hence more interesting existence.

Nine years later, as Sam took down his Thanksgiving special displays, Jerry stood with the bottle in his hand and stared toward the beer cooler wondering if he shouldn't buy a twelve pack in case the weather got bad that night. One aisle over, he heard the bullhorn voice.

"...I heard he drinks before he..."

It was a half-sentence, but enough to make Jerry stop looking at the Keystone in the cooler. That voice should be wishing him a Merry Christmas and happy fucking New Year. Instead, he was fairly sure it was using him as the subject of a little Park Place gossip.

"...Jenny said if he doesn't..."

Jerry put the bottle of Johnny red back on the shelf and walked for the door, making every effort not to see the face connected to the voice. Sam tried to say something from behind a cardboard turkey cutout but a paper feather poked him in the eye. Jerry was out the door and at home sitting in his recliner before Sam stopped cussing.

Two and a half weeks later, the voice came riding up the road, an ugly siren's call to the neighborhood kids to come out and see Santa. Jenny looked up from her magazine and then over at Jerry. The sweat from the glass of ginger ale was trickling down over his fingers.

"You okay?" his wife asked.

"Yeah. Sure."

"Okay." Back to the magazine.

Jerry hadn't told his wife that he was going on the wagon. He just did it. Cold turkey. He poured a half bottle of scotch and four beers down the sink early in the morning after the incident at Sam's. The same morning he went to the grocery store, bought a 12-pack of ginger ale, and had been nursing three or four glasses a night since then.

It was a sober Christmas, and a sober New Year. She kissed him under the mistletoe and at the stroke of midnight. Though she never said it, Jenny seemed pleased at the unexpected sobriety.

They had met in a bar six years before. He kissed her on the forehead the first night. By their third meeting his invitation to return to his apartment rode on a wave of scotch fumes. She accepted and started what Jerry would someday describe to Sam as three great years of careless monkey sex.

Three years later they married and pooled their resources. Together they had enough to buy a cookie cutter and cut out their slice of vinyl in Park Point. It was suburban bliss on .63 acres.

Jenny never once complained--not one word--about Jerry's frequent visits with Sam, Mr. Walker, and the Keystone cops. Not a peep when he was at a bar too late. Not even a whisper when he slept it off on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It wasn't until Jerry heard the Bullhorn Voice sans bullhorn that he thought he might have a problem.

Bitch.

After ten good years of hard core drinking, Jerry actually considered himself an accomplished, if not entirely committed drunk. So, once Madame Bullhorn decided to gossip within earshot, and once Jerry had rid himself of Johnny (and poor turkey-eyed Sam), a bit of animosity started to build in Jerry's heart and liver. What the hell did that woman know that he didn't? After a few conversations with Jenny, it seemed apparent the Grand Marshal and his wife (the Grand Poobah), had never spoken. And now he was sober.

Still, the following year went fairly well. Promotion at work. Lost some weight. Joey the kangaroo dog didn't bite him. All in all, while grudgingly clean and sober, Jerry was fairly happy.

It was that happiness and a sense that he could again be around booze without wanting to drink it that led Jerry to believe he owed old Sam an explanation. After all, Jerry had been buying his booze at the Liquor Hut for a decade and then one night he just disappeared. Sam probably thought he was dead.

"I thought you were dead." Sam was carefully pulling the cardboard turkey out of a Crown Royal box, paying close attention to the paper feather on the tail.

"Sam, for a couple of months I thought I was. Turns out--"

"...she's very unhappy..." It was her. Buried deep down the drink mixer aisle, the bullhorn woman was gabbing. Jerry couldn't see her, but he knew the voice. It was the voice that put a cork on his liver.

"...she said she's going to give it until after Thanksgiving..."

When Sam finished tacking the turkey to the wall, he turned around and Jerry was gone.

At home in his recliner an hour later, ginger ale half-gone and the dog on the floor, Jerry had looked up at his wife and asked for the first time in his marriage, "Hon, are we okay?"

Jenny had looked up from her magazine and said, "Okay? Of course, we are. Why would you ask a question like that?"

Jerry didn't answer. He just shrugged his shoulders and smiled at her as if to say, "I get a little paranoid when I'm sober."

She smiled back and dropped her eyes back to the glossy pages of Southern Living.

It started to make sense to Jerry. Bullhorn Breath had been wrong about how Jenny felt about his drinking. The old bat (he guessed she was old, anyway) probably made up the whole story just to bend the ear of some other biddy at Sam's. Probably made them feel a lot better about buying their booze, knowing there was a drunk who lived around the corner.

Lying, stupid bitch.

That evening, two nights before Thanksgiving, Jerry sat back in his recliner and smiled at the dog. He smiled at his wife. He sipped his ginger ale and thought about how he might go outside for the neighborhood Christmas parade this year. Just to flip the bird to that bitch with the bullhorn.

* * *


Jonathan Jerome (aka Jerry) Nix wondered why Jenny didn't think to use his first name in the note she left tacked to the fridge. "Dear Jerry," wasn't nearly as funny as "Dear John" would've been. Then again, Jenny was never much one for being clever.

It was only a few lines long.

Dear Jerry,

It breaks my heart to leave like this. You have always been a good husband. But my heart needs more. The first years of our marriage filled my heart with excitement. Now, our marriage feels stale and it will kill us both if I stay.

I love you,
Jenny


Jerry held the letter in his hand as the Christmas parade wound through the streets. The sweat from the ginger ale glass had dripped onto the paper and smudged his name. In the distance, he could hear the bullhorn crackle as the procession rounded a corner.

"Merry Christmas, Park Point! Merry Christmas! Wooooo!"

"You got one thing right, you old bitch." Jerry said it as he stood up from the recliner. He wadded up the letter and tossed on the coffee table next to the stack of magazines.

He thought he might go see if Sam needed some help taking that old paper turkey off the wall.

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