Tiana gave us the news. In three days it would be Christmas. Christmas was only six months ago, though at the office meeting before the Fourth of July holiday, we learned upon waking up the next morning, the date will be December 23rd. The office clamored with excited, confused conversation, as though we were ten-year-olds at a cocktail party. A small group of us stood around Tiana for details. Everybody wanted answers.
“Should we buy presents?” asked Adisa.
I took a donut from the bakery table while Tiana struggled to continue. She held a tablet in her hands reading the news. More voices rose to question her. I couldn't eat seeing Tiana overwhelmed by the burden of her coworkers’ questions, flushed and shaking from having to deliver the news.
“I don’t know,” she shouted. “It isn’t my job to know about supernatural events. I don’t know what to tell you.”
We sighed. Charles volleyed a re-inquiry of gift-giving.
“I don't know if anyone’s getting gifts,” said Tiana.
“Get ‘em anyway, Chuck, you cheap fuck!” someone shouted.
Tiana looked as though she wanted to close this meeting quickly. She raised her voice to bring the others’ attention back to the news.
“Look, all I’ve been told is that we are going to wake up tomorrow and it will be December 23rd, and it wont be a relived experience.”
“You know about gifts,” said Adisa.
“Get one for your spouse,” someone said. “Screw the kids.”
“What do you mean ‘wont be relived?’” asked the new white guy.
“What I am saying Frank, is that if last Christmas you drank too much champagne, took a handful of sleeping pills before going to bed, and do it again this year, you wont necessarily live through the experience.”
She read from the tablet.
“Life will be experienced as if it is a new day,” she said.
You could hear the nervous agitation in her voice, and knew that she was sweating it. “So we don't come into work Friday?” I asked.
“Right,” Tiana shouted. “Like going through a normal Christmas holiday.”
Stopped at the package store on the way home, bought a couple bottles of Barolo. Sidonie was cooking when I got in.
“Did you hear the news?” she asked. “It’s Christmas!”
We sent the kids to the neighbors’ and brutally popped it off in the living room. I got dressed while Sidonie tightened up against the couch.
“You’ve got to get them presents tomorrow. We’ll go to my folks on Christmas Eve.”
He cheeks were aglow.
“The kids can open them there.”
“They just had Christmas,” I said.
“People are going to be talking about this forever, Jarrell. I don’t want Bec and Tyler to grow up with a story about how their father didn’t believe in two Christmases.”
“We haven’t told them about Santa Claus,” I said. “Why start with the truth now?” The Barolo wasn’t doing it. I went into the kitchen for whatever was in the cabinet. There was rum. I brought the bottle to the living room. Wife was leaning against the arm of the couch. I had a pull and passed it to her. I could tell she watched me when I checked it.
“Almost ready to go again,” I said.
“You’re trouble, Jarrell Kendrick,” she said, with a slowly widening smile. Sidonie took the kids on Metro-North to the grandparents in Connecticut while I was on Third Avenue shopping for toys. The atmosphere was, to use a collective term for cheap emotional evocations—magical. Snow falling in big flakes rapidly, silently, with low-wind and holiday spirit. Music, and “good cheer” everywhere. The city was overrun by the excitement of the new holiday. I had a couple whiskeys, bought some Legos and a scooter.
Sidonie and I at Gazala’s Place on Ninth Avenue for dinner. Wore black. Later we’re in Hotel Belleclaire when I come inside her. She smacked me, but I think she got kicks from it too. After, I’m in the bathroom alone, looking at myself in the mirror, pulling the skin under my eyes down with my fingertips.
“Asshole,” I said.
Next morning we drove upstate and passed a few hours with friends. Plenty of drinks. For some reason, we spent an hour and a half trying to ice fish. She kept giggling. We felt young. That afternoon we’re at her folks’ house. Embraced her mother. Her father touched my wife on her buttocks when they hugged. After a big lunch I was clear to spike my drink from a breast pocket of rum. Looking good. We talked. The kids were beside themselves with “joy.”
Later everyone’s outside. The kids playing in the still falling snow for three hours. I don’t see how they do it. Sidonie’s father goes out there to check on them, stays out, comes back much later, sauced, without them. It’s insentient of him he doesn’t invite me to have a drink. I like his workspace. An annex of the house jutting into the backyard, filled with stacks of hardcover, unjacketed books. Old writers like Cicero and Tennyson, and plenty of ridiculous secrets. I was easy going with him and he played it formal with me. His formality was obscene because it was perfectly an act. I knew he was a jerk-off. An amateur taxidermist who placed stuffed terriers on credenzas with plumes of cotton coming out of their stitches.
Kids come in, we open presents. Daughter gets the scooter. She wants to ride it. She’s uncomfortable with the gears being under her left foot, so there’s the question whether she can handle acceleration and braking. Too much snow outside to show her how to do it. I tell her she has to pay for the gasoline. Boy gets Legos. They get gift cards from grandma, and go somewhere to play. They were good, happy kids.
The twenty-fifth arrives. I awaken to silence, no one is in the house. I get coffee and see it’s 6:45 a.m. Look outside, family, grandparents and all, in the snow cavorting. Snowballs and stuff. How does that old man get up so early? I have rum and lay down in front of the fire.
Later everyone is inside eating. We listen to an alternation of dated pop and the religious Christmas songs her mother likes. I feel sick but don't say anything. Lay in front of the fire. Watch a Charlie Chaplin film on a phone. Cry when no one is looking. At 8:00 p.m. I have phone sex with a graduate student I met in Chelsea last month.
After, the kids are in the living room on their stomachs watching TV. The boy’s shirt risen over his belly, the skin over his hips looks like pork shoulder. Daughter has a lesbian face. Thin, depressing lips. When she is fourteen she will be six feet tall.
10:30 p.m. comes, we leave. The children sleep in the back. The daughter rouses when we are almost home and asks; “how long is vacation?” They yawn, waking quietly as we arrive in Jackson Heights.
At home I try to give my wife head but she kicks me in the chin as she’s falling asleep. She meant to shoo me away and gives me a limp apology for splitting my lip with her knee. To the mirror I say: “Hello, fuck face,” dabbing at the blood.
It's morning, the twenty-sixth day of December. I’m outside our place holding a shovel, waving back to someone who lives four or five floors above us. The snow banks have shrunken and frozen. The air is humid, feels much colder than yesterday. I’m clearing the steps of the building. A truck passes spraying salt on the street. A white neighbor or something hacking an icy section of their steps with the side of a shovel. Later, I’m in a bakery buying donuts and coffee, someone hugs me from behind.
“Jarrell,” says the voice.
It’s a woman who lives on the first floor of the building. Turning, as I get the change from the bill, holding a plain donut and coffee in one hand, a dozen donuts in a box in the other. The voice is saying something about apple cider and end-of-the-year sales.
“Pfff,” I say, “I’m not going into the city.”
She holds her kid with arms over his chest, kid is looking at my box of donuts.
“It’s so exciting!” she says, “Christmas twice in one year! How outrageous things have gotten!
“It’s already over,” I say.
“Have you heard the news about the Mendelssohn’s?” she screams. “Dick lost thirty years! He’s easily fifteen-years-old in the face. He’s turned into a kid! You have to see him for yourself, it’s Dick! He’s a teenager! His kids are infants!”
I’m disgusted, tell her no, putting a donut on top of her kid’s beanie, I think it’s a strawberry-jelly, and walk out of the shop. Wife talks local news when I’m back.
“Jarrell, have you been listening to the news? People are turning into teenagers. Eleanor Rosenblatt called. Says she woke up looking fifteen years old!”
“Let’s get her to babysit. We’ll go to Martinique.”
“They’re coming over for dinner.”
“Phil and Eleanor?
“The whole family. She says Talia’s three!”
“Where did they sign for this? Can we make our kids eighteen?” Sidonie disapproves.
“I’m trying to wrap my head around this, Sidi. You've just told me our neighbors turned into teenagers.”
“Is it not exciting?” she says clasping her hands.
“You understand, Jarrell: this is supernatural.”
“You go back to being fifteen. I’ll stay thirty-seven.”
Rosenblatts come over. Phil and Eleanor are monsters at the table. Phil Rosenblatt has his fork in the serving salad.
“Take your fork out of the salad,” says Eleanor.
“Pull your head out of your ass,” says Phil.
“You haven’t touched your vegetables,” I say to Eleanor.
“Jarrell,” says the wife with a quick tongue.
We’re in bed doing a movie. I fall asleep naked with my face against Sidonie’s stomach and wake at 8:00 a.m., December 27. My vision clears. I am looking at a young female shoulder. It is lean, pale, smaller than the one that was in the bed last night. Fewer freckles.
“Huh,” I say, pulling back. “There’s a teenage girl in my bed.”
I’m crouched at the edge of the bed staring at the person sharing it with me. I shudder, fall backward off the bed and stand, leering at the sleeping body. It's not the daughter. Who is the fair-skinned, beautiful creature in the bed? I’m looking at my wife. Sidonie has turned fifteen over night. I’m sweating. Go to the mirror and pull the circles under my eyes low, see the blood vessels. Feeling normal.
“Hello, Jarrell,” I say.
Eleanor Rosenblatt calls. She’s an absolute bitch over the phone, whining about her kid. Her voice is high and stupid. I hear Phil in the background. He takes the phone from her.
“Come to the city with us.”
“Cara Moyer’s folks moved to a new spot at 35th and Lex. Me and Azacca gonna check it out.”
His voice is full of uncertain hope, as though his happiness rests on me saying yes.
“Naw man, I ain't going over there.”
“Come on, dude.”
“Fuck you,” I say and hang up. A scream from the den, I go and see. There are two small children wrestling over the remote.
“Becca!” I try.
The girl turns to me. She’s something like seven. Boy pulls the remote from her hands. She shrieks. It was probably the boy I was aiming for, but I address the girl.
“Rebecca Kendrick!” I say.
“T wants to watch a scary movie I don't want to!” she shouts.
Her cheeks are full, and the face is considerably cuter than the angular thing from the other day, but the lips are already showing signs they wont fill out.
“Just take it from him,” I say.
She tries to, but the boy’s got a meaty grip on the controller.
“Tyler, give it back!” she wines.
“Tyler,” I say, getting the right voice for the statement, “give your sister the remote.”
Tyler looks like a fat little muffin.
There’s the banging of kitchenware. Hysterical shouts from Puerto Ricans outside. I go to the window and see Ivan Rosa from downstairs in a coat and bathrobe holding his son into him with his hands pressed against the boy’s chest. They're standing by the curb. Ivan is pointing to the sky. There is no noise inside the apartment.
“Kids!” I say turning from the door. “Sidonie!”
No one answers me, but there is plenty of noise around the building, the sound is growing louder. I go outside. This older white guy Francis from the second floor, wearing an outer coat and robe over boxers, bathroom slippers, and nothing else, is in an oak, crouched on a branch, stretching his arms up the trunk for another.
“I’m going up!” he says not addressing me, but anyone passing by.
“Ivan,” I call out. “What is this?”
There’s a scarlet line with yellow and orange in the sky, and colors I’m not sure of because they keep changing, bronze and rusty purple. The area of these colors does not look like sky but something else, a substance other than air. Horns are going. Trumpets. It is loud. There are beautiful big figures flying over us, and a chorus like the sound of rushing waters.
“Jarrell!” my wife shouts.
I turn in the direction of her voice, and she’s in the air ascending peacefully. My thin-lipped daughter is ascending nearby.
“Where are you going?” I ask. For some reason I am jumping. I run to where I am beneath her, and look upward, my arms stretched toward her.
“My Sidonie!” I shout.
“Don’t worry about us!” she says. “Find Tyler!”
“Why are you and all our friends turning into children?” I ask.
“It’s happening to the Rosas too,” she says.
“Mr. Rosa’s fifteen in the face,” says the daughter.
“Why aren't you coming with us, Jarrell?” Sidonie asks, beaming. “There,” she said, indicating with a little jut of her chin. “Tyler’s right there.”
She is aglow with joy. I could be a stranger to her. Her skin browner from the wonderful light we are getting today. More of the large handsome figures flying above, make circle eights in the air. People from all over the neighborhood, not everybody, are rising around me. There’s a squeak from the boy.
He’s up the block, floating above some receptacles near a pin oak. I run to him, catching him at the left ankle.
“Tyler!” I’m holding my son like he’s a helium-filled balloon. “Don't go!”
“Come with us, Dad.” He sounds masculine behind the awkward up-register of his delivery. I’m gripping my son’s calf, hands sweating. My son is glowing. His leg is like a giant piece of baked chicken. Something is lifting us into the air.
“Tyler,” I say, “I’m gonna climb the tree.” Still holding his leg, I grab a branch of the pin oak extended over the sidewalk. We continue to rise and then I’m standing on the branch.
“Jump, Dad,” he says.
I leap from the branch with Tyler’s burning calf between my hands. I’m dangling below my son who is now whistling as we rise. I shout, and attempt to join the anointed ascending whistlers, but I’m terribly out of tune and off-time.
“You have to do it alone, Dad,” Tyler says, going right back into tempo with the other whistlers.
I let go of my son’s calf whistling badly, fall to the sidewalk—dumb to speak of my loneliness as the mass of figures above me rise higher, singing now with the music that has grown louder.