NTHE Xmas Fable, for Corry
by Patrick Frost, whose bio can be found at the bottom of his earlier essay in this space
Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits
600 Poland Ave
New Orleans, Louisiana 70117
“You’re easy to talk to, you know that Santa?”
“I know that young lady.”
“Are you eating tonight? I mean besides all that wine you’re drinking, and all the cookies you’ll gorge on later?”
“I don’t think so, we only get a few drink tickets for this thing.”
“They don’t feed you? On Christmas?”
“Santa has to buy his own food, yeah.” He said grinning.
“That’s bullshit Santa!”
“It’s ok. We been doing this for a while, we’re used to it.”
“You sounded like you been at it a while, you’re very smooth Santa.”
“Hey Santa,” she twirled the last of her European wine around in her glass by arcing the long stem. “You mind if I ask you something that, I think, you may be of a certain level of expertise on?”
“Well first off, lemme start by asking if you have a favorite climate scientist?”
“A favorite what?”
“Scientist,” her wine was ready for her lips. “Climate scientist.”
“Can’t say I do,” Santa looked towards the stage where his horn player and his drummer were setting back up after the break.
“Like Hansen? Malcolm Light? Or that dude born and raised up there near you, Beckwith? I guess James Hansen is the most popular.”
“Can’t say I’ve ever heard of those fellows.”
“How about Guy McPherson? Do you like him? He’s kind of a Debbie Downer but that’s only to those that are just getting into him.”
“Getting into?” Santa acted confused.
“Yeah like someone–” her mussels arrived to the table. “Take some, please. Have some.” The bowl steamed hard in the night. “This broth is kinda like your oceans up there, huh Santa?”
“My oceans, dear?”
“Your home yeah, it’s melting away sir.”
Santa didn’t say anything and he looked again back at his stage. It was empty.
“I mean getting into, like someone that hears your band for the first time, they don’t always, maybe, love your music right away–” she stopped.
“–I know what you’re trying to say, you don’t have to think you’re offending me.”
“I mean I, personally, loved your songs. And this has been the first time I’ve heard them.”
“Where are you from, Miss? If you don’t mind me asking?”
“You can tell I’m not from here, huh?”
Santa shook his head like he knew where California was.
“My city is changing too Santa, but not nearly as fast as yours. Eat some, please.”
“I can’t. I have to start playing again here soon.”
“Have one. Just one. For me.”
Santa reached for the bread, “I’ll have a taste then, ok.” He dipped the crostini in the juices, put the whole slice in his mouth and reached for a mussel. “It’s real good. Salty. I can taste the wine, and the butter.”
“And fennel and absinthe.”
“So you really should look up Guy, it will take a while to resist your resistance towards him, but eventually things will start making sense, just don’t get turned off right away like most folks do.”
“What does he say?” Santa wiped his mouth with the back of his right hand and dried it with his fluffy red pants.
“I’ll tell you if you eat more with me. I ordered a lot, too much for me. The menu is unbelievable–” another plate was arriving at the table.
A gentleman in a white button up shirt — not a waiter’s shirt, but a worn-in second hand shirt, a hand-me-down shirt, held the dish up, “Fresh pappardelle with wild mushroom, garlic, ricotta and herbs?” His hand was trying to locate a landing area like a storm moving east over the Pacific Ocean. It was confused and uncertain.
“Here,” she said and moved what was left of the mussels towards Santa. “Thank you.”
The cook left.
The band was starting to walk towards the stage again.
“I know you don’t have a lot of time left Santa, but thank you for talking with me. I like you. And I’m sorry about what we have done to your home.”
“Well,” Santa looked over at his new friend. “If you don’t mind me saying something–”
“Sure Santa, anything,” she raised the wide, garlic, ricotta noodles towards her face.
Santa leaned in, “Are you, ok? Do you have a place to stay?”
She looked up from her white plate and stared through the warm fog her dish was putting off, “I’m fine Santa, truly. Why?”
Santa sat back and checked his stage. “No reason,” he said passively.
She washed down the tender pasta with the rest of her wine and poured the last glass out for herself. She sipped at it again; her next bottle was going to come from California, she resigned. It’s just as close if not closer than France.
“Don’t worry about me Santa, I’m on vacation. Just save your strength for later, don’t go wasting all your energy playing that big ol’ thing up there. I saw you tossing it around earlier.”
Santa enjoyed her compliment. It wasn’t often he got talked to so brashly, especially by a woman so much younger than him.
“Oh, and one more thing Santa,” she took a decade long sip from her French wine. “After all your flying around tonight, I figure you’ll be real tired and you might want to escape from Mrs. Claus for a minute, maybe go outside and fire up an American Spirit, or I don’t know, you probably hand roll cigarettes or have your Elves roll them for you. But please be careful, there is a lot of methane up there where you live.”
“I just don’t want you to blow the whole damn thing up for us because you worked hard one day this year. That’s all I’m saying. Go out to the barn or something and smoke with the reindeer.”
Santa was lost on her playfulness.
“It’s ok, Santa,” she assured him. “That joke was really just for me.”
She finished her pasta and was scraping her plate with the last piece of bread from the mussels.
“Santa, do mind if I tell you what I want for Christmas? Since I have you here.”
“Sure,” the bass player said, half-confident.
“Would it be alright if,” she locked in with Santa’s eyes. “If I sat on your lap while I told you?”
The band was all on stage now except for the bass player.
“Ok,” he made a lap with his legs.
She lifted the metal patio furniture chair up out of the gravel and set it back down almost feverishly behind her. She was on his lap, his left leg, and she took his wine to herself.
“I would like–” she paused.
“What I want for Christmas Santa, is for you to, while you’re flying around tonight with your sack that holds all the gifts for all the–” she stopped again and started playing with Santa’s beard.
“Are you a Christian myth? I mean I can’t say the whole world’s gifts because there is only a portion of the globe that believes in you or celebrates you, right?”
Santa said nothing.
“I want you to fly around with your bottomless bag open, and I want you to collect fifty-three particles per million of all the CO2 that is up there with you.”
“Parts per million?” Santa asked without curiosity.
“I don’t want you to take all the CO2 now, that would just be silly. We’d freeze.”
The band was playing without him.
“You want a second gift?” he smiled at his drummer who was laughing at him.
She enjoyed his attempt, “I want you to take a lot of Methane too. I’m not sure how much exactly. But follow your heart on that one. It’s mostly up by you anyway so that should be easier.”
“That will be no problem,” Santa encouraged. “I can do the first one, but I’m not sure if I’ll have enough time to get all the–”
“Right, Methane. Out of the atmosphere in one night.”
“Oh but Santa, could you try? Please?”
“Well, lets say I try. And I do it. But then I can’t let you know because, well…”
“Are you asking me for my number, Santa?”
Santa shook his left leg under her in confident embarrassment, “I am, yes.”
She kissed his cheek and fell off his leg and splashed down into the gravel. She reached through her purse and found a G5 pen. She started swinging her hips to the drums and the horn. “They need you up there!”
She put the ink to the one clean napkin that remained on the patio table and wrote:
Arctic Methane Emergency Group Blog
She drew a heart on the bottom of the paper and folded the napkin in half, then in half again, and handed it to Santa.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’ll be sure to let you know about your wishes, I hope you’ve been good this year.”
“Me too, Santa” she said wholeheartedly. “Me too.”
The bass player placed the folded napkin in his red suit pocket and took the stage with the other two Santas. She stacked her plates on her table and walked past the kitchen, through the gravel, past the outdoor water station, and the ice buckets for the white wine and champagne, towards the blue and white checkerboard tiled floor, and the brick wall wine laboratory, in search of a California Cabernet.
* * *
The first time she threw up at Bacchanal, it was full of grace. She was ladylike in the restroom and since it was Christmas evening, the three Santas were only playing for about thirty-five onlookers, so the restroom by the kitchen was empty. She let out a quick burst and she flushed simultaneously to avoid any splashes. Then she was done. In the mirror she cleaned herself up and scraped at her teeth with a wet paper towel to get most of the red off.
She got back to her table and poured herself another half glass to get the taste out of her mouth. It was a Pinot, from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The bottle shop didn’t have any California wines. She gargled the light wine and swished it around her teeth and tongue, and swallowed it down.
Her dessert came. “Goat milk panna cotta, honey, lavender, and pine nuts?” the cook asked.
“Yes. Thank you, everything has been excellent tonight,” she looked at the white button up shirt. “I just wanted you to know.”
“That’s nice of you. I’m glad.”
“I don’t eat like this very often, it’s a real treat.”
“Merry Christmas,” the cook offered. “And if you don’t mind me asking. Are you doing alright?”
“I’m fine cook, yes,” she deflected. “Did you know that sixty percent of Earth’s species have gone extinct in the last forty years? That rate is ten thousand times higher than that of evolution.”
The cook was thinking about the demi-glacé he had rolling on his stove.
“–the human population has doubled in the same timeframe,” she sipped her Oregon wine and moved on. “No, I’m really great. Thank you for asking.”
The cook went back to his range.
She took her first bite. The pine nuts were toasted, smashed, and dusted over the whole dish and she could tell they would be in every spoonful. The drums and horns and stand-up bass filled the temperate, December, New Orleans evening air.
Then it hit her again, deeper this time. She stood up quickly and her chair fell back into the gravel and dug in. She looked towards the bathroom next to the counter of the kitchen; there was a small line of two women. She turned back and knocked her wine glass off the table and it shattered on the stone below. The shards of glass worked their way into the pebbles almost as well as the Pinot did. Everyone at Bacchanal was looking at her now. The music played on. She stepped over the busted glass, and towards the stage on the narrow gravel walkway. All three Santas were attempting to play through her distraction as she climbed up onto the stage.
She kissed the horn player on his puffy cheeks, and she banged on the drummer’s symbols by wildly swinging her purse at them. When she got to her Santa, she went down on all fours and placed her red lips to the microphone that was aimed towards his bass. She peered up at him and silenced his strings with her left hand and confessed into the shallow mic, “I’m afraid, Santa.”
She was softly crying.
“I don’t think–” she looked up at the small crowd and reflexively pushed out from the bottom of her stomach, a dozen mussels, buttery fresh pasta, and almost two bottles of wine. All of Bacchanal gasped in harmony. “I’m afraid I haven’t been a good enough girl this year, Santa.”