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  • Writer's pictureMarie Smysor Watson

The Whole, Messy Affair

Apparently, something about Christmas makes me think of sex, as witnessed with my last Christmas-adjacent post from 2020 (seen here). I'm sure there's some Freudian psychology to explain it - probably something to do with a Santa fixation. At any rate, this will be my last post for 2021. I need some time off to wrangle my thoughts, as well as my children, into submission. Y'all have a merry, Larry Christmas (?!?) - I'll be back with a sleigh-load of brand-spanking-new madness in 2022!

She’s tired. Also, probably a little drunk. She usually never drinks at these sorts of things (mostly because David doesn’t really like it, but also - if she’s being completely honest - she’s a little worried of what she might say or do.)

One other time, she’d gotten a little tipsy at another one of these parties. Hardly what she would call a party, what with the cheap wine and cheaper vodka and plastic bowlfuls of that spicy cereal mix stashed around cramped rooms that smelled of virgin books and battered carpets, but like her mother always said Beggars can’t be choosers, Mar-see-ya.

That time, David had caught her out on the sagging front porch laughing a bit too giddily along with Alan Beard, the newest member of the University’s Political Science department. They were laughing over the political cartoon that had been in the paper that day, the one of President Reagan and his willful ignorance of the whole Iran-Contra mess, which Marcia only knew a little about because they were televising the hearings and she’d been watching them when she should’ve been doing a whole host of other things besides sitting in front of daytime TV, but she was bored of those other things and so she chose not to do them and instead, she watched Oliver North refuse to incriminate himself. Trouble was, she couldn’t talk about the whole, messy affair with David at dinner, which would be nice since he was now the second newest member of the Political Science Department. It certainly would’ve given them more to talk about than his office politics, but she couldn’t because then she would be incriminating herself.

Anyway, David had been jealous when he saw her standing there with Alan Beard, who she secretly thought looked a little like Ollie North, except that Alan had brown eyes and the Lieutenant Colonel’s were a gray-blue. He was jealous - that was as plain as the nose on her own face, as her mother always liked to say. He thought that Alan was trying to put the moves on her. He said as much when he pulled at her wrist a little more forcefully than he needed to.

That’s ridiculous, she thought, but she didn’t have time to bring the thought to her lips because David had kept his grip tight on her arm and was almost pulling her down the Garritsen’s daffodil-choked front path to their car, a well-worn gray Mercury. He didn’t even bother opening up her door for her. But when she managed to bring it up the next day at breakfast, David acted as if he had no clue as to what she was talking about.

“Maybe you had too much to drink, Marce,” he said, not even looking up at her. He was studying the paper. Patriot or Traitor? the headline blared. She didn’t even need to look at the picture to know who they were referring to. David acted as always: complacent. So were his mannerisms: the way he slurped the last little bit of his coffee and wiped at his beard and also the way he creased his newspaper, lining up the edges just so and running his thumbnail across the edge of it, like he was subduing it. These were the same things he did every morning and so she began to think that maybe- no, most likely - he was right. She had had too much to drink.

That was the last of those kind of parties that they went to that Spring.

But it's Winter now and even though the air had turned from crisp to biting, Ernest Jackson, Chair of the Poli-Sci Department, decided it was time for another party. Same cheap wine. Same half-flat champagne. Same talk that only goes round and round, never following a straight line from Point A to Point B. Only this time, under Christmas lights.

When she and David enter Ernie Jackson’s squat little bungalow, Alan Beard is standing over by a leaning bookcase. He guves Marcia a little half-wave. She smiles but she does not move towards him. His wife is at his side, quiet, her face turned up towards her husband. She looks over at Marcia when he waves, but there's nothing on her face resembling recognition or warmth, although they have met twice before. Once at Wal-mart and once coming out of the matinee at the Garden Theater.

She’d been to see When Harry Met Sally by herself, while David was teaching a summer class. Honestly, she didn’t see what all of the fuss was about over that movie. But when she literally ran into Marianne Beard on the street in front of the theater, Marianne’s face was flushed and she had a secret, little half-smile on her face.

“Not bad, huh?” she said, smiling at Marcia. She had a slight chip on one of her front teeth. And then she settled her hand on the curve of Marcia’s waist for a moment, but before Marcia could say anything, she dropped her hand and walked off down the sidewalk, leaving Marcia standing there, choking her half eaten bag of popcorn around it’s crumpled neck.

Marianne's cold shoulder combined Marcia's own awkwardness - her outsider status, conferred on her by always being a plus one, never the original invitee - forces her to drink one, two, three glasses of Ernie's famous Christmas punch. She detects a strong note of Everclear - or all-purpose kitchen cleaner, take your pick - but she gulps it down anyway. Quickly, under the mistletoe, though no one - not even her own husband - bothers to approach her.

It's only after she begins smiling and tapping her toe a bit too fiercely to John Mellencamp - who used to be Johnny Cougar, then John Cougar Mellancamp, now this iteration - singing, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," that she thinks she may have had a wee bit too much to drink. No, she's sure this time - she has drank too much. He doesn’t need to know though, Marcia thinks.

“What a man doesn’t know won’t kill him,” she actually whispers as she heads to the back room. Of course, she’s talking about David.

She finds the room where Ernie Jackson - he of the tweed jackets and acid washed jeans - had instructed them to put their coats. They're strewn across the bed like discards at the Salvation Army; the pile they make is tremendous and deep. It's so inviting, that pile, and Marcia wants nothing more than to be buried under its weight, just so she can close her eyes for a little while.

And so she does just that. She burrows under the coats - coats that are too fine and not fine enough. Rough, plasticky, musty - just like David's comrades, she thinks gleefully.

Further under the pile, Marcia discovers something. Someone actually still wears fur, she thinks, her face rubbing up against its softness. She falls asleep before she can form any more thoughts about someone else’s poor and out-of-step - but nonetheless comforting - tastes.

She has the sensation of her skirt being hiked up, high enough to expose her control briefs. They don’t really control anything and will only end up making her miserable by the time the night is over.

But they aren’t there anymore, because she can feel the direct touch of something soft against her crotch and she is immediately and inexplicably wet as this soft thing glides back and forth in a motion both controlled and deliberate. She doesn’t open her eyes, but it wouldn’t matter anyway even if she did because there are at least four coats (maybe five) covering her face, overlapping just so that she has enough fresh air to breathe. Anyway, the room was dark when she entered and it still is. She can tell this, even from behind her closed eyelids.

She doesn’t want to break the spell, the magic that is this softness and so she doesn’t make a noise and she tries to control her breathing, not that it probably matters because of the coats muffling her sound but she isn’t able to do it very well, and not at all near the end when she begins to pant like Grendel, her childhood dog, used to, when it was hot outside and his water bowl went dry and there it was she’s there now under the blinding sun, panting, and she raises her hips up and the soft thing continues as she strains against it and it only stops when she lowers her hips back down to the bed, back down to earth, a used up husk of a rocket that had reached too far beyond the stars.

After that, the room is quiet and although she hasn’t heard the door click, she knows she’s alone. It’s only after her skin cools and her breathing slows that she realizes her control top underwear are still around her knees, holding them together just like a rubberband does for things that should never be lost.

When she returns to the party a few minutes later, David is deep in conversation with Ernie Jackson, who wears a sweater with Rudolph stitched on it, complete with a red pompom for a nose. Probably they're discussing something about David's upcoming tenure vote in the spring. Spring is so far away, thinks Marcia stupidly. Her legs are still unsteady but she’s now completely sober, minus part of her clothing. She left her underwear stuffed deep behind a few tattered boxes in the closet. If Ernie Jackson ever finds them, it’ll be the biggest mystery of his life as to how they got there.

She walks up to David, placing her hand on his shoulder. He doesn’t acknowledge her, but he doesn’t shrug her off either. As predicted, he’s deep into conversation about his tenure. It’s as his life hinges on it, she thinks. She knows she should care, because it directly affects her as well, but she just can’t. It all seems so arbitrary and foolish to her, this idea that it really matters what a person says, rather than how they behave. Your choice is your voice, her mother used to say. Marcia didn’t understand it then - she rarely ever understood any of the colloquialisms her mother spouted - but now, at this very moment, she recognizes her mother as something akin to an ancient sage.

Alan Beard appears from the hallway with two coats slung over his arm. Marianne sidles up next to him and he helps her into her coat. It’s shiny and soft even under the dim lights.

Marcia’s mouth goes dry and she starts to pant lightly, but not loud enough for anyone to hear.

“We’re headed out,” Alan Beard says, to their small group. Marcia makes a small squeaking noise, but says nothing.

“Oh? So soon?” Ernie Jackson says with a sour tang to his voice, almost as if he’s miffed they aren’t sticking around. What should we stay for? The fireworks are over, Marcia thinks.

“Marianne’s tired, what with the baby and all,” he says, his hand going to his wife’s stomach. For the very first time, Marcia notices how her dress is bunched up in the front, the fabric puckered and strained in places.

“Oh,” she says, glancing from Marianne’s belly to her face. “Oh,” she repeats, this time in a higher pitch.

Marianne smiles but says nothing. She brings the arm of her coat to her face and sniffs. It looks wet, or damp anyway, like a cat does when it’s accidentally been left outside in a rainshower.

“I know it’s not okay to say this anymore, but I love the smell of fur. It smells so primal.” She looks directly at the group of them, taking them all in at once. A string of Christmas lights outside choose this exact moment to falter; they blink twice and, with no further warning, go out.

“C’mon Marianne,” Alan said, plucking at his wife’s arm, the dry one, as he turns away. She smiles, not at Marcia, but at his back, and waits until he turns again with an exasperated look on his face. Only then does she move towards the door, waiting until it’s perfectly clear to all of them that it is her idea to leave and not his.

“What a strange woman,” David says directly in her ear. This startles Marcia and she bumps up against Ernie Jackson, sloshing the drink in his hand.

“Dammit, Marcia,” David says, brushing at the lapel of his boss’s jacket.

Marcia thinks it best if she doesn’t drink at anymore of these so-called parties. At least not for a little while.

“Did you ever notice that Beard looks a little like Ollie North?” David says, trying to draw the conversation back to a lighter, less stiff tone.

“Fuck you, David,” she says. But it’s soft, so soft, as if she’s whispering good night into the ear of a lover, or state secrets not so easily kept.

“What?” he says, his attention still focused on Ernie’s jacket. Ernie may or may not have heard her; the look on his face is inscrutable. "What did you say, Marce?"

“I plead the fifth,” she replies innocently.

David snorts, but gives her a sideways glance that holds a tiny bit of wonder mixed with a healthy dose of fear too, as if all of this time, she’d been capable of things he’d never even begun to imagine.

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