Silver and Golden Christmas Falls (Part 3)

Five hours later Jared sat on a round and rested by sipping malt liquor from a sports bottle he’d rustled up from lost and found. He popped another pill and waited for the fuzz. James Brown’s Funky Christmas played.

He’d split and stacked two cords of firewood. He’d cleaned the toilet twice. He’d hauled several trees to cars and trucks and even scored a $10 tip. He’d kept the fire crackling and the train running on time, a veritable Christmas Mussolini! How in the hell did Wayne do it all by himself?

Wayne handled the sales, restocked the trees, nipped wine, and played DJ with the cassettes. He wasn’t exactly Santa Claus with the customers, but moments of levity sometimes occurred and the train set always generated nostalgic conversations with the older crowd who remembered the world before the Internet.

Chief patrolled the maze in his outfit and delighted kids and parents. They Instagrammed the hell out of him and called it Christmas spirit. Hell, maybe it was.

Sweat drenched Jared’s body. He reeked of work, willows and the road. He felt the malt liquor and pill lacquering his edges.

Hunger gripped Jared. He walked up to Wayne and asked if he could take an hour off to get lunch and clean up.

“Sure,” said Wayne. “But where are you going to clean up?”

“I use the fish cleaning station at the boat dock. They’ve got hot water there, too, for shaving.”

“Fish cleaning station! That’s bullshit. Go get lunch and then you can take a quick shower in the Shasta.”

“I can’t impose like that.”

“I say you can. You’re doing a good job today.”

Jared hadn’t heard anyone tell him he’d done a good job since he blew away an Iraqi family who were not insurgents.

“Okay, thanks. I’ll get out of here in the morning.”

“Where you gonna go?”

“I don’t know.”

Jared walked to the Burger King and ate three Whoppers, an order of fries, and inhaled a vanilla shake. He bought a couple cans of malt liquor and some chewing gum at a convenience store. A few minutes later he stepped inside the Shasta with his toiletries, hand towel and a fetid change of clothes.

Wayne had ripped out the original cheap paneling and aluminum interior and replaced everything with cedar, cherry and myrtlewood. The stove, sink, faucet and refrigerator gleamed. Not a single burner was black. There wasn’t a speck of dust or dog hair or cob web anywhere. The bed was made without a wrinkle. Nothing adorned the walls. There was nothing on the counters. Everything was stowed away in closets and cupboards.

Jared felt like he was trespassing into some kind of sanctuary, perhaps a hideout, maybe a womb, or all three rolled into one unnameable safe place. He said aloud, “I wouldn’t mind living here.”

He’d never said that before.

The tree lot conducted brisk business on Black Friday and Jared marveled at how happy everyone seemed. Perhaps it all disappeared once the customers drove away, but half an hour of happiness is better than nothing. As Billy Preston once sang, “Nothin’ from nothin’ means nothin’.”

Wayne locked the front gate at seven and killed the Christmas music. A light rain began to fall and Wayne told Jared to set up the canopy over the fire and bring out the plastic chairs behind the shed. Jared got busy and finished by the time Wayne emerged from the Shasta holding a kettle, ladle, bowls and spoons He rigged the kettle up to rest on a barbecue grill over some coals.

“How’d you like some fart stew for dinner?” said Wayne.

“Sure.” Jared laughed hard. His face felt funny, kind of cracked. He realized he hadn’t laughed that hard in forever.

“What’s in it?” said Jared.

“Fart fixins!” said Wayne.

“Mind if I drink?”

“What do you think fire pits are for? Confessions and getting drunk.”

They both laughed. Jared produced a can of malt liquor and Wayne produced a mug of Carlo Rossi.

As the stew heated, Chief hit the sack near inches from the flames. Firelight danced in his eyeballs.

“Wayne, would you mind telling me about your Vietnam service? I don’t mean to pry.”

“You know I’ve never told it to anyone.”


“No one asked in those days. No one cared. They cut you loose and wanted you out. And I didn’t go to bars or the VFW halls and bullshit about it.”

“I’ve never been in one of the halls.”

“Don’t. Most of those guys are total phonies. Talking about armaments and wearing bandannas and unit patches. If you wanted to talk about it in a bar you weren’t there or you were peeling potatoes or typing up reports full of lies.”

They drank in silence for a few minutes. Jared gobbled a pill.

“Let’s eat first, before story time,” said Wayne.

“Fine by me,” said Jared. He hadn’t a home-cooked meal in over a decade and that was in a warming shelter in Astoria. Come to think of it, that wasn’t even home-cooked. It was just served that way by friendly people.

Wayne ladled up the stew and men and dog ate their supper. Chief was farting before he finished his share.