Snap! went the flashbulb. For a few moments, the faces hovering behind the red velvet rope were cowled in milky afterimages. The boy mewled and
squirmed on her lap. She felt a spreading warmth soaking through the red velour of her trousers. Years ago, the first time this occurred, she’d
reacted poorly; shoving the toddler off onto the faux-snow strewn floor.
Now, after so many incontinent children, she just winced and motioned an elf over. The green-clad girl with a festive smattering of acne bedecking her
forehead lifted the boy and held him at arm’s length as piss dripped from the cuffs of his pants.
The boy’s mother stepped across the rope and click-clacked rapidly over on high-heeled suede boots. Her garishly painted features fleetingly
registered concern before pinching in disgust. She took the child by the shoulder; magenta claws biting into the puffy nylon of his parka. “Richie,
you filthy little #!” she hissed.
The boy wept quietly, eyes winched shut. The department store Santa levered herself out of her gilded throne and stepped down gingerly from the dais.
“Oh-ho-ho,“ she said, winking at the boy, who did not look up. “It’s all right, Richie. Santa knows what a good boy you are.”
The woman fixed her with a flat glare before frog-marching her child out the candy-cane gate. The elf hung a “Santa is away” sign from a
gingerbread hook, and invited the grim knot of waiting petitioners to visit Santa another time. Santa waved, turned, and hobbled out into house wares.
She made her way through the thinning ranks of holiday shoppers, acutely conscious of eyes straying to the dark stain on her crotch and then flicking
away again in embarrassment. It was apparent that most of them thought she’d pissed herself. " The rubes always draw the simplest
," she thought. "No call for lying when they dupe themselves.
She wove between racks hung with limp suits and wan shirtfronts, came to a pair of ponderous double doors marked “EMPLOYEES ONLY”. They swung shut
behind her, abruptly cutting off the insipid twang of “Jingle Bell Rock”. She limped down a series of featureless cinderblock corridors to the
ladies’ room. All the linoleum surfaces were slicked with moisture. The humming of the florescent fixture mingled with the ceaseless gurgle and
drip of the ancient pipes.
She retrieved a set of long underwear and a sweat suit from her locker, and then stripped down to a pair of graying Haines. She unwound the ace
bandages from about her chest. Nearly naked, the bearded lady regarded herself in the full length mirror: slabs of pale, doughy flesh shot through
with swollen veins; rolls of flesh girding her waist; heavy, flaccid breasts resting wrinkled upon her belly with mottled nipples drooping earthward;
prominent nose gone bulbous with age; face like a crumpled napkin. A sore sight, no doubt, but the beard, oh!
A torrent of titanium waves, rivulets of silver and eddies of gold cascading in a shining profusion over her unlovely dimpled torso, down almost to
her frowning navel. She stroked its glorious length fondly, gently smiling, before sponging at her thighs with a wad of dampened paper towels.
She changed, swaddling herself in a tweed overcoat, several scarves, and a deer stalker hat, muttering as she did so, “Retired… semi-retired…
just plain tired.”
And so out into the slush and hustle of dirty lanes eroded through a grid of concrete canyons by the droning wind. She walked slowly, leaning heavily
on a metal cane with a three-pronged, rubber-tipped end; carrying on a hushed soliloquy, the words lost in the thicket of her beard.
“Not right… not right, Lord, a woman my age, and a bum hip besides. Ought to be some sort of provision, and the social security only paying
half-rent, and the retirement nearly dry… Well, Lord, you know I wanted children, and you saw fit to give me a beard instead of a fertile womb… So
when our birthday rolls around, I work a job makes me hate the very sight of them, makes me know your grace. When I think of grandkids now, I nearly
spit; thank you, Lord…”
She shuffled partway across a bridge slung low over the river. A hundred yards downstream the flow had been dammed, and the snow-shrouded ice bunched
up in livid folds beneath the flat length of the bridge. She watched as little floes in the inky flood slid beneath the crusted lip of the ice,
accumulating below the wrinkled surface.
She leaned against the steel railing as traffic hurtled on, honking and steaming, behind her. Her eyebrows bristled together as the motion of the
water spelled her into stillness. A few minutes passed that way, then; “Yes, lord, that’s just how it happens, you freeze on top, and the ice just
keeps sneaking under your skin till you’re froze down to the bottom. Happens slow, like that river. The years bring the ice into you so gradual, one
day you can’t feel anymore. Crinkles you up, stops you cold.”
She shook her head. “I don’t feel a damn thing but old, Lord.”
She walked on through the gloaming to a waterfront park. The path between the stark saplings was salted; the snow lay in pristine sheets on either
side. “Come three days time, happy birthday. I turn sixty-eight; you turn one-thousand-nine-hundred and eighty-five. I don’t know how you stand
it, lord. Thirty years of gawkers and mean pointers and now I gotta suffer the children to come unto me just so I can have my T.V. dinner tonight. But
you! Nothing for centuries but folks staring up at you and whining (just like me, I know), and how do you bear it, Lord, all this time? Does all our
crying and praying just leave you cold?”
She thought of ice shards piercing his sacred heart and shivered.
“Well, no way to tell, but I hope not. More than likely, I’ll be in a position to ask you direct before too long.”
She was pulled short suddenly, as a strong hand wrapped its fingers around her ribs and squeezed. She bent over double there on the deserted path, her
hand clutching at her breast. The sky and the snow threw a sullen purple light back and forth between them as she gripped through a handful of silky
hair and scratchy wool, trying to catch her stuttering heart before it was squeezed clean out of her chest.
“Jesus! Oh, Lord…”
Something caught inside, like a skipping needle hopping back onto its groove. The pressure eased, setting her pulse to galloping around the circuit of
her stricken limbs. She wheezed with relief; hand gripping the cane, hand on knee, beard trailing in the salt and the wet. “I believe I’ll…”
she gasped. “I believe I’ll just sit down for a little while.”
She shuffled, still hunched around herself, to a snow-upholstered bench facing the river. She eased herself down onto it; turned her fluttering
eyelids up to the clouds, breathing, “Lord... Lord..."
edit on 9-8-2011 by mistermonculous because: coronary incident