Several weeks ago, I was working on a job with my dear friend Amy and we got to talking about a Christmas themed photo shoot. Nothing crazy—just some glam makeup and hair in the shape of a Christmas tree, with an aluminum tree, roaring fireplace, a life size gingerbread house…okay, so maybe it was a little crazy. But crazy is what we do, so challenge accepted and I began another interior design project in my living room, decked the halls, and we embarked on a tinsel filled photo shoot journey.
Of course being me, there had to be some kind of narrative behind this, and soon a story line began to emerge. I knew I wanted to do something special for this so I immediately texted my dear friend (and fantastic author) Nicole to ask her if she’d be interested in writing a short little story to accompany the images.
Needless to say, she did not disappoint.
So without further ado, I present to you:
“The Christmas Party”
story by Nicole McKeon
Her Christmas party was sure to be the talk of the neighborhood. Harold had dragged her to every party on the block over the past couple of weeks, and she’d taken note of their decorations, what food they served, and what music they played. The Joneses had bought a tree from some lot in town, and the tips of the branches had wilted, shedding needles all over the floor. The Randalls had the most horrid curtains she had ever seen, some brown brocade that looked like vomit. As soon as Harold had brought her home, she’d ordered a brand-new artificial tree from Sears and Roebuck—no sweeping up messy pine needles—and even bought chic new window dressings to set off the festive colors of her decorations.
Most of the food at the other parties had been as atrocious as the décor. The Bailey’s had goulash—goulash!—as a main course, and the Curtises had deigned to serve sad little pieces of celery. None of that for her party. Everything would be modern and elegant and perfectly planned. True, the gingerbread men were her grandmother’s recipe, but everything else was modern and sure to impress her guests; the shrimp tree appetizer was strait from the pages of Good Housekeeping, the gingerbread house that had taken three days to perfect was styled after a the work of a famous architect, and she was certain that she would be the only hostess to serve eggnog martinis.
Every RSVP had been neatly recorded in her guest book, a record of social triumphs that she would proudly show Patricia when they met at the salon next Monday after their husbands went back to work. Harold’s boss, Ted, and his wife, Cindy, had received special invitations and little gifts, so she was certain tonight’s soiree would result in the promotion for which her husband had been working so hard. That little victory would be the crown of year, the undeniable proof that she had turned out to be the perfect wife.
A steady diet of boiled eggs and black coffee for the last week meant she had lost four pounds, and the red silk dress, one she’d tell everyone came from Nordstrom’s, would fit perfectly. No one needed to know that she’d bought and discarded three other dresses, particularly not Harold. Her one fault, he said, was that she wasn’t frugal enough when it came to entertaining. He didn’t understand how important a good evening party was, but she did, so she hurried into the bedroom to change and begin her beauty routine. She wanted to look like she’d spent all day on her hair and makeup.
Seven-o’clock was only minutes away when she put the finishing touches on a perfect red lip, hurried out to straighten the star on her tree, dropped the needle on her record player, and took her station by the door. At seven-fifteen, she reminded herself that no one ever showed up to parties on time. They wouldn’t want to seem too eager, after all, and arriving a bit late always made an entrance more interesting; she had even done it herself, on occasion. At seven-thirty, she thought she’d better grab herself a cocktail. When her guests arrived, she didn’t want to look like she’d been waiting by the door. That would seem desperate. She indulged in a cigarette to calm her nerves.
By eight-o’clock, she’d had two martinis, and was starting to think her red dress might not have been the best choice. That dress with the gold pattern and bell sleeves really said holiday spirit…plus, it matched her tree. Harold would forgive her the expense when he saw how everyone admired her in it. She stood in front of the mirror, adjusted the fit of her dress, and realized that something was missing; a few ornaments for her hair, that was just the touch she needed to look truly festive! Resuming her post after placing a few carefully selected decorations in her curls, she replaced the record and realized that the spinning vinyl looked something like pavement zooming by beneath car tires…it was just begging for a jolly little holiday train. The cars joined up merrily, pretty little cars all in a row with no clue that they were spinning in circles and never getting anywhere.
She called Harold’s office at eight-thirty, but no one answered. Two more martinis later, her stomach was beginning to complain, and the gingerbread did smell awfully good. The cookie snapped between her teeth—a comforting sound—and the sweet, spicy flavor hit her with the memory of everything she’d denied herself in the last week; the eggs, bacon and toast she’d cooked Harold for breakfast, spaghetti with meatballs, tuna casserole, and even, one night, steak and a baked potato. Before she knew it, the cookie was gone. One more cookie couldn’t hurt anything. Who would notice, anyway? It was nearly nine-o’clock, and time for her to stop fooling herself. No one was coming to her carefully planned party. No one would see all the work she put into making this night a perfect night. With slow deliberation, she plucked each gingerbread cookie off the table and snapped their heads off, one at a time.
Once every cookie had been carefully decapitated, their little gingerbread bodies lying haphazardly across the living room, she strolled into the bedroom and rifled through the boxes at the back of the closet. The blue dress was supposed to be returned to the store. She had loved it, but Harold would say showing her bare arms was indiscreet. It slid over her skin like a benediction, and she decided that if no one else was coming to her party, she was damned well going to enjoy the party herself. The shrimp tree, the jello mold, and the other appetizers disappeared one at a time. She wiped the crumbs off her mouth with the back of her wrist, scooped punch out of the bowl with her bare hand, and slurped it delicately.
The last eggnog martinis—save one she would set aside for Harold—vanished in a few gulps, and feeling rather good about herself, she turned a hungry eye toward the presents. She’d been dying to know what Harold bought her, and he wasn’t here, was he? With the relish of a five-year-old on Christmas morning, she dug into the wrapping paper, snorting with laughter. This was better than a stupid party, any day. None of the local vultures was here to judge her, so she placed a few more ornaments in her hair and shook her head back and forth, smiling as the decorations jingled. Only a few presents left to unwrap.
The tree shook as she burrowed underneath it while ornaments fell and shattered with bright little tinkling noises, and colorful wads of crumpled paper flew beneath her furious fingers. Her giggling had devolved into maniacal laughter, coming so hard and fast that soon she was making no sound at all and, shortly, dragging in breath with gasping sobs. Weeks of planning, days of decorating, hours spent in the kitchen preparing food she couldn’t eat, and a husband who couldn’t be bothered to show up for his own party. With grim determination, she snatched the gingerbread house off its pedestal and flung it at the floor with all her might. It shattered amongst the debris and little candies scattered across the floor.
Satisfied, she lit herself another cigarette, surveyed her handiwork, and smiled. The only thing left untouched was Harold’s martini, which sat in the center of the table looking smug. She dropped the butt of her cigarette neatly into the glass.
When the room started to spin, she lay back on a pillow of unwrapped presents and the wreckage of the gingerbread home she’d so painstaking built while Bing Crosby crooned, “there’s no place like home for the holidays.” The world was a vortex of spinning lights and color, moving but never going anywhere, while the record player told her that Christmas was full of friends, family, and good feelings.
Was that Harold’s voice?
She started to giggle again. Oh, what he must be thinking now!
The ground dropped away as she was lifted from the floor.
“Come on, babe. Let’s get you to bed.”