31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Possibilities

“So what’s her name?” The bartender leans over the counter and wipes the condensation ring left behind by Antonio’s last Heineken. His name tag reads: “Joe.”

“Who?” Antonio asks absently. He hangs his head over his plate of home chips, hot out of the grease. He’s waited close to an hour for them—Mother Goose’s has never been known for its fast food service. In that time, he’s typed seven multimedia-long text messages to Elise, and deleted them all, knowing her response will be the same three words: “Fuck. You. Nigga.”

Coming here was a mistake. He’s not even drunk, but he feels the dizzying effects of a hangover coming. He’s cursed Elise out seven different times, but can’t muster up enough liquid courage to hit send. He knows he’ll lose Ryder if he does. Funny how he can lose someone he’s barely even had. He’s already missed Ryder’s first steps, his first words—or more specifically, his first babbles that could be construed into words.

Elise has stolen it all for herself, claiming title of both mother and father. A false superheroine, making feign sacrifices for the sake of the child she keeps captive. Baby mamas—they all have this I-can-do-bad-all-by-myself complex, like they deserve a trophy, a Nobel prize, for raising their own fucking kids. It’s not like you were forced to do it alone, bitch, he mumbles to himself. He’s here; he’s always been here, but she’d rather play victim than accept him back in her life, even if that means her son, her black son, will have the black father he needs to raise him right—not bitter and angry and hating him like his mother.

“Her.” Joe nods toward the booths by the pool tables, and Antonio looks over his shoulder to see that Renee has joined Tash’s one-woman pity party, which is less pity than party now. A plate piled high with at least twenty hot wings sits between them. Tash goes in on—from the looks of the stripped clean bones stacked on the napkin by her elbow—her seventh one. Her shot glass has been replaced with a glass of water—probably took some convincing from Renee, everyone’s human conscience.

Tash doesn’t seem as depressed as she had when Antonio called Mitchell. Maybe she was only waiting for Renee. Mitchell could be on his way to crash a possible bachelorette party about to begin—Rita not far behind, coming to to light shit up with some trees. A party wasn’t live until Rita’s thug ass arrived.

“You’ve been watching her since you got here. Both of y’all looking at your phones, throwing back drinks. It’s pretty obvious,” Joe continues.

Antonio shakes his head—wrong girl. “That’s my friend’s fiance.”

Joe shrugs and turns to the tap on the back wall, places a glass underneath. “She doesn’t look too thrilled to be getting married,” he yells over the television in front of him. “I say you still have a shot.” He hands the curved glass, cold brew foaming at the top, to a waitress who sits an orange slice on the rim and takes it to a table under a flat screen showing the Warriors game.

Antonio looks back toward Renee and Natasha’s table. Bartenders seem to have a sixth sense about reading people. They can tell a person’s fears, weaknesses, who they’re pining over as they take another shot. They can tell a person everything they’ve ever done from their choice of booze alone. Antonio bets, in this day, even Jesus could be a bartender. He did turn water to wine.

But the keep’s surely got this one wrong. Antonio will admit that maybe he had a thing for her back in college—she was definitely a sexy drunk—but Tash’s always been crazy about Mitchell. And if there’s anyone Mitchell could love more than Jesus Christ Himself—though Mitchell would flat deny this to ever be true—it would be Natasha. What could the bartender possibly have seen that would make him think she’d even be interested?

He thinks back to his phone call with Mitchell, how Mitchell sounded like he’d just finished a sprint when he finally answered the phone, nearly out of breath, yelling Natasha’s name like a sudden gust of wind. Still, Tash looks fine now. Maybe it was just a little lovers’ spat—cold feet before the wedding.

Joe approaches the counter, wiping his hands on the apron tied at his waist. “When’s the big day?” he asks.

“Christmas.”

“Damn,” he says, and Antonio looks at him, trying to decipher from his eyes if that comment was surprise at a holiday wedding, or an apology to him for it being so soon.

“Look man,” Joe says, “I’m not here to break up any friendships or ruin any marriages. And I know all too well what it’s like to get dumped on Christmas Eve. That ‘Last Christmas, I gave you my heart . . .’ song still gets to me this time of year.”

“Hmmm,” Antonio grunts.

“But chick is hot.” he shakes his head. “If I were you—”

A hand suddenly slams down on Antonio’s shoulder, and he jerks back. Mitchell stares at him, his coat askew—buttons fastened in the wrong holes—his eyes red, either from crying or lack of sleep. He runs his hand over the tiny balls of naps in his hair that he hasn’t brushed, then quickly shoves his hands in his pockets, as if a mental mirror has just appeared and he sees how awful he looks.

“Hey bruh, you ok?” Antonio asks shakily. He turns to Joe and discretely shifts his eyes toward Renee and Natasha’s table. Joe nods and offers a draft list to Mitchell.

He waves it off. “I don’t drink.” Then to Antonio, “Where is she?”

Antonio spins around in the stool to face the booth by the door, where Renee and Natasha are already watching, frozen in mid-feast of hot wings. Mitchell storms over.

“Mitchell, wait!” Antonio calls after him. He wrestles his wallet out of his back pocket, puts two twenties down on the counter, and slides them across to the bartender. “Uh, just keep the change.”

“Thanks, man. Aye, remember what I said.” He points to Natasha.

“You got it wrong, bruh,” Antonio says as he follows Mitchell to the booth, and then again, quietly to himself, “You got it wrong.”

—Nortina


Written for 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

Read the previous installments:
——
Day One: Before the Wedding
Day Two: Time to Decorate the Tree
Day Three: Alone with the Clouds
Day Four: Distractions
Day Five: Driving Down Memory Lane
Day Six: Seeking Righteousness
Day Seven: Booze Induced
Day Eight: There’s No Such Thing as Santa Claus
Day Nine: Sober Reluctance

31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Sober Reluctance

Rita won’t go to Mother Goose’s. She doesn’t want to see the disappointed Mama look on Renee’s face, although Renee has no reason to judge. She and Natasha both know that Rita still drinks. It’s no secret that she’s the problem child of the group, everybody wanting to fix her. Meanwhile, neither one of them have had a drink since college. Tash quit when she started dating oh, holier-than-thou Mitchell.

Rita hates how he presents himself as the perfect imitation of Christ, thinking that he’s better than the rest of them, sinners. She would love to one day snatch that soap box right from under his feet, watch him fall flat on his ass, maybe knock his head against the back of something sharp. Who’s looking down their nose now, Mitch?

Wow, listen to herself, she can’t even call him the name she wants to call him. Renee’s really done a number on her. Or maybe it’s someone else’s doing. Someone higher up, who sees all and knows all. Who hears her thoughts and has the power change them if she just opens her mind up to it.

But she can’t lie in her bed and stare at those four white walls another second, waiting for a miracle to happen. So she’ll go to Rico’s. Rico’s has the best spiked apple cider for the holidays, and the cutest blond bartender who works Tuesday and Thursday nights. If he’s nice to her, which he always is, maybe she’ll slip him her number along with a very generous tip. She hopes he’s wearing that teal blue button down tonight. The one with the sleeves that loosely hug his biceps, flexing whenever he mixes up a cocktail, a subtle hint to how built he is underneath. How she would love to have his arms wrap around her, feel the weight of his body pressed down against hers, taste the salt and liquor on his lips when she takes them between her teeth.

She’s not even interested in fucking, which is strange coming from her. But she just wants that intimacy right now. To roll over and feel the warmth radiating from another body in her bed. To intertwine her legs with his under the sheets, touch and kiss different body parts. Maybe she’ll go down on him. Maybe he’ll stay longer than a few short hours. Damn, now she sounds like Natasha. Hopelessly romantic, dreaming for something she’ll probably never share with Mitch, not even after they’re married.

“God, please don’t send me a nigga like Mitchell.”

There, she did it. She prayed. Probably not a prayer Renee would be proud of, probably not even one God would be willing to hear, but at least she spoke to Him, and that’s gotta count for something, right?

Her phone buzzes in her pocket. It can only be Jerome, texting her a third time to go half on a dime. He’s the real reason she out on South Tatum at 10 PM—when all the weirdos come out—looking for this damn bar. It’s not that she’s jealous of Renee and Natasha enjoying a few drinks at their old college hangout on Tash’s last nights of freedom. It’s not that she wants to take that white bartender back home with her, although she does.

As much as she misses being high, she wants to see this fast through. She wants to see if it will change her for the better. She knows Jerome won’t stop at unanswered text messages. He’ll show up at her apartment next. And he has a key. Fuck! Why the hell did she give him a key? She guesses to make their transactions easy. Come in, leave the weed, take the money, and maybe some pussy if she’s drunk enough.

Damn, she sounds like a fucking addict prostitute. No wonder she’s always high. She’s a hot goddamn mess. Sober Rita, would’ve flung herself off a roof somewhere. Her passion for saving lives gone. When did things get this bad? Six years studying to be a nurse wasted. She works the front desk at an urgent care clinic in the projects because she can’t pass a random fucking drug test. How pathetic is that!

Rita swerves off South Tatum onto Market, just as Rico’s Bar comes into view, then hangs a left onto Elm. There’s a Home Depot around here somewhere. If she’s going back home sober—maybe have that appointment with Jesus that Renee’s scheduled her for—she won’t do it while staring at the sterile walls of her bedroom. Too clean, too evocative of the atmosphere of an inpatient rehab facility. No, her treatment will be spiritual, but first she needs to buy some fucking paint. Anything but white.

—Nortina


Written for 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

Read the previous installments:
——
Day One: Before the Wedding
Day Two: Time to Decorate the Tree
Day Three: Alone with the Clouds
Day Four: Distractions
Day Five: Driving Down Memory Lane
Day Six: Seeking Righteousness
Day Seven: Booze Induced
Day Eight: There’s No Such Thing as Santa Claus

Read the next installment:
——
Day Ten: Possibilities

31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: There’s No Such Thing as Santa Claus

“Daddy, is there such thing as Santa Claus?”

Shit. Bryan knew one day he would have to answer this question, but he hoped Renee would be here to do most of the talking. She’s always been better at explaining make-believe crap like this to the kids. She complains that he can be a little too blunt sometimes.

OK, he admits, maybe saying “Mommy’s cooch,” in response to the “Where do babies come from?” question was a little inappropriate. And Renee’s answer, “the hospital,” made much more sense in hindsight, since technically speaking, from a kid’s point of view, when Mommy and Daddy leave for the hospital, they don’t have a little bundle of joy, and when they return, they do.

Still, he probably could’ve just stuck with another more logical answer—at least for a kid—“Mommy’s stomach,” since Renee was at the time pregnant with the twins when Melody asked. But Melody is one of those kids who can’t settle for just one question and just one answer. She’s forever curious, wanting to fit the entire universe into her small, still developing mind, always asking “why” this, and “why” that. “Mommy’s stomach” wouldn’t have satisfied her. She would’ve follow up with, “How did they get there?” and if by some miracle of God, he had an answer that didn’t make Renee faint, or make the girl run off to the library at school to Google that word, he would then have to deal with her next question: “How do they come out?” A question he surely wouldn’t have had a G-rated answer for.

This is his problem—one Renee is determined to fix before the year is out—His mouth has no filter, not even around the kids. Some things just slip out. If she’d ever met his grandpa, she would understand why. His grandpa was an honest man and an honest drinker. He couldn’t go twenty minutes without saying something rude, whether it was telling Bryan to stop being stupid for getting stuck on a homework question, or calling his Mom a fat ass, all while holding a bottle of Old Crow in his right hand.

Bryan was never taught the lesson: think before you speak. He was taught to say what’s on your mind, more specifically, the first thing that comes to your mind. “That usually turns out to be the truth,” his grandpa often told him.

“No,” Bryan finally answers. “There’s no such thing as Santa Claus.”

“But Mrs. Wilkinson said he has a list, and he checks it twice, and it tells whether I been naughty or nice,” Melody says.

“So do I.”

What the hell are these teachers teaching in school, anyway? What happened to the three R’s: reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic? Maybe he’ll join Renee at the next parent-teacher conference, ask Mrs. Wilkinson what the hell she’s getting at lying to his kid when she should be teaching her something that would eventually get her into a good college. The education system is enough of a mess without the added stories of Santa Claus and tooth fairies and fucking Easter bunnies.

“But he gives kids everything they ever wanted for Christmas!” Melody whines.

“Do you really want some fat-ass old white man breaking into your house in the middle of the night to give you crap you’re only gonna play with once?” Bryan says. It builds character to give a kid the opposite of what they asked for. Teach them early that they don’t always get what they want.

The donation bins at Bryan’s job are full of bikes. Because apparently a bike is the ultimate Christmas gift to a kid. Sure, make yourself feel good about turning someone else’s kid into an entitled little twerp. Why not get them something they’ll actually need, like a coat, hat, scarf, or gloves. It is winter after all. These are donations to children in need. When he was ten, he thought he needed a monster truck for Christmas. A real one, at least three stories tall, so he could run over his fifth-grade teacher’s car for giving him a C, and crush the school building while he was at it. His mom bought him Hot-wheels.

Teach them while they’re young.

That’s was wrong with the spoiled kids today. Parents only want to appease them. They don’t train them, they don’t discipline them. He can’t count the number of times his grandpa knocked him upside his head with his cane. Today, they’d call that child abuse, but it kept Bryan from talking back, it kept him from throwing a tantrum and pouting when he didn’t get his way.

Christmas is the worst when it comes to spoiling kids rotten. It’s so commercialized now. It’s all about presents, presents, presents. “Come to our store! Buy this!” the commercials shout. Half of that shit ain’t even on sale. Even though she can be a little Christmas obsessed sometimes, at least Renee knows the true reason for the season, forcing them to dress up every year and go to the Christmas cantata at church, coming home to have their own encore of the carols and hymns, rereading the Nativity story from Luke. No one has more CHRIST-mas spirit than Renee.

“Ooooh, you said a bad word! I’m telling Mommy!”

Shit— crap. What did he say?

“You said the A-word, Daddy.”

Dammit, that’s right. He called Santa a fat-ass. Bryan rolls his eyes, curses Renee under his breath. He can’t keep up with this shit! How can he not curse when Melody is asking him a million and one different questions? That kid doesn’t even pause to catch her breath! His head is spinning. He hears one of the twins crying upstairs over the baby monitor. “Why don’t we keep this between the two of us?” he pleads with Melody.

“What do I get out of it?”

“You’re conning your own Daddy? They teach you that in school too?”

“The last time you cooked dinner, you burnt the chicken nuggets, Daddy.”

Bryan bolts from the couch, remembering he has a pot pie in the oven. He opens the door and quickly shuts it before the rushing smoke can set off the detector. He turns to Melody, who stands by the kitchen door, her lips twisted in that half-smirk, half-grin her mother always has right before she says, “I told you so.” You should’ve know this wouldn’t go well, he says to an imaginary Renee.

“So what do I get?” Melody repeats.

“Fine. I’ll order pizza.” So much for not appeasing the kids, Bryan thinks, but his ego won’t let Melody win this battle, so he adds as he dials the number to Pizza Hut, “Santa still ain’t real.”

—Nortina


Written for 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

Read the previous installments:
——
Day One: Before the Wedding
Day Two: Time to Decorate the Tree
Day Three: Alone with the Clouds
Day Four: Distractions
Day Five: Driving Down Memory Lane
Day Six: Seeking Righteousness
Day Seven: Booze Induced

Read the next installment:
——
Day Nine: Sober Reluctance

31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Booze Induced

I trace my middle finger along the edge of the three-ounce glass, half-drained of dark brown liquid. Jack and Coke—my drink of choice in my loneliness.

My phone vibrates against the table. Mitchell. Again. I can’t talk to him, can’t let him hear my words slur, can’t let him see how far I’ve fallen from grace, can’t listen to him apologize again and again. I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry. I try to convince myself of this truth as I let the last of my drink sit on my tongue, gulp it down.

Mitchell doesn’t like alcohol. He wouldn’t like that I’m here. He always hated this place, the noise from the bar, the fifteen different TVs along the walls on fifteen different sports networks, the pool balls clanking against each other, the occasional scream and body tumble from someone who had too much to drink—usually underage.

He came because of me. He was drawn to me. “You ever had that feeling?” he asked me one night. We were leaning against the wall, watching Bryan and Rita duke it out in pool. “To be with someone and then feel your heart tug, like on a string, whenever they walked away?”

I blushed. I never blush. But that night he made me blush, and Renee laughed that my cheeks had turned purple, like little blueberries freckling my face.

I thought he was flirting with me, that next he would ask me on a date, maybe to a quiet restaurant—Italian, I love Italian. And he was so cute. In his signature cardigan sweater, jeans, and chucks. His slick black hair like waves in the ocean. I had my eye on him for weeks, but I would wait for him to come to me. “He that finds a good wife . . . “ Mama’s voice echoed in my ear.

Instead, he followed with, “Are you saved?” I paused, in the motion of closing my lips around the rim of a Yuengling beer, unsure if I should take the sip, unsure if he was judging me.

“Yes,” I finally told him, after putting my beer on the table. But it felt like a lie. Like I never accepted the call to the alter at age thirteen during youth night, like I never felt His presence within me, rattling my rib cage, filling my bosom as He spoke, “You’ll never feel alone with Me,” because He knew why I was on my knees crying into the pew cushion when I should’ve been praying.

But when I heard His voice, and rose, as if being pulled up, followed the illuminated footprints in the plush carpet down the aisle to my Lord, and suddenly it didn’t matter that my crush, Gary Zane, only wanted a blowjob, or that the girls in my gym class teased me for not having a boyfriend when they all did. I wasn’t alone anymore. I belonged to the King, concerned with His business, devoted to Him body and spirit.

Until last night, when I submitted myself, body and spirit, to Mitchell, who  reminds me that I’m still married to Christ, that he isn’t my husband, yet. But I want him to be, I so want him to be. He’s all that is on my mind now. I will sit here, like on my knees in the sanctuary, and seek his rising and sinking chest to lay my head at the bottom of this shot glass, clouded with my finger prints. Already, the Jack tastes flat, like water.

“You can leave the Coke,” I tell the waiter, who works the floors until midnight, when the only service will come from the bar. He nods and dodges the bending back ends of the pool players to my left, on his way to drop two empty beer bottles in the trashcan behind the bartender, the glasses shattering against each other.

A draft draws me to the door, where Renee finally enters. She sees me immediately and slides into the booth across from me. She shimmies out of her coat and scarf and gives me a twisted grin. I wait for her to ask me what’s wrong, why are we back at Mother Goose’s four years post graduation, what drove me to drink again after being sober for Mitchell since the day he asked me if I was saved.

But she looks away, taps a knuckle against the window, points to the snowflake decorations attached to the street lamps outside. “Don’t you just love Christmas?” Optimistic, Christmas-loving Renee. I know she sees the storm clouds gathering over my head, but she chooses instead to look toward the blue sky just beyond them.

“It’s a magical time of year,” I say, and I throw my head back, downing the entire glass, holding my breath to keep it from rising again.

“Aren’t you excited? You’re getting married this Christmas! You and Mitchell proclaiming your love for each other before God, and on His Son’s birthday! It’s more than magical, it’s—” Her eyes widen, a glimmer in her pupils. Her chest expands, and it’s as if her whole body is levitating from the seat as she speaks of Christmas and it’s magic and my wedding and the ultimate display of love and of affection and, Jesus Christ!

“We had sex.”

Renee stiffens, frozen in midair, it seems. She says nothing.

“Me and Mitchell,” I add, as if that’s what she’s stuck on, but she’s quiet. She stares at me, and I start to think that maybe even this news is too much for chipper Renee to handle. Even she was a virgin when she married, and I had been saved five years while the only thing about God she knew was that He existed and that He saw everything. Now I fear she too will turn her back to me, and what does that mean for my carnal soul if all I have left to console me is one more shot of this whiskey?

But she surprises me again. “So . . . was it good?” The whites in her eyes change to a light pink hue, and I swear her obsession with always seeing the bright side will one day make her blind. But I laugh anyway. I can only laugh. And she laughs with me. And maybe it’s because of all the alcohol that my voice grows from low giggles, snickers under my breath, to cackles, and before I know it, we’re both howling like we’ve had too much to drink, like at any second, we’ll be rolling on the floor, spilt beer soaking our hair. And it’s this release of the tension building inside me since last night that assures me nothing has to change. That if Mitchell were to call again, and I answer, I won’t be shamed by the guilt embedded in his unwanted apologies, but I’ll receive the words I yearn to hear exit his lips now. “I love you. I won’t leave you alone.”

I look down at the blank screen of my phone. I will answer, you baby. Just call, one more time.

—Nortina


Written for 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans.

Read the previous installments:
——
Day One: Before the Wedding
Day Two: Time to Decorate the Tree
Day Three: Alone with the Clouds
Day Four: Distractions
Day Five: Driving Down Memory Lane
Day Six: Seeking Righteousness

Read the next installment:
——
Day Eight: There’s No Such Thing as Santa Claus

31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Seeking Righteousness

Natasha still won’t answer the phone. Mitchell dials her number again for the twenty-seventh time. Or maybe this is the twenty-eighth. He’s lost count. He’s been calling since she left his house last night. He just wants to make sure that she’s alright, that she made it home safely, that she knows he’s not ashamed of her.

But he doesn’t want to lie.

Between phone calls, he gets on his knees and prays. “Father, please forgive me for giving into temptation. And forgive Natasha for the burden I’ve put on her shoulders by letting my flesh take over.” He swallows hard at this, as the memory of her deep mahogany skin, sweaty and pressing against his naked body, resurfaces. “Y-you s-said—” He stutters, shakes his head and tries again. “You said in Your word . . . that if we confess our sins, that You are faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” His eyes closed, he squeezes them tighter, unwilling to let the tears shed. “Lord, I do confess, and I ask You to forgive me and to wash me in your precious blood so that I am again white as snow, for my bride to be this Christmas, the birthday of the Lamb.”

His phone rings, but he doesn’t move. This is his secret place, his time to be alone in communion with the Father, even if the Father doesn’t response—most times He doesn’t, and Mitchell falls asleep on the floor, waiting at His feet. However, there comes those rare occasions when Mitchell hears Him speak, clear and precise, as if He were kneeling right next to him. Mitchell heard Him when he gave his life, rejoicing in Heaven with the angels, and again when he proposed to Natasha. He yearns for that experience tonight.

The chill from the hardwood floor seeps through his jeans. The phone rings again. The thought arises that it could be Natasha, finally returning his calls, but the enemy would want him to think that, have him distracted worrying over Natasha and their one night of debauchery when he should be listening for the voice of God, willing and ready to receive spiritual guidance from his Helper on the inside, his Counselor.

“Please, just give me a sign.” But what if the sign is the person on the other end of the phone? Ringing, now, for a third time. He tears himself from the Lord’s presence to answer.

“Tasha, is that you?”

“Sorry, bruh.”

“Antonio,” Mitchell sighs, but this could be a good thing. Antonio has been his assignment for the year. Their pastor, at The Revelation of Jesus Christ Christian Center, Reverend Murphy, has been preaching a series on discipling others for the Kingdom. In January, he instructed each member of the congregation to find someone the Lord draws them to evangelize.

Mitchell tries to remember who Natasha was assigned to disciple. She’s never talked about it, and he hasn’t seen her with anyone outside their group of friends. Maybe it’s Rita, but Renee’s working on Rita. It’s possible they both are. Rita could use all the help and praying power she can get, bless her heart.

“The harvest is ready, but the Lord needs workers,” Mitchell remembers Reverend Murphy saying. “Matthew twenty-eight and nineteens says, ‘go out and make disciples of all nations.’ This is the one thing we won’t be able to do when we get to Heaven, which is why it is so important that we do it now!”

Antonio’s recent breakup with his son’s mother had him spiraling out of control, down the path toward destruction. All year Mitchell has been ministering to him, his ultimate goal to restore him to the path of righteousness. Antonio finally accepted the call to Christ on Sunday. Now the real work can begin.

“She just makes me so angry sometimes,” Antonio is saying.

“Who?” Mitchell realizes he hasn’t heard a word Antonio has said since answering the phone. Focus, he tells himself, try to get at least one thing right tonight. Maybe that’s what God needs to see.

“Elise, man. I don’t know why I let her get to me.”

“Have you prayed about it?”

“I can’t. I need to cool down.”

“That’s why you pray.”

There’s silence on the other end, and Mitchell checks his screen to make sure they haven’t disconnected. Then Antonio breathes a heavy sigh. “It’s hard, man.”

“Jesus never said it would be easy. In this life you will face trials and tribulations.” This is as much a testament to his own situation.

Antonio sighs again, the sound breaking, cracking, as if he’s blowing directly into the receiver. “Look, I actually didn’t call you to talk about my problems—”

“But I’m glad you did.”

“Have you talked to Tash today?”

Now it’s Mitchell’s turn to be silent over the phone.

“Hello?”

“Where is she?”

“Mother Goose’s. She’s on her third drink.”

—Nortina


Written for 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans.

Read the previous installments:
——
Day One: Before the Wedding
Day Two: Time to Decorate the Tree
Day Three: Alone with the Clouds
Day Four: Distractions
Day Five: Driving Down Memory Lane

Read the next installment:
——
Day Seven: Booze Induced

31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Driving Down Memory Lane

Renee hasn’t been to Mother Goose’s Pub & Hot Wings since college, back when it was the “spot” off campus. Students came to have a beer or two and watch a good game, sober up on wings and home chips after a night of partying, play a little pool, trying not to get too competitive—although, Renee recalls Bryan once splitting a cue stick over his knee after Natasha beat him fair and square.

Renee, Natasha, Rita, and the guys would meet up at the quad outside their dorms every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night and walk the quarter mile up South Tatum Street to Mother Goose’s. The men always accompanied. There was a section of South Tatum, just before the restaurants and pubs started, where none of the street lights worked. The trees hung low over the road, but there was never any wind so the leaves never ruffled. A quarter-mile strip of total silence, total stillness, total darkness, like an inter-dimensional vacuum.

All of the city’s outcasts and homeless found sanctuary there. Most of them were harmless, but sometimes there’d be clowns who chased kids with toy axes, dirty old men who groped half-dressed coeds in high heels, and hookers—both men and women. Renee heard a few whispers of rape on South Tatum during her Sophomore year, but nothing was ever officially released by the University, just recommendations for girls to travel in packs and carry pepper spray. South Tatum was at its worst during Halloween; those nights, Renee would insist they find someone with a car.

Come to think of it, that was how Natasha and Mitchell met. She’d flagged him down, in the middle of the road, and hitched a ride to the bar.

And now they’re getting married. Renee smiles to herself. She loves weddings. She and Bryan never had a real wedding of their own. One in a church, with bridesmaids and groomsmen, a flower girl and ring bearer, friends and family filling the pews, her father giving her away, her childhood pastor uniting them in holy matrimony. Renee had just turned eighteen when she and Bryan eloped the day of their high school graduation. There was no star-crossed romance to it. They wed so they could have sex—Renee too afraid of her fire and brimstone mother to go all the way before becoming a wife.

Well, her mother wasn’t that bad. She wasn’t like those crazy Christian moms she sees on TV, who slap their daughters in the face with the Bible for saying a “bad” word, or wearing a skirt that doesn’t go past her knees. There was only one sin that her mother wouldn’t tolerate under her roof: Sex before marriage. It was cheating on God. Looking back, Renee imagines any sin would technically be cheating on God, but there was something about the way her mother said it, juxtaposed to the idea of her having sex with a lowly, fickle boyfriend and her body being a temple only for God, it terrified her enough to keep her legs closed, even in her horny, rebellious teenage years, at least until the night she and Bryan said, “I do.”

Renee turns onto South Tatum, and her white Sienna is engulfed in darkness. She can’t even see her hood, and Bryan just washed it yesterday. She considers making a U-turn and going the long way to Mother Goose’s, but the stop light is just ahead, and she can see the lit snowflakes hanging from the street lamps just beyond it. It’s Christmas, she reminds herself. What is there to fear on Christmas? All the decorations, the lights, the sonorous Christmas carols.

But before she can reach the intersection she has to slam hard on her breaks, lunging herself forward into the steering wheel. There’s a man crossing the street, weaving between the neon pedestrian markers that separate the lanes, most likely drunk. He’s naked but for several cut-out white pillows that he wears stacked, one on top of the other, like a tubed wedding dress. She thinks he might be trying to look like the Michelin man. Then he turns his head, and she sees the carrot.

“Jesus! Frosty?”

When the man finally passes, she steps on it, running the yellow light as it turns red. Her phone, sitting in the cup holder by her thigh, lights up and vibrates against the seat. Thinking it’s Natasha calling, she picks up ready to bless her out. Nostalgia her butt, Chili’s would’ve worked just fine.

But it isn’t Tash.

“I hate you so much.”

“Hey, Rita. How’s your fast going?”

“Like hell.”

“It should be the opposite.” Renee laughs at her own joke. “What are you doing?”

“Smokin’.”

“Rita!” Renee turns into Mother Goose’s parking lot, located behind the bar. Surprisingly, she finds an open spot directly in front of her, right at the end of a packed row. She eases into it, puts the car in park, and in her sternest “mama’s” voice, says, “Do I need to come over there?”

“Relax, it’s not weed. Just a cigarette.”

“You shouldn’t be smoking at all. And I thought you didn’t smoke cigarettes.”

“I don’t—” Rita breaks into a series of rattling coughs that echo into the phone. Renee holds the phone out away from her ear until the coughing dies down.

“What am I supposed to do with myself?” Rita asks, her voice hoarse.

“Think, sweetie. What goes hand-in-hand with fasting?”

“Torture.”

“Prayer.”

“Ugh! I’d rather drink. Where are you?”

“At Mother Goose’s.”

“Great, I’ll meet you.”

Renee can hear Rita moving around, throwing shoes into her closet, sliding a shirt over her head—the sounds briefly becoming muffled.

“No,” she says sharply, like she’s talking to one her toddlers who thinks it’s a good idea to eat crayons and spread chocolate syrup on the walls. “I’m meeting with Tash, and you have an appointment with Jesus tonight.”

“Ugh!”

“I love you!” Renee hangs up the phone and collects her keys and purse. She steps out into the cool air, walks toward the ramp on the side of the building and is almost bulldozed by a skinny Santa and too scantily clad overweight elves.

“Really, Tash. Here, of all freakin’ places!” she mumbles as she speeds up her pace to the front entrance.

—Nortina


Written for 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans.

Read the previous installments:
——
Day One: Before the Wedding
Day Two: Time to Decorate the Tree
Day Three: Alone with the Clouds
Day Four: Distractions

Read the next installment:
——
Day Six: Seeking Righteousness

31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Distractions

Antonio knows he shouldn’t be on Facebook. He doesn’t need to see his ex post another status update about waiting for her Boaz.

“Where’s my Ruth?” he asks his empty bedroom. What does Elise even know about a Boaz anyway? She’s never read the Book of Ruth, doesn’t even know where it is in the Bible. Hell, neither does he, but at least he’s trying—five days born again. Elise is only Christian when it’s convenient for her, when a picture misquoting scripture is reposted on her timeline, confirming what her closed mind has already decided, that she’s always right, and that he ain’t worth the shit that comes out her ass.

She’s so vulgar. How did he ever kiss her? How did he ever love her. The last time he asked to keep Ryder for more than a weekend, more than the end of a Sunday afternoon, she told him to suck her dick. Her dick. And she wonders why she’s still alone. Wonders why the closest thing she ever had to a Boaz walked right out that door. Wonders why she’ll still be waiting for her imaginative Boaz when Jesus returns.

Wives, submit to your husbands . . .

Antonio thinks he hears someone speaking, though it’s not really a voice, more of a feeling, like a pocket of air in his chest. “Is that you, Holy Spirit?” he thinks to say, though his lips don’t move. He wants to ask Him about his future wife, the woman who will fit in the gash in his side where his rib once lay. She’s out there somewhere, already alive, already waiting, not whoring herself on social media for the likes, probably at home reading her Bible right now, like he should be doing.

Mitchell says not to rush it, that Antonio should get himself right with Christ first before he tries to find a wife. Easy for Mitchell to say. He already has his Ruth. And Renee and Bryan weren’t even saved when they married. Bryan still isn’t, though Renee has been working on him all year. Sometimes he feels like a third wheel around them. Their perfect relationships with each other, with God—even Bryan, whom, Antonio presumes, believes at least some of the word Mitchell and Renee preach daily. Of course, he’s not completely excluded when he’s with the group. There is Rita, but the broad’s a basket case. She only dates white men anyway. Figures. She’s probably like Elise. Done dirty by the wrong nigga, now she thinks they’re all the same.

The head of every man is Christ . . .

He knows he’s getting off track. One step at a time. Step one: Build a relationship with Christ. He’ll start by looking for that verse. He’ll write it in his prayer journal, pray on the word. He opens the composition notebook, reaches for the thousand-page concordance of Bible verses that Mitchell loaned to him (after they prayed together for his salvation) to find the book and chapter.

But the touch screen on his phone is still lit, and he can’t help but to look again. Another post appears on his feed. He knows he should turn it off, find that secret place Mitchell’s always talking about, but it’s a picture of his son, clad in the ugliest Christmas onesie he’s ever seen, Santa Claus’ pink face in tiled mosaic across Ryder’s chest and stomach. And he loses it. He fucking loses it.

The phone is ringing before he realizes his actions.

Slow to anger . . . 

This time he knows it’s the Holy Spirit speaking to him, but then Elise’s voice drowns Him out, and he feels his temples expand as the fury rises.

“What, nigga?”

“Take that gay ass shit off my son!”

“Mmm, Renee told me you got saved last Sunday. I hate to call her a liar.”

He hangs up before she can finish her mocking in that high-pitched country twang he hates so much. He hates her. He hates that she has custody of Ryder, that he always has to fight her just to see him, that she blasts him on Facebook like he’s a deadbeat dad, that she never admits to her faults, like why he needed to get a DNA test when Ryder was born.

Vengeance is mine, I will repay . . .

He closes his prayer journal, the first page left blank. He’ll start tomorrow. Right now, he needs a drink.

—Nortina


Written for 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans.

Read the previous installments:
——
Day One: Before the Wedding
Day Two: Time to Decorate the Tree
Day Three: Alone with the Clouds

Read the next installment:
——
Day Five: Driving Down Memory Lane

31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Alone with the Clouds

Rita lies in her bed and blows clouds of smoke towards the ceiling. Everybody fucking has somebody. Getting married. Making babies. Today her co-worker she used to screw, or rather, she imagines she used to screw, announced in a mass email to the clinic that he and his girlfriend are expecting. “Ho, ho, ho,” the subject line read. What a fucking Christmas surprise. She was stupid to think he would even be slightly interested in her. Not when Hallie owns five guns, loves to hunt, and she’s white.

Nothing racial, just preference, they always tell Rita. But she’s a racist for preferring white men; she’s repeatedly accused of hating herself.

She takes another long drag on the cigarette. This isn’t what she wants. Cigarettes don’t do it for her. She wants to inhale, hold it in, float towards the ceiling with the clouds, turn over to see herself, still, hovering just above the mattress, the sheets outlining her body underneath, her eyes hanging low, faded, gone.

Fuck Renee and her incessant need to make everybody better people. “When we were kids, we wanted to be on Santa’s nice list,” Renee said. “But as adults, everyone should desire to be on the Lamb’s list.” She’s got Bryan talking like a fucking uptight preacher’s kid. She made Rita fast weed. Shit. She misses being high. She needs it. The kiss of the blunt turning her lips numb. Feeling inflated. Never wanting to come down unless it’s on top of a man rising, naked below the waist. Shit. She should’ve picked alcohol. Booze only makes her horny. No point in being horny when she’s alone in her bed with only her fingers. Sometimes they get the job done, sometimes she needs to feel the full circumference of a man’s penis.

A white man. Because that’s what she prefers.

Although her weed man is black. And sometimes he stays, when the loud isn’t enough, when she comes down too soon and needs to follow it with a shot of Hennessy, and he helps her finish the bottle, then finishes her.

Maybe she does hate herself. Maybe God does too. Maybe He’s sick of seeing her in church on Sunday, knowing where she was the night before, where she’ll be after the congregation’s dismissed, knowing she’ll slip out before the alter call.

“You’re wrong,” Renee always says. “He’s waiting for you to come to Him. A Father doesn’t turn His back on His children.”

And maybe she has a point, because sometimes Rita can feel Him tugging at her heart, making it skip a beat, not like a man. With a man, the skip is almost like a pinch at the bottom corner, just above the ribcage, like she’s going into cardiac arrest. With God, it’s a flutter, like butterflies in her stomach, not like shuffling in her bowels.

But if a father doesn’t abandon his children, where the fuck is hers? Why hasn’t she seen him since she was eleven, when he folded eleven dollar bills in her palm for her birthday, three months too late.

No. She won’t get into that suck fest. She won’t accept her dad as the root of her problems. She won’t be that girl with daddy issues, who seeks approval in the arms of a deadbeat nigga like her father.

No. She just likes to be high. Wants to be high. Needs to get high . . .

Shit. Where the fuck is Renee?

—Nortina


Written for 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans.

Read the previous installments:
——
Day One: Before the Wedding
Day Two: Time to Decorate the Tree

Read the next installment:
——
Day Four: Distractions

31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Time to Decorate the Tree

“You bought a fucking tree?” Bryan knew that when his wife left at 8 o’clock this morning, and was gone through lunch, it could only mean one thing.

Renee is an anomaly. One of those special deformities in nature that you only read about in books—Dr. Seuss books to be specific. A normal person sleeps in on a Saturday morning. Not Renee. Saturday is reserved for shopping. Has been since the first Macy’s opened in 1858, according to her. Because she knows stupid “little known fun facts” like that—never play Renee in trivia; if you value your precious sanity, never, ever play Renee in trivia!

With it being December, lord only knows the layers upon layers of cheap-ass, overpriced, shitty Christmas decorations that are lying in her trunk right now. Plastic ornaments, faux snowflakes, holly, and paper poinsettias, mistletoe—like he needs some invasive weed to tell him to kiss his wife. The first chance he gets, he’s tossing it all in the garbage, where it belongs, feigning ignorance that he didn’t know that stuff in the black trash bag labeled “Christmas” wasn’t in fact trash.

“Excuse you. Language,” Renee says over her shoulders as she wraps her tiny fingers around the tip of the tree and, with one foot on the car and the other planted on the leaf-covered lawn that Bryan still hasn’t raked—he’s been meaning to get to it—tries unsuccessfully to pull it out of the back seat. “And I could use some help here.”

Bryan nudges her aside, a little harder than he means to, and she slaps his arm. He looks at her and winks, then curls his calloused hands between the twine wrapped around the tree and release it from its leather hold with one swift jerk of his arms.

“Oooh, my muscle man,” Renee teases. She raises herself up on her toes and plants a soft kiss on his lips. “All those curl-ups in your little man cave downstairs are starting to pay off.”

Bryan drops the tree between them at their feet and scoops Renee up into his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist. “There’s more where that came from,” he says, and he takes her bottom lip between his, sucking it hard.

Two cars pass by, one honking its horn, before Renee finally breaks away. “C’mon,” she moans. “We gotta put up the tree.”

Bryan holds her for just a few seconds longer, then lets her slide down his waist and back to her feet. He bends over to hoist the Christmas tree over his shoulder and carries it through the front door. “I still can’t believe you bought a fucking tree,” he mumbles.

“I thought you promised no cursing this Christmas.”

This is what I get for marrying a church girl, Bryan says to himself, then aloud, “What’s wrong with the artificial tree in the hall closet?”

“Um, other than the fact that it’s broken, and we had to duct tape it together?” Renee says sarcastically.

“It worked, didn’t it?”

“It almost set the house on fire!” she says, reminding him how the lights—also duct taped—shorted out and went up in flames. It was a miracle the curtains behind the tree didn’t catch too.

Bryan stands the tree against the wall in a corner of the living room between the couch and love seat. “And this one won’t? It’ll be dried out before the 15th. Damn near crispy by Christmas. The little leaves will feel like sewing needles when it’s finally time to toss it to the curb.”

Renee places both hands on her hips and lets out an exasperated sigh. “Well, with all the wildfires going on in the mountains right now, I was lucky to find this one at all. Home Depot is selling them faster than they can get them off the truck. Everyone’s afraid we might have a Christmas tree shortage this year.”

All the more reason to go artificial, Bryan says to himself.

“Besides, I got it for a steal anyway.”

“Honey, a steal to you is still $100,” Bryan says, just in case she forgot about the cake plate she bought at the Belk Home Store last Christmas. The one currently collecting dust in the china cabinet above the refrigerator. The one Renee hasn’t bothered to take down since last Christmas, mostly because she’d need a ladder just to reach it—Bryan unwilling to help, because what the fuck would they use it for?

“But babe, it was crystal,” Renee whines.

“You don’t even bake!”

“Natasha does. And she promised me a German chocolate cake this year.”

“Tash is getting married in three weeks!” Bryan says, flinging his arms in the air. “When does she even have the time?”

Natasha and Mitchell are the new “it” couple of their group of friends, dethroning he and Renee of their ten-year title when they finally got engaged on Easter Sunday. (Resurrection Sunday, Mitchell always corrects him.) Renee was so excited when Natasha asked her to be her matron of honor at their Christmas-themed wedding, stopping just short of asking her to plan it, thank God. There’s no telling what kind of gaudy Christmas decorations she would’ve hung in the sanctuary and fellowship hall of The Revelation of Jesus Christ Christian Center, the church they all attended, had she been given the reigns. The rehearsal dinner, on the other hand, is a tragic tale yet to be written.

“Oh, that reminds me. You’ll have to cook dinner. Tash called while I was out. She wants to have girl talk tonight.”

“Dammit, Renee. I haven’t seen you all day. A man has needs,” he says, then bites his lip, remembering the cursing. “Damn” being the worst of the “naughty” words he’s forbidden to say until at least January 2.

But Renee doesn’t seem to notice, or if she does, she brushes it off, pulling at one of the tree needles poking out of the twine wrapping instead. “Tell you what, if you help me get this tree up and decorated, and we still have time left over, maybe I’ll fulfill some of your needs before I have to meet up with Tash.” She looks up from the tree and winks at him. “I’ll even do that thing you like so much.”

“Really?”

She rolls her eyes, puffs her cheeks and blows out air, but finally nods, though reluctantly.

Bryan sprints to the hall closet, where they keep most of their Christmas decorations on the top shelf. The first thing he pulls out is the red and green plaid skirt they wrap around the base of the tree. “Do we even have a stand? I can’t remember the last time we got a real tree.”

“Don’t worry, I bought one.” Renee says. “Along with some snow-dusted icicle ornaments, a few beads, a string of lights, a few chrome garlands, and a new angel, because this was the first time I’d ever seen a black one and I just had to get it.”

Bryan drops his shoulders and sighs. Typical Renee.

—Nortina


Written for 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans. If you missed yesterday’s opener, check it out here!

Read the next installment of 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans:
——
Day Three: Alone with the Clouds

31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Before the Wedding

You rise and turn your back to me. I so desperately want to see your face, to hold it in my palms as you lie on top of me, fill me with your love, your gray eyes piercing in the darkness, glimpsing into my soul, watching my insides blossom, but you turn your back to me.

I never knew a man, who wanted nothing more than to make me his wife forever, could in turn, make me feel so dirty.

“This is wrong,” you say. “We should’ve waited.”

But we’ve waited long enough. For six years, I’ve endured hand holding, side-shoulder hugs, pecks on the cheek and forehead, a couple on the mouth if it’s Valentine’s Day, but never enough to make my inner thighs tingle. Always falling just short of making me want you the way I want to want you, need you the way I need to need you. To grasp you between my legs and bloom for you, the way I imagine Rachel did for Jacob after fourteen years . . . of waiting.

“You can’t use that against me,” you say, and the painful look in your eyes is reminiscent of the way the corners of your eyes slanted at a sharp angle when you poured all of your spirit into me, and I am again desperate to touch you, to feel you.

“What about the five love languages?” I say to you. “You remember the sermon. How important it is to know which is your partner’s.” Mine—physical touch.

“That’s for marriage.”

But we are married! Right here, in this bed, we wed in spirit, and you cleaved to me the way a husband should, the way I want you to again. Forget your vow of celibacy and sin for me just this once, and then again. God will forgive us for jumping the broom three weeks too soon. Because that’s what He does. Because His unconditional love is worth more than what you show me tonight.

“Maybe you should go.”

“But, baby, it’s cold outside,” and I wish the roles were reversed, and you were the one singing the song to me as we held each other by the fireplace, only our skin and the flames before us to keep us warm.

But you’re already pulling up your pants and tossing me my sweater, not bothering to help me into my clothes—slowly, savoring what you will surely miss until our scheduled wedding night, if that is still a possibility—the way you so quickly got me out of them.

“Call me when you get home,” you say at the door, and a gust of wind blasts me in my face, freezes the tears fresh on my tender cheeks. You won’t walk me to my car. Too tempting to kiss me. You know I won’t settle for the forehead. I’ll clasp your face in my hands, pull your lips down to mine, slip my tongue in between, beckon you toward the garage where I know there’s an empty table, clear of the Christmas decorations you hung the day after Thanksgiving, ready to receive our naked bodies as we consummate our betrothal for a second time tonight.

But I am in my car alone, and the air is taking too long to turn warm, and the steering wheel feels like ice in my palms, and you are already safe inside—the door closed and locked—before I back out of the driveway.

—Nortina


Read the next installment of 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans:
——
Day Two: Time to Decorate the Tree