Naked Girls & The Grinch              

              by Christopher Meades          

                                                                                                       (a short story                
                                                                                                         published in the 2012  

            On December 23rd, two days before Christmas, I call up all of my friends. "Did you see page A17 of the newspaper? We have to go to this." None of them, it turns out, reads the newspaper anymore. And none of them are able to go. Explaining the details of the show only makes it worse. Four friends in, I call my best friend from high school knowing full well he won’t be able to make it. He has two small children. His relatives are in town, that aunt with the spastic colon and her wounded-dog-faced husband are no doubt sleeping in his guest room. There’s no way he’ll be allowed to leave the house for dinner, let alone what I’m asking him to do. Still, I pitch it like it’s the most important sale of my life.

            "It's naked girls reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

            "I don't get it," he says.

            "What don't you get?"

            "Are they strippers or are they girls who act out a play?"

            "I have no idea. That's the best part. You don’t know what it's like until you get there."

            He pauses. In the background I can hear children playing. His wife's gentle nagging. Aunt Linda complaining about her challenging bowels.

            "Why don't you just go to a strip bar on Christmas Eve like all the other pathetic single guys?" he says.

            His wife's voice sounds again, closer this time. Any second now he’s going to get dragged off the phone. Whenever his wife approaches, my best friend's eyes dart around, his ears shift back ever so slightly in high alert. I can sense it even through the phone.

            "It's not about the nudity. There's no pole involved. Guys don't place singles in g-strings. It's like a burlesque act. The kind they used to put on back in the 1920's. Only they're reading, so it's literary, you know, a mix of high and low culture."

            His wife's voice is so close now it’s like she’s the one on the phone. Aunt Linda will not be eating the glazed ham if it contains that much glaze. The girls are fighting over who gets to sit on the Dora couch. This might be the year Uncle Tom kills himself for real.

            "I have to go," he says. "You should call your sister and see if you can go over to her house. Do something with her family, something wholesome. You do know it's Christmas, right?"

            He hangs up and that's it, the end of my list. I'm 33 years old and I have exactly five friends, no girlfriend and no place to spend Christmas morning. Where is the joy for the single man in December? I toss the phone on the couch and slump down beside it. The neighbors are watching reruns of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman again. I can hear every monologue, every leg that might have to be amputated, every commercial break through the wall. Downstairs the kids in the suite below are smoking pot. I know I should hate the smell, that I should phone the landlord and complain about the stink of cheap weed. But it reminds me of college, of carrying that book of Chaucer everywhere in my backpack, of Lauren and her soft skin and how she used to get high and try to convince me that Doritos taste funny. I can't complain about those kids this close to Christmas.

            But I can't sit here either, with that smell and Dr. Quinn. I grab a jacket and step outside my apartment. Out front there's a homeless man in a Santa's hat. His dog is wearing antlers. They sit outside my building all day every day, even on Christmas. Three Christmases ago when my grandmother died on the 24th and my sister called to tell me the news, I left my apartment to get milk from the 7-11 down the street at quarter to midnight. The homeless man was sitting outside in the rain with that same Santa hat on. "Merry Christmas," he said and looked up from the ground. I wanted to stop and tell him what the past three weeks had been like, how my grandmother's sickness came on like a polaroid picture blurring into focus, without a single moment to pinpoint exactly when she took a turn for the worse. But it was cold and he was dirty and I needed milk for my cereal so badly that high-priced, nearly-expired 7-11 milk would have to do. I looked at my watch and said, "You're early. Christmas hasn't come yet" and snuck in through the rear door when I came back.

            Today I march by like I've never seen him before and go straight to the burrito place three blocks away for dinner. The burrito is good, with just the right mix of rice and beans and I'm a little disappointed they're not going to be open on Christmas Day. I finish up and then linger and read the free daily on the counter. It's opened to the escort personals (I swear I didn't turn the page when I sat down) and everywhere I look girls are dressed up like elves and sexy versions of Mrs. Claus. White ones, Asian ones, Black ones, elves that used to be boys but through the miracle of gender reassignment are now girls. Each of them has a phone number in the corner next to their picture. A handful contain addresses as well. I look at the page in part to think of how I could burn through $700 in a night and then spend the next six months worrying that I was dying of some kind of disease and in part because I'm just waiting to see some girl from high school in one of these pictures. There has to be one eventually, one girl who used to sit next to me in math class before she made some bad decisions along the way, one forgotten daughter who knows like I do what it's like to be lonely only she's smart enough to get paid for it.

            It starts to rain again and my apartment beckons. I've taped six episodes of the Sopranos on my VCR. Christopher hits Adriana too much, I've decided. True, it's just a television show and yes, he's a gangster and a drug addict and its not real life. But I don't think I can take it tonight, the thought that he might hit her in the face or choke her out on the couch again. I miss Lauren. I miss my parents, the way they used to be when I was five and my dad would wrestle with me and my sister on the couch. My sister is taking her family over to their place tomorrow for Christmas Eve but it's been too long since I called, too long since they invited me over.

            I look at my watch again, then step outside and hail a cab. Twenty minutes later I arrive at the address from the newspaper to find a small theater just outside the industrial district. The guy behind the counter has a flaky brown beard and speaks softly. I pay fifteen dollars and walk through the lobby where an antique popcorn station has its lights turned down and a white sheet over the counter. The lobby is deserted. I’m surprised to see the theater’s empty as well. There's not a single living soul in any of the thirty seats. It occurs to me that I'm early, that maybe I got the time wrong by an hour.

            Back in university I got up late one morning and thought I'd missed my first class. I showered and changed and rushed to school in time for class number two, sat down in the front row of a sparsely-populated amphitheater and received a look of peculiar annoyance from a physics professor, who – staring at the kid with the long purple hair, clearly not there to learn about wave differentials – walked up to me and whispered in my ear "I think you're in the wrong room."

            Sitting in the fourth row, dead center, I look around the theatre and wait for someone to tell me the show’s been cancelled or for the love of god I'm in the wrong room.

            As the time ticks by, it slowly occurs to me that there’s a real chance no one else is going to show up. It’s less than three minutes to show time, two days before Christmas and I'm sitting in an empty theatre waiting for a naked girl to read from Dr. Seuss. An orange panic fills up my throat. More than anything I'm worried about what the performers are going to think of me sitting here alone. If I was in Madison Square Garden and the Knicks were about to take the court and I looked around and the stadium was empty, no ushers, no candy-eyed girls selling popcorn, no announcers or people in the seats, just me and the Knicks – would those millionaire athletes give it their all? Would Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane act their hearts out in The Producers if it was just me sitting by myself in an itchy rented tux in row seven, seat four?

            I think of Lauren, how she once gave me a Weird Al CD for Christmas and how then and there I knew she wasn't the one. But her skin, that soft, perfect skin smooth like cream; how could I care what she gave me for Christmas? Then again, how could I not? I look at my watch. There's less than a minute until show time. My parents must be sitting in their living room, drinking Baileys around their silver and gold tree right now, just waiting for tomorrow night when the grandkids arrive. Lauren is halfway across the country, probably meeting some guy's parents for the first time. My best friend is tucking his little girl into bed. I wonder what he's reading to her? It can't be The Grinch. It just can't.

            I'm fully considering standing up and milling about the lobby when the lights start to dim. Slowly, not suddenly, like a picture coming into focus or the realization that your grandmother isn't going to make it two more weeks. The darkness sets in.

            A naked girl walks onto the stage. She's about ten feet away. Her skin is ashen white and she's completely nude. She stands under a single light at the front of the stage and I'm struck by her beauty. Until now I'd never wondered whether or not she would be beautiful. In the recesses of my mind I suppose I'd pictured a larger girl, the kind you see stuffed into a Princess Leia bikini at Comic-Con. But this girl is stunning. Her hair is black and tied up behind her head. She's carrying a copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

            I expect her to introduce herself, to say a few words about the book or the lack of a crowd. And I'm sure she's going to sit down. It would be strange if she didn't. Is she really going to stand fully nude in front of a single person she's never met and read a book without even a chair or a microphone?

            Yes. She is. She holds true to Dr. Seuss' vision, too. This is no Jim Carrey inspired remake with a subplot involving lost love and a machine gun that shoots Christmas lights onto the sides of houses. The girl reads straight from The Grinch. She pauses in all the right places, hits all those offbeat rhymes Seuss is famous for. The only alteration is the inclusion of a single song from the television special. During the first few pages I'm not paying attention. I'm staring at her breasts and her long legs. She barely moves but when she does, it’s to turn to the side as she flips the page. There I see the slight edge of her buttocks. I start to think about how many hours she must spend on the Stairmaster each week to look like that.

            Then about halfway through, around the part where the famous green curmudgeon has completed his Santa Claus disguise and is about to steal the presents from all those unsuspecting Whos, I finally see things from the Grinch's perspective. Here he is, living in a cave high atop Mount Crumpit, all by himself while the Whos sing and dance and carry on as though he isn't even alive. I start to root for him, for this hermit that nobody loves. Maybe if Christmas doesn't come, they'll all learn that Grinches need love too. That you can't pick and choose who you exclude from Christmas. That you can't say I love you to someone and then leave them behind like you never cared at all.

            But it's a forgone conclusion. The Grinch will never win. He'll never make off with all the presents. His heart will grow and grow. It’s fate. It’s been written down in print since 1957.

            Toward the end, a second woman walks onstage and takes the book from the first. She has red hair and no clothes on and together with the first woman, they stand side by side and take turns completing the story. I suddenly realize the naked people outnumber me two to one. It would be weird, right? If I took off all my clothes too. I’d be arrested, I’m sure of it.

            A few minutes later it’s done and the redhead closes the book. They both stare straight ahead – I'm not sure whether they’re looking at me or the wall – and, somewhat unaware of the social etiquette for book readings, I clap my hands together. The sound fills up the empty hall. They take a quick bow and exit stage right and as the lights come up I'm alone again. Seconds later my cell phone rings and I can only thank god it didn't happen during the performance. Those girls probably would have figured out whose it was.


            "You should come to Mom and Dad's place tomorrow."

            It's my sister Carol. I was expecting this call.

            "I can't. I have plans."

            "Dad wants to see you."

            "Did he say he wants to see me?"

            "He doesn't have to. I see it in his eyes every time I go over there."

            I think of my father and the last time I showed up, how his eyes glazed over whenever I talked about my work or that girl I was interested in. Not actively ignoring me, just refusing to participate, waiting in determined silence until the conversation changed. Maybe he thought my head was getting too big, maybe he just straight up wasn’t interested. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going back.

            "I'm busy tomorrow," I say. "I have a date."

            "On Christmas Eve?" she says and my bad lie hovers in the static of the phone.


            "Is it someone special?"

            "No," I say. "Just some girl I met at a club."

            There's a pause before Carol speaks again. "You should meet a nice girl," she says. "Why don't you try Lavalife?"

            "Lavalife's full of sexual predators. I saw it on the news."

            "Are you sure about that?" she says.

            "Maybe it's Craigslist or Kettle of Fish. One of them's got a bad rep.”

            There’s silence on the other line. I know I should stop talking. But I can’t help myself.

            “There’s no way I’ll allow myself to be molested this close to Christmas. It would scar me for life."

            Carol's voice turns sour. "You can't be serious about anything, can you?"

            I look around the empty half-lit theatre with its velvet seat cushions and stale old popcorn smell. The last time I spoke to Carol she was complaining about how hard it is to be a parent, how her husband instructs her in the proper manner to wash the dishes, how she'd stopped feeling bad about putting the kids in front of Barney for two hours at a time. Yet two sleeps from now, none of that will matter. The kids will cheer and jump for joy, Carol will wear an ungodly green and red sweater with little bells for earrings and her husband will look at each gift the kids receive in eager curiosity to know what Santa (Carol) has brought them.

            "I miss Lauren," I say. The words slip out before I can stop them and there's no taking them back. Carol's voice hovers on the other end of the line. She's feeling sorry for me, I just know it. I'd rather her hate me than pity me.

            "Lauren's gone," she says. "And she's not coming back." Carol pauses to let it sink in. "You should come to Mom and Dad's tomorrow night. Family grudges don't last. It will be just like when we were kids."

            No, it won't.

            "I have to go," I say.

            "Where are you right now?" she says and I hang up without saying goodbye.

            The lobby is a graveyard. I tiptoe through as quickly as I can and open the door to the outside where the winter rain is pouring sideways. From under the awning, I scan with my eyes. The guy with the beard is gone. Across the street the front doors of an abandoned, dilapidated church are open. It's dark outside save for a single street lamp where a young woman is trying without luck to hail a cab. I walk over slowly and try my best to not sound creepy.

            "Have any cabs gone by?"

            The woman is still looking down the street.

            "Just one," she says. "It picked up my friends."

            "And not you?"

            "I'm headed east. They were headed west."

            She looks over and instantly we recognize each other. It's the first naked girl who read from The Grinch, wearing jeans, orange and green rain boots and a purple overcoat. Her black hair is covered by a striped toque. It all looks like a disguise now in the dark and the rain, she doesn't even look like the same person. But it's her, I'd recognize that voice anywhere, the way it sounded out the Whos singing Fabu Foray.

            In the distance the headlights of a single taxicab break through the rain. It's only seconds away.

            "You take this one," I say. "I'll call another on my cell."

            She glances over at me with those round brown eyes and I picture how the next minute and a half will play out. The taxi will fly down the street and stop dead in front of us. She'll step inside but instead of closing the door, she'll lean her head out and ask me where I'm going. It'll turn out we live three blocks away from each other and we'll share a cab and chat, realize we have everything in common and then she'll ask me to walk her down near the water where we'll sit under the cover of the Burrard Street Bridge and talk for hours. Three months from now we'll be holding hands walking into an IHOP on a Sunday morning and see Lauren sitting in a tiny booth eating the Five Star breakfast with some square-jawed frat boy. Or better yet, Lauren will see us.

            She'll love Guns N' Roses and Chaucer and have a slight but manageable drug problem and we'll make love like panthers in heat in public places when no one's looking. Six months from now she'll look me in the eyes and ask me why I never grew up. And I'll tell her I have no idea what she's talking about before she storms out into the night and never returns to get her things. Five weeks later her brother will show up at my work to tell me to stop leaving messages on her machine.

            The cab pulls up and she opens the door. I fully expect her to climb in and drive away when she turns and looks at me. “Merry Christmas,” she says and puts her arms out. It happens so quickly, I’m not sure what to do. I’m expecting a shoulder to shoulder hug, the kind you give at an office party. But she wraps her arms around me. Our bodies press together. Her jacket is soaking wet, her striped hat is too. She feels so warm. Even in the rain she smells like butterscotch on a summer’s day. She leans her head on my shoulder and lingers for a few seconds before pulling away. The girl smiles and gets into the cab and I watch it peel off down the street. My entire body is tingling, from the bottom of my stomach to the tips of my fingers. It’s the best hug of my life.

            The rain picks up and I pull out my cell phone to call for a pickup.

            Thirty minutes later a taxi drops me off outside my apartment building. I pay the cabbie and wish him a happy holidays and walk to the front door. That same homeless man is still sitting there, his dog wrapped in blankets, his hands covered in bandages. "Good evening," he says and I stop to look at him for the first time. Those bandages look old, like they've been there for weeks. I had no idea he'd even hurt his hands. He’s wearing three jackets and two baseball caps atop his head and his dog, with its warm eyes and wagging tail, looks surprisingly well fed. I reach into my wallet even though I know I shouldn't do this. If I hand him spare change then he'll expect it every day. I'll be held hostage each time I enter the building and eventually I'll be forced to sneak in through the back. But it's December 23rd.

            I pull out all the money I have, sixty-five dollars and some change, and hand it to him. He takes the money in his dirty, bandaged hands and smiles.

            "Merry Christmas," I say. He looks at me like he's never seen me before. "You're early," he says. "Christmas doesn't come for two days."

                                                               © 2014  Christopher Meades. All rights reserved.

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