| THE BIG NIGHTBy Taylor García Dr. Adam Flores opens Group Session with his standard line: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, it’s sweet and sour time.”|
Everyone goes around the circle and says a positive thing about him or herself, then a negative thing. The sour builds, like little snowflakes, until there’s a snowball of sorrow rolling around the group. That’s how the producers like it. They encourage any and all emotional outbursts. Crying is key.
“What about you, Blitzen?” Dr. Flores says. The cameras swarm toward Blitzen, his head turbaned with bandages, antlers chipped, a patch over his eye.
“I guess I’m pretty funny,” Blitzen says.
“That’s good.” Flores jots a note. “I think you are too.”
“Bad thing is I don’t know when to stop.”
“Meaning?” Flores says.
“Well, the first time I did the powder, it was like, ‘Wowza!’ It shot right to my brain. Made me want to, like, snort the whole bag. Good thing we didn’t have it all the time.”
“Harv, you’re nodding. Care to add something?” Flores says.
The cameras turn to Harv. He stretches his still-intact neck side to side. His fractured left arm is slung close to his chest, and his casted left shin is raised up in the elf-sized wheelchair. It’s only been three weeks since he and Blitzen fell from the sky over Norway, coked up and on the run, their sleigh plummeting from the heavens.
“We didn’t have steady access to what you guys have down here,” Harv says. “We went bananas for things like cigarettes, let alone the hard stuff. Claus controlled everything. He was the biggest fiend of all.”
“Exactly,” Blitzen says.
“But was it Claus who created your addictive behaviors?” Flores taps his clipboard.
“I used to blame my mother.” Jana Tanner chews a cuticle. The cameras swing to her.
“Elaborate.” Flores shifts toward Jana’s bleached-blonde hair and freckled face.
“She took me everywhere—to all my auditions and stuff—and then when I started making it, she locked me down. That’s when I went wild.”
“Was she trying to hurt you?” Flores says.
“She was trying to help me. She wanted to protect me.” Jana cries. A producer off-camera gives her a thumbs-up, and Jana really lets it go.
“Cry it out, girl, cry it out.” T-Wayne Twain smooths the back of her pink, terrycloth tube top. The cameras shift to Twain.
“Do you hear this, guys?” Flores leans forward. The cameras zoom in on his Clark Kent face. “Jana’s saying her mother wanted to help. Would you say Claus was trying to help you?”
“Hell no,” Harv says. “He had everyone brainwashed, believing the whole fairy-tale bullshit. Those of us who didn’t buy it wanted out.”
“Talk about the ‘fairy-tale bullshit,’ as you call it,” Flores poses.
“N.P.’s a corporation, plain and simple,” Harv says. “We weren’t carrying on any traditions. We were making him rich.”
“Those workshop elves?” Blitzen says. “Worst working conditions on the planet. Harv here’s lucky he was a stable elf, right, Harv?”
Harv nods, closes his eyes, trying to summon some tears.
Off camera a producer cues Harv to look at his mobile.
“My Uber’s here.” Harv rolls his wheelchair to the door, hobbles up onto his feet, then grabs the small crutches. A camera follows. “I have to get out of here.”
“Harv, don’t go,” Blitzen says.
“Stay, dog,” T-Wayne says.
“Just let him go,” Dr. Flores says. “Let him have some space.”
* * *
Once inside the car, a silver Elantra, Harv recognizes the driver. It’s Kaz from The Uber Chronicles. This too is choreographed, damn it. Just like when the producers gave Blitzen a sack to tempt Harv last week. It would make sense that the only way Babes in Toyland could go on is if the stars keep relapsing. And here they go again, waving this driver in front of him. They know Harv’s talked about her, how he wouldn’t mind meeting a woman like that someday. He just didn’t know that someday would be tonight.
“Hey, I know you,” Kaz says. “You’re Harv. From—”
“Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Let’s just go.”
“Where are you headed?”
“I don’t know. Tijuana? The airport?”
“What airline?” Kaz pulls away.
“I didn’t know there were any more virgins,” she said.
“Funny,” he says. “Just take me to the train station.”
“There’s a lot of stairs. You sure you can get up and down with those crutches?”
“So you’re running away?”
“Yeah, this is the part where I’m supposed to do that.”
Their eyes meet in the rearview, and Harv gets that funny feeling, the one that’s begun to plague him now that his head is clearing. The feeling that detects real things. It seems down here in the tropics, everyone stresses over what’s real or fake. When the real stares back at you, you want to grab it and keep it. He’s also a little star-struck, seeing her this close.
“You can’t run away,” Kaz said.
“People want you to get better. They’re cheering for you.”
“You’ve got problems too,” Harv says. “I’ve seen your driving confessionals.”
“Oh, I know I do. I’m a mess. But I talk it out. It’s the only way to heal.”
“Alone?” Harv says.
“With friends.” She signals, then turns. “That’s all anybody needs.”
Harv exhales, shakes his head, looking out the window. The neighborhood still sparkles in holiday lights.
“I had a lot of friends up north,” he says.
“Are you going to miss them?” Kaz says.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe not.”
“So, make new ones,” she says. “And enjoy what you’ve got. Looks like they feed you pretty well. On-demand smoothies? And that sushi machine? Wow.”
“It won’t last,” he says.
“It never does.” She turns right again. “That’s the beauty of it.”
Kaz slows the Elantra and stops in front of the three-story Bel-Air bungalow.
“Wait, where are we?”
“I brought you back.”
“I don’t want to be here. They’re not my friends.”
“You have Blitzen,” she says.
“But he’s a bad—influence.”
“Lift him up.”
“You’re a lot better than Dr. Flores,” he says. “He’s always telling us to have faith.”
“Faith is for fools. It has been and always will be about people. But before you can help others—”
“I know, I know, your famous line. Then you say something about taking care of the most important things: mind, body, and spirit. Then you laugh and say, ‘And not necessarily in that order,’ right?”
“I’ve got a fan.” Her eyes brighten in the rearview mirror. “Here, let me help you out.”
On the curb Harv looks up at her. She’s not a Jana Tanner or the reincarnation of sister celebrities who keep appearing every generation. Those kinds of women are fading, like supernovae. Kaz is a normal woman, skin and bones, aging to perfection, everything real.
“So are we friends?” he says.
She rests a hand on his shoulder. “Whenever you need me.”
The funny feeling comes back. These cameras will go away, he just knows it.
* * *
Back inside the house, Harv shuffles into the Confessional at the end of the hallway. All the Celebrity Suite doors, with the comedy and tragedy masks on them, are closed. Everyone is either in bed alone or in bed with each other. That or they’re all up on the rooftop deck in the hot tub, shattering themselves. Most likely that.
Before he plops down into the easy chair, Harv turns off the camera in the Confessional. He’s pretty sure no one else in the house does that. Attention whores, all of them.
The glow-in-the-dark paint splattered on the black walls makes it feel—just for a jiffy—like The Big Night, when that once-a-year anticipation of taking to the skies was all the dope he needed. For years Harv believed in his tiny heart that only possibility lay ahead, especially on those nights in the sleigh, piloting the ship alone because Claus was wasted. Harv lived for the slice of cold wind on his face, infinity expanding before him. But the reality of living forever began to eat at him. It grew dark and ominous, and as the seasons turned each year, he tried to kill it with whatever poison he could find. Escape was the only way out.
The aches are subsiding and the fog lifting. If he can stick with the regimen, he’ll kick his habits and get out of this contract. He’ll find himself a place to live, adapt to all this heat, and finally age like a human. Everyone back up at N.P., now cubicled, will go on processing orders into eternity. Free shipping through November—Gray Thursday the new Christmas.
In the miniature universe above him, Harv tries to find anything resembling a constellation. He’s memorized almost all in both hemispheres, even when he was loaded, but can’t find a single one now. He closes his eyes and breathes. The transcendental meditation has helped, though it takes a long time to get into it, his mind is still so quick.
He reaches for his phone. Can’t meditate when he’s thinking of Kaz. It may have all been for show, to build the drama—as the producers say—but damn, it was the closest thing to hope he’d felt in a long time.
The tap of hooves in the hallway pulls him away from waking the phone. Antlers scrape against the Confessional door.
“Hey, Harv. Open up, it’s me.”
Four beeps followed by the error tone reassures Harv. The best thing about the Confessional is that no one else’s code will work when someone’s inside.
“Go away, Blitz.”
“Yo, you have to come up to the deck. Things are getting crazy. I have a little treat for you too.”
“No, please.” Harv breathes. Faith. Faith. Forget it. He taps his phone; the screen lights up his face in the tiny dark room.
“Come on,” Blitzen says.
“Stay away from them and go to bed.”
The hooves back away from the door.
Harv opens his Uber app and types Virgin Airlines into the “Where to?” field.
“Hey, Blitz?” Harv says. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Get some rest.”
Harv stares at the screen. Tens of little cars move around near the pulsing needle of his location. They turn and scoot backward and forward. She’s out there, somewhere. He wonders which one is her, and if he was to press “Request,” would she come back to the bungalow? Could they make it happen without the producers? Faith. He breathes. No, not faith. Mind, body, spirit. Spirit, mind, body. Body, spirit, mind.
“Goodnight, Harvey,” Blitzen says.
The hooves shuffle down the hallway. A door opens, then closes behind them. Blitzen is back in his stall, just like the old days, when Harv used to put each of the reindeer to bed. Seems like just yesterday they were so small, fuzzy, and sweet. Their cold noses nuzzling into the hay, drifting off, the silent stars going by. About the Author: Taylor García’s fiction and essays have appeared in Chagrin River Review, Driftwood Press, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Hawaii Pacific Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Writing Disorder, 3AM Magazine, Evening Street Review, Litro and others. He also writes the weekly column, “Father Time” at the Good Men Project. He lives in Southern California with his wife and sons.
On Twitter and Medium @btaylorgarcia