Monday, December 12, 2011

Maudit Noël (Damned Christmas)

Hate Christmas? Then you've come to the right place. To me Xmas is just one huge orgasm of sentimentality. And after everyone's gushed all over the place, they're all embarrassed and in a hurry to take a shower and get away from it.
   Xmas is the most heterosexual time of the year. How many happy homos do you see in the TV ads? In all the countless sappy movies and -- the horror -- Xmas specials? Things have changed a little bit since I wrote this story in 1990, but let's face it. Christmas is still "anathema for single people, especially queers." 

I HATE CHRISTMAS!” spat Michael. “I had to do my Christmas shopping in the storm yesterday—all those people! It was so hot in the stores. And the snow was wet,” he rolled his eyes. “I was soaked. ‘I hate Christmas! I hate Christmas!’ I kept saying as I slammed the car doors.”
I smiled as I imagined Michael thrashing about in the storm, clumps of soggy snow sliding from the car roof onto his head as he loaded his presents, his thick eyebrows making a V and his bony face all red.
“Look at this bunch,” he said, surveying the two-AM crowd. It was Wednesday night at La Queue Dorée, two nights before Christmas Eve. “They all look desperate and depressed, looking for their Christmas fuck.”
“Their what?”
“Their Christmas fuck,” he said, pleased with himself. “You know, ’tis the season for all that lovey crap, right? When you’re supposed to be with the one you love? But most of us don’t have anybody, and people around us are dying! Who wants to have Christmas alone? Everywhere it’s fireplaces—bloody chestnuts roasting—and we gotta spend Christmas with our folks, like spinster daughters. Trapped.”
“Trapped,” I reflected
“So all the fags go out during the week before Christmas, desperate to get laid. Kinda the opposite of the Virgin Birth, wouldn’t you say? Lots of sex but no babies?”
I guffawed.
“It’s not like New Year’s,” he continued. “Now that’s a real gay holiday. Everybody goes out and gets wild. After all, January first is a penis-related Holy Day.”
“You know, the Feast of the Circumcision.”
“You’re crazy!”
“Yeah, a Christmas fuck,” sighed Michael. “That’s what they’re looking for. At least for one night—someone to hold.” He looked around the bar. “I wonder if I’ll find mine tonight..”
The topic was starting to make me feel a little desperate around the edges myself. At least there weren’t any seasonal decorations in the bar. “You’re right,” I said. “Everybody in bars does look depressed this time of year. Christmas is such a family-oriented affair—mommy, daddy, kiddies—anathema for single people, especially queers.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Ain’t that the truth. Some of my best Christmases were when I could escape after turkey dinner and go out. Then I felt I was with my real family—all the other spinster daughters. One year I hadn’t had sex for weeks. Finally, after everyone had stuffed themselves to death, I went out. I wanted someone so bad, I actually wished real hard—and I got one! Only I called him my Christmas present at the time ’cause I got him on Christmas Day. He’s always been kinda special to me for that—he really made Christmas bearable that year. Every time I see him, I think, ‘Hi, Christmas present.’”
We beheld the gloomy crowd around us.
“I think I met someone the other night who needed one bad,” I said. “He seemed almost desperate about it.”
“A Christmas fuck?”
“Yeah, I guess you could say that. He was standing just over there.” I indicated a stretch of bar where two men were making out. “He was young and good-looking. He really stood out from the crowd of usual wrecks. It was Sunday—you know, when guys have been around all afternoon and into the evening, getting drunker and randier.”
“I know,” smiled Michael. “‘Slut Sunday!’“
“Yeah,” I chuckled. “Well, half the guys had their shirts off and some were paired up. I felt rather sober and overdressed in my shirt and leather jacket. I wasn’t in the mood to get groped yet. So this young guy kept looking at me—at least I thought he was, it’s hard to tell in this light. After a lot of mutual looking and looking away, I pushed myself over to him and said Salut and asked his name. ‘Justin,’ he said. Then in English he told me he lives in Vancouver now and was in town visiting his parents.
“Up close he was even better looking—tall, with straight black hair that swept down across his forehead, a slightly narrow face and a sexy smile, like a magazine model’s. His eyes were dark and deep—set, but a little worried looking—too worried for someone so young, I thought. He was a bit drunk—but not too—and easy to make conversation with. Though he was Québécois, he had no accent in English. In fact, he spoke very west-coast like, as though he were about to say ‘dude’ at any moment.”
Michael laughed. Being from Vancouver himself, he’d heard that plenty. “‘Catch ya later, dude!’” he mimicked.
“Yeah, like that!
“He said he used to work in bars here before going out west, but I couldn’t remember him from anywhere. ‘Do you do that in Vancouver?’ I asked.
“‘I work on church-interior restorations, everything except stained-glass windows,” he said.
“‘Must be a peaceful place to work.’ I had a picture of Justin the craftsman going about his job calmly and skillfully, dust specks floating in coloured sunbeams, a sexton swinging a mop nearby.
“‘Yeah, I like it,’ he said. ‘It’s quiet.’
“As we talked some more, I noticed more of the sadness I saw before, a fear even. ‘I’m not really looking for sex,’ he said. ‘Just someone to be with.’
“‘That’s fine with me,’ I replied, and we went to my place. When we got there Justin wanted tea. I poured a bit of Scotch and water for myself—he was still drunker than I was. I noticed he’d been coughing on and off. ‘Are you okay?’ I asked.
“‘I’ve always coughed a lot. My grandmother used to worry,’ he explained, as if to reassure me he wasn’t sick or anything. We lay on the couch and talked some more, caressing each other. His clothes were damp.
“‘How come you’re wet? Were you dancing?’ I asked.
“‘I’m wearing a lot of clothes. I don’t want people to see how skinny I am,’ he said shyly.
“I undid the buttons of his flannel shirt. ‘Christ, you’re wearing a wool sweater under this!’ I said.
“He laughed. ‘I’m really skinny.’
“I caressed him some more—his skin was soft. I got hard and pressed it against his thigh. I felt content; Justin looked so too. ‘Do you want to go to sleep now?’ I asked. He nodded deliberately, like a tired little boy. But when we got to bed, something happened. We kissed and hugged and sucked and all that—we really went at it. He looked even more beautiful as we made love. By five o’clock we fell asleep. We woke up a couple of times later covered in sweat—especially Justin. We’d been cuddling hard.
“We finally got up around ten. He didn’t want to get dressed. He stood in my kitchen wearing only his boxers. I could see how really skinny he was—like an Auschwitz victim almost. I really wondered if he were sick, what with the coughing and the sweating, and then that thinness. At least his skin was a healthy dark colour. ‘Would you like my robe?’ I offered.
“‘No, thanks. I’m okay,’“ he said.
“I turned up the heat anyway. I offered him breakfast, but he said he wasn’t hungry. All he wanted was coffee. I was famished so I started breakfast for myself. I tried the Jewish-mother shtick: ‘No vonder you’re so skinny. Eat, eat!’ He was adamant. ‘You were sweating a lot in bed,’ I said.
“‘So were you. And you were all over me—I was hot!’
“‘Yeah, I really like to cuddle. And I’m getting over a cold,’ I said.
“‘I think I am too.’
“‘And I just washed the sheets yesterday,’ I joked. ‘Now I’ll have to do them again.’
“‘You should always wash the sheets after sex,’ he said somewhat darkly.
“I wondered why he said that in such a serious tone. ‘Sometimes it’s nice to smell the man on your pillow the next night,’ I replied.
“‘So where are you going for Christmas?’ he asked, smiling.
“‘Sainte-Suzanne, to the cottage.’
“Suddenly, he switched to an impassioned French. ‘That’s where my last roommate from Montreal lives now. What a creep! He stole all my furniture when I left for BC, and then he told people at one of the bars where I used to work that I’d died.’
“‘Merde,’ I said.
“‘And when I went back five years later, their eyes almost fell out of their heads. I didn’t know that’s what they thought. But they had believed it. So many people who’ve worked in bars have died, why not? Yvan, Jean-Pierre, Jonathan. It’s no joke to tell people something like that.’
“‘C’est pas drôle,’ I repeated. Still in his underwear, he started to shiver. ‘Do you want me to turn up the heat some more?’ I was really getting worried he’d catch another cold.
“‘No thanks. I’m all right,” he insisted, calming down. He sat down at the table where I had started my breakfast and switching back to English told me some more about himself. ‘I do volunteer work with an AIDS organization in Vancouver. Because I’m twenty-four they put me onto young people—eighteen, twenty. I have one client who was abused by her father since she was five. She’s fourteen now and she has AIDS. What can you do?’ He looked at me with his hollow eyes. In the daylight they were a lacklustre brown.
“‘Aren’t you afraid of burning out?’ I said.
“‘No. I don’t burn out.’
“I had my doubts. ‘AIDS workers need to take breaks,’ I said.
“He looked down at the table. His skinny shoulders shivered. He got up. ‘I think I’d better be going to my parents’.’
“He prepared to leave, putting all his layers of clothing back on. I gave him my number. ‘In case you just want to cuddle again,’ I told him. We kissed goodbye and hugged. He really hugged, kind of held on to me.”
Michael looked thoughtful for a moment. In a serious tone, he said, “Sounds like he’s sick to me. You’re not worried, are you.”
“For me? Of course not. What’s the difference from my point of view? AIDS, HIV—I’d be a fool to think all the men I’ve slept with were negative. Always safe sex. Besides, maybe he really was just getting over a cold, like me.”
“And he is home for Christmas,” said Michael, lightening up, “Anathema for queers, as you say.”
“Gotta pee,” said Michael. “Be right back.”
As soon as he left, a smiling Justin appeared. “So, you didn’t see me? I was looking right at you!”
“That’s me,” I said, smiling in return. “I can be pretty dizzy.”
He looked at me as though he wanted to take me up on my offer to cuddle some more, or so I imagined. We talked a bit. Michael returned and I introduced them.  Justin soon excused himself. Michael raised his eyebrows approvingly after he left. “Was that him?” he asked. I nodded, watching Justin disappear into the crowd. “Nice.”
Michael and I talked of other things, and soon I forgot all about Justin until I noticed him playing pool with a working-class kind of guy in an undershirt and cowboy hat. When the cowboy left the area, Justin came over and gushed in his west-coast speech, “Usually that type is never interested in me!”
“He’s cute,” said Michael.
When the cowboy returned, Justin slipped back to the pool table, looking pleased that he hadn’t been given the slip.
“Funny, I would think most men would kill for him,” growled Michael. We continued our conversation as the other two played on the fringes of our vision. After a while their game ended and they headed for the door.
“There they go,” said Michael. “Looks like your friend’s found Christmas fuck number two.”
“Yeah, maybe he’ll go through the whole twelve fucks of Christmas,” I muttered.
Michael laughed. “Sour grapes?”
“No. Not really. I can understand him wanting to go home with the cowboy—he’s hot.”
“Maybe his night with you made him feel more confident. You said he was embarrassed about being so skinny.”
“Who knows. Oh well, I had my Christmas fuck, I guess. I can live with just one.”
“At least you won’t have to wash the sheets tomorrow!” joked Michael.
I gazed at the empty pool table. Michael grew quiet and pensive. I became aware of the music booming away. “I recognize your Justin from Vancouver, by the way,” said Michael.
“Oh yeah?”
He looked at me—a bit timidly, as though he weren’t sure he really wanted to say what he was thinking. “Yeah. I used to see him in my HIV doctor’s waiting room.”
A group of leather guys took over the pool table. A guffaw rose above the din.
“And some people with this thing feel they’re dirty—they have to wash everything all the time. Such as sheets,” he added.
I was thinking. “When he left my place, he held on to me for so long. I was puzzled.”
Michael looked at me with a little more intensity. “Maybe it wasn’t you he was holding on to. Maybe it was all the loving he fears he’s going to have to give up,” he said. “Or even a special someone he might never have.” He turned to scope the bar again. “Let’s talk about something else.”
I looked at my friend. His eyes looked a little watery. All at the same time I thought of his being positive, of all the friends we’d lost, and of Justin’s young, handsome face I may never see again. One day I might lose Michael too. I thought about Christmases to come. Without Michael. I moved in close so our arms were pushed together. My eyes filled, too. “Okay,” I said.
I hate Christmas.

From "East of the Big Q," a collection of short stories about queer Montreal, by Raymond John Woolfrey. Copyright 2001-2011