Pillow Talk - A Christmas Story by George Smiley
There is this soft arm across my face. “Sunday!” I say, “and we have a lot to do beside get ready for that barbecue tonight.”
She says “Oh god what time is it?”
She looks across to the dressing table. “Jesus Christ it's only five o'clock and you're wide awake. No wonder you don't get any sleep!”
“No, it's 5:45 and the sun has been up exactly 16 minutes. Someone left the curtains ajar. Why it's necessary to open them every morning I have no idea but I love you anyway. Which automatically makes me feel guilty as hell because I worry that I might love you less if you weren't so small and soft and beautiful AND there would be so many more things I would hold against you.”
“You wouldn't love me at all if you knew what I did to the T-bones,” she said.
“I had a hard night too. One of our close family members had a virtually incurable disease that would be fatal without a transplant. They searched the world for a DNA match - there was only one and I had to fly to South Africa to pick it up. The match was with this transgender guy who had died of an overdose and I went out to a post- apocalyptic Johannesburg suburb to meet his mum and dad at the squat where he had lived. The suburb was bad, this place was horrendous, no plumbing, clothing and every class of waste and garbage strewn everywhere and mum and dad showed up about the same time. They were middle class, sad but resigned and wanted to talk about their son. We settled on the masculine 'he' – they had never come to terms with the idea that he had become their putative daughter and it suited me too because male had been an essential part of the tissue match.
“Of course they put me through the whole transplant shtick; they told me what a wonderful but troubled person he had been with his estrangement and poverty and drugs and sexuality. I had to say how much we respected his integrity and how grateful we were that he had thought to offer his body to give life to others after his own really lousy one.
“They had brought what we needed with them in a refrigerated container because they knew I had to catch a plane back as quickly as as possible. They opened the box and showed it to me. It was the size and shape of the guy's heart but basically just an amorphous ragged and bloody hunk of meat with no distinguishing features at all. Whatever it was, the only sure thing was that an apprentice butcher was unavailable when it was hacked out and they filled me in.
“ This was his re-engineered 'lady parts',” his mother said. “It's all that was left. He has helped so many people.”
“We knew it would suit your purpose,” said his dad.
“Which was true. They were very clued in. Our sick loved one had lymphoma, leukemia or somesuch and we only needed undamaged stem cells for an infusion to replace his gamma-blasted/ chemotoxified bone marrow rather than an actual healthy working organ of any sort. I think I was expressing surprise at the huge post- mortem popularity of this outcast when I noticed the sunlight coming in on my face.
“So what did you do to the T-bones?”
She was looking at me somewhat stunned, then shrugged; dismissively, reproachfully. “Just forget about it, OK?”
She knows I almost never remember my dreams. “You just didn't expect to be trumped,” I said.
Being a reticent and proud person I would never have stooped to actually sitting down and inventing a surreal or prurient story like this for any reason unless it was for real money, and least of all a 'Circle of Friends Christmas Horror Story Challenge'. But it had just appeared; given miraculously; and about giving too which is so Christmasy I couldn't resist passing it on for the world; joining Bing Crosby and O. Henry with my contribution to the genre. My regular fans will thank whatever gods there be that one more poncey and verbose jerk has finally come off his pedestal to cater to the common taste. But it isn't me, I don't have that kind of imagination. So what alternate universe or dimension did it come from? After some head scratching I discarded the possibility of channelling leaving only one possibility which had to do with the pigs.
Earlier the previous day while making polite conversation over a cup of tea I said, “Now that we are getting on we have to start thinking about mortality and its possibilities. Now about the pigs for instance– they may seem friendly enough but if you were to have an unfortunate heart attack in the pen they would eat whatever parts of you were uncovered. If you were saved you would probably need a face transplant like that French girl on account of her dog.”
“You are a lot older than me and you're the one who always goes in there anyway,” she answered “but I don't know that I could get used to looking at someone else across the table or in my bed.”
“We men are different,” I answered. “If you were a recipient I could probably become accustomed to say Nicole Kidman or Katie Holmes, although they are looking somewhat shop-worn these days at best. And even with probable nerve damage like a partial rictus or a dropped lower eyelid I wouldn't kick either of them out of bed as long as I knew it was you underneath it all. Tom doesn't want either of them anymore and I think they left the church too in which case they are 'fair game.' “
But I know she would be back rebuilding me when she regained her speech so it would be a brief and illusory vacation at best, not even a change being as good as a rest. When you love someone they are already beautiful and in my case I am far ahead on a related count; not on a single morning have I ever endured the career- hazard curlers- and- mudpack crap screen celebrities inflict on their partners.
Then she thought maybe she could get used to George Clooney and diplomatically suggested that it was only because I resembled him a bit already.
“I don't think George is on the outer with any particularly vicious and vengeful faith and so you might have to wait until he dies;” I answered. And I know she wouldn't be happy; beneath the superficial close resemblance between George and I there is a distinct unlikelihood that I might simultaneously find the savoir faire, strength and moral courage of his screen personae which she would automatically expect as a Clooney fan. I am a practical person, and in a 'Perfect Storm' I would certainly choose to get out of the wheelhouse and pop up to the surface along with Mark Wahlberg on the off-chance rather than pip- pip straight- upper- lip, old school tie, go down with the ship. And in the unlikely event of survival I could probably bear the sneers and contempt of my fellow man which takes both a reverse contempt and courage in itself. We don't get many visitors around here anyway. Or invitations, although people have noticed wonderingly that I have a nice dog; probably imagining I would be pleased with the inference.
So the barbecue was a rare exception. And early in those things everybody separates and the guys gather around the snag burner and discuss notable cars while the girls catch up organizing the plates and salads. Our host's home is brand new and I was helping with some small building chore. Eventually my wife came over with a plate of dinner lest I miss out. There was salad and a small mutton chop. So I understood hers wasn't a dream after all. Just what the hell did she do to the T-bones?
I will never know; sometimes magnanimous is more strategic than curious or vindictive. If I asked it would prompt some circuitous rationale to save face at whatever cost which annoys me no end and it would descend into a total s*** fight and it's the time of year to be making nice.