… But Only In My Dreams
GOOOOD MORNING NON-COMPLIANCE SECTOR 61023! IT’S DECEMBER 25TH AND YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS? ONLY FIVE MORE SHOPPING DAYS UNTIL THE YEAR END NON-DENOMINATIONAL WINTER FESTIVITIES. THE COMPLIANT HAVE ASKED ME TO PASS ON A LIST OF RECOMMENDED GIFT ITEMS FOR CHILDREN AND THEY ARE …
I slap the alarm clock to silence the annoying DJ.
“Merry Christmas, asshole.”
I take a deep breath, hesitating to move from my mountain of tattered covers, especially with the bleak winter scene outside. The grey skies, the thick white covering on the streets, and the barren trees all send a shiver down my spine. Well, Shea, it ain’t getting any warmer. Get your ass out of bed, you have work to do. After I throw on my cargo pants, thermal shirt, wool socks, and chucks I hardly feel the cold at all. I grab my coat and hat before heading downstairs to the bar.
As expected, Frank isn’t up yet and the bar is still dark. “Lazy, little weeble-wobble.”
I set about the various tasks to get the bar ready for the busy day ahead of us: turn on the lights, sweep the floor, clean the bar, and fill the empty whiskey bottles with colored water. Many of the town’s residents come here to drown the memories of Christmas past. I peer out the window and more snow is accumulating on the ground. There was a time this scene would send me into a footy- pajama-little-kid frenzy, but now it just makes my heart sink. I grab the push broom from behind the bar, put on my coat and hat, and head outside.
Actually, the scene is quite… nice. As I sweep the snow, all I hear is the swoosh of the broom against the concrete. Down the street the new construction on an old abandoned warehouse catches my eye.
“Hmm, that can’t be good.”
A big guy with a doughy face stops in front of me. “Howdy, Ms. Shea. You open yet?”
“Joe, it’s seven in the morning. How many bars do you know of open that early?”
“I know, I just, uh had a long night ya know. Jackie ain’t doing so hot.”
I take a deep breath. The flu hit our sector hard this season and this is a particularly nasty strain of the flu. “Joe, I don’t think anything I have in there is going to help you out. Go on home. I can spell you tomorrow, but today’s going to be too busy for me to come over.”
He stares at the bar. I know he’s dying to get in there. “Okay, um, I’ll go home then.”
He shuffles away. I’m sure he won’t go home until he finds some kind of fix.
After finishing my sidewalk cleaning duties I go back into the bar. My glasses fog up and I shake the snow from my coat. Frank is at the bar sipping a cup of coffee. As I sit along from him he slides a steaming cup my way. I’m not normally a coffee fan, but after a bitter cold morning spent sweeping snow the elixir warms my core.
“Thanks, Frank. I got a quick errand to run. I’m going to leave here soon.”
“What?! This is the busiest day of the year. Have you lost your mind?”
“Calm down, weeble-wobble. I’ll be back before Joe has time to get the first drink down his throat.”
As he waddles back to his office behind the bar he mutters, “You better be back. I’d hate to send you to live on the street during one of the coldest winters on record.”
I take another sip of the bitter liquid then go behind the bar to find a package. I head out the door and down the street to Bobby’s Pizzeria. Even though the shop isn’t open to the public yet, I know I’m welcome. A menacing biker figure greets me at the door with big smile.
“Hey, Shea. Good to see you. What’s going on?”
I hold up the brown package. “I brought a Christmas present for my favorite girl. How is she?”
Bobby’s smile turns down. “I don’t know, Shea. She’s pretty sick. I’d be up there with her now if I didn’t have to start making these pies.”
“I know Bobby. You care if I go up and see her?”
“Go ahead, I think it will make her day.”
The creaky stair case to the side of the makeshift kitchen takes me up to a small hallway outside a one room apartment. Before going in, I put on surgical mask hanging on a rack outside a door. Inside the apartment a small brunette woman is putting cold compresses on a whisper of a girl lying on a mattress.
I whisper. “Hey, Jenny how’s she doing?”
Jenny looks up at me with her big brown eyes and stops just short of crying. “I can’t do anything for her, but pray and hold her hand.”
“Jenny you’re doing a lot. She’s a tough kid …”
Mia’s eyes open and she gives me a weak smile. “Auntie Shea.”
“Hi there, little one, I brought you a Christmas present.”
“What is it?”
I kneel down by her bed and hand her the box wrapped clumsily in brown paper. Jenny props Mia up and her hands tremble as she tries to open the package, and she starts sto weat and breathe heavily. Her hands drop from the package. “I’m sorry Auntie Shea, I can’t open it.”
“It’s okay. Do you want me to open it for you?”
She nods her head. Jenny lays her back in the bed. I open the package with the same excitement I did when I was a kid. I hold out the box for her to see.
Mia knits her eyebrows at the box with an assortment of wires, brackets, and motors. “What is it?”
“It’s a robot or at least it’ll be one. When you get better we’re going to build it.”
She smiles, “Cool!” She closes her eyes and goes to sleep.
Jenny smiles and takes the box from me. “You’ve given her something to look forward to. Thank you.”
I give Mia a final a pat on the shoulder and head out of the room. When I get downstairs I say a quick good-bye to Bobby.
The snowfall has increased in intensity. My thin jacket is doing a miserable job of keeping the cold from my skin, but fortunately it isn’t a long walk. Back at the bar, Frank has a cigarette hanging out his mouth. There are several jars with clear liquid and a couple of large punch bowls in front of him.
“Good, you’re back! You can help me make my famous Holiday punch.”
Frank’s Holiday punch was nothing more than some hooch he buys from One-Eyed Karl, food coloring, soap to give it a fizz, and few pieces of whatever fruit we can scrounge for garnish. You’d be lucky if it didn’t make you shit yourself or go blind.
Behind the bar I open the jars of the hooch. The pungent fumes make my nose crinkle.
“Geez, Frank you might not want to smoke around this stuff.”
After a few hours we have all the punch made and the bar is sufficiently prepped. As prepped as a dive bar can be. I have to admit the few strands of Christmas lights and the punch bowls are kind of getting me into the festive mood.
One by one the residents file into the bar for a bit of Christmas cheer. I spend the night filling orders and overhearing conversations of their Christmases past. Even though this is our busiest night of the year, it is actually our calmest. Most people want to sit in a warm place and throw a cup of cheer back.
The door opens and in walks a stunning red head wearing a Santa hat.
“Hey, Wynnie!” She sits at the bar and I put a beer in front of her. “I can’t believe Nate let you off of work so early.”
She takes a drink. “We’re not as busy as you guys are so he let a couple of us off early. I guess I’m getting too old to be one of the popular dancers.”
“Eh, I think you’re beautiful. Besides, if you help me out here I’ll cut you in on some of my tips. You know fat-ass Frank ain’t gonna be helping me out any.”
A voice from the back growls. “I heard that!”
Wynne snickers. “You got a deal. Hey, tomorrow you want to come over? We have some TradeNet transactions to go over.”
Before she can get off her barstool to wait on the first table the door opens again. The person walking through causes a hush to fall over the bar. The man just oozes threat with his hulking form and black suit. He shakes off the snow and stares me down.
“What do you want, Quinn?”
He barks out, “Just making sure that things aren’t getting too out of hand here.”
“Aww shucks, Quinn. You care, you really, really care.”
“Cut the shit. All I need is for one your drunk yokels to stir shit with Magistrate’s Marshalls.”
“I got it under control.”
“You better, Boss gets angry if he gets called in to talk to Magistrate.”
He growls and walks out the door without another word.
Wynne smiles. “That guy is hot. I think he likes you.”
“What in the hell would make you say that?”
“The fact that he hasn’t smashed in your face or killed you.”
The bar gets back to its normal chatter and Wynne and I wait on tables and talk to patrons while Frank sits in back drinking his famous punch. A little after midnight we usher the last customer out of the bar and she helps me clean.
As she starts for the door I hand her some NCS scrip. “Thanks for the help.”
“No prob. See you tomorrow?”
I lock the door behind her then look in at Frank in his office. He’s passed out face down on his desk. He’ll get up eventually. I hope.
Back in my bedroom I put on my jammies and snuggle under the mountain of blanket. The wind howls and the snow pelts the window. Just as I’m starting to feel alone my tablet starts to glow, signifying I have an incoming call. The familiar weathered face grins.
“Merry Christmas, little one.”
“Merry Christmas, Daddy.”
Behind him a tiny Christmas tree glows with lights, probably the same fake tree we used to decorate when I was a kid.
“I miss you, kiddo.”
“I miss you too Daddy. How did you spend your Christmas?”
“Did some farm work, met a couple of my buddies at the AMVETS Hall for a drink then came back here to call you.”
His image starts to break up.
“Love you, Daddy”
“Love you too.”
Then my daddy is gone. I turn off my lights and nestle down in my covers. Another Non-Compliant Christmas is done.