Excerpt from “Lucinda and The Christmas List” in Peripheral Visions and Other Stories
“Is this… No, may I speak with the… No, that’s not right either… Hello, my name is….”
“May I help you?” I interrupted her, certain that, wherever this obviously scripted conversation was going, I didn’t want to follow. I was tired. I was hungry. And my microwave bell was signaling that my “honey-dipped chicken tenders with fragrant mashed potatoes and crisp green beans” were ready for consumption, if not quite living up to the package hype.
But then, I thought to myself as I pulled out the tray, few things do in this world.
“I’m sorry,” and then came a belch of such significant proportions that I instinctively moved the phone from my ear, in case any of the breath made its way through the phone wires.
“I’m sorry,” she said again. “My name is Lucinda and this is really my first day on the job and even though I went through a lot of training—six months starting last July!—I don’t think practice is the same as real life, know what I mean?”
“May I help you?” I said again, rummaging through the drawer for a clean fork or spoon. Obviously I needed to wash dishes since all twenty-three of my mismatched eating utensils were at that moment sitting in the sink with dried bits of food stuck all over them.
“Anyway, I’m calling to ask you if you have made your Christmas list yet because—”
“Look, please take my name and number off your list. I already gave at the office.”
This was a lie in more ways than one. For one thing, I hadn’t given anything anywhere yet—not a dime into the red kettles, not a dollar into the food pantry collection baskets. It wasn’t that I was selfish or cheap or uncaring but rather because I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
I’d do it as soon as I had a few extra bucks, I would tell myself every time I passed by one of the opportunities to “give so everyone can have a Merry Christmas,” as one of the signs proclaimed. It was just that, so far, I didn’t have any hard currency to spare.
As for the “office” part—that was just a repurposed utility closet off my kitchen where I managed to eke out a living editing theses and manuscripts and résumés for people who needed my creative touch and ability to identify the proper usage of the possessive and plural form of nouns. And the only money I had “donated” thus far was the monthly rent check to my landlord.
“I’m not asking for anything,” she said, her chipper voice starting to grate on me. “Well, that’s not true. I am asking for something but what I am asking for is your list. Your Christmas list. According to our records, you haven’t submitted one yet and if we don’t get it in time, there’s a chance that your delivery will be delayed. After all, it is December 23rd.”
“Oh, for—look, I don’t know who you are or what you want but my dinner is waiting for me,” I said, opening another drawer in search of any plasticware that would work in a pinch. I was hungry and my meal, such as it was, was starting to cool.
“Third drawer down,” she said, and without thinking I moved to open the one she had suggested and then stopped in mid-pull.
“What?” not sure if I had heard her right.
“Third drawer down. That’s where you put the utensils you get from Mama Leonie’s and Pho Ho takeaway. Papa’s Pizzeria only gives you napkins. I guess they figure you eat your cheese-and-broccoli pizza with your hands, so why waste the inventory?”
That was more than a little weird. How did she know where I ordered my meals? Was this yet another indication of personal information being sold to the highest bidder, namely the telemarketing industry? Or was I being spied on?
I instinctively closed the blinds over the kitchen sink, went to the living room where I pulled the curtains shut and then checked to make sure my front door was still triple-locked.
“I’m sorry, I’m doing this all wrong. My instructor told me if I wasn’t careful, I’d scare people and that’s just what I did. Let me try again. My name is Lucinda and—”
“What do you want?” I intended to make my voice belligerent and demanding, but instead it came out all quavery.
“We need that list,” she said. “When you were a child, you were very good about putting it together early enough that we could access it, even if most of the items you requested weren’t really within our power. And we really felt bad about that, especially the one for a real horse. That was on your list every year from when you were five until you were ten. But we did bring you the Suzy doll and her pony Sassy—remember?”
This was beyond weird and into the scary category—the stuff nightmares were made of. How did she know about that?
“Don’t worry about how I know all this,” she said reassuringly. “It’s just part of your file. I mean, if I wanted to, I could even tell you what you wanted during those horrible high school years when all you asked for was—”
“A face with no breakouts and a date with Billy. And I didn’t get either one,” I added bitterly. “Fat lot of good writing letters to Santa did me!”
“Now, don’t feel that way. Besides, that’s all in the past. This is a new Christmas and you still have time to write your list and check it twice so my boss can review it and bring you what you most need this holiday.”