Waiting for Gift Man (flash fiction)
As we waited for the Gift Man to rappel down the chimney (no fire in the place, thank you very much), we regaled each other with tales of adventure.
“That time I went hang gliding down in Rio was a blast,” Mitch said. “You get a good running start and just launch yourself off the cliff, and you’re like, ‘This doesn’t feel right at all, I’m not supposed to jump off a cliff,’ but you tell yourself to shut up, that you’re strapped to this glider and it’s gonna be alright, ’cause you’ve just seen a bunch of people do it, and then you’re doing it, you realize you’re hanging there in the air, soaring. And you see the beautiful city below you and the beautiful beach and the beautiful ocean. And you’re so caught up in all of it that you’re not worried or scared, you’re just awed. Fucking beautiful, man.”
“Sounds sweet,” Zeke said. “Reminds me of the time I went skydiving. Same kinda deal—being scared when you step outside of this little prop plane and the land is way, way below you and you’re like, ‘Why am I doing this? Jumping out of a plane that’s working just fine and can take me back to the ground safely, so why the hell am I jumping out of it?’ But you keep pressing forward, sliding outside so the instructor who’s on your back can get out, too, and then you let go, just let go. And then the air rushes into your face, you’re not thinking at all, just taking it all in, the air and the feeling and the rush of it. And when you finally hit the ground, your heart’s pounding from all the adrenaline. Like you said so well, fucking beautiful, man.”
I don’t have any hang gliding or skydiving stories, so I searched my memory for something that could stack up to them. “One time when I went hiking with some buddies, the trail on the mountain got thinner and thinner, and there was a chain you could hold on to. It was bolted to the rock every few feet or so and hanging down between the bolts so you could hold it and not fall off. ’Cause the mountain dropped off, just dropped right off the other side of the trail from the chain, and every now and then just by walking we’d send some small rocks dropping down, and they’d bounce down the mountain, and you’d imagine your body doing the same thing as those rocks and how crazy bad that would hurt. So, of course, that just made us hold on the chain harder and keep on going.”
“Cool, that sounds really cool,” Mitch said. “That reminds me …” then he launched himself into a new story.
The stories went on, swinging on vines around the living room as we lounged on the couch and easy chairs and laughed and sipped eggnog (which partied with bourbon inside our glasses).
Until, that is, we heard footsteps above us.
“Someone’s coming!” Zeke whispered in an alarmed whisper.
But these footsteps were not on the roof. They were closer, as in from the upstairs hallway. Then closer still, on the stairway that led down to us in the living room. I will be honest with you here: we were disappointed that the footsteps did not come from the chimneyway. Grandpa’s striped pajama bottoms appeared, and then his pajama top, and then his head. A disapproving expression was on his head.
“What are you fellows still doing up?” he asked. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”
“We’re waiting for Gift Man,” Mitch said.
“Oh,” Grandpa said and thought for a couple of moments. “Sounds like Waiting for Guffman. You know, that movie by Christopher Guest. It came out in the late Nineties, I believe.”
We nodded our heads. Yes, it did sound like the title of that funny movie.
Grandpa scratched his beard. “Which, I’m sure you know, was a play off the play Waiting for Godot. Written by Samuel Beckett, a master of absurdism.”
We nodded our heads. Yes, on some level of knowledge, we knew that.
Grandpa continued: “What you may not know is that Beckett was possibly inspired by Balzac. You see, Balzac wrote a play many years before called Mercadet. It was also about waiting.” He paused to let that sink into our eggnog-soaked brains. “In turn, Balzac may have been inspired by a play before him. Possibly something from the Greeks, those masters of the theater. As you well know.”
The three of us looked at each other. This was getting much deeper than our regaling of adventures. It was plainly (maybe painfully as well) obvious that we doubted our brains were ready for Grandpa’s lecture about the history of theater.
Grandpa looked at the fireless fireplace (which may simply be called “place”). I don’t know about the other guys, but I fervently hoped Gift Man would appear and bring a big, bold dash of color and excitement. If this was a TV show or movie, that would’ve certainly happened right then.
Then Grandpa said, “Actually, the same thing may be said about Santa Claus. You could hop, skip, and jump through history and folk tales and see the many figures who came before the man we think of now.”
“In Germany, wasn’t it?” Zeke asked.
“Among others, yes,” Grandpa answered and gazed over at the beautifully lit and decorated Christmas tree. “Many countries were involved in that progression.” He sighed, and you could read a bone-tiredness in that sigh. “I’m sure we could have a long conversation about this. But, as for me, that’ll have to wait for another day. I need my sleep. Goodnight, fellas. You should turn in soon. Tomorrow is a big day.”
We said we would and we bade him goodnight, and then we listened to his footsteps ascend the stairs, proceed down the hall, and enter his bedroom.
“Absurdism,” Mitch said. Just offered the word out there, like a sugar cookie on a tray. “What the hell isn’t absurd?”
Zeke and I pondered that word on the invisible tray, and I beat out Zeke in my reply: “Nothing. Not a damn thing.”
“Here, here,” said Zeke.
We all raised our glasses of nog and took a drink.