Art by Kelly Denato
by Steve Hockensmith
“Nooooooooooo!” Brenda cried. “It can’t end like this!”
Patrice was hunched over the checkout counter, chin in her hands, eyes half closed.
“What is it?” she said, straightening up and whipping around to face the front of the store.
Brenda pointed up at the speaker in the ceiling above her.
“My second least-favorite ‘Christmas’ song of all time,” she said.
“Oh.” Patrice folded her arms and cocked her head, listening. “Michael George, right?”
“George Michael,” Brenda said. “Or maybe it’s Wham!. Whichever, it’s awful.”
Patrice shrugged. “It’s not so bad. It’s just old. The Ariana Grande version’s better.”
Brenda was usually a cheerful, easygoing boss. But some things she felt deeply.
“I don’t care if the Three Wise Men covered it,” she said. “It’s not a real Christmas song.”
Patrice listened to another chorus.
“How can a song called ‘Last Christmas’ not be a Christmas song?” she said.
Brenda pointed up at the speaker again. There was one over Patrice, too, and another in the far corner of the store—over the few model kits and chemistry sets still left at the end of aisle four.
“Listen to the lyrics,” Brenda said. “It’s just a breakup song that happens to take place at Christmas. It’s not about anything Christmas-y.”
“So? Most Christmas songs are just about . . . like . . . you know. . . .”
Patrice rolled her eyes back and spun her hands in the air, obviously searching for the right euphemism.
Brenda was sixty years old and was about to close the store she’d worked in longer than Patrice had been alive. Close for the last time. Close forever.
She wasn’t in the mood for euphemisms.
“Sex,” Brenda said.
Patrice grimaced in horror. Sixty-year-old women weren’t supposed to mention certain things. Especially on Christmas Eve.
“No! Of course not! Brenda!”
“All right, all right,” Brenda sighed. “Romance.”
Patrice smiled, relieved. “Yeah, that’s it. Most Christmas songs are about romance.”
Brenda shook her head. “Those aren’t real Christmas songs either. A real Christmas song is about one of three things: Jesus, Santa, or how great Christmas is.”
Patrice thought the declaration over.
“So ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ isn’t a real Christmas song’?” she said.
Art by Hank Blaustein
by Shauna Washington
I stood off to the side and watched as Paul Cruller, the director of this reality show madhouse, pranced around the well-stocked ballroom that had been converted into a soundstage. He was wearing zebra-print tights and a baggy green shirt. Not even his multicolored cross-fit Nikes could save that outfit. He turned to me and asked, “Ms. Deshay, have you finished the alterations to Dominique’s dress?”
“Working on it,” I said.
He frowned up and then turned back to the group.
“Let me be perfectly clear,” he said in a voice that made Frankie Lymon’s sound like a baritone. “We’ve got to get through this so we can do it in one take tonight. Remember, we want the audience at home to think we were filming it live when we start broadcasting next week.”
“I got no problem with rehearsing,” Marsha Lee Turner, a.k.a. Cinnamon Fire, the female wrestler, said. She’d taken so many steroids she looked like a human banyan tree, all spray-tanned muscles and veins topped by a bright red mop of hair. “But I’m tired of playing the waiting game while the wannabe reality show princess goes to powder her nose every ten minutes.”
The princess she was referring to was the onetime child star Dominique Sands. She’d grown up since her sitcom and fashion model days and was soon-to-be revealed as being transgender. That girl was nothing but legs and had the most perfect body and face that money could buy. With piercing blue eyes, her jet black hair was bluntly cut to her shoulders with bangs. She wore tons of makeup, but on her it looked good.
“Hey, I’m here.” She winked at Cinnamon. “We’re waiting on TK, just like the old days.”
All of them had been costars on All of Us, a TV show back in the day that featured Dominique and TK as interracial adopted siblings, coached through life by super-understanding parents and a helpful athletic girl neighbor, Cinnamon. Robert Burke had played “America’s Favorite Dad,” in an engaging way that made him seem like Solomon reincarnated, offering sage advice at the end of every show. The actress who’d played his wife had unexpectedly died at the close of their third season, and the show was canceled, fading into oblivion.
Enter Paul Cruller, producer and director, who saw an opportunity to do a Big Brother–type knockoff by doing a reality show telling all the secrets that these forgotten sitcom actors had been hiding all those years ago. READ MORE