The girl scoured the boggy meadow for wild violets and daffodils.
Her burnt hair looked like smeared blood under the pasty sky.
She feebly wobbled across the spongy earth, and I watched her from the shade of an apple tree.
“Miss,” I said. “Are you feeling okay?”
My voice echoed across the hollow, and I picked and bit into an apple.
The girl turned, waved, and walked towards me.
“No need to shout,” she said, and she ran her hand along the lace of her dress.
The wind brushed through the trees and messed her clothes and hair.
I offered the girl the final bite of my apple rind.
“’I’m not eating that,” she said, and she grunted.
I pitched the core into a bush and spat a tiny seed in the grass between her feet.
“Maybe it will grow into a tree,” I said.
“I think I’m lost,” she said. “I’m looking for the road.”
“I think I can help,” I said, and I clutched my knapsack, took the girl’s hand, and led her into the woods.
As she stepped I could hear her feet snap the roots of shrubs.
“Do you know where you’re going?” she said.
“The road is this way,” I said. “I can feel it.”
We wandered through a patch of sappy maples, and the woods spat us onto a highway.
We skulked along the shoulder and counted the passing cars.
I could hear the honks of goose quacks from a flock migrating south for the winter, and I felt like giving them the finger.
The girl snatched a pair of cattails from a marsh along the road.
She handed me one, stepped back, and assume a musketeer’s stance.
“En garde!” she said, and she drove the lance it into my lungs.
The cattail’s sausage casing exploded against my trunk and left me shrouded in a cloud of dry seed.
I clasped my chest in desperation and feigned a mortal wound.
The girl dropped her weapon and held her hands up as if to surrender.
I steadied myself and pointed to an empty pizza box bobbing in the gutter.
The girl walked over and slowly waded through the gully.
Her dress floated up around her hips as she fished the box from mire.
“Got it!” she said, and I applauded the effort.
The cardboard looked flimsy in her hands as she lugged it to the shoulder.
She cocked her hips, leaned over, and addressed the cotton stuck in her crack.
I produced a can of spray-paint from my knapsack, and I handed it to the girl.
She shook the can, uncapped it, and scrawled NoRth PolE on the blank side of the box.
I studied her workmanship as she doodled a little peace sign in the corner.
“I think I’m done,” she said, and she offered me the sign.
I held it at oncoming traffic, but an hour went by and no one had stopped.
I rustled around in my knapsack, and I pulled out a long coil of red latex and a small bike pump.
“What’s that for?” the girl said.
“Emergencies,” I said. “I’m inflating a giant hitchhiking thumb.”
I pumped and pumped until the thumb was fully erect, and we took turns waving the finger passing cars.
Ten minutes passed and an old Eskimo stopped for us.
The brakes hissed on his encrusted clunker.
The girl dropped the thumb, and we scuttled up to the passenger side window.
“North Pole?” she said.
The Eskimo gestured towards his throat as if to indicate he was either unable to speak or just preferred to not talk.
His expression inferred that we understood.
I admired the caramel folds in his indigenous skin.
The Eskimo’s eyes honed in on the rubbery thumb deflating on the cement in his rearview, and he motioned with his hand to get in.
“Actually, would it be okay if we rode on top?” I said, and I pointed to the hood.
He shrugged his shoulders like he didn’t care, and we clambered up the jalopy’s starboard side.
We used the loose luggage rack as makeshift foot stirrups, and the girl pressed against me and squeezed my hand, and my balls began to hum.
I knocked twice on the roof, and the Eskimo gave the rig some pedal, and we motored up the highway like a gassy pygmy hippo.
The Eskimo drove for a several hours and stopped at the North Pole exit.
He pulled over, and the girl and I slid off the hood and waved goodbye.
He smiled a gap-toothed grin and mutely gesticulated, and his muffler farted soot as he sped away.
I scoped the horizon where smoke-stacks expelled pungent clouds.
I made out a sign in the distance that said Santa’s Shop.
“Are we close?” I said.
“I’m not sure yet,” the girl said as she dusted her dress off.
We followed a crumbly sidewalk towards the shop, crossed the street, and entered a parking lot full of reindeers.
One deer was quarantined in a cage in a vacated corner of the lot.
“That one looks lonely,” the girl said. “I wonder what’s wrong with it.”
“Look,” I said, and I pointed at the deer.
The deer wore a nametag that read HELLO: My name is Butch.
“It’s not one of Santa’s reindeers,” I said.
The deer blinked its bulbous sloe eyeballs and scratched an itch on one of its antlers with a muddy knuckle.
The girl stirred her arm in my knapsack and found some old bread.
She broke up a couple pieces and fed them to the deer.
The deer clamped down, held its head back, and champed with crocodile arrogance.
The girl sniffed the bread and began to cough.
“I think this bread is moldy,” she said.
“The deer doesn’t seem to mind,” I said.
“I guess it’s not that bad,” she said, and she folded a slice, placed it in her mouth, and worked it around with her tongue.
“We might as well go and see Santa,” I said.
The girl fed the deer the rest of the bread, and we walked towards Santa’s Shop.
The exterior looked like some steak place or a titty joint, and the second we stepped inside we could see Santa and Mrs. Clause.
Their rotund bodies sat together on a metal bench in the back of the narrow room.
The air stunk of dust, potpourri, and turpentine.
A line of children formed a queue with their mother’s before Santa’s lap.
The girl and I stood patiently in the file and admired the yuletide décor.
Willie Nelson twanged “Pretty Paper” from a silver boom box in the middle of a whittled Nativity scene.
When we stepped to the front of the queue, Santa’s eyes locked on mine, and he began to scream.
“CHARLIE!” he said, and he leapt up and unsheathed a bayonet he kept concealed inside his gift bag.
The girl was too startled to shriek.
I froze, closed my eyes, and braced myself for Santa’s blade, but before he could strike Mrs. Clause restrained him with a jingle-belled trestle.
“Now, now,” Mrs. Clause said. “What’s wrong?”
“Sorry honey,” he said. “Thought for a second I was back in Saigon.”
He sat back down and the bells on his reins jangled.
The girl and I studied both of them curiously.
Santa stroked his fuzzy mug and smiled, and we smiled back.
“Sometimes I get disoriented,” he said. “Sorry about that.”
“That’s okay,” the girl said.
“How ya’ll feeling?” Santa said.
“Relieved, I guess,” I said.
“Where ya’ll from?” he said.
“We’re from far away,” the girl said.
“Welcome to the North Pole,” he said.
“I know we’re grown up,” the girl said. “Can we still sit in your lap?”
“Please,” Santa said, and when the girl did he looked at me and winked.
“Don’t be shy,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, and I took his spare thigh, licked my palm, and flattened the cowlick on my bang.
“Now try to relax,” he said.
I reached into my knapsack, took out a Budweiser 24-pack, and handed the box to Santa.
“This is from both of us,” I said.
“Sorry it isn’t wrapped,” the girl said.
“Gee, thank you guys,” Santa said.
He handed the box to Mrs. Claus laboriously, and I could feel encumbered air as it rattled inside his chest.
Mrs. Clause pulled the box ajar and grabbed two beers.
She pulped one can open and balanced the other on her plump tummy.
She downed a fathomless swig, and her can began to fizz.
“Fuck Budweiser,” she said, and she whipped the can across the room.
It ricocheted against the far wall, landed on the floor, and foamed a little.
She belched and trembled, and it made her jowls wiggle.
“Sorry about that,” Santa said. “She’s dealing with an unrelated crisis.”
“I understand,” the girl said.
“So what can I do for you kids?” Santa said.
“I can’t think of anything,” I said.
Santa looked at the girl and said, “And what about you my dear?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess one time I was a little disappointed in 1984 when I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas because that was probably the best I had ever been in my entire life.”
“That’s not an odd story,” Santa said. “A lot of times things get messed-up in transport, and I feel damn sorry when they do.”
“I’m already over it,” the girl said.
“I like the smell of your hair,” Santa said.
“What?” she said.
“Merry Christmas,” he said and shyly adjusted his brass spectacles.
“Merry Christmas,” she said.
Mrs. Clause stared at the wall with vacant expression and pulled a loose snood of tinsel from her hair.
“Are there any elves around?” I said.
“Not today,” Santa said. “But feel free to make use of our mistletoe.”
He cockily gummed his dentures and looked at the girl and I with inquisitive eyes.
“Thanks,” the girl said. “Maybe next time.”
“Suit yourselves,” Santa said. “Now, go enjoy the sunshine.”
We said our goodbyes, and Santa and Mrs. Clause smiled warmly as they waved.
We exited the premises and followed a row of stern smokestacks.
The air was muggy and funked like puke.
“God that was like meeting Jesus Christ,” the girl said.
“Yeah,” I said. “It was just like that.”
The gravel dissolved like rotten rock under thin soles of my shoes as we walked.
“My armpits feel wet,” the girl said. “And I’m hungry.”
One of her dress straps slid off her shoulder and onto her thin arm.
“Let’s find a 7Eleven,” I said.
A soggy breeze poured through the holes in my jeans, and my tongue felt earthy, and the pale sky weighed on my bones like an anvil.