Well, I never did finish the novel - I stopped for gas and coffee at the halfway mark and never got back behind the wheel. But if a slackass like me can write half a novel in three weeks, imagine what someone with any kind of work ethic could do. 25,000 words is no joke. And my protagonist and I are still on good terms, more or less. It was an amicable ending. What follows is one of her dreams.
She feels the serenity on her face for real, now. Under the trademark wrap (which once was a light blue bed sheet) she’s demure and calm, the stage lighting beaming down on her from the ceiling and infusing her with a seraphic glow. Out in the audience, the faces that peer back in awe of her holiness are small, dim and adoring. To have arrived here, to finally be her and not a choir member or a sheep or a narrator feels like fate has finally gotten it right. As though awakening from a long dream of nonsense, she’s present in the moment, gracefully accepting destiny. Joseph stands somewhere behind her, one protective and jealous hand on her shoulder. But really, the bundle in the manger is hers and everybody knows it. Ave Maria, the big winner; God’s favoured vessel and subject of about a million advent carols. Well, now the advent calendar has been traversed, its chocolaty treasures greedily devoured, and the big day is upon us. God, being the all-wonderful source of mini-lights, Julie Andrews Christmas albums, stuffing and the little brass ornament with the cherubs that fly around the candles dinging the bells, has mercifully wiped out any memory of childbirth, not to mention conception. So she’s pretty comfortable right now. But there is something not right. The nacht is a little too stille, it seems. Julia begins to fidget, now that she’s aware of all the eyes trained on her. The bobby pins are poking her head under the blue sheet; the sheet is all askew and feels like it’s binding her to her chair. Where are her mom and dad? She searches the darkness of the room for their faces, but only strangers appear. And why isn’t anybody saying anything? She’ d lost track of where they were in the dialogue and now had the terrible feeling that it was her turn to speak. Absurd! Mary doesn’t speak; she just sits there smug and saintly, gazing adoringly at the Son of God. She looks down at Him now, ready to pin her most beatific and glossy stare on His plastic and garishly painted face, but the doll is gone. In its place is a real, squirming baby. He’s got fat little fists and chins, and just a shadow of brownish hair beginning on his head. His yellow sleeper-encased feet kick out spastically, and his face bears the stern look of someone taking a rather important dump.
Holy Shit, she thinks. And laughs.
Her laughter hangs in the air, a tangible violation of the sanctity of itchy tights and dish towel head cloths. All heads turn to see the source of the violation, and to judge it. Now she can go one of two ways, she knows. She can retreat back into character and sublimate her knowledge that this is absurd, or she can smash through the façade. The seconds that tick by in silent damnation are unbearable – she decides to shake off the illusion and ignite the consciousness which had been a tiny ember, present all along. This was going to be Wonderful. Liberating. The Mighty Yes, the Everlasting Screw You, the Princess of Id.
She decides, while she’s got the stage, to give them all a little show. She clears her throat and says in an exaggerated stage voice, “Good people of Gymnasia, please open your hearts and minds to my message. I am the Mother of God. I have seen and felt things that you cannot imagine, and I have been given a great gift – the Lord God has told me what He wants from us, and I’m here to deliver that sacred message to you tonight.”
Here a few people murmur confusion and disapproval, but most of the gym is hanging on every word. She pauses a moment to draw them even further in:
“The Lord God does not want you to wear tights. They are uncomfortable. He does not want you to go to Sunday school and recite bible verses. He wants you to stay at home in your favourite pyjamas and eat Froot Loops and watch Rocket Robin Hood.”
Miraculously, the crowd is still with her, waiting for more:
“The Lord God wants you to sing. As much as possible. If you can sing it, why just say it? When you meet someone coming down the street, don’t tip your hat or say ‘how do you do’. Sing ‘em a little ditty. Here, like this:
‘Cause when I sing
I feel as light as spring
It’s a funny thing
I just feel a lot better, feel a lot better
Feel a lot better, feel a lot better
I just feel a lot better, feel a lot better when I sing
The blue sheet slips off her head as she performs an impromptu tap dance along with her song; she ends it with one arm around a donkey. She waits for applause to erupt, but none does; just the crying of a baby from under the incandescent track light of David’s star. She runs over to the manger and grabs the Baby Jesus, who is conjuring a mighty storm of noise. She holds Him close and bounces Him, cooing and exclaiming to distract Him from His holy tantrum. She pulls His blanket from the manger and, as an afterthought, stuffs the myrrh, frankincense and gold into a satchel and exits stage right, making a mental note to buy some diapers.
The action has distracted Him from His everlasting sorrow and now, as He bounces down the stairs in Julia’s arms, He makes surprised and delighted ‘ah’ sounds with each bounce. Julia makes for the old blue Chev, parked in the school parking lot and makes a little bed for Him in the passenger seat. “Here we go, little buddy. What’s a nice saviour like you doing in a place like this, anyway? Hey? We gotta go have some fun, don’t we?” Lamenting the lack of a child seat, she eases gently out of the lot. The lone sound of tires crunching on frosty gravel is a song of potential.
Julia holds the lucidity lightly, on the periphery of her thoughts. She wants to stay with this for awhile; driving is good. The automatic motions of driving free her to think about the warm bundle of baby beside her, and the dazzling escape they’ve just made from the pageant of boredom. On the highway, the ’72 Chev floats like a great cloud of blue iron and the pure black of a winter night on the open prairie gives way to cautious light.
With the coming of the light, Julia feels a strange tenderness; not just for the baby, but for everything. The sun rises one more time on a world full of sorrow and bullshit, she thinks. Hearts breaking in every hamlet, in every city. I wish I could be useful somehow, you know? She looks at the baby, who now looks back at her with startling understanding. I know people think of me as stand-offish, but really I care a great deal about them; people, I mean. Too much, maybe. I can’t stand to see people suffer. All I want is for everyone to be happy. The Lord looks at her and gurgles agreement. The sun’s crown is now appearing over the horizon, greeting fields of stubble and barbed wire. It will rise and make diamonds of the snow, it will drive the dark of doubt away, it will rise on the lucky and unlucky. Not every heart is breaking, she thinks. There is such a thing as joy. “May every heart feel it once,” says the mother of God as she cruises down the number eleven and blesses humanity.