Some Christmas Special

by Sara Lippmann

Midweek they consider a trip to Gibraltar.

Sounds like a hassle for a rock of questionable sovereignty, her husband says.

But the monkeys! Cable car! Really she has no desire beyond the urge to keep going. Already they’ve seen the Cadiz cathedral, the plazas, they’ve strolled cobblestone streets flanked by homes of cheerful crumbling pastel, perched along historic city walls; lazed on the beach beside upturned fishing boats that from a distance resemble dead whales. They have four more days to kill.

A guidebook photo betrays the peak’s jagged singularity. Her father staked his claim early, “Don’t let other boys mount my -”

Admittedly, her geography is lousy.

On their San Juan honeymoon her husband explained they had not left the country. Islands can be misleading.

The rain in Spain, he says, fingers creeping but she doesn’t feel like singing.

A waitress delivers a plate of raw squid.

They sit in cafes. Every fifteen feet another spot beckons, rendering them defenseless to eating but mostly to drinking: coffee, beer, a slice of lemon. The saucers remind her of her play tea set, stippled pink flowers; worlds she’d invent in her bedroom with dolls and stuffed bears.

She points to the hazy mass across the sea.

Tangier, he says. Forget it.

Casablanca, she proposes, as if it were possible. The name of that bar from all those summers ago. We need carpets!

The waves crest and bash the shallows. A handful of locals scour the rocks for barnacles.

Yesterday he bought her a present. She modeled the blue bikini with little fruits and he removed it in their hotel room and they made conscious, almost balletic, anniversary love: first position, second, etc. To twenty more, he breathed into the bell of her ear. She imagined how the suit would’ve fit a lifetime ago, not that she can blame her figure on children. A stray cat curled into their window box and afterward there was a bullfight on TV.

The square is deserted.

It is the hour. The country shuts down. Men on mopeds, grandmothers with knee highs rolled into life floats, all of Andalusia hurries home.

She says: I could use an olive.

Fat chance, he says. They’re at the only open café, yellow and red flags luring tourists like empty promises.

He pushes his fork around. Her stomach is a pit and his offering of wet white flesh isn’t a solution. They’ve been drinking since breakfast.

A donut, maybe.

Eat your heart out, he beams, snapping for the waitress.

His generosity is what first attracted her. While they wait she reads aloud sightseeing options. He talks about filling her up. There are people who equate quantity with quality. Pigeons swoop down from fortress walls then depart, finding nothing. Eventually, children surround with dusty feet and dark braids and T-shirts with American logos. One fingers a bracelet on her wrist, turquoise and silver, from a boardwalk kiosk. It is old, she tells her, older than you. The last thing her father gave her.

Before he died cartoon elves swept his vision like some kind of Christmas special. Everyone thought he was crazy.

Why don’t they smile? Her husband slurps. More children have emerged from the alleys. Arms at sides, eyes wide and frowning: a haunting, collective pose.

Later doctors ruled it macular degeneration.

Queso! Her husband cheers, scraping back from the table. He carves a hollow in the air but it doesn’t translate to their faces.

Love, he calls her, what more do you need?

Behind him the cupola shines like a golden egg.

She holds up their camera and shoots.

Sara Lippmann’s stories have appeared in PANK, BULL: Men’s Fiction, Slice Magazine, Women Arts Quarterly, Our Stories, and elsewhere. They have been included in Mamas & Papas (City Works Press), Stripped: A Collection of Anonymous Flash Fiction (PS Books) and other anthologies. She co-hosts the Sunday Salon, a monthly NYC reading series, and lives in Brooklyn with her family.

This piece has a great title (among a lot of greatness happening within it). How did this piece end up with this title? Two things I love about very short fiction are the demands it makes on language—and how it forces the writer to strike at the core. I’m fascinated with Charles Bonnet syndrome and knew it would eventually work its way into my fiction; the question was how why when where. While it felt apt that it be this father’s affliction, that alone wasn’t enough of a justification. The image, however, resonated in a way that made things clear: not only was it essential to the story, it was the story. Hence, the title.

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