Thomas David George looked at the Social Committee Memo and blinked. Had autumn passed already? It was time for the company’s annual Christmas party. He stared at the flickering computer terminal and pushed his glasses back up on his nose. Tom faced the dilemma all company social events posed. He did not want to go because he hated parties and dancing and smoking and drinking. Not only that, he hated not being able to talk to all the beautiful women because they were all married to arrogant men that bought them the best dresses at the most outrageous prices.
But of course he had to go. Not going would be politically unsound. He wished he had a date. Going to such events solo was always a depressing prospect.
The party was on a cold evening. Steam flowed from pedestrians’ mouths and from cars’ exhausts. A layer of crusty snow blanketed the city. Tom had taken the TTC and scurried from the subway to the hotel. He found the hotel ballroom. It was very posh and all the tables were prepared with elegant place settings. Christmas wreaths and garlands were attached to the walls. Tom walked to the cloakroom to dispose of his coat for the evening. The old woman at the coat check gave him his ticket and smiled. He looked at her and noticed that her neck had a scar as if, long ago, someone had tried to cut her throat with a hunting knife. Startled, Tom stepped back. The old woman looked at him and continued to smile.
As soon as he entered the ballroom, he looked for a corner in which to hide. He began to make for a table near the back of the room. On the way he wished Merry Christmas, as sincerely as he could, to the handful of people he knew, including his boss. Many of his fellow programmers had wives who wore newly manipulated hair styles and exquisitely expensive dresses.
Tom analysed the outfits. Each attempted to show off the individual woman’s best physical feature, be it her breasts, legs or, in one case, her shoulder blades. Backless dresses seemed to be the rage this year, striking Tom as an illogical style for winter. His glasses began to fall off his nose again.
Dinner began with the president saying pithy sorts of things about how well the company was doing this year and asking everyone to enjoy the party. Tom wondered what he would say if the company were losing money.
Tom sat with people from his work group. All were married except him. Tom felt like a charity case. He tried to make kind-hearted jokes about employees in other divisions, with the manager’s wife who was a hefty woman with an ample bosom that jiggled when she laughed. Tom tried not to stare.
The meal was awful. To Tom, the food tasted as if it had been replicated from one model meal. There was an absence of compliments on the meal.
The dance music began with Lionel Ritchie, and Tom tried not to gag. The first few songs were slime and Tom sat and watched his co-workers move to the music. Sipping at the glass of red wine, which he had been toying with all through dinner, Tom allowed the music and the gyrating bodies to hypnotise him. His brain began to go numb; he refused to make himself aware of anything. The room was a flow of indistinguishable noises and movements.
He abruptly snapped out of this coma when he saw Marion. She wore a black low cut gown and as she danced, loose fabric swirled around her, enveloping her in a protective field. Tom stared at her short black hair and her sharp features. Tom had had a fixation on Marion of Payroll Systems for many months. They had actually spoken a total of two times — he was more comfortable with e-mail. Of all the women in the room, Tom felt her to be the most personable, but, because of that, the most unreachable. He watched her finish a dance and return to her table. Perhaps the evening would not be a total waste if he could dance with her just once. Her date looked like the jock Tom had expected. The man had an arrogant paunch. Tom guessed he spent Sundays watching football and putting back a few beers.
The DJ continued to spin sludge.
Please, a good song — even a mediocre song, Tom thought. Optimistically he rose from his table and worked his way to a table closer to Marion. The DJ began a 60s set, with Twist and Shout recorded by The Beatles. Tom was fortified. He walked toward her and asked.
On the dance floor he found himself moving like a wooden stick. Marion smiled, aware of his discomfort and began to show him some of the dance steps.
“Move your hips!” He tried.
“Take your glasses off,” she said. Tom had been pushing them onto his face every five seconds or so.
Satisfaction, by the Stones burst from the speakers and something in Tom snapped. His body began unaccustomed thrusts; first he held Marion close to him, then virtually flung her away. He stuffed his glasses deep into a pocket. People the dance floor gave them room. Whenever he could, he pressed his body close to hers, feeling the warmth of her pelvis and breasts. His body jerked and spasmed to every drumbeat. Marion laughed and helped him to twirl her about. The dance progressed in decadence, at least by the standards of the company personnel. As Tom was trying to think of a way to sneak in a kiss, he felt a change. Marion’s boyfriend was cutting in. Tom glowered at him, imagining his death. Marion’s date was not entirely unkind; he had brought with him a member of Accounting to be Tom’s dance partner.
Tom stayed at the party only another hour. He was ashamed of himself for dancing with Marion. And angry that he had allowed himself to need the approval of his co-workers. He decided to walk home. It was about an hour’s walk from the hotel. He slipped away from the party without saying goodbye to anyone. It had become colder outside; the cutting feeling of the crisp air was heightened by a light wind. Tom pulled up his collar and walked faster.
He was red-faced and feeling much more at peace with himself when he reached his neighbourhood. The streets were empty and quiet. He neared the large Catholic church that annually displayed a nativity scene featuring life-sized figurines. He decided to give it a close look. It was odd; he had lived in this area for years, but had never deliberately stopped to admire the figures. As he approached the wood frame hut that held the scene, he noticed that two youths were already visiting. What struck him as odd was that while on appeared to be a Yuppie-child dressed in an expensive wool coat over a suit, and sporting a dignified haircut, the other was a punk, wearing all leather with a band’s death head on the back of the jacket. The punk’s hair was long and blue, with two bald streaks reaching from the back of the head, tapering to a halt at the top of the skull. Tom approached silently.
The punker produced a small canister of spray paint and handed it to the Yup-boy. The figure of Joseph received a blast of red spray paint in the face. Tom had just moved sufficiently close to witness the vandalism.
“What was that supposed to prove?” he asked.
He had expected them to be startled. They turned slowly toward Tom, their movements synchronised. Tom remained still as they approached.
“Nothing,” the punk said. “It means nothing.”
The leather-jacketed one handed a hunting knife to the Yup look-alike. Tom began to step back, but the punk grabbed Tom and held him in a modified headlock. The young man with the knife approached. “You mean nothing.” He raised the knife. Tom bit into the punk’s hand and tried to wrench himself out of harm’s way. The Yup plunged the knife into Tom’s side and twisted the blade. Tom howled and the Yup pulled the knife out and pushed Tom onto the snow covered ground. A pool of red steam spread out, staining the snow.
Tom saw movement from the hut. The Yup was looking down at Tom, hoping to catch a look of horror — or death — from his eyes. But the wounded programmer looked past his attacker at Joseph. The figure was wiping red paint from its face. The Virgin was standing behind Joseph at the entrance to the hut. Confused by a lack of attention the Yup looked over his shoulder and felt a stone fist plunge into his face. The boy’s flesh and bone collapsed. By the time Joseph was done, the punk was fleeing the scene.
It was Christmas Eve. Tom had been out of intensive care for a couple of days, but had not been awake very often for very long.
Tom started dreaming. In his reverie Joseph and Mary lifted him from the snow and brought him close to the warmth of the stable. He could smell the odours of the animals. There were many people around, all quite surprised at how cold it was. The Virgin looked down at him. She looked somewhat fatigued. Then her face began to change …
Tom sat straight up in the hospital bed and screamed. There was incredible pain in his side.
Marion looked a little more than simply startled. “It’s all right,” she said.
The nurse entered the room. “Mr. George, please relax.” The nurse eased him back into a lying position.
Tom was staring at Marion. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said.
“I brought you a Christmas present … I’m the office volunteer,” she said shyly. In his hands he found a Rolling Stones’ album wtih a recording Satisfaction.