Every month I send out my newsletter with some news and a piece of flash fiction. I thought I'd share this month's story with you all since it's a sweet holiday piece. Those of you who get the News Flash have already read this. If you would like to sign up to get a little love in your inbox every month, I've included a place to sign up at the end.
This year's flash is a little bit Hanukkah and a little bit Christmas. I hope you enjoy.
Beating the Hanukkah Blues
The tyranny of Christmas – that’s what Mike was thinking as he crossed Main Street against the light. Once upon a time, just last week, he’d lived in New York, where the December
extravaganza was all about commerce, but where there were also plenty of dreidels and latkes to balance things out. Here in the middle of fucking nowhere Wisconsin, even the Chinese restaurants had signs saying they’d be closed for Christmas.
Last Friday, as his sister helped him load the last of his crap into a van, she’d asked him why he’d agreed to move into the wilderness. He’d made a lame joke about the diaspora but really, what was he doing? This town wasn’t exactly a mecca for gay Jews. So far it looked like Mike was the only one of either group. He sure hoped the job he’d come for was worth it.
And here he was, going into a big box store the week before Christmas. No matter where you lived, that was a crazy thing to do. But the new apartment needed stuff. With any luck, he’d be in and out in ten.
“Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas.”
Mike jumped as a guy in a Santa suit boomed it out behind him.
Mike scowled at him, but the guy, who had very nice blue eyes under all that fake beard, just winked. “What do you want for Christmas, little boy?”
Mike stopped. Was Santa flirting with him? He peered at Santa, trying to see the man behind the costume. Despite the padding, the red suit and the fake hair, there was something very appealing about the guy.
But come on, it was Santa. Mike squared his shoulders. “The Salvation Army has a history of homophobia.”
“What can you do?” Santa shrugged. “It’s a small town.”
“Not really into Christmas.” Mike turned away.
“So happy holidays,” Santa called.
Mike held up his hand in what he hoped was a cool, over the shoulder wave then went off in search of light bulbs, laundry soap and floor cleaner.
On the way out, Mike was disappointed to find a woman in a deep purple parka standing by the red Salvation Army bucket. It was those eyes, he decided – lapis blue with little laugh lines around them. This Santa wasn’t an old man, but he wasn’t twenty either, maybe fifteen years older than Mike, a thought that definitely clanged his daddy-kink bell.
Mike’s shoulders ached. He stood and stretched. Enough with the cleaning and unpacking, he needed to get something to eat. No use looking in the refrigerator. If there was anything there it had been left by the last tenant and Mike didn’t want to open it up to check.
He slid on his jacket, grabbed his keys and headed out to see if anything was open at ten on a Sunday night. This wasn’t the land of twenty four hour take-out, but hopefully that didn’t mean he’d be stuck with a gas station hot dog.
As Mike drove through the quiet streets, he had to admit the lights were pretty against the snow. The neighborhood looked like a Christmas card, twinkly and cheesy and sort of appealing.
He almost didn’t see the restaurant. A converted Victorian with a small sign out front – Vitolli’s pizzeria. It didn’t look like any kind of pizza place Mike had ever seen. The yard was meticulously landscaped and fairy lights lined the windows. Old fashioned blue, red and orange lights had transformed the giant pine by the doorway into a Christmas tree.
It was too classy looking to be open this late on a Sunday in a small town, so Mike almost drove on by. But then he spotted the electric menorah in the window with five bulbs glowing, the same number of candles that would have shown from Mike’s window if he’d managed to get the menorah unpacked. Above the candles, hung a hand lettered sign saying simply, “open”.
Mike parked and climbed out of his car, feeling a little like a moth drawn to the Hanukkah not-flames-but-bulbs. The image was amplified when a blast of hot, delicious air hit him as he opened the door.
The place was empty. Mike kicked snow from his boots but kept his jacket on. “Hello?”
A man stepped out from the back. At the sight of him, Mike straightened his shoulders. He resisted the impulse to run fingers through his hair to try to tame the curls.
The man smiled. “Well, hello there.”
Mike tried not to stare. The man had dark hair with just a little gray at the temples. His skin was weathered, his features rugged and his body looked lean and fit under his long, white apron.
“Um, are you still open?” Mike shifted on his feet, trying to place what was so familiar about this guy’s face.
“I can be.” The man patted the bar in front of him. “Sit here and we’ll talk while I cook.” His eyes twinkled.
Mike sat. It was the eyes, that color.
“Excuse me, but Santa?” He stuttered.
The guy laughed. “For someone who’s not into Christmas, you’re very observant.”
“So are you. I can’t believe you remember me.” Mike stuck out his hand. “Mike Greenberg.”
“Ephraim Vittoli. It isn’t every day that a handsome stranger comes to town and insults the Salvation Army. Although I gotta say it’s refreshing to know someone cares about homophobia.” His hand was warm in Mike’s. Mike didn’t want to let go.
When he finally did, his hand tingled with the memory. He stuck it in his jacket pocket. Two days in town and he was hitting on Santa?
He gestured to the window. “Ephraim and a menorah, don’t tell me you’re Jewish. I didn’t think there were any other Jews here.”
“Jewish and Italian, raised agnostic, I’m the town odd ball.” Ephraim leaned across the counter. He held Mike’s gaze. “So, Mike, what brings you to town?”
And now Santa was hitting on him. Mike leaned in. “I came for the job but I’m thinking of staying for the company.”
“Good answer.” Ephraim slid a menu across the counter. “Wait until you try the food.”
Mike smiled. Happy holidays indeed.