Karl was vacuuming the carpet like I had asked him to do while I flummoxed and flumped the furniture all over the narrow living room, making way for the fake but, to our eyes, gorgeous and redemptive Christmas tree.
‘Karl, Jonah,’ Manfred, our third roommate, stood in his coat, shoeless, spooning food from a foam plastic container into his mouth with his fingers; he and his fiance Victoria had been out to dinner, ‘I know you’re both lonely but-‘
‘Ahem!’ Karl cleared his throat forcefully and held the roaring vacuum up with arms outstretched towards Manfred. A warning.
‘It’s only November-‘
‘Christmas needs to come early this year.’ I said it more to the window-sill I was clearing of grit and low-wage-bachelor debris (cigarette butts, mugs, bits of paper, ash, two copies of Mad) than to Manfred. Karl and I had already dusted the high walls with the broom and strung three strands of lights around the room, making a quadruple layer of them, so long did they stretch.
‘I don’t know about anyone else,’ Manfred was not to be ignored, ‘but I’m not even done eating my Halloween candy, and now, what? Guys. Guys?’
‘Ahem! Ack ack ack.’ Karl ran the vacuum across the floor and just shy of Manfred’s shoeless feet, coughing on the dust and dog-fur storm scattered by the vaccuum.
‘I even saw some trees today on the way home, alongside the FDR, that still had green leaves, guys. Green leaves!’
‘Christmas needs to come early this year.’
‘And just ask the dog.’ Manfred was insistent. ‘Look at him, look at Pressler Dog. Look at neutered Pressler Dog.’ Pressler wagged his tail upon hearing his name, mouth open in what could have been a grin but just as easily could have been obliviousness. ‘He hasn’t even started growing in a new coat of fur for the wint-‘
‘Ack ack ack!’ Karl, vacuuming the corner, coughed after a gust from the open window blew some of Pressler’s hair – a harvest we walked through and upon daily – into his face.
‘The window, guys, the window! The window is open!’ Manfred ran across the room and pointed to the window in mock but genuine earnest, miming a mime. ‘You don’t have a window open in Brooklyn at Christmas time!’
‘Christmas needs to come early this year.’ I bit my tongue and waited, hoping to relieve the rising tension within me with flatulence, which did not arrive. In my heart, as little Lord Jesus knew, I was making hilarious if very unkind remarks about not having just been to a bourgeoisie dinner having romantic and personalizing conversation with a woman who not only gave proletarian handjobs (good ones) but related in some way to the goodtiming but utlimately emotionless male (Manfred) standing before us shoveling some sort of meat and rice into his open maw with three fingers. The tree, I figured, would stand on the empty and rather useless souvenir box.
‘Come on, guys, I know it’s been-‘
‘Ahem! Agh! Ack ack ack!’
‘-a longer period of isolation, rejection, confusion and meals-for-one than any of us could have imagined, even in our most feverish, thunderous and howling nightm-‘
‘Ah God, ah God, ack ack ack!’ Karl was vacuuming his pant legs, which of course needed it, but also gave him something to embrace. It was, if not necessary, at least beneficial, in that he did not need any further succor from us, so we let him be.
‘Victoria and I walked through the park tonight-‘
‘Christmas needs to come early this year.’ I rapped on the window to make a noise.
‘-and the lawn, the grass was just thick with greenness-‘
‘Yack hack hack!’
‘Come on, guys!’
Pressler Dog, standing, put his head low to the ground as though he wanted to whimper in pity and licked Karl’s face, easily done as Karl lay huddled on the floor, face already awash in tufts of Pressler hair, stuck to streaks of tears and now to Pressler’s saliva. Karl had turned off the vacuum and was spooning the appliance, which was at least two feet shorter than he.
‘Guys,’ Manfred warily eyed the decorations we had taped or stapled or hung from the walls, including the Christmas Ghost, which our married and departed former compatriot and roommate Derik had made two years ago from tissue and dental floss (to cinch the head and give it form), ‘Guys, we’ve barely finished celebrating Columbus Day and not even close to the celebration of the Pequot Indian massacre and you wanna-‘
‘Away in a manger – ack, ack – no crib for a place to sleep-‘
‘It’s a bed, Karl,’ I said, ‘no crib for a bed.’
Pressler had uncerimoniously crumpled himself onto the floor, his tail in Karl’s face.
‘Go tell it on the – ack, ack, agh! – mountain-‘
‘-Over the hills and everywhere.’
‘Jesus Christ you guys.’
‘Jesus Christ is born,’ we finished in harmony. ‘That’s right, Manfred. That’s right, Karl. Go tell it on the mountain. I’ll shout it from the windows!’
‘Jonah, you don’t even like Jesus.’
‘Christmas needs to come early this year.’
‘-holy night – agh! yack, hog! – all is calm – … – utz! – all is…‘
‘Bright, Karl. All is bright.’
‘He’s gonna lose it on the virgin part.’ Manfred chewed the last of his leftovers loudly, swishing the food down with beer.
‘I’m gonna lose it on the virgin part.’
‘Me, too,’ Manfred said.
I stooped and retrieved Karl, slinging his left arm over my back like a wounded Hollywood soldier carried from a battlefield. Manfred clasped Pressler Dog’s front legs and walked with him – sort of inverted wheelbarrow style – and we harmonized in the November night, windows open to the chilly breeze and street illumination, somewhere up above our heads the dull Christmas star, which died light years ago, twinkling.