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Fairy Tale of New York
by Michael W. Bix
Michael W. Bix -- all rights reserved
 This is Michael's Christmas gift to Channing.

"Bix? Michael Bix?"

Now, instantaneously, as sharply and surely as the voice cuts under the flap of my ear arises that eager vanity, a tail-wagging barely suppressed mania of Yes? Someone knows me? Where have you seen me? I'm the only Dalmatian with the Firehouse Group, of course, it had to be me, why yes I was in that play, thanks so much for--

But I'm in New York. And it's been years. Nobody knows about Firehouse Group, in this City. My city knows me. I feel the usual oncoming droop of shame at my pride, piled on with more and more reminders that anymore I'm not the dog from the World at Large, a fleeting particle of the Theatre, lighting in one production to live it entirely for its two-month existence, a part of its body, fed by audiences and starkly lonely when off the stage.

I'm not lonely anymore. It's a sad way to be an actor.

But she's looking at me like she knows me. We're the only two living beings in the church at this time, what with tomorrow being Christmas Eve and today being for shopping and partying rather than worship. This place'll be as packed as Andrea's folks' house, tomorrow afternoon for the children's Mass. But tonight, it's too early and too late to be in a quiet, smooth, only barely warm hollow place dusted with the particles of incense that settled from the burning at the last service. This doesn't seem spiritual at all. The traffic outside is much more alive, and if it weren't for my desire to seek some peace in the midst of all that frustrating cheer and mayhem at the Dowling household, I wouldn't be here.

The bird, a large bird, parrot morph of some kind, is peering at me sleepily with an expression of confused hope. She must be tipsy, at least a little. She lists in the pew and jerks her head back into position frequently. Apparently resting after partying like I would have been several years... Well, you know the story. Promises and all that.

She couldn't know me. Now she's confused as to whether it's me or an apparition, brought on by drink, named from a list of people left behind --

"Michael?" This time the voice is whispery and tentative, while I realize I'm standing there in the aisle and glancing repeatedly sideways at this creature. I shake my head rapidly and take a whiff of this person, and she seems to smell sick-sweet, not like the holidays at all but some bar before it's crowded. Honey lager. Makes me sick to my stomach, not because of the smell, but because of the way just the breath off a drinker can make me that close to nipping in... just for a second... somewhere in a nice joint a block or two over from Dowling's... because I know, or at least I'm very very afraid, that it's only Andrea and her notice of my breath when I kiss her that I keep my promise at all. But that can't be true. It can't. I can do it on my own. I've done it before, before I had love or lovers to keep me on the straight and narrow. "Yes? Do I know you?" I reply. It feels like a halting read-through with a puzzling script. Someday I'll write a one-act out of this. It's just that the set would have to be implied. Perhaps some incense.

She shrugs, shyly. The feathers lift up on one side of the bird's head, drunkenly. For a second I think I recognize the eyes, although I'm not at all sure. The light is dim in here, not like the dazzle outdoors. She speaks again. "Is that you? You're still in New York City?"

"No..." I'm searching for a face and not finding it in the mass of humans and assorted other beings I met this week at my partner Andrea's native home.

"Oh." She weaves back the other way. Some of the dim yellowed light catches a rainbow of cobalt, chartreuse and holly red on the streaks of flat feathers running back on her cheeks and over her neck. I can't see the rest of it under the rolled neck sweatshirt she's got cuddled up around herself, but I'm pretty sure I've never seen any bird like that before. Must be a parrot, though, the beak is like the big pincery thing on Kent and Gabriel's daughter's face. I'm not intimidated, though. This poor thing looks too smashed to work up a fuss. I take back tipsy, we're on to pissed now.

"I'm... " She looks distantly 'out of' a stained glass window, but only trace light is getting in, no imagery. Her gaze passes through the Holy Family and Wise Men bit they've got leaded into the arched decoration.

She flips her head back suddenly. "Damn, tomorrow's-- no, tomorrow's tomorrow's Christmas-- yeah. Day after tomorrow. Christmas eve night. Tomorrow. Then Day. She's dying."

I am about to ask, with astute caring, who's dying? But I'm frozen in my dialoguical tracks by a suddenly thrust-in memory, a much more familiar one than any in the constant shift of lights and signs in the New York I temporarily visit. My New York. Living a show. Portia.

Andrea, of course, owned and breathed the part of Portia most nights. But on off nights, the voice now haltingly attempting to communicate used to blithely lie to the Duke's court, throwing in a plea for the Merchant when it seemed lawyerly appropriate:

"The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:

It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes."

"Danielle?" My throat tosses in a little surprise-yip, undignified at the best of times. The parrot morph turns to face me, as if sobered somehow, or just annoyed at my confirmation. The red-irised eyes seem hard for one instant, and I am almost afraid, not like the thrill of City-street angry glances, much more like intrusion during intimacy. But she blinks suddenly and all the fire goes out of her expression, leaving the striking colors all inappropriate-looking. "Danny, yes," she answers me.

"Wow, um, Danny, wow. I mean." I scratch at the back of my head.

"You remember me."

I yelp again. "Of course I do! Portia! Good Crikes, kid, Danny, of course I remember." I remember Andrea more, but she seems so removed from that show now, from the impossibility of ever knowing her, from the cold and disease of New York and clinging death. Here is Danielle Shaughnessy, Other Portia as I suppose we all thought of her, but really Portia on the nights she took the stage. And she has SCABS. I suppose I expected it, for some of them anyway. Statistics and all that. But meeting them... It was supposed to happen in My City, in Pennsylvania. There it would be my place to show them around, welcome them in, not rest uneasily next to them in a place still as unfriendly as it was when I lived here. Even the city I now reside in has it risks for "our kind" as some of "us" say, yet there is the Thim and Rosemary Kelly Theatre and its comforting personal-scent sediment of a multi-species repertory group obviously solidly housed since the wall paint and carpet were spread some years ago. Come on in, try and touch me, mess with me you mess with them all, and I bet you can't even identify what all of "them" are. Heck, urm... I probably can't do it, myself. But I was one of the first.

But first came New York City. Angst and terror and blind denial. Glitter and slick construction and age and shed fur and damp paws and lilacs and noisy elevators and echoing stairwells. A tiny, preserved and beloved automobile. Andrea. Then, before she was who she is, a real person, a person who likes my paws and puts up with just about anything from me and seeks me out and hasn't forgotten New York any more than I have. But she's put it behind us. Danielle can't have done that. Danielle is here, and the Duke of Venice just walked in and she can't play her part. She's stuck, same as I was. Ah, the thrill. The sheer ecstasy of forced despair, the gloating I feel now as I felt it when I was alone in the world. Good! Good misery! Danielle, Danielle.

I almost forget about Dowlings', and as soon as I almost forget about it it is foremost in my mind, of course, and I flare out my nostrils at the streaking and giggling shapes that must have been swarms of holiday-dressed children, mostly girls I suppose by all the whirling and high pitches. Somewhere in there my own darling teenager was, is, yukking it up with some suave and audaciously shampooed kid who can't help but tell her he's breaking up with his girlfriend over Christmas break.

Andrea loves me. Can't get enough of me. I could... I could, I tell you I could and would live without her, I really and truly could do it this time. After Jenny, it took Andrea to set things right. Now, I promise I wouldn't need to do it again. Not... Not even if something happened to Hepzibah. But why is that? All the other security? Larry Kelly and the perpetually frowning Feech and German's raucous calls and the smells and carpet and next season's show schedule?

Next season. Not a string of life from show to show, knowing just outside the stage door is an alleyway that could be my next "home". No begging. No pleading. No fervent prayers in a chilled back seat of my only valued possession. No breakdowns, just "vacations". Andrea. Eppie.

The drama comes in on stage, now. How much, how much more than I know, have I relied upon it on the street, in the raw desire for a part to play, any part, and the nigh torturous triumph of a good part handed into my waiting grasp. I'm afraid of it, now. I'm so afraid of how awful I felt in those times alone in this great City that I shove it away somewhere so I can play the part safely.

And then Feech, German, they're always wondering what I'm waiting for. Where is it, Bix? They know I know the anger, that I can feel and play the part inside out upside down and roar and froth and thunder until the house can't help but respond. But I keep it low. Fight with Gabe now and then about human rights issues, raise a fist but never use it, bristle but never on stage. I'm afraid. But not as afraid as I was in the cold, and that's what's destroying, bit by bit, the wildly driven actor I still am in my still sharply recognizable soul. I Love the Theatre. But now She has taken me in, and have I... Begun to take Her for granted? Andrea, I never could. She is what stirs the joy I wanted to find and awaken. But Theatre made me burn, and when that's a given, when She is there, where can the anger and accompanying passions possibly go? I love Andrea Dowling. I love the Theatre. They cannot be the same thing and comprise the whole motivation of me, of Michael Bix, yet I fear that is how I am reading the part.

And so I left the holiday gathering, hoping for the City of New York to swallow me up. Seduce me, Baby. Plaster auditions up all over your walls, beckon me and crush me underfoot when the next guy comes along. Betray me so I can rise up in righteous anger. Put stars in my eyes, Goddammit. But She doesn't. The City and her Christmas-quiet play houses rest in what's not even a lot of snow. I have shoes on, no paws and claw prints to get angsty about. Just a normal man's footprints, treading restlessly past dark window, light window, shopper (with a nod and a toothy grin, at least partially enjoying the wide-eyed reactions of the few who care to look up at all), good car, rotten car... Pausing before a particularly elegant machine, caressing her lines, but she's not the City. Passing through, glancing lights off her body to drop them in the black that soaks up everything of New York before she leaves, so she's no longer of this place at all, with nothing to keep. Nothing. Andrea is not New York. I am not a part, an integral piece, of the drama machine that must be New York City.

I am fine. The City doesn't need me. But Danielle does. I believe in Fate, these days. That's why I came in this church. Or at least, it seems so now.

"... So Michael... How you been?"

I slide into the pew next to my fellow cast-off cast member. "Let's not talk about that," I suggest hastily. Let's talk about who's dying, I want to say, but I glance up at the fading glitter of the rainbow windows and hesitate. She may not even remember. But she does remember me. "So, Irishwoman. Good to see another Paddy around, any time of year. Just in town for Christmas, or here all year?"

"Not Irish any more, Michael," she shakes her head sadly, almost matronizingly. "Not Irish anymore."

"Sure you are. I could always tell you were Irish, the real Irish, none of this diluted crap."

She shakes her head once more, then buries her eyes in what appear to be blunted hands, spiked with multi-hued feathers. In the instant it takes for me to finish my next breath, she begins sobbing.

"Danny, Danny, what's... " I reach to touch her shoulder, and realize as I do so that sometimes to ask a SCAB what's 'wrong' is redundant. I try to make a soothing sound, but I've never managed it so well as Eppie nor Andrea. I feel horrible for my castmate, reveling in the almost-forgotten sensation.

Maybe I just haven't been paying enough attention, back home. But what's a guy to do with so many reliable people around? There's always someone to swiftly handle any emerging emotional crisis. And I don't go about making my own. I thoroughly expect Her to force me. Theatre is about force, it's acting that's about coaxing, cajoling. But I do rub Danny's oddly bony shoulder.

The bird continues sobbing, coughing in little yips into her palms.

This goes on for enough time that several vehicles pull up and pull away outside, their whines clearly audible to my ears, some door slams indicating numbers of occupants, footsteps muffled by the church's wooden doors and the hollow air here and the sparse snow, headlights changing the expressions on Biblical characters from serene to pensive to seriously thoughtful to bland to, again, serene.

Finally Danielle is quiet, then lists off to one side again, obviously still periodically overcome by the drinks of earlier tonight. I catch her by the ribs opposite my body and pull her up and out of the pew. "Come on, you can tell ol' Michael all about it."

She nods and comes with me. She's too fragile in her state to just take out into a blast of cold air, so I shrug off my coat and put that over her sweatshirt. She does not protest. I take her to a bar. The outside is the same, still the night before Christmas Eve, only now we get some unsolicited stares, and I try to build up a little indignance at "their" disrespect for my humanity / canine-ness. But I just make a click, meant to soothe, at Danny, and hurry her past anyone bored enough to look. She's confusing to see in the night and street lamps. A striping of neon grass green borders her neck, confusing the eye as to the actual shape of her oval head.

Passing cars shift my companion's pointed red feathers from a warm holiday tone to a demonic fire hue. She's definitely like nothing I've ever seen before. When I get her through a door, gathered in by warm bar air and a rhythmically counter-swiping bartender, I turn and ask before we even sit down. "Danny, what are you?"

"Come," she says, her voice unexpectedly clear. "Sit down, we'll talk."

I feel a little chagrined. I was leading her, but she seems in control. I feel my spotted ears move back a notch on my temples.

Danny's head is still off balance, however, her beak tilting towards her cautiously placed hands on the tabletop. "I won't be drinking," I offer. "Soda?"

"No, you go ahead." So I order a soda. Tonic water seems so lonely tonight.

The kids back at the house are drinking up soda by the truckload. Only my daughter won't be too wired to sleep tonight; her mule-ish form keeps her well in hand in terms of dietary reactions. Not so dear old Daddy Bix. Ticker and all. "I'll stick to non-alcoholic," I nod casually to the employee who's still in a good mood because it's not a holiday yet and he's therefore not working on one at this time. And non-caffeinated, and non-chocolate, and easy on the onions, and on and on... Not so Bix. Fragile, of all things. Me. But too steady for my own good in the job department. Or perhaps not. To look back at it, I know I was a mess. At least, I knew it then and Andrea was a miracle, an obvious rescuer, a shining light she still remains. I just don't know what it means to not have it, not want it back, and still be out of something I need.

"Ireland. " Danny seems about to begin a long speech, but her gaze is not on me and I seem to lose her for some time. I tap my claws softly on the table and wait. It's welcomely warm in here after the church, and with a past-life Theatre distraction not so desperate seeming.

"I live in New York with my mother. But I never can get her to look at me."

I raise one eyebrow in what is a classically canine quizzical expression.

"I, I can't." The parrot makes eye contact to see that I am listening. I lift my ears more from my head to show that I am, although they still flop down.

"Can't..." she continues awkwardly. The voice is Danny's, unmistakably and consistently, but there is the tone of a distant recording to it, a distinct imitation of the earlier incarnation. I feel like howling, a rare reaction, on my part, to any sound.

"Won't look at me, Michael. I have to take care of her. And she's... she's dying. After this year she'll be gone, and I'll never... Never know what I could have done. Everything's been taken from her. I'm gone, this is all a mask, everything is false. My Dad, who was never as truly Irish as Ma is, well he's gone into a silent state. Won't talk unless my mother does, then agrees with everything she says. They're slipping away, and now her body's going to go, too. Go with her, everything that she was. So I'm... I'm a little drunk, yes. Just a little drunk."

And her words do slur, now, as though to show the effect of the Honey lager. "Honey lager?" I ask, to be conversational until I understand just what she means about her parents. I lost my parents. It was nothing like this. I didn't get this down over that. I mean it, not to mean she hasn't lost more than I can understand, or even something that much different than what I myself have experienced. But her world is the same as mine, and we can each only lose one of the items therein. When she's been rescued, it will all be the same. She'll lose the horror of this moment, the despair, and it will fade and the pain will ease and we'll each share a past loss that means the same. But right now, it's pick and choose. My parents could not be my loss, because her parents are her loss. Parallels work, identical crises do not. See how this would be a good one-act, if I could do it right. Third cast member, the bar tender.

Not enough dialogue. "So, what are you doing out here drinking? Did she send you out?"

Danielle nods slowly.

"Sent me out, same as usual. Honey lager. To answer... Earlier question... Rainbow lory. I'm a parrot."

I nod, sage as an aviculturist. I've never heard of it, of course.

"Feathers. 'N stuff." She shrugs and shyly fingers a pressed and pointed feather that slips up the side of her cheek when her head tilts. Her beak hardly moves when she speaks.

"Same as usual? How often does your Mom send you out? Away from her, you mean?"

"Yeah, you know. Or you don't. You don't. Your parents are passed, aren't they Michael?"

I blink quickly and nod. I didn't expect the question, nor for the question to hurt.

The bird sighs, her throat lifting slightly. My soda is set down and creates a pool of condensation for itself to float on. I don't feel like touching it yet. It's fizzy and spirited and altogether too lively for this conversation as of yet.

"Michael. What... I mean, what do you know about birds?"

"Ahem." I look off to one side and give this proper thought. Then I clear my throat once more and reply. "Only enough to know that beak could give me a right thrashing, Danny."

She nods, a little more readily and knowingly than I'm comfortable with. "Oh yes. Drunk... Maybe it's not so safe for me, but if I'm... not enough depressed... Lories are... I guess lories, um, just are a little, um well I've got in a spot now and again."

"You mean when you're sober, you're... er... Not to say dangerous but..."

"Nasty. Nasty is the word. But I have rights, I have--" a feeble attempt at a fist-slam on the table ends in a dull warble and a dropping of her eyelids. "Birds Michael," she jolts up to repeat at me. "How much do you know about-- oh you said."

I lick the inside of my lip uncomfortably and nod, now allowing my soda to offer me a sip. It's calmed down a bit, appropriately. "Why Danny? Why're you asking me?"

"Because." The lory sighs, out nostrils rimmed by softer, tiny feathers. "Daniel. Daniel Shaughnessy. Easy to-- " her voice makes an abrupt shift into a growl and she sweeps a hand and sleeve across the table, smashing glasses that are thankfully not there in reality. "-- easy name to change."

"Uh. Yeah." Michael Bix is slow on the uptake tonight. Attempting to remain astute in appearance, he buys time with another sip of his uncaffeinated soft drink.

"Easy to change." She leans across the table to me with gleaming, pinpointing eyes in line with my brown ones, then chokes and leans on her arms to sob. I glance at the bartender, who checks that I'm not molesting my large feathered tablemate, then goes back to polishing items of a serving nature.

"You live with your mother but she's disowned you?"

Danielle nods. "You could say that. Irish... Irish anymore, Michael. I wish I could be. But I've only ever been as Irish as they've made me. And she's not my Ma anymore if she doesn't want me. And the stage... I stand out more than you ever did, Bixie. Ever did. I'm sorry, but I do. I do." She cries. I get another soda. This one I drink while it's still boisterous.

"Look, Danny, I'm sorry and I want to help if I can." I reach out and pat her strangely textured hand. She feels a little bit like German the budgerigar morph, but also foreign, as though there should never be two of them.

"You don't know me anymore, Michael Bix."

"I know your voice. Your voice is the same." I offer hopefully, tucking my tail under my chair in my automatic effort to appease.

"Oh yes. And it could be like anyone else's. I just found my old one and put it on. I could sound like you, Mikey. I could... But I sound like myself, only it doesn't do my mother any good. She knows. They did the blood tests and I know you can't tell, nobody can tell. So what can it matter? Really. Maybe I'd be different to another lory, but how many do you know? So I'm Daniel now Bix, like I said. But Danny just the same. But my Ma says I'm -- a liar-- she says I lied to her, I lied and I don't know how I could have done anything different. Lied about being her girl. I remembered everything when I woke up. But I didn't know, what was I supposed to do, how should I know what I am? But I remembered being her daughter and I told her I was, that I remembered her. And now she won't believe me. The blood tests say I'm not her daughter anymore. And she hates that I use my old voice. And I can't go on stage. And Dad never moves. And I hate New York. I HATE New York."

Whoah okay, that's a parrot-like sound now. I probably look mildly startled, maybe shy. This is intriguing, though. Almost like looking back on myself from the time before and after The Merchant of Venice. I guess I'm not the only one who's been miserable, one time or another. Why does it always have to be me? Michael, come on, why always you you black-polka-dotted bastard? Other actors draw on the person they're playing. Michael's too vain. And that'd be fine if he had the guts to draw on his own past suffering. But he doesn't. And Theatre can't force him anymore. So he sucks up angst from some poor sex-shifted girl and guiltily puts it away with all the other people's suffering he refuses to use. You're a cowardly dog, Michael Bix. A cowardly, cowardly dog.

Daniel and I get outside because I have to shout. And he stands there with my coat wrapped around him while I rant at the city. "Come ON! Hand it to me! I can take it! I'm not me! What the Shit-Fuck kind of actor is a man or dog who's no one but his comfortable, comfortable vain little shit-head self? Acting?! I'm not acting!! I dredge up my own rotten past when I can stand it. Take on someone else's suffering? Some character's? I don't think so!!" I shiver and let my teeth chatter and grip my shoulders. Danny waits for me to finish. The lights are unaware that the city is winding down, people are beginning to call it Christmas Eve and gathering at places like the one I left not long ago. Andrea may be wondering, but she knows me. She knows. And Eppie is undoubtedly still with some kid who's standing there with a non-alcoholic grasshopper as though he could get drunk on it but has too much class. More class than I ever had.

"I gotta get home, Mike. It's Christmas Eve. One o'clock."

I decide to go with her. I'm not reentering the Dowling's hug-happy household with a random snarl on my face. It doesn't help that I'm cold after the warm bar.

I would suck at this part in my one-act. Maybe I could get Kent to play Michael. But then I'd never be able to direct. I'll just move props and get in the way, okay? Okay. We walk. There's no more snow than before, even though it keeps falling fitfully as though its batteries are low. Better pick up for Christmas, I think. What are you, half a City?

It's two blocks down and then two blocks over through a pass-through alleyway to get to a string of two-stories stuck in the midst of blocky warehouses of some kind. A few of the houses have strings of holiday lights blinking in an attempt to mirror the larger streets' everyday vigor. I forgot that Daniel is now a him, and remind myself just before we enter the foyer of a tiny, thin-walled home. It's well-kept and has a well-meaning look, but it's odd how warm it feels inside, as though it could never be well insulated. The snow looks whiter against the white paint on all these homes, some of which haven't seen a re-paint in a decade or two. This one has been painted in the last year. A string of streetlamp-white Christmas lights decks the beveled front door. There are kitchen lights on and a lamp in the tiny front room. I smell old-person, not an insult label from my brain, mind you, just a fact. Persons who stay home almost all the time and come with certain medications and extremely fragile skin.

I have never met Daniel's mother. "She always made me go to church," Danny tells me, hanging up my coat and his sweatshirt. Under the shirt was just feathers, glowing now as they unflatten. "I went to church, Ma." she raises her voice. There is no answer. "Come on." to me again. "She's in here."

Why are you showing me this? I want to ask. Instead I follow her, still hugging my arms around myself even though it's dry and warm. Daniel leads me into the open bedroom, yellow from a small shaded bedside lamp, bright with a few glittering knickknacks and the beads on the nightgown worn by the single bed's occupant. It's not a real bedroom, just a place for a tired woman to stay downstairs, all the time, closer to the family she can't know is her own. She looks angry even now, in her white hair and bleary, disappointed blue eyes. Irish, I knew Danny had it written all over him, we used to joke about it and wear green to all the cast functions. There's no St. Patrick paraphernalia in here, and I guess I expected to see it, knowing they are Catholic and knowing from way back how devout Danny seemed to be, largely due to her Ma's prodding. The room appears empty, despite its lace and items obviously brought from Ireland. I expected religious items almost as in a homey church, and there are none. But I approach the bed. I know she has no reason to accept me, either. After all, no one who's just met me has yet had the opportunity to forget I have SCABS. The form kind of overshadows all else, unless I'm on stage... With others, in another world, and here I tuck my tail once more. Danny can't get on stage. We should go back to Pennsylvania together. They could do something with her. So many people do unexpected things with themselves at the Firehouse Group. She'd get up there again, if someone else playing another part were as distracting and spectacular as she is. I know, I remember, how she feels. I tried it, and I got canned. Maybe she's more afraid, but I know she's really an actress. She's not doing anything with herself to get on with a "different profession", as though there could ever be another one. Mrs. Shaughnessy narrows her eyes at me, light eyelashes making her look like a cold sculpture, as though her thin skin is drawn to look warm when it's not.

Danny does not seem to be in the room. He is behind me, but he does not seem to be there. An envelope has been closed, and it's around myself and Mrs. Shaughnessy. I lean towards her, to avoid getting caught in its edges as they circle the room, and catch my breath at the out-of-nowhere tear that glosses one of her lashes.

"You mean so much to me," she whispers.

I lean farther forward. "Madam?"

Michael Bix's heart pounds rather heavily. He begins to irrationally fear never returning to his far-off Andrea, merrymaking in another reality. His mouth is ever so slightly slack, his nostrils quiver the slightest bit, in a canine attempt to comprehend what is so grave about this meeting. Mrs. Shaughnessy, from under her covers, explains.

"They... said you weren't real... " She reaches out to me. I hear a gasp from outside the world, probably someone named Danny. Danny isn't a Shaughnessy anymore. I decide to remedy this. I can do anything.

"What's your name?" I ask, as if I am Santa. She tries to present herself as proper, still holding back the emotion she was not prepared for. "Eliza Lynette." The delicately lined hand reaches again.

Michael Bix's eyes do not tear, but they can glisten. His neck is a curious mixture of Dalmatian dog and human male, sloping into clearly human shoulders, and these are tight and shivering in an unmistakably overwhelmed posture. Yet he stands fairly straight and holds his classically canine ears at a perfect angle from his spotted cheeks. Mrs. Shaughnessy asks for what she wants for Christmas. "Oh please, tell me you're real. I've always... always believed... I knew there must be a test... I knew..."

"Do you have a daughter?"

The old woman bites her lip. The lip turns white. She blinks, but this time tears arise and show on her cheeks. "I do not. Not my Danielle."

Michael nods, head tilted to one side. "Not your Danny. I know her, Eliza Lynette. Do you know me?" Bix is desperately trying to figure out who he is anyway. Mrs. Shaughnessy gestures vigorously to the narrow top drawer of her honey colored bureau. "In there, it's in there, I kept it, I did keep it for you. For me."

I look inside, sliding the wood against itself. There are many things, but even with lace scattered over it the target object is obvious. I'm aware, of course, of the giant and the river and the Christ child. His image is engraved here, on a circular amulet put away to hide it. Christopher had a dog's head. I had, of course, forgotten all about that. But here he's even spotted, and he is indeed a giant dog, complete with beaming Christ boy perched on his smooth left shoulder. "Did you have this specially made?"

"Oh yes," she beams and nods, crying openly now, pleased to be able to answer this for -- for Christopher, not for me.

"I'm not a fictional Saint." I say boldly, knowing it to be true. If I am anyone, to her, I am no more fictional than I was outside, and Saint or no, I must be real, and here I am Christopher. Michael Bix enfolds the woman's hands in his own clawed pair.

"Oh please," she begs, thrilling me again like Danny has done with her tragedy. "Make her listen to me. I knew you were real. How could you not be?"

"How could anyone not be? I am obviously real, you had our picture made. Now. Tell me," I say, with a counselor's voice, "how has your child betrayed you?"

The woman coughs, and her saint recalls that she is actually ill. He is disturbed inside his otherwise exalted experience, and almost releases her hands. But something keeps his paws steady, and he warmly awaits her reply.

"Oh, she betrayed me, she lied, she lied, you see she's not who she says she would be. They did medical tests, and they came back my son, changed to a bird. And I have no son."

"But Eliza, you hear what you have said? You said 'she lied'. Danny, come in here."

Danny enters the world. He's a repeating pattern of colored lights, in the glint of the lamp as he moves close to us.

"Danny, stand close to me." I glance, uncomfortable for a moment, at the lory, who appears anxious and who may or may not understand that I am Saint Christopher, who has been declared fictional but is not, is here and is going to make everything all right. "Good, stand here." I return my eyes to match gazes with Danny's Ma and regain my Saintly demeanor. "Here is your girl. He is a he now, but you know there is still a she. There is no difference. Believe in that. What does it matter what the hospital tells you? You know what your child tells you."

Mrs. Shaughnessy actually looks at her parrot daughter. "And what do you say," she asks in a motherly soft way, as if asking Danny to thank someone for a trinket.

"I say I love you, Ma," sobs Daniel, still a little drunk.

Eliza Lynette lets go of me. I give Danny a little shove in the direction of his mother, and leave the room. Saint Christopher goes with me. I want to wear him a while longer.

"I wish I wasn't considered a fictional character," says the man I am pretending to be, as we step out into the somehow warmer night. I sling my coat over my arm and grin in that way which looks malicious but means joy in a Dalmatian.

"No one who matters believes you aren't real," I reply, thinking of all the Mrs. Shaughnessys. He laughs, a deep, huge laugh, and his eyes sparkle, mine sparkling for him. I grin. I stamp my feet as I walk.

Andrea is waiting back at her folks' house. Hepzibah is sleeping by now, grace embodied in her reddish fur and classy party dress. I can take my time to get there, they'll always be there, and Damn I feel "Yes!" I shout at the City, gloating, damn I feel good. Damn good. Damn good. Damn. Oh well.

Yeah, done a good thing there Michael. Gonna call up Danny tomorrow and see how it's gone. Merry Christmas, is your Ma dead yet, wasn't that wonderful? Wasn't it though? Aw hell, I'm a rude sonofabitch. But not really. Not really, can't blame me. It's the holidays. Man I love intruding on other people's intimate lives like that. I love acting. I love to matter. Come on City, got any more? Maybe I'll be Saint Christopher all the way back to the Dowling's. Bless some people, make them think I'm some crazy SCAB.

But I'm not crazy. No, you're not, agrees the giant Saint. Can we go for a beer?

"Naw," I tell him apologetically. "Can't drink. Promises."

"Ah. I understand those." he tells me, disappointed but agreeable.

So Saint Christopher and I run and skid and bark, red and green and gold lights changing my black spots all colors of the rainbow, all the way back through the alleys and streets to my family.

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