My In-Laws have an eccentric but charming approach to Christmas which involves some kind of creativity. This year, we had to weave a story around the small gifts we were giving each other. This has produced a couple stories that I genuinely like as silly stories.

Silver Needles (2006)

Lucy “Loose” Jasmine was really in hot water this time. In walked the familiar figure of her sister Pearl Jasmine, with two very large people dressed in tasteful hand-knit sweaters.

“So sorry,” said Pearl, “I didn’t mean for you to fall on your sorry butt.” She nodded her head and the two thugs lifted Loose to her feet. Pearl examined an empty bottle of gin and clucked. “Still hitting the sauce, I see. Ah, Lucy, what a nimble gift you’ve wasted. People still talk about the famous Knit and Pearl Jasmine, the best knitters and weavers in the world. No one could cast on like we could, huh? And that last project we were working on… it was going to be our masterpiece. And now you’re a common drunk.”

“When you’re done insulting me, get out! Mom always liked me better anyway!” needled Lucy.

Pearl blinked and said, “You owe me $10,000. I’m here to collect, and I can see you don’t have it. So I’m offering you a deal. Do a dirty job for me or I will have a terrible accident befall you and you’ll shuffle off your mortal coil.”

Lucy knew she was in a bind. “I’m not saying yes, but let’s hear about the job.” Pearl said, “I need you to uh, meet a woman. Her name is Ti Kuan-yin, and she is well guarded. But she will be appearing at the big Gunpowder Festival in Hong Kong right after the Orange Blossoms bloom. We have arranged for you to have a place along her parade route. They will search everyone carefully, but you are still a famous knitter, so no one will question that you have these…” She flashed two knitting needles, well-sharpened with a strange substance on their tips. “You will at the right moment throw these at her and slay my enemy. Here is $1,000 for your expenses and an address where you can stay. The festival beings in six weeks. See you there… or at the bottom of the scrap heap.”

And she was gone. The night was long. Lucy thought about the enormity of the murder, and then went and bought $1,000 worth of alcohol. She then disappeared for two weeks. When she came to from her lost fortnight, she realized there were only four weeks to go. She decided she would have to do it. She began to practice throwing the needles. She was terrible at first, and longed for some gin to improve her aim. But she was broke and so she kept practicing. Her aim improved. She cursed her mother for giving her a younger sister. Her aim improved. She dreamed of using one of the needles on her sister. She swore off alcohol for two weeks and promised herself she would pull off the job, disappear and then wreak vengeance on her horrible sister. Her hate drove her to live, and her aim improved. She was amazed at how her sober hands had quickly regained their agility. She began thinking about knitting and weaving for the first time in years.

She spent two days hitching car rides to Hong Kong. When she arrived at the intended address, she found a woman expecting her. Lucy said casually, “Oh is Kuan-yin going to be in the parade this year? I can’t wait to see her.” The woman looked at Lucy as if she were crazy. “Of course,” she replied, “there will be many Kuan-yins as always. Kuan-yin is the local goddess of compassion. And your sister left this case for you.” Lucy opened the case, in a daze. Inside it was the unfinished Silk Brocade they had begun before her decline.

“Will you need anything more, ma’am?”

“No,” she said holding the silver needles to her heart. “I have everything I need right here” and began the rest of her life.

Send In The Clowns (2005)

PROFESSOR HACKBERRY sat back in his RELAXING BATH. He looked out onto blue MEDITERRANEAN waters and hummed a jaunty version of “Send In The Clowns”. He stopped in mid-hum. Why did he pick that song of all songs, on this day of all days. He submerged himself in his foamy water and surfaced, wiping his face with his hand and then, playfully shaking his head like a dog… like Arnold the Wonder Dog did right after he leapt thrice his height through a flaming hoop, safe again.

Don’t think of a pink elephant, as they say. It’s impossible to ignore what you focus on ignoring. Today the Fruit Brothers Circus had come to town led by Bozo the Clown, the one who had led Hackberry into such torment. Well, it had been years now. He could admit that it was partly his own fault. All Bozo had done was to lend him his genuine Siberian TIGER fur coat, made out of the pelts of extremely rare, endangered animals. Hackberry was making his big debut as a knife-thrower at the Coliseum, and wanted to look ravishing for the press. Bozo was the glamorous clown who received the endorsements and movie roles, but that day was to be Hackberry’s day to join Bozo in that inner circle of international circus stars. Bozo lent him the Tiger fur costume for that week, and oh what a hit it was. Hackberry was an overnight sensation! At the afterparty, he was besieged by admirers, and they stayed late and danced in the fountain and it was everything he had dreamt. Except that when he had toweled himself off, he could not find his coat. And he searched his chair, and he retraced his steps, and he asked the glamourous guests, and he asked the lowly help, and he could not find the coat. This was a disaster. Hackberry was a newcomer; he could never afford to replace the Endangered Tiger fur coat! And he could never tell Bozo what had happened… Bozo would not only destroy his reputation and career, but he could have exacted more painful revenge, even deadly revenge.

No, Hackberry had to go underground. He had to disappear. And so he did. He went back home and took only a small bag of possessions he could not bear to leave, and of course he left his beloved knife set behind. He changed his hair color, he affected an accent, and he headed for the shores of the Mediterranean. There he needed to disappear for years, somewhere he would attract no attention and where no one would care to seek him. Naturally, he enrolled in a Ph.D. program in philosophy. The days passed, and all his companions were ancient and classical philosophers. But Hackberry never felt at ease, and he jumped when he heard circus music, his heart skipped a beat when he saw mimes or even people with red noses. Everyone assumed he was just a typically paranoid and sleepless graduate student, so he bore this weight alone.

Well, Hackberry had a comfortable life, but led only an imitation of life. And he realized that day that the worst part was that he really hadn’t done anything wrong. He never meant to lose the coat. The unfairness of it stabbed at him. Bozo had spent these last years in comfort and fame, and Hackberry in mortal academic terror and after all Bozo had lent him the coat. He was to blame too. It should be mentioned at this point that Hackberry had been drinking a lot of ouzo on that day of all days (but why that drink, of all drinks? ugh). He rose out of the bath. He dried himself with intent. He clothed himself with purpose. Hackberry was going to the circus.

By the time he had arrived, the circus show had ended and the performers were all backstage. The layout seemed so familiar, even though more than a decade had passed. He had intended to knock on every door until he could demand an audience with Bozo. He had worked out a complex story to bypass security. But something strange happened. As he turned the corner, he bumped into a stocky clown. Could it be Bozo? He looked familiar, but he could see, under the makeup, that age had worn him down.

“Bozo!” he exclaimed.

“Do I know you?” Bozo rasped.

He swallowed hard. “It’s Hackberry!” he said.

Bozo blinked. Hackberry prepared for a violent response, but Bozo merely stood and blinked. “Ah!” he said. He snapped his fingers. “Hackberry the Knife Chucker! Hey, what have you been up to? It’s been years! My god, you look pale!”

Hackberry was not prepared for this response, and so he decided to stick to the original script.

“Oh yeah?!” he snarled. “Well, YOU destroyed my life! All for a stupid coat! So there!” Just as he played it in his mind.

Bozo blinked again. “What are you talking about?” He really didn’t seem to know. Hackberry had not counted on this, and began railing. He spoke of the coat and the triumph and the party and the lost coat, and the years of hiding and the unfairness of his doctoral committee, and a lifetime of frustration poured out. He finished, “All because of your damned priceless coat!” He was in tears.

Bozo put an arm around him. He said, “I don’t remember any of this. But it seems to me that you’ve got a wonderful life on the coast, nice weather, an academic job… things have worked out well! And there’s no need to hide anymore. I never had any grudge against you!” And with that, Hackberry knew for the first time in years a feeling of SERENITY.

Bozo continued, “And all this about some--”.

Bozo stopped and suddenly tears trickled out of his own eyes. “Oh you poor idiot. You poor poor fool. I remember the tiger coat. That coat was a fake! I have ten just like it! If you’d only come to me…”