Celeste, the reveillon


celesteDecember 23rd, 4 am.  My girlfriend threw me out of our Clinton Hill loft for the last time. I ended up walking over the Brooklyn Bridge in my cheap shower sandals, looking down at the ice flows shifting and cracking and thinking, not for the ninetieth time, what the hell was the point anyway?

Celeste was selling Christmas trees in the financial district.  I don’t know why she was awake, much less standing outside in the low twenties, but when she saw me squaloring along, she burst out laughing.  I stopped in my tracks.  It was the most joyous sound I’d heard in months.  She floated over to me and clutched me by my shirt.  “You, sir,” she said in a husky Québécois accent, “Are lost.”

“Mets-en,” I growled. Celeste was so charmed that she brought me into her little trailer and we drank her last quart of eggnog, laced liberally with cheap rum, and she told me about her family’s Noël celebrations.  Her father’s sisters, cousins, mother, and grandmother would spend a solid week cooking, leading up to a 25th of indolence, followed by midnight mass.  Upon the return to the homestead, the réveillon, or ‘awakening,’ would begin.  Sparkling wines, venison and salmon tourtières, glazed hams, mulled wine, and braised rabbit, followed by the traditional thirteen deserts. Her grand-mère would begin with fairy-tales, end with lies, and proceed to molest any young man who’d been dragged along, and usually something would get broken, a face or a bottle or a priceless family heirloom.

As I basked in her energy and reflected love, I imagined myself in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, whole and satisfied, finally free of this drunkshit life I’d been living, raising a couple of pups in the frozen wilderness, stalking deer and felling trees. I seized her hands and told her, “Celeste, I don’t give a damn if you’re a straight Catholic girl, let’s get the hell out of the stinking city and break for the border. I’m far from perfect, but I got five hundred bucks and a bottle of suntan lotion in these swim trunks. We can be there by Christmas Eve, easy.”

Celeste turned her head away, stared out the small, dirty window, and said, “Knox, if I could be there right now, don’t you think I would?”  And she told me her story.  Some boyfriend knocked her up, then was arrested for indecent exposure outside a preschool.  She got an abortion, and he got prison. She was heading south.  I could come along if I wanted, but she wasn’t making any promises.  But by then, the illusion was stripped from me.  We were both exiles, doomed to wander like the Roma.  We could keep each other company, maybe even fall in love, but she was no home for me, and I was no home for her. We slept clothed and chaste on the floor, kept each other warm.

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