DAY 7: Author Leigh Goff gives us the gift of a short story and a cocktail recipe...
The Narcissist Who Stole Christmas
by Leigh Goff
Last Christmas, I was visiting friends in the small town of Koush Hollow outside of New Orleans. I ran into a woman named Rayna. I’ve known her for a while, although I doubt she would have bothered to remember me. She is a rather miserable, scary energy exec living in a beautiful, scary mansion on a beautiful, scary bayou. She has a teen daughter she’s trying to shape into a perfectly beautiful, scary image of herself. I know her daughter, Jenna, also. She’s too smart and strong-willed of a girl for that to happen…I hope. Anyway, I’m sharing this story about Rayna, and if she minds, that’s too bad since she stars as the antagonist in my latest book, Koush Hollow, and there’s nothing she can do about it.
I see Rayna sitting at the bar of a swanky local restaurant, the Ritzy Oyster. The restaurant is fairly crowded and the sounds of jazzy Christmas music float around us. I can tell from the empty bottle of expensive Chardonnay and the half-empty wine glass in front of her, Rayna’s feeling good. She’s looking good, too. Not a day over twenty-nine, when I know she’s edging closer to fifty. As much time as I’ve spent in this town, I’ve noticed she doesn’t usually talk to anyone outside her social circle. She’s known for being the queen of snubbery, but from her expression, I can tell she requires someone’s listening attention and I’ll do for now.
I sit down in the tall chair to her right, curious. The bartender recommends a drink to me—the Koush Hollow Christmas Cocktail. I agree with a nod as Rayna starts to talk about a strange dream she’d had the night before. I do listen. What kind of dream would a woman like this have?
Her enormous blue diamond pendant sparkles in the dim light and her pricey Louis Vuitton bag occupies the seat to her left. “I dreamed about my dead ex showing up to my beautiful Christmas dinner.” She closes her eyes and puts her hands out as if to stop the memory. “It was absolutely horrible.” She paused and looked at me. “He was horrible. He never complimented me. He never appreciated my attractiveness and intelligence. He only complained about how much I worked and that I wasn’t an attentive mother. He’s dead now, so who’s the more attentive parent? Me, that’s who. And does my daughter Jenna appreciate it?” She sighs and sips her wine.
I’m guessing she wants me to say no, but I know Jenna and she doesn’t need any more attentiveness from this woman than is necessary. I decide to steer the conversation in a positive direction. “Tell me about this Christmas dinner?” I’m sure it’s amazing, perfect down to the last detail. I picture a hot, catered meal on silver platters and shimmering crystal goblets filled with the best Champagne. Her circle of friends, dressed in couture and dripping in gems. These women included only the top tier of Southern ladies. They were rich and as eerily youthful looking as Rayna.
An evil grin curled across her tight cheeks as she thought about it. “Christmas dinner?” Her mouth puckered as if she had just tasted a bad oyster. “I hate Christmas. Terrible holiday.”
A picture of the grinch, green and bitter, flashes in my mind. “Who hates Christmas?”
“I do. At the power plant, I instituted a mandatory workday on Christmas, so I had something to do.” She tosses me a frosty look, daring me to argue with her.
I take the dare. “What about your employees who want to celebrate with their families?”
“That’s not my concern.”
Yikes, I thought. I twirl the rosemary sprig in my gin and cranberry drink and sip. The cranberry tartness and hint of lemon quietly delights me. “What if you did host a dinner? Better yet, what if you hosted a dinner for people who really needed a nice meal like the Marais sisters?” The outcast Marais sisters were the lowest women on the Koush Hollow social ladder.
She drew back, her face filled with disdain. “Why would I do that?”
I took a bigger sip and stared at the cranberries dancing with the effervescent soda bubbles. Here was someone who had so much to give and gave nothing at all. I set my eyes on hers. “Because it’s Christmas. It’s the time of year we’re reminded to be selfless. Look at this way, giving of ourselves to others is like giving a gift to ourselves.”
“How can giving to someone else be a gift for me?” Disbelief penetrated her voice.
I imagined the tiny heart in her chest barely able to keep up with her. “No worries.” She turned away and focused on her wine glass again. I finished my delicious cocktail and signaled to the bartender that I wanted the check. I paid for my drink and Rayna’s bottle of wine and gave a big tip. From the corner of my eye, I noticed Rayna watching in silence. Before I left, I tapped her on the shoulder. “Merry Christmas, Rayna.” She set her gaze on me, the ice in her eyes seemed to melt slightly.
“Thank you,” she said with a modest nod of her head.
I waved goodnight and walked out into the warm winter evening, greeted by palm trees twinkling with tiny lights. I hoped my little bit of generosity might spark the same in Rayna. It was the time of year for hope, but that wasn’t the point. Sitting with her for only a few minutes made me realize something. It is important to be kind and generous, even to those you may not think deserve it. It is important to strive to be a better person, whether it is Christmastime or not. That realization was the gift Rayna gave me that night. Then I said a quick prayer for Jenna. That girl was going to need it.
KOUSH HOLLOW CHRISTMAS COCKTAIL