It’s Xmas and Maureen Feels Like
Death Warmed Over
by Gay Degani
Maureen is dog-sick. She can’t smell
or taste, and her eyes burn like she’s
rubbed them with jalapenos. She’s only twelve but hacking up phlegm like her
70-year-old, chain-smoking, hard-drinking uncle who hasn’t come back from the
Ace of Spades for days.
This is what comes from hanging out next to
the Casino bar, drinking
Coca-Colas, and eating fajitas while her uncle plays craps, but she likes it
there because the staff has strung Christmas lights overhead and the servers wear
skimpy Santa costumes. Better by far, she thinks, than staying home in his
rundown trailer with no tree, no presents, and only a fan to keep her cool.
Now, she crawls from sagging sofa to toilet,
knocking over the cigarette-stuffed
corn chip bowl on the open case of beer. Makeshift bed, burnt ash, cheap booze,
a perfect triangle of misery.
Eventually any journey away from the couch
is impossible. Wracked with
chills and fever, she barely notices the perpetual dampness of her sheets. The
thought of food, even Almond Joys, makes her retch.
The trailer door rattles. Her eyes flick open.
He’s come back, Uncle Jack.
“Ho-ho-ho,” he cries as he slams
the tinny trailer door. He’s wearing a
Santa hat. Lipstick smears his cheeks. His stench of stale tobacco, sweat, and
gin smother her like a winter blizzard.
she gasps, angry, clutching the sofa arm and
shoving herself to her feet. She plucks at her soggy nightgown. Notices he has
a wrapped Christmas package in his hands. She’s suddenly glad he’s back. It isn’t
his fault, not really. He’s just a weak man.
Then he turns, his face filling with horror.
They stare at each other. He gags, grabs his
heart, and crumples to the linoleum.
The gift tumbling away.
Maureen leans against her uncle’s threadbare
recliner, gaping. Is he dead,
or drunk? She leans down. His eyes are wide open, glassy, his mouth a rictus of
shock, his chest still. Could the sight of her face and stench have frightened
her uncle to death?
She pulls herself along, swaying from chair
to kitchen counter, glancing at
herself in the toaster. She squints. Sucks in breath at the face, her face, gray
Stumbling into the bathroom, she forces herself
to look into the mirror.
The toaster didn’t lie. She is herself. Maureen, but not Maureen. Fuzzy,
translucent. Skin dangles from her bones. Her eyes loll in their sockets. She stinks,
too, like the rotten corpse she’s become.
Gay Degani’s work has received Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small
Fictions nominations and won, placed, or received honorable mentions in
contests. The Phare, Midway Journal, Ghost
Parachute, and Bending Genres are among those who have
published her work this year. She also has a full-length collection, Rattle of Want (Pure
Slush Books), a chapbook, Pomegranate,
and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth
Serum Press). She occasionally blogs for Words in Place. Lonni
Lees is a multi-award-winning writer in both
fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Her
stories appear in Hardboiled magazine, Yellow Mama, A Shot of Ink,
Shotgun Honey, Black Petals, Einstein’s Pocket Watch,
All Due Respect, and in the anthologies Deadly Dames and More Whodunits.
Among her numerous writing awards over the years, she has award-winning stories in Felons,
Flames, and Ambulance Rides, Battling Boxing Stories, and her published
short story collection, Crawlspace. Broken won first place and is her 4th
published novel. Her first novel Deranged won the PSWA First Place award
for best published novel. Her next novel, The Mosaic Murder, was
followed with a sequel, The Corpse in the Cactus, which
won First Place and was published in the U.S. and UK. She won several other writing
awards for her short stories, including Grand Prize.
She received both art and a nonfiction Creative Writing Awards
from NLAPW, California South branch, an organization of women writers, artists, and
composers, and she served as President from 1982–1984. She is a current member
of Sisters in Crime, PSWA, and Arizona Mystery Writers, where she was the first
writer to win two consecutive awards in their annual short story contest.
Twice Lonni was selected as Writer-in-Residence at Hedgebrook, a writer’s
retreat on Whidbey Island. After living in four states and visiting many countries, she’s
settled in Tucson, AZ. She fills her spare time showing her art at WomanKraft
Gallery, reminiscing on all her travel adventures, illustrating stories for
online magazines, and dreaming up new tales to tell.