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December Notes

Michael Nagel

There are things in my cupboard I didn't know where there: agave nectar, iodized salt, poudre à pâte magic. Last night, after the show, Dan said, now that's what art is all about, interpretation. The dancer was cradling a long red sheet, rocking herself back and forth. And Janessa leaned into me and said, what's happening right now? And I wasn't exactly sure. The autopsy was inconclusive, the answers had not been inside, had not come spilling out onto the table, and all I want to understand are the things in my own cupboard.

I go for a walk in the cold, my hands in my pockets. The Christmas tree in the park is four stories tall, perfectly tapered, perfectly lit, a Christmas tree made of pure Christmas tree. I buy my wife a coat from Target, and the cashier, the girl, says, next, and I rub my face in my hands and press my tongue against the backs of my teeth. I've been trying to get in the Spirit.

On Christmas Day, my father-in-law buys me a red-checkered hunting cap, and I spend the afternoon buttoning and unbuttoning its flaps. The snow piles up on our windshields and we scrape it off with dustpans from the cupboard. When we get home, icicles are dripping from the faucets. I wonder if the pipes are OK, Janessa says, and I think, the pipes?

I've made a New Year's resolution: I will start taking care of myself, and I will stop trying to be funny.

I remove the fire alarms and turn on the heater. Our apartment fills with smoke—dust burning in the vents—and we cough into blankets and curl up on the couch. Just before we pass out, I reach over and touch Janessa's knee.

The Sandy Hook shooter's face was on the magazine covers in the checkout aisle, and I stared into his eyes while I held my cottage cheese. He looked young, I thought, and then thought nothing else. I've been wearing my faux-fur, red-checkered hunting cap, clipping it under my chin, looking spectacular.

When the city freezes over, I drink coffee on my couch and stare out my windows. The ice starts in from the edges. A woman walks with her arms inside her jacket so it looks like she has no arms at all. I am sitting under this electric blanket, one of five people conscious in the Central Time Zone. The smell of smoke has braided itself into this couch. The smell of smoke, or the smoke itself? I'm not sure.

Nobody wakes up until Thursday.

The snow accumulates on ledges and banisters, on trashcans. I draw faces with my fingers. On Park Road, on a green utility box, a graffiti artist wrote DO GOOD THINGS. The Spirit of Christmas has come out of the world now: has come out of the world and into my hat where it will live for the next eleven months, vibrating.

Twenty million Russians were lost in World War II. A people fluent in grief, I think to myself.

The parking lot is a perfect sheet of ice and I slide sideways across its surface. I sit in courtyards and listen to the trees harden. At stoplights exhaust lifts into the branches and turns the snow a sick pitch of black. A house burned down on Christmas Day with a grandpa still inside. We ran the shower and burst the pipes. I sat in the park then wearing my red-checkered hat, crossing and uncrossing my legs.

Are we too becoming fluent in grief? I wondered. Time magazine published a black and white photo of twenty-seven crosses and I swallowed all the spit in my mouth.

Did the grandpa suffocate before he felt himself ignite? Did the teacher recognize her son behind the mask? And if I wear this faux-furred, red-checkered hat while my daughter is conceived will her skin glimmer with the sheen of Christmas Pizzazz?

I sit in the snow until my every limb goes numb.

When the ice melts there are patches left on the sidewalk. Temperature varies wildly inch to inch. But maybe temperature is an oversimplification, a thermometer vice-gripped to the side of DFW Airport. All this time, we thought it meant something.

The doctor said I was lucky, but what are a few toes, I thought, in the Grand Scheme of Things? They'd gone grey and soft and the doctor resuscitated them with a machine he plugged into the wall.

What were you doing sitting in the snow that long? he said.


Before the year ends, I stop Googling Sandy Hook, Adam Lanza, Newtown, Connecticut, Bushmaster AR-15. Do we need to know more about these things than we need to know? The temperatures—""—are rising (forty-one degrees now) and the snow is melting and freezing and remelting and refreezing, becoming heaps, becoming, slowly, puddles. My toes have come back to life. They're pink and beautiful, filling out the ends of my shoes. And when my wife comes out of the bedroom she's wearing nothing but my red-checkered hunting cap, peeking out from around the corner, asking if the blinds are closed.


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