In Mon’s prompts this week include “Recycled Heart”, which reminds me of this piece I wrote a while back for a not dissimilar prompt. Anyway, I digress, because the prompt I’ve used this week is not that one, it’s Myth Kit. I make no apologies for the seasonality or lack thereof of this piece, and dedicate it to all the Joes out there who make a difficult lives a little happier every year.
Writing-wise, this story actually started off just being the first part (up to the ***), but then Melanie wanted in on the action. You remember Melanie, don’t you? Let me know what you think!
Joe rubbed the rouge into his cheeks, then picked up the lipstick.
“That’s my Estee Lauder!” Eve used to cry, when she saw him use it. “Can’t you use something cheaper ?” She’d bought him some unbranded crap from Boots, told him to put that in his myth kit tin, but he always ended up grabbing hers anyway, just to see that look of horror mixed with pride cross her face.
Every year, it was the same. He’d sit in her chair, dolling himself up in her mirror, with Eve hanging over his shoulder: smiling, chattering, fussing. Then last year, there had been less chatter and more coughs. And this year, there was no Eve.
Myth kit tin, he thought, chuckling. That had been one of her ideas too – a name for the box of tricks that turned an ordinary man into a legend.
He took a final look in the mirror, straightened the beard and pulled on his coat.
At the hospital, they were all ready for him. A couple of nurses were wearing the obligatory elf outfits, and in the back room, piles of gifts were stacked next to signs saying things like “Girl 5-8”. A queue was already forming, so Joe glanced in the mirror and then took his seat.
The first child was a boy about eleven or twelve years old. He was not suffering any obvious illness, but you never know, Joe reminded himself. Later, he’d be touring the children’s ward, so most of these kids were relatives not patients, but there’d be a few of the walking wounded amongst them.
“Now then, young man, what would you like for Christmas?”
“I know you’re not real,” the boy replied, a little too loud. Joe looked around to see if any of the other kids had heard, but they were being distracted by the elves.
“Up to you,” Joe said, “But I’m guessing you still want something for Christmas?”
“’Course.” The boy was sullen; Joe thought the only thing he deserved was a good hiding, although people didn’t do that these days. That’s why the kids end up rude, he mused. The boy was still talking, listing some toys or games Joe had never heard of, but which were probably expensive.
“Well, if you’re a good boy, I’m sure you’ll get what you deserve,” Joe said, in the sweetest voice he could muster. “Would you like a little present now?”
“What d’you think I’m here for?” The boy grabbed the gift from Joe’s hand and ran off. Someone shouted that he’d missed the photo, but he was long gone with his spoils.
They weren’t all like that, mercifully. Most of the kids were quiet and grateful, or boisterous and fun. Joe enjoyed the childish pleasures they brought out in him. This year, more than ever. He wondered why he and Eve had never had children of their own.
One little girl took his hand and held his eyes with hers. They were deep blue and incredibly serious. Joe thought he might cry, just looking at them.
“I’m Melanie,” she said.
He pushed thoughts of Eve as far back as he could. Eve’s eyes, gazing into his, the way this little girl’s did. Eve’s hand, holding his tightly. Eve talking in that calm, quiet way of hers.
“You’re supposed to say ‘Ho ho ho’,” said a voice, which wasn’t Eve’s. The little girl was still holding his hand, but now she was patting it gently.
“Oh! Ho ho ho and a Merry Christmas,” said Joe, with gusto. “Sorry, I was just, err, thinking about all the japes the reindeer will be getting up to while I’m away!”
The little girl smiled. “Did you leave Mrs Claus to look after them?”
“Of course. They are quite silly if no one’s watching.”
“I bet Mrs Claus is beautiful,” said the girl, and then, as Joe began to feel he might cry, “May I sit on your knee for the photograph? I have something special to ask you for, for Christmas.”
Joe nodded, “Jump up!”
She climbed onto his lap and, as Milton angled the camera, whispered in his ear. “I’ve asked Jesus, but I’m hoping you can help too. Please can you make Mummy better?”
Joe looked out, past the little girl, past Milton and the nurses, to where a woman stood watching them. No older than forty, she wore a hospital gown and held onto a walker. She gazed at the girl, beaming with pride. Then, as he watched, she bent over the walker stricken by a bout of coughing. Just like Eve, he thought, and a shudder went through him.
“Why don’t you ask Mummy to join us for the picture?”