RVA Reader is an irregular series spotlighting fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction by Virginia authors. If you’re interested in seeing your work appear in future editions, send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “RVA Reader.”
I wonder if anybody in here would want to fuck tonight. Well, maybe not tonight, but maybe sometime down the road. Not literally down the road from here. That’s just a euphemism for, uhm, like we’ll fuck some time down the line. Actually, that’s just another euphemism for what I was trying to say. I don’t really see any prospects. Whatever.
Anyways, I’m sitting at a table at Emilio’s Tapas Bar not really listening to what my brother is saying. His girlfriend, who I don’t particularly care for, is sitting next to him. I’ll start listening now.
“But I’ve been working on some new stuff, Arturo. You know, I was thinking of hitting up some more coffee shops too. Just hit up those acoustic friendly places… Vibe, type thing,” my brother, Diego, says to me.
“I think that’s a great idea. I think you should do it,” I say back. “There’s a buncha spots around town too: Ellwood’s, Crossroads. And like, something else.”
“Did you bring something for the white elephant gift exchange?”
“Yep. When someone opens it, you’ll be able to tell it’s my gift,” I assure my brother. I’m currently at the Emilio’s Employee Holiday Party. There’s a twenty-dollar minimum in the gift exchange. I didn’t spend any money on my gift. On the way out of my house to come to the party, I grabbed a spare Christmas stocking. You know, like the ones you hang over the fire. I put a large Shades of Beige T-shirt, a Shades of Beige CD, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze (on DVD), Dodgeball (on DVD), and a condom in the stocking. I think the condom is expired, but it’s a funny cherry on top.
“I bet,” Diego agrees.
I wonder how they took “white elephant” and turned into a gift exchange situation. It’s probably something gross. I’ll google it later.
I take my last gulp of beer and declare I’m going to get another drink from the bar. I get a round and the gift exchange commences. We all pick our numbers from Chad’s (owner of the bar) wife (wife to the owner of the bar [also, probably, the real owner of the bar]), who starts calling people for their numbers. I get number four and get to pick my gift pretty early on. I unravel a box of wine from the wrapping paper. Red wine. Not a bad pick, but there’s still the next round, where we get to steal gifts from others.
More presents are opened: bottles of liquor, Star Wars lightsaber chopsticks, red suspenders with shot glasses strapped to them, a glass bowl filled with weed, two tickets to the movies, and a butt plug. My gift was finally picked by Warren’s wife. She’s a middle-aged woman and I guess I’ll say, “We have different senses of humor.” Also, I think every woman I’ve referred to thus far is just “someone’s wife.” I know their names, I just can’t think of them right now.
She starts taking the items out of the stocking. A random CD and shirt of a band she’s never heard of (Shades of Beige is my band), two DVD’s she doesn’t like, and a condom that she feels offended by because she’s a married woman and her and her husband (Warren) have been… “trying.”
Clearly unhappy with her gift, she complains to Warren that someone didn’t spend any money on their gift. Specifically, the one she picked out. I’m not sure if her husband knows it’s my band, but he tells her that he’s never even heard of Shades of Beige. I couldn’t be happier to be in an unsuccessful band. A few people, including my brother Diego, know that it’s my band, and they don’t seem to be selling me out.
We continue on with the gift-stealing round of the white elephant gift exchange. This time I picked a number seven. The gift-stealing commences and people start playing dirty. Everyone passing the butt plug around, mainly. When my round comes, I exchange my box of wine for two free tickets to the movies. I’m pretty positive I’m in the clear to keep these because the current possessor of the butt plug has already gone their gift stealing round. Poor Steven.
Warren’s wife gets her gift stealing round and looks right at me, walks over, and takes my movie tickets while giving me back my stocking with the shirt, CD, DVD’s, and condom. The last few people go their round and no one steals my gift from me. I ended up with the stupid gift that I brought. How’s that happen? I bet she found out it was my band. Mothafucka. This sucks.
“Hey Art,” a voice says behind me. I turn around and see Donnie’s wife. Erin, that’s her name. “If you didn’t mind, I would really like a Shades of Beige shirt. I’ll trade you my gift if you like.” Wow. She definitely knows it’s my band, and wants the T-shirt. This feels good. I’ll give her the whole stocking, because that’s what Christmas is really about. People giving back, and selfless acts.
“Yeah, that’s cool with me,” I answer. I give her my stocking and she hands me a square acrylic vase with glitter glued on the sides of it. Lines of gluey glitter up and down the vase like a little kid made it or something. Not the best gift, but better than going back home with the gift that I brought.
I shake hands with Erin and thank her for the vase and make my way back to my brother’s table only to find his girlfriend, Jane I believe (it’s all coming back to me now), is sitting alone.
“Where’s Diego?” I ask.
“Back in the kitchen,” she replies. “You got the vase, Art?”
“Yes,” I say as I walk away. Jeez, I can’t believe she’s trying to make small talk. She knows I don’t like her. I walk back to the kitchen see my brother in some red suspenders.
“Check out these suspenders. Shot glasses are strapped onto them,” Diego tells me.
“Oh, those are pretty cool,” I say.
“I know, right?”
“What’d you get, Art?” he asks me.
“I got…” I say, and then think to myself about earlier. The real spirit of Christmas. “Actually, if you wouldn’t mind, what would you think about trading gifts?”
“What’d you get?” my brother asks.
“I got this stupid vase. You see the glitter on the sides of this? Like, who made this? It looks like a little kid made this at an arts and crafts after school program,” I express.
“So, you don’t like it?” he asks quietly.
“No. But I was wondering if you might enjoy it.”
“Yeah, sure,” he says while ripping off the suspenders. “Yeah I’ll take the vase.” He puts the suspenders on the kitchen counter, goes back to the grill, and continues a food order.
“Hey, thanks man,” I say with joy as I walk out of the kitchen. I go to the bar and order another round. Show off the suspenders to other patrons in the gift exchange and turn up that tiny glass and pour that brown water in my face hole. When I walk up to the table that Diego was sitting at, Jane looks a little shocked.
“What do you think of my new suspenders?” I ask with a laugh.
“Arturo, did you give your brother back his gift?” she asks. “The vase?” Fuck, I gave my brother his gift back.
I rush back to the kitchen and blurt out, “Yo man, you can keep these suspenders!”
“Oh, now you want the vase? I thought it was stupid,” he yells back at me.
“The vase is great. I love the vase. Give it back to me,” I beg him. He refuses and pulls it away from me.
“You don’t like it!”
“I do, Diego. I just didn’t know it was yours. If I knew I would never have asked you to trade,” I explain.
“You knew it was mine.”
“I really didn’t.”
“I told you earlier that I brought the vase,” he says. “At the table.” We pause and look at each other with confusion. “Were you even paying attention to what I was saying earlier?”
I pause. “Yeah. Of course. I, uh, I heard you.”