The Author

Christmas, 1998 / No. 2
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

A cushion.

Flowered Art Cretonne, I wrote, with lovely pleated cotton-back satin trim.

It was round.

In the favourite round shape, I wrote, this handsomely-covered cushion is sure to be popular on sleigh rides this year!

I carried the cushion to the illustrator. He sketched it. Not five feet away janitors were banging air compressors with wrenches.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but we’re trying to produce a wish book here!”

I worked in the basement, not far from the furnace, creating captions for the upcoming Christmas catalogue.

Embroidered Linen Runner is very prettily embroidered with holly sprigs, making a pretty article!

Moccasins Are Always Popular! Furred, beaded, and lined, they make useful and greatly appreciated holiday hostess gifts!

Pretty Pearl Necklet! Look and wear like pearls. Pearls are very fashionable this Christmas. Why not give one?

A floor manager came in. “We’re having a little trouble,” he said. “Mr. Turnbull wants you to clerk.”

“Upstairs? ” I said.

Black skirts hanging on a waterfall. A T-rack of black throws. Gloves, veils, purses, armbands, hatbands, bonnets–all crepe, all black.

The Black and White Shop. Funeral accoutrements.

A woman wanted stationery. I unlocked the showcase, an oblong, swelled-top, walnut job. I pulled out calling cards edged in black.

“The stylish widow shops at Turnbull’s,” I said, “for a full selection of the finest vellum funeralia. Why don’t you? And remember: the wider the edging, the deeper the mourning.”

“How dare you speak to me in that tone? ” She huffed off toward Women’s Boots.

An elderly gent asked for silk wreath banners. “For the cenotaph,” he said.

I had them in red or blue silk, stamped “MOTHER,” “BROTHER,” “DARLING,” etc. “Perfect on a graveside wreath, as a sash in a parade, or to fly from the car antenna during a cortège,” I said. “A must-have for the well-heeled veteran of any conflict.”

“Show some respect!” he said. “Where is your supervisor? ”

A young fellow picked up a plastic wreath.

“Don’t let foul weather spoil your internment,” I said. I had Harp or Lyre, standing; Crown, flat or standing; Broken Column; Monument; Shield. “Immortelles–the smart choice for a winter or summer burial!”

I licked a pencil. “What may I put you down for? ”

“I’ll put you down!” He lunged over the counter.

The floor manager pried him off me. “What’s wrong with you? ” he said. “Ever hear of a little tact? ”

“Please!” I said. “I’m a wordsmith!”

Six-foot valentines. Composition candy canes. I scurried past the garbage room, the prop room. Bunnies bled stuffing from mouse bites.

I fed paper to my Underwood. On my desk the next featured item. A souvenir snow dome.

I shook it. Snow flittered around a store made of bisque. “TURNBULL’S, PETERBOROUGH, 1934,” it said on the base.

I unplugged it. Drank the water, which was laced with antifreeze. The snow was bone chips.