The Christmas Basement

by D. Major and K. Servando

That voice … giving you directions … in the dark, God, your knees on the concrete floor already burn.

He speaks – it’s the voice of an airline agent asking, chicken or fish; the voice of a dentist that smells like formaldehyde and cherry; you think back to that day in June when you were four and scraped your knee when your bicycle fell over. Tiny ants swarmed over the torn ridges of bloody flesh. The sun burned on your neck. His voice brings you back to the concrete floor, the darkness. “Lower,” he says, like a stage direction in a David Lynch dream.

“Lower,” he says, grabbing your hair, pushing your face deep into his lap until your eyes tear up in near-asphyxiation, the tattoo of Berlusconi’s face on his stomach looking down on you benignly, and suddenly you remember kneeling under the cross at that church, looking up at Jesus in the throes of death, lost in a reverie of homework, meals, candy, running away from the schoolyard bully – when a sickly sweet voice interrupts saying, “Hi! I’m Len!”

“Len? Who are you? Where … where am I?” you ask, but the words come out muffled.

Something is in your mouth. You move your tongue back, swirling over the lump, pushing it to the side of your mouth. What is it?

Suddenly, it’s clear. You bite into the chicken nugget, its salty crust stings your parched, sore lips burning from the repeated motions – and yet its taste unleashes something primal, almost comforting to you. But as you chew in the darkness, you catch a muted gleam of yellow, and realize Len is grinning.

“Enjoy that nugget?” he rasps. “Now open your mouth … and eat some donkey sauce.”

Donkey sauce? Your mind is a blur of Top Chef episodes and NY Times restaurant reviews. The phrase, outlandish, provocative, rings familiar in some half-formed memory. Yes, there was donkey sauce, once. But why? And why now?

For the first time, you notice stockings hanging from the torn mattress leaning up against the basement wall behind you, lime-colored reindeers with paws merrily jaunting in the air, dancing against the puss-coloured snow of the mattress’ background.

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