Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A christmas short story by Hayter

“Mrs. B and the Christmas Play” -- by Mark Hayter

    The persons and events in this story are fictitious. As far as I know.
    Blanch Blyleven was chosen to ramrod the Christmas Play at Milford Elementary back ’92. Milford’s music teacher, Anne Lupton, was in the middle of a big divorce, and just didn’t feel in the mood to put on a play.

To tell the truth, Lupton had pretty well shutdown back in early November. Everyone knew that she was better off without the cheating slug, but try to tell her that.

    School Superintendent Rafe Weaver waited till three weeks before the Christmas play before making a serious move to replace Lupton as the chief play person.  Weaver, as well as the entire town, knew that the only capable candidate was Blyleven. They also knew that the cantankerous, sour, chain-smoking ol’ fusspot would rather ride a derailed train across a narrow bridge than put on the play.

No one could really blame the woman. Mrs. B was the best Little Theatre director and actor in a three county area. Being responsible for a theatrical joke would kill her reputation. Plus, she didn’t like kids. Not one bit.

During the first day of their argument, Weaver offered Mrs. B $300 to take charge of the play. She laughed at the offer. She had recently sold her Dry Cleaners to Malford Reed who owned the hardware store next door. The lady was sittin’ fine.

    No amount of bribing, soft-soaping or intervention could sway the woman. Not even the Wednesday night prayer meeting at the Lutheran Church had any noticeable effect.

    Mr. Weaver finally had to resort to extortion. On Day Three, he said, “BB, as President of the Milford Little Theatre, I’m here to tell you that the only way you will get to direct and star in the upcoming production of ‘Steel Magnolias’ is for either God to turn my right arm white with leprosy or for you to agree to put on the Christmas play.”

“Jebus Chrispies, Rafe!” she said. “You can’t do that!” Rafe Weaver assured her that he could and he would. Before storming out of the office, Mrs. B grabbed Mr. Weaver’s stapler and took it with her outside where she handed it to Betty Simons, his secretary who was smoking in the parking lot over by her Mazda. Mrs. B considered it childish to throw things.

    During the first afternoon of rehearsals, Mrs. B didn’t let five minutes expire without letting all us kids know that she was directing this funker-stinking play under protest. No duh.

We were all scared to death of the woman. The only thing that scared me more than Mrs. B the fact that I was chosen to be Joseph in the play.

    Joseph had a speaking part and everything. He had to ask the innkeeper for a room; he had to welcome the wisemen and then tie-up their camels; and he had to take the gold and “frankenstance” and “merv” from them and hand ‘em to Mary. Charlotte Plum was in the third grad and was the absolute perfect choice for Mary. I was also in the third grade and was the absolute worst choice for Joseph. There were girls who could’ve played the part more convincingly.

    When you shuck down the corn, you’ll realize that the scariest thing about being Joseph was having to hold Charlotte’s hand for about five seconds. I just couldn’t do that. It would cause some serious cell sapping in my brain.

So, a week into rehearsal I got up enough nerve to tell Mrs. B that I couldn’t be Joseph. She could yell at me, hit me or even kill me, but I just couldn’t do it. I’d never be able to remember my lines and I’d die of infantigo if I had to hold a girl’s hand. I had heard Mom mention infantigo once when I got a boil on my rear. The word fascinated me. Not so much the boil. 

Mrs. B let me whine for a good minute before she said,  “Benjamin, let me shovel a little rat fat at you. I chose you to be Joseph because you’re the best boy in the third grade. You’re smart and cute. But, you’re only gonna be cute for a little while. Then, you turn into a pimply, awkward freak just like every other kid. So, be Joseph while you’ve still got it in you, kid. You’ll thank me later.” 

    That’s when I busted out crying. I couldn’t help it. “Jebus Chrispies,” Mrs. B said. “Turn off the smeggin’ spiget! If not Joseph, who can you be?” I told her that maybe I could be a sheep or a camel or maybe a tree.”

    “There are no trees in Bethlehem,” she said. It’s in the smeggin’ desert! Don’t you know anything, kid? Besides, I’ve got too many camels and nerfherder sheep as is.” She rubbed her forehead with the palm of her hand like she was trying to rub a thought into her brain. Then she said, “There is one way out. Would you happen to be a Buddhist or Muslim… or maybe a Jehovah’s Witness. I don’t know about them. Are you any of those?

    I told her that I might be a Buddhist. She actually laughed. Then she said, “I tell you what, numb nuggins. You can be a reindeer during the dasher dancin’ Santa scene. How’s that?”

    “Okay, but, please, not Rudolph?” Boy, was I pushing it.  – “Great gobs of goose snot! You’re killin’ me, boy!” she said.  “Okay, you can be “Nixon?” she said. – “Nixon?” I said. -- “Yeah, you know? Prancer, Donald and Nixon.” You’ll be the last reindeer, upstage right. You don’t say nothin’, you don’t do nothing… except pull the Belgium-burping sleigh with all the other little idiots. What do ya think?”

Mrs. B was the best describer of stuff I ever knew. And, I loved her to pieces. She wasn’t mean at all. Not really. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Mom and Dad. It would break Mom’s heart, but Daddy would be really happy for me.

 “Nixon? You’re gonna play Nixon in a Christmas play?” I had to do a little explaining to Daddy about how Mrs. B talked. “Oh, you mean like, Prancer, Donder and Blixon?” Daddy said. My daddy had some word issues of his own.

The auditorium was packed that Thursday night. This was going to be big. Really big. Three minutes before the curtain was supposed to go up, Mrs. B walked up to me and said, “Hey, Nixon. Take the stupid pipe cleaner antlers off your skull and put this bathrobe on. Loser Larry is tossin’ chowder in the bathroom, so you’re gonna be Joseph again. And, don’t worry. You still get to be Nixon.”

I knew it! I knew it! “But, I’ve got this black stuff on my nose!” I said. “I can’t be Joseph with a reindeer nose.” – Mrs. B nodded in agreement. “Well, not in perfect world. But this is Milford, kid. So, I don’t wanna hear another sithspittin’ word out of you.”

There was no arguing with the woman. I put the robe on and ran to other side of the stage, positioning myself right next to Charlotte Plum. She looked over at me, smiled and said. “I’m glad it’s you.” I’d never heard such thing. Nobody had ever been glad it was me.

Just as the curtain began to rise, Charlotte took my antlers off and then took my hand. We walked past the cardboard Bethlehem right to the inn. At that very moment something came over me. It was a Christmas miracle. I was actually doing something scary as all get out, yet, I didn’t care. I had a black nose and was wearing a gray bathrobe about three sizes too big for me, but I didn’t care. How crazy is that?

I could’ve done Joseph in my sleep. In fact I had. Fear had pretty well branded the scene in my cranial. And, you know something? Charlotte was still holding my hand when Floyd, the innkeeper, answered the door. And, she didn’t let go until she had to put the Baby Jesus in the manger.

Turned out, I was great. Everyone of those wisemen forgot his lines. Everyone of ‘em! I ended up saying their lines as I grabbed the gold and the “frankenstance” and “mirv.” Oh, and once I had to shove a camel and a couple of sheep out of the way, so the audience could see what was happening. I owned the moment.

    The way I saw it, God wanted me to play Joseph, so He let me nail the role. Black nose and all. Oh, and turns out, after you’ve been Joseph, being a reindeer is a piece of rat fat. The audience seemed to get a kick out of us. Parents are the best audience in the world.

    As soon as the curtain came down, it opened right back up. Instantly, we were all practically blinded by a thousand or so camera flashes. Eventually, Mrs. B walked on stage and said nice things about us. Then she lied about what a joy it was for her to be asked to take charge of the play.

    After the curtain closed for the final time, Charlotte shook my hand and told me she was glad I got to be Joseph. I have no idea what I said in response, but I’m pretty sure it was stupid.

A few weeks later, Mom and Dad took me to the Milford Little Theatre to see “Steel Magnolias.” I didn’t understand the play much, but I will always remember how good Mrs. B was. She didn’t play Ouiser Bourdeaux. She was Quiser Bourdeaux.

After the play, I brought my program up to her to see if she would sign it for me. I saw a couple of ladies do that, so I figured it was okay.

Mrs. B graciously took my program, wrote something on it and then gave me a big hug. I couldn’t make out her handwriting, so I asked Mother to read it for me when we got in the car.

She read, “Benjamin, isn’t it weird how some of the things we hate to do most turn out to be the best things for us? You were the best thing that happened to me during my first Christmas Play experience. You’re a cute kid and a good Joseph. -- Mrs. B.”

A cantankerous, sour ol’ fusspot? Maybe to others. But, Mrs. B was no slug-in-a-ditch to me.

No, the thought of that woman has always warmed my heart. More so during the Holidays. Oh, and I also have fond thoughts of Charlotte Plum. She was the first person to ever be glad it was me. – Merry Christmas to you all. From Mark and Kay.

You can reach Mark at mark@rooftopwriter.com

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