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Christmas Stockings

Christmas Stockings

 

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Snow is holy.

It falls on the streets and the cars. It softens and obscures the hard edges of the buildings and falls on the shoppers hurrying about their business. It muffles the sounds of the traffic and slowly builds up in white mounds on the windowsills and fire escapes, covering everything with pure, soft white.

Each flake is a jewel, perfect in its own right. They sparkle and gleam and cling to your coat like gems, and then are gone. Water needs the cold to bring out its real structure, and each snowflake owes its six-fold symmetry to the geometry of the water molecule. In snow we are seeing nature's secrets made manifest, and with such beauty that it astonishes us and takes our breath away. And none of them duplicates.


Well, I suppose some of them are, but who has time to look for them? Not me. Christmas eve and I was finishing up my shopping, leaving the liquor store and headed back to return Marilynn's necklace for the fourth time. This one was too femme, I was sure of it: too fine and wispy. The first one had been too S&M: a thick slab of jet on a solid silver choker. The second one had been too long. Marilynn had pointed out the same type of necklace to me at lunch just after I'd bought it and told me how the woman wearing it was going to dip it in her soup as soon as she leaned over. I was glad I hadn't given it to her: long necklaces were evidently silly. The third one had been silver too, like the first, and I realized as soon as I left he shop that she would never have stood for silver. Now this one was too fine. It would make her look old. It was what Marilynn referred to as "dowager jewelry".

Probably I should have gone to a more mainline jewelry store or maybe Bloomingdales or Nordstrom's, but I liked the stuff at Coretta Dor's: semi-precious stones set in simple but elegant settings of gold and silver. Slabs of jade and jasper and chalcedony and malachite, snowy agate and amethyst and labradorite and spinel and jet and amber. The names of the stones were magical to me, and so were their warmth and color, the intricacy of the patterns in them. In their delicacy and honesty I found some kind of depth and profundity that I just didn't find in the kind of jewelry Marilynn liked: real faceted jewels in ornamental settings, very baroque and artificial, all naked gleam and gloss.

The shop itself was down at the end of a mall in Evanston, converted from a town house with the shop on the first floor and set back from the street so it didn't get that much traffic. It was more like a mineralogist's shop than a jewelry store, with geodes split open on stands so you could see the fairylands of crystals inside, crystals that had taken eons to form: polished stones not perfect enough for jewelry but too beautiful not to show, and spiky blooms of amethyst and quartz standing about like bunches of frozen flowers.

I never saw Coretta, if there was a Coretta. The shop was apparently run by her niece Tracy, a slight girl with hair dyed raven black to go with the black clothes she always wore, with a bunch of slightly rebellious piercings: four in one ear, five in the other, and a small gold ring in her nostril. None of her jewelry was Coretta's. She told me she couldn't afford it.

I'd come to know her pretty well in the last few days as we tried to find something that Marilynn would like, and so when I opened the door now and walked in out of the snow she looked at me with a wan expression, already knowing what was up. It was Christmas Eve and there was no one else in the store.

"No good again?" she asked me.

"No. No good again." I set the shopping bag from the liquor store on the floor. "The chain's too fine. She'll think I was too cheap to buy something bigger."

Tracy sighed and shook her head. "She must really be special, huh? Most men wouldn't spend so much time on a gift."

I made a sour face. "Well, let's just say she's a woman who knows what she wants. And she gets very disappointed when she doesn't get it." 

Tracy took the box from me and unwrapped it. I hated to see the paper go, it was a beautiful wrapping job and Tracy had just done it just that morning. She opened the black velvet box and took out the necklace and held it between her hands.

It was a lovely necklace, gossamer thin with tiny crystals that gleamed like dew on a spider's web. It looked like something magical dangling from her slim fingers. She sighed again and put the necklace back in the box.

"Well, do you want to look around some more?" Her voice was sympathetic. "Or do you just want a refund?"

It was dark out, and I looked out at the snowy street where already the traffic had all but disappeared as people got ready for Christmas, their shopping done.

"It's almost four. You'll be closing soon, won't you?"

Tracy turned around and put the box on a shelf. "I'll stay open as long as we have customers. Take your time."

"But it's Christmas Eve."

She turned back and leaned against the counter, then shrugged. "Nothing special to me." 

The store was simple and elegant, just like the jewelry: dove-gray carpet, simple glass display cases, muted, recessed lighting that shone down on the stones and gleaming metal.

"Don't you celebrate Christmas?" I asked.

"You mean presents and all that? Sure. I'll be over at my mom's tomorrow, getting faced on punch and fighting along with the rest of them. It's a family tradition."

"But you don't do anything for Christmas Eve?"

She looked at me for a moment and then said, "No. I kind of like to be alone on Christmas Eve. I just don't feel like being around people. It's kind of special to me."

"Do you live around here?" I said it without thinking, then I caught myself. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to get personal."

"No, that's okay. In fact, I stay here at the shop during the Christmas rush, upstairs on the second floor. Help keep an eye on the place, at least until after the first of the year, then I'll probably move out. I've been doing it since high school. Coretta can handle the place alone after Christmas."

"Are you a student?" 

Evanston was full of students from Northwestern, and Tracy looked the part.

"No. I'm all done. Degree in art history. I'm looking forward to a rewarding career in fast food management."

She gave me a slow smile and I was suddenly struck with how young she looked. I had one of those rare moments when perception suddenly shifts and you see the person behind the face, and this person was young and, it occurred to me, strangely hurt. She was putting up a brave show, but there was something wounded in her. She seemed too young to have been hurt already, but there was no mistaking it. It made her seem younger, as if the pain had knocked the grown-up out of her. I couldn't imagine spending the holidays being tied to a jewelry store.

I quickly turned my eyes to the display cases, looking at things I had looked at four or five times before, but the stones drew my eyes and rewarded them again with their proud polish or the depths of their beauty: so quiet and still yet so alive.

I sighed and shook my head. "I don't know if I can do this anymore," I said. "I think I'm all shopped out. You're right. Christmas eve is no time to be trying to find a gift. You can lock up. I'm going. I've had enough."

"Isn't your wife going to be disappointed?"

I sat down wearily on one of the stools in front of the counter. "She's not my wife. Just a girlfriend. And a demanding one at that. Relationships can be such a pain."

Tracy looked at me and seemed to be about to say something, but she didn't.

I pulled the scarf from around my neck and loosened my tie. It was warm in the store. The snow was still falling and it was completely dark outside except for the streetlights and the lighted decorations on the lamp poles. There wasn't a car moving on the street.

"Buying a gift shouldn't be so hard," she said. "I'm sure she'd love anything you got her."

"You don't know Marilynn." I looked at her, feeling silly for opening myself up like this, and she just a kid out of school.

Tracy didn't seem to mind though. She considered me for a while and then said: "There's more in the back." 

"Pardon me?"

"There's more stuff in the back. Corey can't show it all, so we have more jewelry in the back. Let me bring some out. I'll show you my favorite piece, but you've got to promise not to buy it. I'm saving it for myself."

Tracy disappeared into the back of the store and came out holding a brown velvet jewelry tray which she laid down on the counter. Inside were necklaces decorated with a host of stones: tiger-eye, opal, moonstone, tourmaline. The stuff seemed a little more vulgar than the elegant pieces on display. One piece in particular caught my eye immediately as unusually garish: a cabochon of golden tiger eye set between two slabs in intensely blue lapis lazuli in a very Egyptian-looking setting. The stones were suspended from a single chain of flat, serpentine gold.

I hoped that wasn't the one Tracy was saving for herself, but her hands went right to it and picked it up. 

"This is it," she said.

She fastened it around her neck and I prepared myself to smile and tell her it was very nice, but then she patted it in place between her prim breasts, squared her shoulders back and looked at me.

The stones glowed against her black turtleneck, their weight giving shape to her breasts and making her stand up straight, almost defiantly. Her whole attitude changed. I don't know whether it was the beauty of the stones or what they did to the expression on her face, but she suddenly looked heart-breakingly lovely and the stones didn't look garish at all. They looked just perfect.

I stood there a moment with my mouth open, actually struck dumb.

"There are earrings too. Would you like to see?"

"Yes," I said. "Very much."

Tracy hurried into the back and came out taking the studs and rings from her ears. She replaced them with the matching earrings, tiger-eye and moonstone with some hint of blue that drew attention to the blue of the necklace. For the first time I noticed that her eyes weren't gray as I'd thought, but blue too, or maybe it was the stones that brought out that color in her eyes. They had a depth they hadn't had before, a depth that echoed the shining deepness of the tiger-eye, a stone whose submerged golden iridescence makes it seem intelligent and alive, almost inquisitive.

"They're gorgeous," I said weakly, and I meant it. The necklace made her seem regal, and the earrings were like mysterious hieroglyphs, asking a question and framing her face, setting it off like a jewel in its setting. Everything about her was suddenly radiant and alive. Even her lips seemed more pink and fresher.

I had a kind of revelation then, a vision of what it really could mean to give someone a gift: not as a bribe or token of obeisance, but as something that really should belong to a person, that made her more herself. Those stones belonged to Tracy. 

"How much are they?" I asked dumbly.

She tilted her head to the side and touched the stones protectively. "You said you wouldn't. I was saving them for me."

"No, no," I said. "I want to buy them for you. I want you to have them."

She looked at me defensively for a moment and I realized what I had said, what it must sound like, but she didn't take offense.

"No, no, I don't mean it like that," I stammered. "It's just that they look so incredible on you…"

"That's very sweet," she said, taking off the earrings. "But I've just about saved enough for them now. Aunt Corey's letting me have them at cost. It's a very rare tiger's eye, unusually perfect. That's why it's so expensive."

I didn't want her to take them off. I asked: "What about you? Do you have a boyfriend? What's he getting you for Christmas?"

Tracy turned to me and I saw a quick flash of sadness in her eyes as she removed the other earring. So that was it. I should have known. She picked up the tray and headed for the back of the store.

"Wait," I called after her. "Wait. Show me what else you have. What else do you have in the back?"

Tracy stopped by the doorway and considered me. I must have looked like a fool. The shock of seeing her in the stones was still on my face. I think my mouth was even hanging open.

She said, "Let me lock the front door. Then I'll show you."

The store was carved out of a townhouse, as I said, and the back room had been the kitchen. It still had a stove, and there was a teapot on it. There was a fridge, and next to the fridge was a thick, squat safe. A calico cat came out of a back room and rubbed up against Tracy's legs, its tale held high.

"If you're a thief," Tracy said. "I'm dead meat. But I can't open the safe."

"No, no," I said. "I just want to see. I want to see some more."

"Wait here."

She opened a door to a back room and disappeared inside.

"Hey," I called, remembering my other packages outside. "I've got some wine. Can we open a bottle?"

"Go ahead," she called. "There's glasses above the sink."

We sat at the kitchen table and drank the wine I'd bought for Marilynn: expensive wine, sixty dollars a bottle, meant to be taken to a party tonight. Tracy turned on the radio and put it on a Christmas station, and she started showing me rings and necklaces and bracelets and earrings. She kept on bringing out trays and trying on jewelry, and it turned into a kind of giddy party with the music playing softly in the background and the snow falling in the thick silence outside. She covered her fingers in rings, then pushed up her sleeves to slip the bracelets on one at a time. I made her keep the nice ones on so I could decide later, and soon her arms were covered with jewelry. 

I made her keep the necklaces on too until she was festooned in her aunt's jewelry, covered like a harem girl in chains and rocks and gems: stones and jewels covering her hands and hanging from her ears and around her neck and jangling on her arms. Long, swaggy necklaces and snug chokers. Snake chains and Venetian box and foxtail and Singapore; double anchor and rolo and Bismarck and braid, and all of them bearing semi-precious stones and gems: malachite and tourmaline and rock crystal, garnet and jasper and onyx. Tracy knew the names of all of them in all their styles, and she knew all of their stories, how long they'd been in the store, who should wear them and how they should be worn; which stones were lucky and which were not.

The snow still fell softly past the window and the silence of Christmas Eve descended on the land, but I hardly noticed. Tracy's delight in her adornment was childlike and it embarrassed her, but it was impossible not to be affected by her joy. I was supposed to be at Marilynn's to take her to a party but I didn't even bother to call. I felt like a kid again, like Christmas really was special.

At six o'clock we heard the church bells start to peal across the way, and in the sudden awkward silence I leaned across the table and finally kissed her, just lips against lips, in love with her beauty and her happiness. She tilted her face up to me without a word and let herself be kissed, as someone who knew that she was beautiful and knew I couldn't resist.

I should possibly have known better. I was much older, and I was already committed to someone, or thought I was. But we came together out of loneliness, and that soft aching night that's Christmas Eve, when everyone's waiting for a miracle. I don't know if I would have wanted her so much if we hadn't been such perfect strangers, but being strangers on this night, it seemed to make us want each other even more.

"Before, out in the front, you said Christmas Eve was special to you," I said as we broke the kiss. "What did you mean?"

She smiled. "This is what I do every Christmas Eve. After I close the store I come back here and I put on all the jewelry I can find. I decorate myself like a Christmas tree."

"And…?"

"And? And that's all." She looked at me coyly. 

"No one to see you? No one to see how beautiful you are?

"No." She could have blushed but she didn't. "I know it's silly. I pretend I'm a barbarian princess and that all the jewelry belongs to me. The next morning I put it all back"

"I don't think it's silly," I said. "I think it's beautiful. I think you're beautiful too. I don't think I've ever seen anyone so beautiful in my life."

I wasn't lying. She was dripping with gold and silver and semi-precious stones, and on anyone else it would have looked ridiculous, but not to me. I stood up and took her hand and made her stand, and I led her to the middle of the floor and I took her in my arms and melted into her embrace, and Tracy lifted her hands and the gold and silver bracelets clanked softly as she wrapped her slim arms around my neck

It wasn't easy getting her turtleneck off with all that jewelry. I helped out as best I could, stretching the neck out while she stripped it off over her head. I wouldn't let her take them off. I wouldn't let her remove a single thing: not a ring, not a stone.

Her jeans were easier. She stepped out of her shoes and I peeled them down her legs and threw them on the sofa. I took off my clothes as naturally as if I were in my own bedroom and turned off the kitchen lights, and we turned to each other in the moody darkness. I moved my hands down to her bottom and her buttocks were like two peaches against my palms, smooth and warm beneath the slickness of her panties. My rampant cock was bent up between us but neither of us was ashamed.

The necklaces were cold, but the metal warmed quickly from the heat of our skin. I took her in my arms again, and as we kissed I reached behind her and unhooked her bra and slid it off her arms. The straps kept catching in the bracelets, but she waited patiently while I freed it and threw it on a chair.

In the semi-darkness she gleamed like a Christmas ornament. She shimmered like an icicle.

"We can go upstairs," she said. "But it's only a twin bed."

"No," I said. "Let's stay here." 

I made her lean against the kitchen table and I parted the wreath of necklaces with my nose, pushing them aside to reach her naked breasts, which were small and delicately formed. Her nipples were distended and exquisite, and exquisitely sensitive; warmer and softer than the stones that covered her chest. When I took one between my lips she gave a little gasp and brought her hands up to caress the back of my neck. I stole a glance up at her and saw her looking at me, watching me kiss her nipples. She was enjoying it, but more than that she was enjoying my enjoyment of her. I hadn't seen that look in a woman's eyes for a very long time: that glow they get when they know you find them beautiful. 

She had a tattoo on her hip, some sort of flowery vine trailing down beneath her panties, and another tattoo—a flower—on her breast. A Chinese dragon climbed from her collarbone up the side of her neck; her turtleneck had kept me from noticing it before.

I tasted her flower, then I caressed the dragon with my lips. I squatted down and kissed my way down the flowering vine to where it disappeared beneath her white nylon panties, and then I pulled her panties down, pursuing her pleasure over the expanse of her warm, smooth belly.

I didn't ask her what she was thinking, but I was hoping she was pretending she was a barbarian princess and me some common peasant hardly worthy to kiss her feet. I was hoping she would fit me into her fantasy and find a way to make me belong.

"Here," I said. I lifted her leg and placed one foot on the table. Her other foot was on the floor. She still wore her little black socks. They made her look so young

Tracy leaned back on one jewel-encrusted arm and put her finger in her mouth apprehensively as she watched me kiss my way up the inside of her thigh. She was shaved bare and already glistening with excitement, and when my tongue dipped down to lick her she threw her head back and hummed softly.

She was a joy to eat, sensitive and responsive, her pleasure evident on her face and in her gestures. I pulled a chair over and sat down in it, wanting to get comfortable and enjoy her. I leaned forward, spread her apart and licked and sucked her naked pussy. In all the jewelry she'd become a queen, the center of the world, and I was more than content to sit there and pleasure her and watch the rapture on her face. Occasionally she would tear her eyes from me and extend a hand and admire her rings and bracelets like a child playing dress-up, and for some reason that made me terribly excited

I would have eaten her forever, but as she neared her climax she stopped me, pushing me away.

"I lied when I told you this was all I did on Christmas Eve," she said. "There's more."

I looked at her expectantly. My lips were covered with her excitement.

She reached down a gem-encrusted hand and parted her labia and began to play with herself, her eyes locked on mine to see how I responded.

"I do this in my bedroom," she said. "I set up a mirror so I can see, and then I masturbate. I pretend I'm a queen being serviced by a slave. Is that awful?"

I'd never seen anything so sexy in my life. I shook my head. 

"No," I said. "It's perfect. You be a queen and let me be your slave. I want to service you. I want to do whatever you want."

She played with her pussy, rolling her fingers around sensually and dipping them inside until I could see her eyes getting cloudy with impending orgasm. There was no doubt that she liked being watched, that she enjoyed sharing her games. Her breathing was fast and shallow, her hard, erect nipples peaked out from the wreath of chains around her neck.

I pushed my chair away from the table and sat there, my erection pointed straight at the ceiling, and said, "Take me, princess. Take whatever you want from me."

She smiled self-consciously and came over. Her jewelry jangled as she threw her leg over mine, put one ring-covered hand on my shoulder and squatted down, reaching beneath her with other hand and fitting the head of my cock to her opening.

"Oh," she said. "Ohhh…" And she sank down on my prick, taking it inside her.

I felt the shudder in her lean body. She was so tiny compared to me, all arms and legs, but she sank down on my cock till it was all inside her, every bit of it, her thighs trembling with the strain, then she folded me into her arms and kissed me hard.

I let her do everything. I wanted her to use me for her own selfish pleasure and I didn't even care whether I came or not. Just to sit there and feel her fucking me, lifting herself off my cock and then plunging back down, screwing her slim hips around in hungry circles around my cock was heaven. The necklaces swayed and beat against her chest, her earrings gleamed in the dim streetlights coming in the window. I grabbed her ass and to lifted her in time to her thrusts when her legs began to give out.

"Tell me I'm good," she whispered in my ear as she fucked me. "Tell me you love fucking me."

"You're more than good," I answered. "I've never felt anything like you. You're so beautiful you make me weak. I just want to fuck you forever."

She came then, a quick little tremor that made her lean back and bite her lip and dig her nails into my shoulder, then collapse against me so that even through all the chains and necklaces I could feel her heart hammering in her chest.

I held her ass in my hands and she was so small and light that I was able to stand up with my cock still inside her. I turned her around and laid her down on the cheap sofa, never breaking contact. I smoothed her hair back so I could see her face, and then I began to fuck her. She wrapped her legs around me and hung on.

I fucked her hard, on fire for her. I fucked her so hard that the chains rattled on her chest, the stones knocking against each other and falling in a disorganized heap around her neck. Tracy held me tight, digging her nails into my arms and shoulders and biting my mouth whenever I tried to kiss her. We fucked with the fury of two lonely people desperate for each other.

She held me so close that all I could feel was her tight heat gripping me and all I could see was the cold gleam of the jewelry shaking on her body with every thrust. She suddenly arched her back, her nipples poking through the wealth of chain like two little fingers pointing straight at the ceiling. I felt her convulse and heard her cry out and I let myself go, exploding inside her with a release so deep and profound that my whole body snapped and shuddered like a whip. I poured myself into her, giving her everything I had.

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