The Secret Life of Kitty Lyons: Nick at Night

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The Secret Life of Kitty Lyons by Maggie Cutler  
More Kitty, More, More

The Story So Far

Nick At Night

When my husband Max asks me what I want for Christmas this year, my first

thought is, “a baby.” Naturally, the part of me that’s one-quarter Jewish on my

father’s side thinks, “Maybe our kid’ll turn out to be the savior the world

awaits.” But when I think about the size of the ozone hole, and how little money I can earn temping for, say, Enron, giving birth to anyone — even a messiah —


suddenly seems selfish. If I must cuddle someone magical, dear and squishy in my arms, I suspect I’d be better off hugging Santa Claus.


Which I wouldn’t mind at all, now that I think of it. I quite like the way

he affirms my basic goodness (regardless of how many dubious thoughts I’ve had

this year), and of course there’s the spendthrift sugar-daddy angle (I can so

picture him buying me a Thunderbird),

but what I adore most about the man the Dutch called “Sinter Klaas” is his

quiltiness. Santa stitches so many traditions and mythical characters into one

narrative fabric that to make love with him, I imagine, would be like sleeping

with every star in “Oceans Eleven” at once — only without having to worry

about your abs.


So I reach into that overstuffed grab-bag he calls his identity and come

up, to start, with a mysterious fourth century hero from what’s now Turkey: the

original Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra. Although the factual details of his

life are largely in dispute, legend has blessed him with all the sweetness of an honest-to-goodness holy man and all the louche democracy of a hipster. Did he really save a trio of girls from prostitution by throwing three bags of dowry gold into their open window? Nobody knows. But any man who could become the patron saint of children, bankers and pawnbrokers, brides and single women,

perfumers and bootblacks, travelers, seamen, stevedores, brewers, coopers, the

unjustly imprisoned and also poets is a deep enough guy for me.


“St. Nick,” I say to him, “let’s ride, daddy-o.” And I hop up into his

sleigh. In the back, we snuggle down in a pile of synthetic reindeer hides (made from reprocessed copies of the late Brill’s Content). There’s snow in the air. The danger and cruelty of ice, like a terrorist threat, gives an ominous edge to the sparkly panorama below. Beneath the implacable stars of an oil-black sky, the reindeer take off with a jolt and a jingle of inane bells and I slip my hand in between the buttons of Nicholas’s vestments (made of recycled flyers.)


In firmness, Santa’s belly is somewhere between a plum pudding and a

fruitcake. Pregnant with appetite, it is a symbol of optimism in uncertain

times. I rub it reverently.


“I can give you the caves of Tora Bora for Christmas, but not a cure for

Ebola or peace in Palestine,” St. Nicholas bargains, not wanting to tumble me

under false pretenses.


“I don’t expect miracles,” I shrug, “although I would love it if Exxon

produced cheap, renewable energy by saving something wonderful and doomed…like the spotted owl, or trial by jury.”


The great man smiles, pleased that my Christmas wishes are as generous as

his own. He kisses my throat, nuzzling beneath my scarf (woven from sensitive

documents my president has ruled off-limits to future historians).


Unzipped, Santa shapeshifts into Kris Kringle, that faithful servant of

Christ whom Protestants promoted as a substitute for the Catholics’ sainted

joy-boy. Kris’s rosy, velvety hood is softly pointed and his wrinkled burlap

sack is swollen with bounty. He’s adorable!


Down my chimney into the heat of my hearth he dives, in a ritual whose

pleasures require no explication. In the moment he seems to me as he seemed to

the dentist Clement Moore when he wrote “The Night Before Christmas” in 1822

— no bigger than an elf , yet powerful as Thor, the German thunder god upon whose legends (among others) the poem rings variations.


As Santa’s reindeer soar improbably across the moon, my nerves blink and

twinkle. I’m a Christmas-tree angel now, spangled as the new dawn. Fly me,

Santa. Get me high enough above the rat race, the blood-bath, the Chapter 11s,

where the world appears at peace. And beautiful. And easy to love. Joy to it.

Oh… joy eternal!


Then, bing: I’m back on my couch uncoupling with Santa-as-we-know-him. It’s

the big jolly red-suited gent created by political cartoonist Thomas Nast in

1883 and slicked up about 70 years later by Coca Cola’s illustrator Haddon

Sundlun into an airbrushed icon of child-loving merriment.


“Is it right to bring a new life into this world?” I ask him, ready to

accept his final answer.


“Coke adds life,” he replies. I laugh, because, while he has obviously sold

out to his legions of employers, when it comes to promoting a spirit of simple,

childlike fun, Santa still has all other messiahs beat by a luminous red nose.