What the fuck do I want for Christmas?!
Lucas Fine clamped his mouth shut before he could yell in his mother’s face. He swallowed the half-bite of dissolving corn flakes, picked up the bowl, stood, scraped the rest into the trash, put the bowl and spoon into the dishwasher and walked out of the house.
“Luke!” Mom called after. “I need to know.”
She didn’t mean to piss him off. It was Saturday morning. He’d slept late, but was up before noon, and was eating his bowl of cereal and milk when she’d brightly popped in front of him and asked. Nicely, politely and with genuine curiosity.
“What do you want for Christmas?”
He was already down the steps before the door slammed behind him. He turned right and started walking.
It was cold, but not as cold as it was supposed to be in December in Rhode Island. And that was the fucking point.
He shivered a little. You stomped out without your coat, he could hear her voice in his head. Do you want me to buy you a new coat?
No, I don’t fucking need a new coat, he snapped back to his invisible Mom. I’ve got a perfectly good coat. I’ve got enough shoes. And boots. And I don’t need or want a new goddamn cell phone.
Get moving, he told his feet, you’ll warm up quick.
There was no snow on the sidewalk. No puddles of slush to avoid. The air was frigid, but the sun on his face was hot. It felt like it was burning him.
Ever since he was a kid, he had heard about climate change. Starting in third grade, they’d taught him that the planet was warming, that weather and ocean patterns were being disrupted, and that the sea levels were rising.
During his senior year in college, in the middle of the COVID lockdown, he’d read article after article online about floods and droughts, tornadoes and rampaging fires not just in places like Africa or Bangladesh, but in Europe and all across the US.
Little Greta Thunberg was shouting at the United Nations to do something about it.
That year his parents had shipped him a brand-new laptop. Because he’d needed it. His old laptop, which was a high school graduation present, had truly sucked. Low memory, slow chip. The screen had dead pixels. And the wifi was slower than sludge.
He remembered the first video call with Dad and Mom on Christmas Day, and how relieved they all were that the lags and delays were gone. “It’s good to see you, Son,” Dad had said. So goddamn dadlike. They’d sent him this huge package full of Christmas candy and new socks and a stupid fucking ugly sweater that matched the ones they wore.
Luke felt himself tearing up at the memory, as if he was George Whatshisname in It’s a Wonderful Life. Sentimental about a gift laptop on a socially distanced Christmas.
Now he was back living at home in his old room, and his parents were ecstatic that the world was reopening and things would be “getting back to normal.”
“You can get a job,” Dad was always saying. “Lots of places are hiring.”
Not in his field. Sure, he could work in a restaurant or deliver packages for Amazon, like some of his friends. But finding an entry level job that would give him a chance to build a career? And was that kind of long-term plan even something he should be wanting?
He stormed up the street to the little park where he and the guys used to go when the parents were having a party. He stood in the grass, which was still green in fucking December, closed his eyes, and felt the hot sun on his face.
Nothing was certain. Old white people were all happily vaccinated. Black and Brown people were still getting killed by cops. All the kids who’d gone to school during COVID were educationally fucked from spending a year in their rooms trying to do “online learning in line with the expectations of the existing curriculum.”
And the sea level was rising. And the hurricanes were blowing more frequently. And the bomb cyclones and the goddamn atmospheric river, whatever the hell that was. And the possible – no, probable – flipping of the Gulf Stream.
Are we heading toward a new ice age? Is the Midwest going to become the Sahara Desert?
And what the fuck do I want for Christmas?
Luke tried to meditate. Deep breaths. Be in the moment. You can’t do anything about the past, because it’s gone by. You can’t do anything about the future.…
When the fuck else can you do anything about the future?
Over the dinner table, his Dad had tried to explain that the economy was made up of a complex system of interlocked and overlapping parts, and that changing just one thing could have these ripple effects and cascades of unintended consequences.
Luke had tuned him out. It was bullshit that justified doing nothing.
Carbon taxes. Carbon sequestering. Switching from fossil fuels to electric? Where did that electricity come from? Nuclear? Wind turbines without killing birds? How do you rewire everybody’s house for heat pumps? Who pays for it? What the fuck are poor people supposed to do?
Luke, be grateful for what you have. That thought popped into his mind. Yeah, I guess. I’m white, middle class, and have parents who love me. I’m not a beggar kid in Mumbai or a religious militant in Sudan. I’ve got a cell phone, a digital watch, an almost-new laptop, and three different video game consoles. Whoo hoo. The pinnacle of human existence.
Except, once you’re at the top of the mountain, there’s no place to go but down.
Unless you’re one of those billionaires launching themselves into space on their rocket penises. He smiled. “Rocket powered Viagra! Wears off after four to eight hours. Call a doctor if your symptoms last longer.”
Luke blinked. He was babbling. Maybe he should go home and get a gummy. At least then he’d be buzzed and babbling.
But that wouldn’t solve anything either.
He tried to live lightly on the planet. He didn’t have a car. He walked. He took ride shares. He even took the bus when he had to. As much as he wanted to move out, get away from his loving and caring parents and get a little privacy so maybe he could bring somebody home to have sex, doing that would only increase his carbon footprint.
Honestly, killing himself would be the best thing he could do from a global climate perspective. If enough people offed themselves then the rest could live on in safety. Right?
But that would be a major bummer for his parents on Christmas.
And, if he was honest, for himself too.
Now that he was standing still, the cold air was cutting through.
Luke crinkled his nose. He scratched it.
What do I want for Christmas?
We can’t have a do-over. There’s no restart or extra lives.
I want to know what to do. I want to know how to spend my time.
I want to be able to envision a world where I could even think of having kids of my own.
He bit his lip. Where the fuck had that thought come from?
Hey, Mom, I want a girlfriend who doesn’t want kids. Can you get me that…?
No no no. He laughed to himself. Not going to have my parents set me up.
Money for dates was out, because his family didn’t believe in giving money or gift certificates.
“A present is a memory made tangible,” Dad had said a few years back, when Luke had asked for a gift card to buy online video games. “A gift is something that matters. The giver has the pleasure of giving, and the receiver gets to know that they are loved.”
And then he knew what he wanted. It just came to him in a flash. Didn’t even know he’d wanted it before then.
Luke turned and headed back home.
It didn’t need to be expensive, but he wanted a watch. An analog watch with no batteries to replace or operating systems to upgrade. Not a fifty-thousand-dollar Rolex or whatever. Not a status symbol. Something that was water resistant, yeah. And shockproof.
He grinned. Shockproof. That’s a concept.
No, I don’t need anything. Yes, I’ve got a cell phone and the laptop. But when the world goes to hell, they won’t have any signals or power.
You want to give me a present?
I want something to help me keep time, Luke rehearsed what he was going to say. Because time is the only thing that I’ve got. That we’ve got. And as the seconds and minutes tick past, I want to make the most of it.
He walked up the steps, opened the unlocked door, disarmed the alarm his mom had set, and then stood in front of the radiator until he was warm.
Yeah. I’m lucky. Time to do something.
Wait… Shit. What the fuck am I going to get for them?
Mark Binder is the outgoing editor of Motif. His novel The Groston Rules, and his book Izzy Abrahmson’s Winter Blessings are available on Amazon and at markbinderbooks.com. Mark will also be performing a live-on-zoom storytelling event called Izzy Abrahmson’s Winter Blessings on Dec 4 and 5. Reserve a FREE ticket at https://village-life-winter-blessings.eventbrite.com/