Shakespeares Christmas


Chapter One

My situation was as surreal as one of those slo-mo nightmares Hollywood uses to pad B movies.

I was sitting in the bed of a moving Dodge Ram pickup. I was enthroned on a wobbly plastic lawn chair, thinly disguised by a red plush couch throw edged with fringe. A crowd lined both sides of the street, waving and yelling. From time to time, I dipped my hand into the white plastic bucket settled on my lap, coming up with a fistful of candy to pitch to the spectators.

Though I was clothed, which I understand is not the case in many dreams, my clothes were hardly typical. I was wearing a red Santa hat with a big white ball on the end, bright new green sweats, and I had a disgusting artificial holly corsage pinned to my chest. I was trying to smile.

Spotting a familiar face in the crowd, a face pasted with an unconcealed smirk, I pitched the next peppermint with deliberate accuracy. It smacked my neighbor, Carlton Cockroft, right in the middle of the chest, wiping off that smirk for at least a second.

The pickup paused, continuing a familiar and irritating pattern that had begun minutes after the parade had started lurching down Main Street. One of the bands ahead of us had stopped to blare out a Christmas song, and I had to smile and wave at the same damn people over and over until the song was finished.

My face hurt.

At least in the green sweats, with a layer of thermal underwear underneath, I was fairly warm, which was more than I could say for the girls who had enthusiastically agreed to ride on the Body Time float directly ahead. They also were wearing Santa hats, but below the hats they wore only scanty exercise outfits, since at their age making an impact was more important than staying comfortable and healthy.

"How you doing back there?" Raphael Roundtree called, leaning out of the pickup window to give me an inquiring glance.

I glared back at him. Raphael was wearing a coat, scarf, and gloves, and the heat in the cab of the truck was turned on full blast. His round brown face looked plain old smug.

"Just fine," I said ferociously.

"Lily, Lily, Lily," he said, shaking his head. "Slap that smile back on, girl. You're gonna scare customers away, rather than pick some up."

I cast my gaze to heaven to indicate I was asking for patience. But instead of a clear gray sky, I found myself staring at tacky fake greenery strung across the street. Everywhere I looked, the trappings of the season had taken over. Shakespeare doesn't have a lot of money for Christmas decorations, so I'd seen the same ones every holiday in the four-plus years I'd spent in this little Arkansas town. Every alternate streetlight had a big candle suspended on a curved "candleholder." The other streetlights sported bells.

The town's seasonal centerpiece (since the manger scene had to be removed) was a huge Christmas tree on the courthouse lawn; the churches sponsored a big public party to decorate it. In consequence, it looked very homey rather than elegant - typical of Shakespeare, come to think of it. Once we passed the courthouse, the parade would be nearly over.

There was a little tree in the pickup bed with me, but it was artificial. I'd decorated it with gold stiffened ribbon, gold ornaments, and gold and white artificial flowers. A discreet sign attached to it read, tree decorating done by appointment. Businesses and homes. This new service I was providing was definitely designed for people who'd opted for elegance.

The banners on the sides of the pickup read, Shakespeare's cleaning and errands, followed by my phone number. Since Carlton, my accountant, had advised it so strongly, I had finally made myself a business. Carlton further advised me to begin to establish a public presence, very much against my own inclinations.

So here I was in the damn Christmas parade.

"Smile!" called Janet Shook, who was marching in place right behind the pickup. She made a face at me, then turned to the forty or so kids following her and said, "Okay, kids! Let's Shakespearecise!" The children, amazingly, did not throw up, maybe because none of them was over ten. They all attended the town-sponsored "Safe After School" program that employed Janet, and they seemed happy to obey her. They all began to do jumping jacks.

I envied them. Despite my insulation, sitting still was taking its toll. Though Shakespeare has very mild winters