The next day was Christmas Eve proper. Court and I got to the house maybe an hour before noon to find Janine and Claire in an argument and Landon nowhere to be seen.
“Traditionally,” Claire was saying, “we would have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and open gifts then and on Christmas Day it would be just what Santa Claus brought.”
“You are out of your mind. We never did that,” Janine was saying in reply.
Neither of them was right. We had done it that way maybe two or three times while I was growing up. So that’s not “never” but it’s also not what I would have called a “tradition.”
I didn’t say anything, but Courtney couldn’t help herself. “I don’t remember ever doing gifts on Christmas Eve.”
“I meant when I was growing up,” Claire said, now that they were ganging up on her. “Why shouldn’t we do it that way?”
“How about because your man won’t be back until tomorrow?” Janine pointed out. “Unless you want to do it twice?”
“We only bought one turkey,” I felt compelled to add, taking my jacket off and hanging it over the back of the couch. It didn’t sit there more than half a minute before Courtney moved it to the coat closet.
Janine rounded on me. “About that. Where is it?”
“On the deck in back.”
She was giving me one of those you-idiot looks.
“Don’t give me that look! I checked. It was a safe temperature last night.”
“You. Left a raw turkey. On the back porch.”
“Frozen. It was still in its bag and everything.”
Janine put her hands on her hips. “Show me this turkey.”
I went through the kitchen to the dining room and the door to the deck. Through the glass I could not see it. I opened the door and went out. No sign of it. “Um.”
The three women stood in the doorway looking at me. Janine came out in her stocking feet and looked around the yard. “There. What’s that.”
I jumped down and retrieved what she was pointing at: a piece of trash in the grass. Judging by the words on it, it was a mangled fragment of the plastic the turkey had formerly been shrinkwrapped in.
She examined the plastic, handed it back to me, and gave me the you-idiot look again.
“Raccoons?” Courtney asked.
“More likely coyotes,” Janine said.
“Okay, well, it sounds like we need to go get another turkey anyway, so I’ll buy two?” I said trying to sound smooth about it. Courtney was trying to stifle a laugh. Claire had a little smirk, too.
Janine was having none of it. “You really are an idiot.”
“How was I supposed to know you have foraging wildlife?”
“I can’t believe you did that.”
“Nobody told me.”
“It’s a good thing there haven’t been bear sightings.”
And on and on. The more outraged she got, the closer to hysterics Courtney and Claire got, to the point they were both snorting with laughter. I was clearly never going to live this down, so all I could really do was milk it. “I’ll get a bigger one this time. One that’ll last two days.”
“I’m pretty sure that turkey was already big enough to feed ten,” Courtney said between snorts.
“Leftovers are definitely a family tradition,” I said in mock seriousness.
“Oh, honestly,” Janine said and threw up her hands. “You’re all insane.”
That made all three of us laugh. I mean, come on, when you think about it, it was pretty funny. Wasn’t it?
The phone rang and she hurried back in to answer it, leaving us lunatics to ourselves. A moment later she was back. “It’s for you.”
“Me?” I pointed to myself as if it might not be clear who I meant.
“Yeah, you. Ziggy.”
“Oh.” I hurried into the kitchen myself and picked up the phone. “Hi.”
“Hi. You sound out of breath. What are you up to on Christmas eve that’s so strenuous? Chasing your nephew around?”
“Um, no. I’ll tell you later.” I slid into a kitchen chair and cradled the phone, the missing turkey completely forgotten. He sounded normal and sane and I missed him fiercely. “How are you?”
“Exhausted. I haven’t slept. I’ll sleep on the plane on the way there. Today. Later today.” He coughed. “That’s what I’m calling to tell you. I’m getting in like seven tonight. I’ll grab a limo from the airport if you’re going to be tied up with family stuff.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said.
“I could bring Tony to drive me,” he joked, just to be difficult.
“You will not take Tony away from his family just to chauffeur you around rural Tennessee. Plus bringing Tony here would be a terrible idea.”
“All right. You’ll pick me up, then?”
“Yes. The drive to the airport will be a welcome break from whatever insanity is going on here.”
We lapsed into silence then and I just listened to him breathe for a little while. Eventually I spoke. “You didn’t tell me the show was nationally televised.”
“Oh, was it? I didn’t really pay attention.” He didn’t sound convincing. “I take it you saw it then. How did it look?”
“It looked fabulous.”
“Yeah, well.” He took my comment as a criticism, which was how I meant it. “It would have been better if you were there.”
“Don’t say things just to make me feel better.”
“It’s true, though.” He sighed. “They wanted us to sing some other song, some old-time Christmas duet, but Barrett convinced them that ‘Candlelight’ was a Christmas song because of that holiday-re-package single that Charles River did.”
“You sound defensive. Why are you defensive about that?”
“Because you’re being prickly and upset that you weren’t there?”
I hadn’t intended to be prickly or to even discuss this right then, but there it was. “It was just rough seeing it, that’s all. It was rough on me.” I swallowed and tried to think of how to explain it. “Like, flashback to Brazil rough.”
“I’m all right now,” I hastened to assure him. “But it really threw me for a loop.”
“Yeah, well. At least it’ll probably pump airplay of the song.”
“True. That’s very true. A lot of them might add it to their holiday countdowns and medleys. You’re right.” I did some quick math in my head.
Have I explained music publishing? This is different from album sales, where the recording artist gets paid per sale. Skip this paragraph if math bores you. Music publishing is how the songwriters–who may be separate from the artists–get paid, not just per sale, but for every “performance” of a song including every time it gets played on the radio. It’s a very inexact science because of course every individual play of a song isn’t logged and sent in from hundreds of thousands of radio stations across the country 24 hours a day, so they have various ways of estimating it. But generally speaking about every time “Candlelight” got played on a radio station somewhere, I made about three-and-a-half cents: my share of the royalty. There were about five thousand music radio stations in the US at that point, and most of them played formats that “Candlelight” would fit into, because it crossed over in alternative, AOR, easy listening/light rock, and Top 40. So say four thousand stations. Say each one played it once a day during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. That would be 7 x 4,000 x 3.5 cents = $980. But of course most places wouldn’t play a song only once a day. Most music stations put songs into rotation where it could come up anywhere from 5 to 12 times a day. Call it 10. That would be $9,800.
I rounded it up to be generous. “You might have just put ten thousand dollars into my pocket in songwriting royalties. You know what this means?”
“We owe Natalie Merchant dinner.”
“Oh god. Was it that bad?”
“She really struggled with it, I thought. Not her fault.” I tried to think of something nicer to say, but all I could come up with was, “Not her fault at all.”
“If you’re serious about that, I’ll have Barrett set it up, but I’m afraid it would make it seem like we want to work with her when the opposite is true. Plus it’ll start a tabloid rumor. Not that that is necessarily bad.” He laughed. “Barrett thinks the only reason my face and headlines about depraved orgies aren’t plastered across the National Enquirer is because it’s true. And they’re not interested in the truth.”
“Tsk. From what I hear your orgies aren’t depraved at all. They’re very nice.”
He was silent a moment, probably trying to decide if me joking about his, um, unique relationship with his backup dancers was a good sign or an ominous one. He avoided finding out smoothly: “See you at seven?”
“See you at seven.” I held the phone in my hands until I got the dial tone again, and then I stood up to hang it up with my finger on the hook.
Claire was sitting at the table across from me, staring at me intently. I guess she had been sitting there the whole time. I’d been so absorbed with Ziggy that I hadn’t realized it.
“What did he do that put ten thousand dollars in your pocket?” she asked, her voice light.
“The song he sang last night,” I said. “I wrote it. Most of it, anyway. We shared the writing credit.”
“So he put ten thousand in his own pocket, too.”
“Yeah.” I realized I was still holding the handset and I placed it in the cradle. “Now you know how I put Court through college.”
“I thought it was a pretty nice song,” she said, blandly pleasant, but a compliment nonetheless.
I felt like I had to say something about it, since she’d complimented me. “It’s not technically a Christmas song, but I did write it on Christmas one year. You remember one year we went to midnight mass and I played the guitar during the service? I wrote it that night.”
Oh, jeez, why did I bring that up? That was the absolute worst Christmas for so many reasons.
Thankfully she didn’t seem interested in opening that can of worms. “That long ago? My my.”
“Well, I better get going to the grocery store if I’m going to,” I said. “Do you want to come along?”
“Why don’t you see if Landon wants to go with you? I think I’m going to lie down for a little while.” She stood and swanned out of the room.
(I’m off to Japan for the next two weeks, but DGC chapters should continue as usual! Meanwhile, daron thought we should use a 10,000 Maniacs track for this chapter. Apologies, Natalie. -ctan)