“The shepherds were out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night,” a cherubic soprano announced, indicating three little boys holding crooked walking sticks while three more crawled toward them clad in white, covered with fluffy cotton wool.
Winnifred Clayborn Harrington of the Harbor Fort Harringtons leaned toward her son Kevin and smiled. Kevin was trying to be convinced that this act of Christmas Eve piety was going to reassure her about his spiritual welfare, but his mother’s amusement was ambiguous. Her visit to Thailand was all but certain when he had written telling her that he was signing a contract to teach a second year in the Land of Smiles, although he would probably have preferred for her to send the money for him to fly home for Christmas at Harrington Hall, tedious as he would have found it to be tucked securely away from all he loved. Kevin loved his mother, of course, to the extent that Harringtons could love each other. But the fastness and security of Harrington Hall was so entombing. In Thailand he had bloomed like the roses in the King’s palace on Doi Sutape. His mother had not really given him a choice about where he would spend Christmas, however. She had simply sent him her flight plans with the implied instruction to attend to her during her short visit. And why was it so short? Kevin had no time to ponder that question as the congregation lurched to its feet to sing, “Silent night, holy night.” What would his mother want to do next this Christmas Eve? Kevin hadn’t got that far. In his mind the evening ended for her at the church service.
He found out that she had been thinking of an extended evening when she skillfully steered him across the busy riverfront road to a supper club where a jazz band was rendering Christmas music. After appreciating the skill with which the bar tender shook her martini and poured it with a flourish, Winnifred leaned toward Kevin and asked in a conspiratorial tone, “Now where is the girly-boy show?” Kevin gasped in spite of himself. Showtime was the last place in Thailand he had planned to bring his mother. How did she even know about it and why, of all places, was she asking about it? “Ladyboys,” Kevin corrected her as he collected his wits and tried to be evasive. “Ladyboys,” she agreed, “where do we go to see them perform?” “Holy shit!” Kevin expostulated despite himself. His mother seemed mildly amused at his reaction. “Holy night,” she chided, merrily. Ladyboys were not what he would have expected her to be interested in, if he had thought about it, but his mind was reeling. Maybe he could still obfuscate his way into other territory. “Mother, the katoeys are hanging around the city gate looking for danger,” he tried. It didn’t work, “No,” she insisted. “Where is the cabaret show?”
So they were there in the front row when the lights dimmed and the music came on for the opening chorus line at the Showtime Cabaret Revue. It was an impressive spectacle, although Kevin was not thinking about the glittering, feathery dancers and their oiled, sleek companions as they whirled and leaped. He was reeling from the realization that his mother was not here by chance. There was more to her choice of this cabaret show on Christmas Eve than some random surfing the Internet she had done as she planned her trip. She confirmed it during a break when the stage was being set for the Christmas portion of the program. “Which one is Bird?” Winnifred asked, leaning toward Kevin as she stared at the team pushing Santa’s sleigh onto the stage. Instead of answering Kevin gasped, “How do you know?” “Charlotte told me all,” Winnifred replied with simple finality.
Then Winnifred switched into her motherly tone of voice. “Kevindear,” she used the familiar conjoined form of his name rather than “Kevin (pause) Dear” which would have signaled displeasure. She was being motherly and intimate, “Two Christmas dramas this evening are quite enough. It is time I met your Bird in the hand,” she punned. Charlotte had betrayed him; that was all Kevin could think about. She had promised to keep pretending their “thing” was still going on so his mother would not suspect the truth. “I made her tell,” his mother interrupted his inner-rant, determined to get back to the main subject that had brought her all this way from Harbor Fort, Maryland.
The music was belting out “Here Comes Santa Claus” when Winnifred flicked her hand impatiently at the chorus line behaving like lithe and lovely reindeer. “The one in blue,” Kevin pointed. Seeing him point, Bird in blue managed a demure wave and flashed a grin without losing a beat. Winnifred stared intently at the performers for several moments and then took another sip of her Christmas cocktail, a concoction of red tropical fruit juice with Smirnoff vodka topped with green mint leaves frosted with powdered sugar. Then she settled back contentedly with a look of victory spreading over her face.
When the show was over the performers lined up so members of the audience could have pictures taken with them for extra tips. Bird hopped out of the line and jogged over to Kevin and his mother. He had heard all about Kevin’s anxiety over his mother’s visit, and had doubted it was going to be as dreadful as Kevin feared. Bird had been warned to stay out of sight, but when they came to the show Bird knew the play had changed. Bird was probably the most stunning male creature Winnifred had ever seen. He had a smile that would melt iron and eyes that glistened like deep pools. He had covered his sculptured torso with a blue vest spangled with dark blue sequins to match the stripes on his skin tight leotards. Winnifred’s smile dissolved into a smirk. Kevin was immobilized, locked in ineptitude. Bird and Winnifred took over. He gave his lover’s mother a graceful Thai greeting and she wrapped him in a most un-Thai hug and planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek. For two people who had never met, they certainly were friendly.
Their holy night continued at a Starbucks near the hotel where she had a suite for the three of them.
At brunch the next day Winnifred finished what she had come for. Following slices of flaming plum pudding served by a chef with a tall white hat bedecked with holly, Winnifred produced two envelopes which she handed to her two sons. “Merry Christmas, Kevindear,” she said. “Merry Christmas, Birdsweet!” Sweet Bird chirped gaily as he waved his ticket to Baltimore and bent over so Winnifred could kiss him again on the cheek.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.