“What are you doing for Christmas?” Shorty asked me.
“Same thing I do every year. Nothing.”
“Do you celebrate the solstice?”
I do celebrate the solstice, but I lied and told him I didn’t.
“My wife used to celebrate the solstice,” Shorty told me.
That’s why I lied to him. No point telling him now I saw her naked before he did.
“She used to dance around naked, dance around a fire naked,” he said. “I never could get her to do that at home.”
“What’d you do? Try to get her to dance around the barbecue grill?”
“Hell, no.” He smiled. “Fireplace.”
I tried to picture it. I’d been to their home many times, several times when he was not present, and she would sit with me and we’d share stories about the Old Days.
“She was always afraid of something getting set on fire.”
I nodded. “I seem to recall she had reason to fear that.”
“Yeah, she told me. But that story doesn’t add up.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, how could it be that fella could catch on fire while dancing around if he was naked?”
I thought about it. “Maybe he was really hairy.”
Shorty shook his head. “I don’t think so. Flames wouldn’t have caught so.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, hair catches on fire, it goes up off, like that.” He snapped his fingers, or tried to. Shorty never could snap his fingers like any ordinary person. It was more like he was rubbing them together real hard. “Hair burns quick. It’s short, volatile.”
“Like you,” I said.
“Yeah, like me. I’m hairy. I ought to know.”
He was hairy. Like a gorilla. His wife used to tell me, and less fortunately I’d seen him with his shirt off.
“So he must have had on some kind of clothing,” Shorty continued.
“Way I heard it, he was doused in some kind of oil.”
“Oil?” He frowned. “Who dances around a fire covered in oil?”
“I don’t think they reckoned it was flammable.”
He thought about that a minute.
“Did you talk to her about this or something?”
Careful. “I think I heard her tell you the story once.” Careful. “Or maybe I herd it around town.”
“Story like that gets around,” Shorty offered.
We were both silent for a prolonged moment.
“Suffice to say, I’d rather consider it that way than think of you dancing around the woods naked with my wife.”
“Me, too,” I told him.