Santa (with Seals)by Brandon Edmonds, illustration by Jason Bronkhorst / 13.01.2011
I had moved out of home into a digs overlooking the city. Free at last! Great God Almighty, free at last! This was rash without a job (I had no money) so I got one – waiter at a Thai restaurant in Florida rd, Durban’s dining hub. The first night a couple ordered the chicken skewers for starters. I was absorbed, almost 21, in the reflection of my own ass in snug black Levi’s in the window. When I went back to see how they’d enjoyed it, the guy said, “They were a bit dry.” His permed partner made a sad face and nodded. I forgot the dipping sauce. That lasted a week. I could remember Rimbaud, the precocious boy poet, had ended his life bloated and gun-running in North Africa, but dipping sauce for strangers? Uh-uh. The Thai lady owner eventually looked up at me and said, “You so sweet but we let you go now – okay!”
I was sharing the bottom floor of a double-story with a male model, another guy with a heavenly-chested girlfriend, and a big time Smiths fan called Julie. As a headboard, I had a giant block mounted poster of the classic Marilyn Monroe shot in a flared white dress. Her fulsome thighs were total Kennedy magnets. I’d wake up each morning with her looking over me. Marilyn’s doomed benediction. For dinner I’d shoplift crumbed chicken breasts. The key to shoplifting is the walk-out. Don’t hesitate, don’t tarry. Walk out. Shoulders back, head high. I shoplifted from the corner mart so much they were forced to install mirrors. I’d look up and see myself infinitely redoubled – guilty in parallel. Rent was so quickly due. My washing piled up. Inane essentials like toothpaste and lip balm cost money. Everything does. Freedom is expensive. I needed another job. Soon I told my housemates. I’ll pay soon. One month. Two months overdue.
My days meant campus, writing movie reviews for the student paper, pining over a Jewish girl who drew the line at poolside frottage, and wouldn’t answer the fucking phone on the Sabbath, avoiding Economic History class, while unwritten essays on 1929, on Max Weber, on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, piled up. I was failing. A grievous mid-week breakdown on the student council roof involved complete depersonalization. My own hands seemed stitched on. Afterthoughts. I had no idea who I was. This may have been drug related. The pressure led me to student counseling. Free analysis. Yes please! The benevolent baldy behind the desk was a strict Jungian. He said, “Here choose some.” It was a box of toys. I said, “This is why you guys have a bad name!” He absorbed that like a gulped-back burp. I chose a dragon, a cowboy and a shark. It must have meant something because he wrote on his pad and looked at me with renewed interest. I left after crying a lot feeling buoyant and actualized. It lasted about twenty minutes before my homebrewed animosities returned.
Passing the drama department, I saw “Work With Dolphins!” on the notice board. Dolphins rape. They gang up on lesser dolphins and violate them. But I needed the money! It was a gig playing Santa at the Dolphinarium over Christmas. There’d be instructors in wetsuits. How bad could it be? I turned up where it said to and waited alongside 3 other dudes in the damp outer core of the complex. We smoked and listened to echoes that squeaked. It was creepy. Like birthday balloons being rubbed. Like AutoTuned mice on helium. Suddenly a bedazzling freckled blonde, effortlessly taller than us, in cut-off denim hot pants and a peek-a-boo peasant blouse, grinned, “Follow me!” They had wetsuits for us. We changed into those and followed the blonde into the gleaming tiled paddocks. A mother dolphin and her perfect newborn calf circled a tank. It was beautiful. An easeful glide beholden to a time-scale not our own. Seals barked behind glass. A strong male dolphin pulsed through the water out in the main arena then appeared in the air before gravity re-claimed him with an almighty splash.
“Cool huh?” The blonde seemed mesmerized. I imagined her on a dolphin date. Hot cross-species coitus in the surf. Everyone seemed to be looking at me. “Can you,” she asked? I was apparently meant to sing. The lyric sheet read Silent Night. Christmas fucking carols. We made an impromptu choir in wetsuits. She seemed happy with the output. Then walked us through the routine. We’d swap dialogue with an instructor then get knocked into the water by a seal. We’d be rescued by the seal while singing Silent Night (we had waterproof Day-Glo microphones) – pulled to safety on a boogie board. All in a Santa suit and soggy beard. The blonde told us not to show our tongues too much when singing. “He may go for it,” she said. My Santa bros and I exchanged WTF glances. A seal croaked on cue. “You’re up Tuesday,” she said to me before striding off.
It was my 21st on the Monday and I spent it with a Mauritian girl drinking flaming sambuccas and getting high in her car listening to NWA. Not sleeping with her, through self-doubt, hesitation, whatever it was, remains my greatest erotic regret in life. That and Heidi Klum’s marriage. Singing carols for holidaymakers hungover in a waterlogged Santa suit didn’t help.
The turnout was insane. Upcountry folk wanting to be entertained. Dolphins belly flopped cascades onto their shoes. The blonde had her hair up in a pony backstage. She righted my beard and said, “We’re on.”
Out in the Durban glare, unfathomably, the dialogue got laughs.
“How are you Santa?”
“Ho ho! I’m busy with all the presents.”
“What am I getting?”
I gave it to her and she blew hard making a seal appear from behind a reindeer-themed curtain. I pretended not to notice the bobbling sock of lard behind me, getting big malicious laughs when it knocked me in the drink.
There were lots of variables in the water. Silent Night. The roving beard. Deadweight boots. An animate fucking mammal clearly in its element. All is calm! All is bright! Roles were reversed. Instead of me on the board the grandstanding seal sluiced up onto it, leaving me to paddle the thing to the other side. I was facing the creature, hanging off the nose of the board, scissor kicking backwards. Sleep in heavenly peace! And it snapped at me. It did. Snapped at my tongue. So I mumbled the carol. Mmmoly nigh! The audience loved it. We took a bow, me and the lump. Merry Christmas, I deadpanned. “I like it better the way you did it,” the blonde beamed afterwards. Things were looking up.
I took a Mynah bus home and climbed the hill in the gloaming. The clouds opened and I ran home. There on the lawn in the rain sat the contents of my room. My housemates had finally had enough. I lay down on my bed al fresco and watched the sky spit on me. Ho fucking ho.
*Illustration © Jason Bronkhorst.