The Christmas Guests
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
The party crowd was attentive as tiny Chickpea Knuckles, thirty-seven inches tall, stood beside the Christmas tree on her little platform and sang a medley of Christmas standards in her throaty contralto voice: “Rockin’ ‘Round the Christmas Tree,” “Blue Christmas,” “Jingle-Bell Rock,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”
At the end of Chickpea’s act, the audience erupted into enthusiastic applause. Mrs. Griselda Pinkwater, sitting on the front row, beamed with satisfaction, almost as if the applause was for her. She had every right to be pleased, for she was the one had who brought Chickpea to the forefront.
Now that the musical part of the program was finished, everybody stood up. Mrs. Pinkwater became surrounded by well-wishers. Sylvia Peat, her enormous breasts trussed up inside her green silk dress, took hold of Mrs. Pinkwater’s wrist in her talon-like hands. She reeked of her expensive perfume. “Lovely Christmas party, my dear!” she gushed.
“Thank you, my dear!”
“Where did you find the adorable midget singer?”
“You don’t expect me to give away all my secrets, do you?” Mrs. Pinkwater said.
“Do you think she’d sing at my New Year’s soiree?”
“You could always ask her. She doesn’t sing for free, though.”
“Is she terribly expensive?”
“With your millions, I don’t think you need worry about the cost.”
Just then Enid Goode approached from the right. She was as tall and as broad as a female warrior. “Where did you find a family of midgets?” she asked. “You clever thing, you!”
“Well, it’s a long story,” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “My husband and I had the Knuckles family in our home for Thanksgiving dinner. We found them simply entrancing. When I discovered that the father, Quincy Knuckles, was headed for jail, I took pity on them.”
“Oh, dear! I hope the little man didn’t kill anybody!”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that. He busted into a pawn shop.”
“Why did he do that?”
“He saw a banjo in there that he thought belonged to him.”
“No, a banjo.”
“Here comes the Mrs. Carlotta Knuckles, the matriarch of the midget clan,” said Mrs. Pinkwater. “She is so sweet! You will absolutely adore her!”
She snagged hold of Carlotta Knuckles and pulled her into the circle of ladies.
Carlotta was wearing a slinky, gold-colored evening gown that Mrs. Pinkwater had had bought for her. She carried a long cigarette holder, taking occasional puffs on a cigarette that had gone out a long time ago.
“How do you do?” Carlotta said, looking up shyly at the ladies—all in various stages of drunkenness—that surrounded her like a forest of redwood trees.
“Isn’t she just the most precious little thing?” Betty Rowley said.
“What’s it like being a midget?” Shirley Faraday asked.
“They prefer ‘little people’,” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “It’s more respectful.”
“What’s wrong with calling them midgets? That’s what they are, isn’t it? How many are in the family?”
“Besides the incarcerated father, there’s mother, daughter and son.”
“How old is the son?” Enid Goode asked.
“He’s twenty-one, I think.”
“Where is he? I’d love to see him.”
“Twenty-one is a little young for you, isn’t it, Enid?” said Betty Rowley.
“I’ve done a lot worse!” Enid said, and all the ladies laughed.
“Well, he’s really still a boy!” Mrs. Pinkwater said.
Just then the boy in question, Bixley Knuckles, walked past, bearing a tray of drinks over his head. Mrs. Pinkwater tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around and looked at her.
“You don’t have to serve drinks,” she said. “You’re a guest.”
“I like doing it,” he said. “It gives me a chance to hobnob.”
Shirley Faraday ruffled his hair. “He’s so cute I could just eat up him!” she said.
“Hey!” Bixley said. “Hands off!”
“The ladies like you,” Mrs. Pinkwater said.
“Of course they do, but that doesn’t mean they can paw me whenever they feel like it!”
Mrs. Pinkwater leaned over and whispered in Bixley’s ear: “All these dames are crazy and they’re all kind of drunk. Don’t take them too seriously.”
“I should say I won’t!” he said and then he was gone.
“I’d like to wrap him up and take him home,” Shirley Faraday said.
“And what would you do with him when you got him there?” Betty Rowley said.
“I don’t know. I’m sure we’d think of something.”
The crowd of ladies dispersed to freshen their drinks or to use the ladies’ room.
“How are you holding up, dear?” Mrs. Pinkwater asked Carlotta.
“All right, dear.”
A waiter came by with a tray of canapés, bent over and thrust them toward Carlotta.
“Try one,” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “They’re delicious.”
Carlotta took one each hand and began munching on them. “I have something to tell you,” she said, “and I hate to say it.”
“What is it?
“My midget husband, Quincy Knuckles, has escaped from jail.”
“Oh, my goodness! Are you sure? How did it happen?”
“He’s three feet tall. When the guards opened the doors, they were preoccupied and didn’t look down. He escaped right under their noses.”
“But that’s not the worst of it. When I was in the kitchen a while ago, there was a knock on the back door. I thought it was going to be another liquor delivery, but when I opened the door who do you think was standing there?”
“Let me guess.”
“It was Quincy.”
“Where is he? What did you do with him?”
“I took him upstairs and hid him when nobody was looking.”
“Oh, dear!” Mrs. Pinkwater moaned. “We’re harboring an escaped fugitive!”
“Not only that! He’s cross-dressing!”
“He’s dressed as a woman.”
“How is that going to help?”
“The police are looking for a male midget.”
“Keep him hidden and we’ll decide what to do with him when the party is over.”
“He wants to come down and join the party. He’s been in prison since Thanksgiving. He’s lonely.”
“All right, but keep him in the background. If any of my guests begin to suspect he’s more than he seems to be, he’ll have to leave. I won’t have my party ruined.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Carlotta said.
Carlotta introduced her “sister,” Corabelle, from New Orleans, to all the guests. They were charmed as she spoke to them in a soft Southern accent. When one of the male guests, Clifford Clifford, asked Corabelle to dance, she graciously accepted without the slightest hint of embarrassment.
“Where did she learn to dance like that?” Mrs. Pinkwater said to Carlotta as they stood off to the side and watched as Corabelle and Clifford Clifford moved around the floor.
“She’s always been a good dancer,” Carlotta said.
“She moves effortlessly as if she dances every day of her life.”
“What a lovely compliment!” Carlotta said. “I’ll be sure and tell him what you said. He doesn’t very often have a chance to feel good about himself.”
“And where did he get the dress and wig?”
“It’s a long story. He bought them for a lodge function that he attended as a woman. And not one of his lodge brothers recognized him, either!”
“If I didn’t already know he was a man,” Mrs. Pinkwater said, “I’d never suspect.”
“It makes me so proud!” Carlotta said.
When Corabelle finished dancing with Clifford Clifford, others wanted to dance with her but she declined.
“I’m all fagged out for the moment, gentlemen,” she said. “I have to get myself a refresher.”
“Remember I have the next dance!” Finch Baggett called to her.
“You got it, mister!” she said.
“And I have the one after that!” Trent Trill announced.
“Oh, you kid!”
“I never expected her to be so popular with the men,” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “And they’re all married. Their wives are looking on with dissatisfaction, if they’re not too drunk to notice.”
“It’s the novelty of the thing,” Carlotta said.
“And wouldn’t they be surprised to know that the thing is not what they think it is?”
“Oh, you kid!” said Carlotta.
At the buffet table, Bixley spotted Corabelle and they began sparring playfully. When Corabelle got Bixley in a headlock, Mrs. Pinkwater and Carlotta broke them up before they gave away Corabelle’s secret.
“Let’s show them our tumbling moves,” Bixley said. “They’d love it.”
“Can’t,” Corabelle said. “I’m wearing a dress, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“So?” Bixley said.
“Go get me a glass of that champagne, sonny boy,” she said as she sat down to eat the plate of food the maid prepared for her.
The party didn’t begin to break up until after midnight.
“The best party ever!” one guest after the other said as they thanked Mrs. Pinkwater and went out the door.
“We fooled ‘em,” Quincy said, removing the wig and kicking off the pumps. “That’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Get me another glass of that champagne.”
“Not so carefree, mister!” Carlotta said. “You’re a wanted midget, you know.”
“I can be a woman for as long as I have to be.”
“And what happens when they pull off the wig and lift up the dress and discover you’re really a man?”
“I guess I’ll worry about that when the time comes.”
“My husband will be home from his business trip in two days,” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “I suggest the entire midget family stay here until then. I have plenty of room.”
“Oh, we couldn’t impose!” Carlotta said. “Christmas is in three days!”
“You’d be doing me a favor,” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “I hate being alone at night.”
“Your husband wouldn’t want to find us here when he comes home.”
“He won’t mind. He enjoys having company.”
“Well, it’s awfully kind of you, but I don’t know.”
“Quincy can remain your sister Corabelle for as long as you’re here. If the police come snooping around looking for Quincy, just tell them she’s your sister visiting from New Orleans. If he can fool all my party guests, he can fool the police.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” Quincy said. “I don’t relish the idea of being thrown back in the can and spending Christmas in jail.”
“I don’t know how we’ll ever repay you for all your kindness to us,” Carlotta said, on the point of tears.
“Can I sleep in that little bedroom in the attic overlooking the back yard?” Bixley asked. “It makes me feel like the captain of a ship.”
“How do you know about that room?” Mrs. Pinkwater asked.
“I did a little exploring while everybody was busy,” Bixley said. “I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“I can sleep anywhere,” Chickpea said, “as long as there are no snakes.”
Mr. Pinkwater, when he returned from his business trip on the day before Christmas, was not surprised to find the midgets installed in his home, but he was surprised to discover Quincy Knuckles as a woman.
“This is Miss Corabelle Hamilton, from New Orleans, Louisiana, come to spend Christmas in our home,” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “Quincy Knuckles is no more.”
Corabelle stood up and offered her hand to Mr. Pinkwater. “It’s an honor to meet you, sir.”
“I don’t think that’s the same person at all,” Mr. Pinkwater said to Mrs. Pinkwater when they were alone. “I think they’re playing a trick on us.”
“We’re going to have such a lovely Christmas!” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “They’re like the odd children we never had.”
Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp