by Chris Eng, illustration by Cristy C. Road
Swango recounted the change in his hand. A buck eighty-seven. He was positive he had more money than that. Oh right, the beers he bought yesterday. And the chickpeas they made hummous out of. Cramming the change in his pocket, he grudgingly accepted two bucks was about right. Accepting it didn’t make him less fucked, though: it was Christmas tomorrow and he didn’t have a present for Tank.
Really, it wasn’t like Christmas was the biggest deal. They were crusties, so spending huge amounts of cash to celebrate a corporate greed-fest sponsored by the religious patriarchy wasn’t something they were particularly into, but they liked to give each other something small, both as a token that they cared and as a way of not being completely left out. Because as much as Swango wanted to tell Christmas to go fuck itself, it sucked if you didn’t have friends to hang out with and at least one present to open. Friends were the easy part—there were probably fifteen people coming over for the Krust Haus’s vegan potluck—but the present, well, that was going to take some ingenuity.
Tank was out panhandling and he knew he had at least a couple of hours before she got back. Good. He frantically sifted through his stuff looking for anything he could sell. There wasn’t much. He owned a lot of things that meant something to him, but not a lot that “normal” people would be willing to pay money for. His zine collection? Uh-uh. His vegan cookbooks, stained with the residue of a thousand Food Not Bombs gatherings? Not a chance.
The only thing of his worth anything to anybody was his Discman and he was under no illusions as to how much that was going to net. Still, it was a top-of-the-line model (when it was new) and he was under the gun. He grabbed it, apologized to his stack of scratched-but-still-playable CDs and bolted out the door.
The grossly overweight man behind the counter of the pawn shop wore an open Hawaiian shirt over a wifebeater and had jowls that literally stretched to his chest. He gestured at the Discman and belched. “Five bucks,” he said in a voice that resembled nothing so much as a groan.
“It’s worth more than five bucks,” Swango countered.
“’S a fuggin’ Dissman. Who wan’sa Dissman these days?”
“I could make three or four times that in an afternoon by panning.”
“Then do it or take thuh five bucks. ‘S yer choice.”
Swango didn’t have an afternoon. He had an hour before Tank got back. “Fine. Give it to me.” The pawnshop owner slid a ticket across the counter for Swango to fill out and then traded the completed ticket for a stub and a soiled five dollar bill.
There weren’t many places for Swango to spend his $6.87. After all, the amount of things out there which totaled slightly-less-than-seven-dollars-including-tax were kind of few and far between. He thought about picking her up a comic at Mythmakers, but he couldn’t remember which issues of Hellblazer she was missing and there weren’t any graphic novels he could afford, so that was pretty much out of the question. He wracked his brain for alternatives, but it was Christmas Eve in Westport and most of the stores had already closed early. A light bulb flickered on above his head and he mentally face-palmed himself. Except the Circle A. Duh.
The Circle A was Westport’s one-stop anarchist/activist collective. It wasn’t big (its entire retail space was a 25’ x 8’ room) and its selection wasn’t expansive, but it was open and it would have something in his price range. Tabouli Dan was sitting with his legs propped up on the counter, reading an old issue of Infiltration when Swango burst through the door.
“Oh, hey, man,” Dan said, laying the zine down. “’Sup?”
“I need a present for Tank. What have you got for seven bucks?”
Dan thought for a second and gestured at the selection of zines for sale.
“Naw, zines are kind of my thing.”
Dan pointed at the display of political buttons on the counter.
“I don’t think buttons are really the gift that says ‘I love you’. Well, maybe that one, but it technically says ‘I anarchy you’.” Swango’s gaze dropped down into the glass counter and stopped. “Now those on the other hand…” Filling the top shelf in the display case were hand-screened patches for pretty much every notable crusty and political punk band (and a few that weren’t) next to a little sign that said ‘$1.50’. “Tank’s still working on her vest. She needs some more patches. Okay, gimme one of the Nausea ones, an Aus Rotten and a Capitalist Casualties.”
He was practically bouncing by the time he got home. It’s not like he’d solved cold fusion or done anything that deserved huge amounts of pride, but he was still pleased with himself. He’d found something Tank would love and he still had a couple of bucks left over. Enough for a large coffee. Sweet.
He burst through the door and found Tank and Coinslot sprawled on the floor in front of the TV playing Punch-Out on their dumpstered NES. “I am the winner,” he declared. “I win at life!”
Coinslot, who was currently engrossed in fighting Soda Popinski mumbled “that’s nice” over his shoulder. Tank craned back to look at him and Swango took the opportunity to be reminded how lucky he was.
There was something slightly otherworldly about her; something not identifiable but definitely not quite normal. Her body looked as if it had decided to be elfin but couldn’t decide on a Christmas or Tolkien elf. She was tall and thin like the residents of Rivendell, but her face was round and pixie-like. Her dirty blonde hair was chin-length and three small dreads hung off the right side of her head, one with a skeleton key woven into it. “Hunh?” she asked, somehow managing to make it sound eloquent.
“I rule at Christmas. I am awesome. We should go get a coffee to celebrate. We can share one! I have enough!”
“Dude, I was out panning with Coinslot. I’ve got enough to cover my own coffee.”
“Woo-hoo! Coffee! Get ready; let’s go!”
She laid her controller next to Coinslot. “You wanna play my guy?”
Grabbing a black hoodie off the couch, she threw it on and held her fist out to be bumped. “Let’s do this.”
Swango was grinning like an idiot. “Where’s your vest? You should totally wear your vest.”
Tank looked sheepishly down toward the floor. “I, uh… I don’t have it anymore.”
The grin fell. “Why? What happened?!”
“She traded it to me, dude,” Coinslot said without looking back. Tank nodded.
“Tank’s way smaller than you! It won’t even fit!” Swango’s voice was rising despite his best efforts.
“It kind of fits,” Coinslot said. “It fits if I don’t wear anything underneath it. Or, y’know, stretch my arms. It’s not very good for winter.”
Tank looked confused and a little sad. “Why are you upset? It’s not a big deal. I thought we were going to get coffee.”
“But my awesome Christmas present was these!” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the swatches of black fabric. “I pawned my Discman to buy these for your vest!”
“Ha!” Coinslot exclaimed, still not looking back.
“What the fuck, dude?!”
“She traded her vest for my Doom ‘Rush Hour of the Gods’ CD.”
Swango’s gaze swiveled from Coinslot to Tank. “It was the only Doom CD you were missing,” she said quietly. “I didn’t have the cash to buy you a new one.”
“So she traded with me, because Coinslot’s got all the answers,” Coinslot said with a self-satisfied air.
Tank reached underneath the couch and pulled out the CD, handing it to Swango. “Merry Christmas, sweetie,” she said with a tiny smile.
He handed her the patches and gave her a hug. “Yeah, merry Christmas, baby. Don’t worry—I’ll make sure this all has a happy ending. Hey Coinslot, give Tank her vest back.”
“Chuck you, farlie! She traded it to me fair and square!”
Swango placed his still-booted foot on Coinslot’s solar plexus. “You owe me $40 for the two cases of beer I bought you at the beginning of the month, asshat. Give her back her vest and we’ll call it even.”
“Fuck, fine! It’s on the chair.”
Tank grabbed her vest and threw it on over the hoodie. “Thaaaaanks, Coinslot!” she trilled. A disappointed look suddenly crossed her face. “But that doesn’t help you,” she said to Swango. “You still don’t have anything to listen to the CD on.”
“Pfft. The dude at the pawnshop lowballed me. I can pan for an hour next week and have more than enough money to get my Discman back. Everything’s fine. Know why? Because we rule at Christmas!”
Coinslot threw the NES controller at the floor suddenly. “GODDAMMIT, would you shut up?! You just made me lose! Go drink some coffee and leave me alone!”
“I think someone’s getting a lump of coal in their stocking,” Swango said seriously.
“I think someone’s getting sucker-punched in the back of the head while he sleeps if he doesn’t take this bullshit elsewhere.”
Tank looked dreamily up into her boyfriend’s eyes. “Aww, pissing Coinslot off until he starts spouting random threats and curses—it’s the best gift a girl could ask for.”
“I’ll kill both of you with the rusty knife I bought at ThrifTown.”
“Awww,” Swango said, wrapping an arm around Tank and kissing her deeply. “God bless us, every one.”