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Toby the Elf
Our rented Ford Bronco makes its way down the deserted main street of Katoonak. This is about as far North as were going to get in the civilized world and Chrissie has persuaded me to stop and rest for the night.
I’m driving — she gave me a crash course in driving a stick shift — and I have been afraid of just that — crashing — ever since. I pull over in front of the cabin. The chains on the wheels stop screaming at us but my ears still ring from it. The man at the gas station and general store rented us this house for the night. It’s not very big. One room plus bath.
We zip up our parks and make a run for the front door. After a brief struggle with the frozen lock we are inside. Chrissie finds the light switch and flips it on. The cabin isn’t as bad as I had feared. It is bright inside. The wood of interior walls has been painted white. And it is pretty clean, just a few cobwebs and a lot of dust. I head for the kitchen and set down the bag of groceries I brought in from the truck. I try the kitchen facet and after a sputter or two a stream of cold water splashes into the sink. I look over at Chrissie and smile. “It works.”
“Hallelujah!” She’s got her parka off and she puts down her barrel duffel bag and starts to look through it. She pulls out a blow dryer and a hand full of clothes. “I’ll make a deal with you.” She says with mischief. “You let me get the first bath and I’ll let you have the bed.”
I shrug. “You can have the bed too; just don’t use up all the hot water.” She smiles and heads for the other door. I start to unpack a few of the cans we bought from the man who rented us the cabin. I think about washing the dishes in the closet, but before I can start I hear the pipe sputter then moan. I don’t want to use any water when she’s in the shower. The water stops after only a few minutes and I realize that she must be taking a tub bath. So I do the few dishes I think we will need. I light the gas stove and begin to heat up a 16 oz. can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew.
I straighten up the cabin. While it is cooking I clean off the desk — there isn’t a table in here so I guess we’ll use that instead. I set it up for dinner.
I check on the stew and when I look up Chrissie is in the room again. She nods to the desk. “You didn’t leave anything for me to do.” She says without complaint.
“You can watch this,” I indicate the stew, “while I get cleaned up.”
“O.K.” She goes to her bag and pulls out a towel. “Here,” she tosses it to me, “there was only one in there.”
“Thank you.” I grab the plastic bag the acts as my suitcase and head toward the bathroom.
The stew is good, considering it came from a can. Toby — who is usually quiet — hasn’t spoken a word since we sat down to eat. It’s hard to believe the change in him since he was an elf. He was always so popular; always the perfect worker bee; completely in tune with the rest of the hive. He’s told me that one of the things he finds disheartening about his human body is that it is so solitary. It is hard for him to be alone, disconnected from the collective.
On the other hand, I like the isolation; I like the singularness of being human. I like that the only person I have to worry about pleasing is me.
Except, I do try to please other people. As Katie and I became closer and closer friends it became more and more important to me that she see me in a good light. And, now, with Toby, I find myself being on my best behavior. Oddly, it is very important to me that I be accepted by this down and out elf.
Luckily for me Toby is very easy to please.
I keep telling myself that I’m doing all this for the sake of Christmas. But a big part of me is doing it for him. At first, maybe it was out of pity, but now it is somehow more.
He looks up from his bowl, catching me staring at him, and tries to smile. “It’s pretty good, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Toby,” I tease him. “You make a fine bowl of beef stew.”
He has learned that my sarcastic tone is not meant cruelly and he no longer ducks his head in embarrassment. “Dinty Moore had more to do with it than I did.” He says with a shrug.
We do all the dishes and pack our supplies back up for the rest of the trip. We are both tired so we settle right in to go to sleep, me up on the bed, him in a sleeping bag on the floor near the heater.
I turn off the light and it is quiet for a minute, then I hear Toby shift on the floor. “Chrissie?” He sounds nervous.
“Yeah, Tob — What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.” He is quiet for a few seconds. “Uh, I have something I have to tell you, O.K.?”
“Yeah, well, I’m listening.”
“Uh, do you remember when I said that I tried to get Santa to send someone to find you?”
“Uh-huh.” I say with a yawn.
“Well, actually, I asked Santa to send me.” He is quiet for a second, and when he speaks again his voice seems tighter in his throat. “He accused me of having impure thoughts about you.”—I’m pretty sure that the old man didn’t use the term ‘impure thoughts,’ but Toby seems embarrassed enough as it is, so I don’t make him spell things out. “Well, uh, that wasn’t true at the time — I mean I don’t think that I was capable of impure thoughts as an elf — but now, in this body, I don’t know that he was so wrong.” He pauses and when he speaks again his voice is rushed. “I find you very desirable Chrissie, I guess I always have.”
I can’t believe he is saying this to me. My heart is in my throat. I have never had a man — human or elf — make me want to hear this more. And I didn’t even realize that I desired him, until just now. I take a deep breath. Half of me, the sarcastic, cynical half — is waiting for him to tell me that this is all a joke.
“I, uh, wanted to tell you before we got to the Pole.” He says quietly. “I guess I wanted to be the one to tell you.” I can hear the frustration in his voice, but I can not make my own voice come out of my throat and tell him that I understand. “Maybe I am only doing this for selfish reasons.”
I want to tell him that I know him well enough to know that that isn’t true, but my voice is still out of commission. My body, however, seems to know exactly what to do. My legs swing themselves off the side of the bed and my feet find the carpet. I head over to the mass on the floor next to the heater. The red “on” indicator is my only illumination, but I successfully traverse the cabin and find myself standing over Toby.
He is sitting in the sleeping bag, looking up at me, waiting to see what I am going to do.
Finally my hand extends down to Toby. “Come on.” My voice makes it though my throat and out of my mouth. “It’s too cold to sleep on the floor.”
He takes my hand and lets me help him to his feet, then I lead him to the bed.