Marissa found it odd that John should choose to very strategically position the mistletoe in a prominent part of the common area. Only yesterday, during their preparations for the party, they had specifically discussed that it was still “too soon” to bring it out. What with this new variant on the rise, they didn’t want to encourage their guests to be any closer than they needed to be. And, inevitably, because of alcohol intake, they would end up being too close. People couldn’t resist the inclination to be close, for whatever reason. Call it “human instinct.” Marissa preferred to think of it as “human grotesquerie.” She was already wary of inviting a twenty-large crowd. She begged John to try and pare it down, but he claimed every single invitee was essential. “Really? Your second cousin’s plus one is essential? Or your second cousin for that matter?” “Hey, I haven’t seen Vinnie in ages.”
Marissa had to bite her tongue to keep from chiming in, “Maybe that’s a good thing.” Since when did he give he shit about his second cousin Vinnie (incidentally, that could’ve been a good title for a sequel to My Cousin Vinny)… She got her answer later that night as she was drying one of the last pans from the pasta al forno she had cooked for dinner. “Since he came into some money. I’m hoping to remind him of our deep connection… and mention a certain business investment.” Marissa rolled her eyes. “Please tell me you’re not going to bring up the Cold Cuts idea to him.” John stared back at her defiantly, “Cutting things with a cold knife makes it easier.” Marissa sighed as she bent down to put the pot away. “It so doesn’t. You’re going to make a fool of yourself.”
John harrumphed in a faux outraged sort of way as he moved away from the kitchen and into the living room to start arranging more decorations for the party. It was then that he brought out the mistletoe from one of the boxes, announcing, “I’m gonna put this up near the door.” Marissa immediately rebuffed, “Oh no you don’t. I’m not encouraging anyone to get close this year, let alone exchange fluids on my watch.”
John guffawed. “What kinda party we throwin’ here? A funeral party?”
“If that’s what you need to tell yourself.”
“I don’t need to tell myself anything. I need this party to be a good time.”
Marissa didn’t bother to say out loud that putting such pressure on the event was bound to doom it. In fact, she didn’t even want to think the thought for too long because she knew it would come true. Why was it so important for John to make this event “the event”? People weren’t expecting much anymore, if they were expecting anything at all. And it was already such a gamble to be carrying on with this social charade in the midst of all the “experts” warning of a new surge. John didn’t care. They had been planning this since Thanksgiving. A “little” holiday get-together to show those they hadn’t seen in the past year all the useless shit they had bought online to fill their house with during the pandemic. There was a lot. Marissa was the most culpable for peppering the space with unnecessary decor and other items of comfort. When John would remind her that capitalism was what would kill them all and that she better hope the Peloton could float during the inevitable flood, she snapped back, “We’re all guilty, okay?!” So why did she feel somehow guiltier than everyone else?
That morning, after the previous night’s exchange she had with John about not using the mistletoe, Marissa was, indeed, rather appalled to find it hanging there happily, like a man who takes his dick out unasked. She wanted to scream. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back on her stress level. Instead, she took a deep breath, hoping that John wouldn’t come back from his usual morning run for at least thirty minutes more. And that was another thing: why didn’t he use the goddamn overpriced Peloton she had gotten for them (even if more for herself)? It was almost as though he was deliberately trying to spite her…in yet another fresh new way. She took a deep breath, as her therapist had instructed her to do (advice incurred for roughly $150 an hour) in moments of an imminent panic attack, and proceeded to the kitchen where she began to engage in some more food prep. She had wanted to do something simple, a few appetizers laid out here and there, with enough extra for one round of refilling. But John insisted that was not good enough. They needed more. A buffet-style scenario. Marissa, not wanting to piss on his parade, consented. Which meant she would be responsible for providing the food. The additional work piling on to the work she was actually paid for, and which she was already late to–even though it was but one computer click away.
After setting the first batch of her famous baked ziti in the oven, she finally entered the Zoom meeting she was now approximately ten minutes late for. Her boss was certain to stop talking and make a huge spectacle out of Marissa being late, further compounding her already off-the-charts anxiety. Mercifully, work would be cut short in a few hours on account of it being a holiday week. It was the only thing giving Marissa the hope of being ready in time for the fête. Not only did she need to finish cooking, but she also had to look her best. After all, these were people she hadn’t seen in quite some time. Meanwhile, where the fuck was John? He had skittered in at some point while she was distracted on her computer and had managed to evade her. Perhaps he knew that he should feel guilty about that fucking mistletoe…
The very mistletoe that, as the party got into full swing, was causing several pairs of people who found themselves beneath or near it to laugh and joke about how, “Well, we have to follow tradition, don’t we?” before pecking each other on the face, or, at later levels of drunkenness, full-on making out as they giggled and tumbled into some other room to carry on with their sexual exploration. It was everything Marissa had feared. She kept trying to find John among the crowd to flash him a dirty look that not only said, “I told you so” but also, “I fucking hate you for this.” Espying yet another two people kiss each other who weren’t even technically that close to the parasitic plant, she had to wonder when everyone got so gung-ho about “tradition,” which yes, ultimately was just pressure from dead people. She supposed it tied back into all those articles she had read about how the masses were craving “normalcy”–as though anything about tradition was normal. Least of all kissing under mistletoe. If only people were aware not only of the fact that mistletoe could be toxic, but of its somewhat Oedipal implications… if one was to go by the Nordic myth of Frigg and Baldur. In some versions of the myth, Frigg revived her son after he was shot with an arrow made out of the plant, therefore somewhat antithetically touting it as a symbol of love and promising to kiss anyone who ever passed underneath it as a sign of gratitude for her son’s well-being. It was a bit too effusive, if you asked Marissa. If you also asked her, she would try to make you aware of the additional Oedipal/pagan implications of kissing under the mistletoe purely by being derived from a Greek tradition alone. And Christians hated Greek shit, despite grafting most of it for themselves.
Marissa hit another glass of eggnog hard to cope with it all. She felt claustrophobic, like the rona balls were everywhere in the air around her…and probably were. It would only be a matter of days before a major outbreak in their town was linked back to this party. Marissa, who had spent most of it either far-removed from everyone else or outside pretending to smoke (which she didn’t), wasn’t surprised to learn that John contracted COVID as well. But she had to question whether or not he got it from merely being around the infected, or from actually kissing one of them behind her back. Somewhere far from the mistletoe.