Heat Miser and Snow Miser fiction: Salon's two-sentence holiday stories, starring the brilliant Xmas special duo

Celebrate the season with new two-sentence holiday stories from Ann Hood, Thomas Beller, Ariel Schrag and many more


David Daley
December 26, 2014 12:00AM (UTC)
It's the 40th anniversary of "The Year Without a Santa Claus," so for this new edition of Salon's two-sentence fiction series, we asked our acclaimed novelists to include Heat-Miser and Cold-Miser. Exactly how, well, that was up to them.

This time of year when I turn up the thermostat, I think of Mom, who was always turning up the thermostat, and how when Dad would catch her he launched into, “They call me Heat-Miser,” prancing and bellowing that whole ridiculous song.

And when I think of Dad at this time of year, I think of a Christmas gift he gave Mom once, a huge, colorfully wrapped box, which she opened only to find inside another wrapped box, and Dad laughed as she opened that box to find another wrapped box, and then another, and so on, boxes inside boxes (everything from Dad was always a joke, a big laugh, an absurd story, a ridiculous reenactment, an outlandish flattery (as I grew older, I made attempts at heartfelt conversation with the man, but these only set him to searching for more ludicrous diversions (what I mean is, Dad was like that big delightfully wrapped box: when I tried to peel it open, I found inside another gaudy box, and inside that box another box, etc. (but the hidden passages and underground sentiments of my parents’ relationship were always a mystery to me, and for Mom, I guess, Dad was different, or seemed different (she actually laughed when she opened that last small box, with its ridiculous contents, another joke (a handwarmer)))))).

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Nick Arvin is the author of the books "In the Electric Eden," "Articles of War" and "The Reconstructionist"

Comfort and Joy

She did not want him to shovel the snow, because she loved how unspoiled the yard looked without boot prints or footpaths, and it was Christmas Eve, their seventeenth one together, there was nowhere to go and it was freezing out, but she did not want him to turn up the heat, because she liked to wear all of those layers of silk and wool, and she liked how the children went to sleep earlier when the house was cold, stocking caps on their tiny heads, and — well, geez, the things she needed for happiness always surprised him, but he did what she asked, he always did, and at night, in bed together, under many ancient blankets, he was glad for the heat they made together.

The next winter — she had left him in June, and now his to-do list had no editor — he jacked up the thermostat, let the kids wander barefoot through the drafty rooms, made the sidewalks into clean slates, cleared the snow as it fell, sawed, split, and stacked wood in precise piles on the back porch, and in the still dark mornings, when he stoked the stove into a ridiculously fiery furnace, the children woke up wearing summer pajamas, sat at his feet, bed-headed, sipping cocoa, and he told them story after story about people who’d gotten unexpectedly lost in the cold but had made it home in time, a Christmas miracle.

Dean Bakopoulos is the author of the novels "My American Unhappiness" and "Please Don't Come Back from the Moon." His latest, "Summerlong," will be published in June.

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A Pay Phone Rings in Far Rockaway

In Far Rockaway, Queens, on an unseasonably warm night in December 1997, the pay phone just beneath my hotel window rings and the apple-cheeked hoodlum with a gold chain around his neck who has been swinging his forty ounce in a brown paper bag and talking tough gets a tap on the shoulder, it's his father on the line, and the father lets him have it, berates him for not doing his homework, for neglecting his studies, for staying out late with his good-for-nothing American friends, for not being aware of the sacrifices, for being an oblivious punk, and he orders the boy to get back home right away, to which the boy, who had been so tough, his voice ringing through the street that dead ended into the beach, responds with pleading and begging to be allowed to stay out a bit later, because he has already done his homework, which then switches to a plea to sleep over at his friend's place, the veracity of which I cannot determine, is there a friend in his group and if so which one of the guys would it be, or is there a girl, it's all unclear because up to that point I had not realized how young the boy was, and that he must have parents worried about him from whom he would have to ask permission to sleep over, and I suddenly need to get out of that room and take a walk, and five minutes later, when I turn and look back from a block away, released from the fleabag hotel room I had rented for the purpose of blackmailing myself into finishing something which I no longer wanted to look at, I can see, from that distance, the boy as he speaks into the phone, spotlit by a streetlamp, the scene framed by twinkling Christmas lights, my memory having blurred the edges into the shape of a cameo as though memory itself were an effect on an iPhone, his slouched shoulders and the way the nape of his neck telegraphs a beseeching, almost whipped quality, and find it to be quite touching, he was so rigid and now he is so pliant, and furthermore as much as my sympathies are with the boy I am grateful to him, too, on behalf of his father, because I have a feeling that this tough 14-year-old is probably the last guy on earth that the father can make tremble like this, and I am witnessing a moment of perfect equilibrium in which the boy is still absorbing the punishing wrath of his once badass father, who he is still imbibing, and is in the process of becoming that same badass himself, even as he still absorbs the anger of the diminished father, now immigrated to the shithole of freedom called America where he doesn't speak the language, but damn it if he is going to let his son go native and forget where he came from, which brings me to the strangest thing about the whole scene, which is that although I am absolutely certain of the veracity of every syllable I have reported, and each phrase is as vivid to me as that boy's body language as he pleaded and practically wept into the pay phone, the forty ounce in the brown paper bag still in his hand now more comical than menacing, no longer testifying to his independence but to the length of his fall from the grace of invincibility to his current beseeching state which, now, as a father, I can see is also a state of grace, a kind we are always too eager to give up, though I never really had to give it up, because I never had a father to yell at me when I was 14, and if he had lived that long I wouldn't have had to speak to him in German, his native language, because my father spoke English just fine, while the tough kid in Far Rockaway was talking to his father in Russian the whole time. And I don't speak Russian.

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Thomas Beller's books include "Seduction Theory," "The Sleep-Over Artist" and, most recently, "J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist." He teaches at Tulane University.

She'll be easy to forget until one dull dock of a Christmas night your wife will forget an ingredient and send you into an afterthought of drizzle to the nuclear twilight of a convenience mart where at the stacks of broth you'll scan for low-sodium chicken, low-sodium chicken, low-sodium chicken. You'll be stopped at a red light on some nowhereville road when thoughts of her will assail you -- at home there'll be people waiting for broth, aunts in special earrings, the Heat-Miser on mute singing about who's not here -- but maybe the moon is rising over an open field, maybe something about the moon, the drizzle, the earrings, activates her silhouette against your mind, forcing you to realize you've forgotten her every day since you met, until the light clicks green and you lurch forward, the way she used to say "darling."

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Marie-Helene Bertino is the author of the novel "2 a.m. at the Cat's Pajamas" and the story collection "Safe as Houses" 

"You two have been purveying this Mr. Heat Miser/Mr. Snow Miser schtick for a long time," the lawyer said, regarding the brothers, his clients, from his perch behind the large oak desk, custom built with the monies he had earned during his years of representing them in all aspects of their careers, through the ups and downs that go with being the faces of a vertically integrated entertainment empire, not to mention their multiple marriages, all of which involved complicated prenups, and subsequent divorces. "I don't need to mention, it being pretty obvious, that neither of you is getting any younger, so I think, when we get done signing the contracts for your usual seasonal engagements, perhaps we should begin to discuss the matter of -- I don't want to be indelicate here, because, God willing, you'll both live forever -- estate planning."

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Seth Greenwald's new novel, "I Regret Everything: A Love Story," will be published in February by Europa Editions

She knew she shouldn’t hate him for being such a miser about heat; after all, he’d grown up in a two-room cabin without electricity, much less forced hot air. Still, she thought, as she duct-taped his hands to the wall, this Christmas the thermostat was hers -- all hers -- and to celebrate she’d be kicking it up to a toasty 68.

Lauren Grodstein is the author of the novels "The Explanation for Everything," "A Friend of the Family" and "Reproduction is the Flaw of Love," and the story collection "The Best of Animals"

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She told him she’d meet him in New York — at the Plaza, no less — only if he made it snow because a woman who lived in the sultry heat of the Florida Keys deserved some snow if she was flying so far for an affair. The night she arrived, snow did indeed begin to fall, reminding her of that song Snow-Miser, Heat-Miser, from some long ago Christmas movie, and she almost sang it to him, but changed her mind because she didn’t really know him well enough for that, did she?

Ann Hood's many novels include "The Obituary Writer," "The Red Thread" and, most recently, "An Italian Wife"

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Christmas Tree Bonfire

Egg nog gave him heartburn and champagne gave him a headache and all that stop-motion animation just gave him the creeps: it was the way the mouths moved, like the chomp-chomp laughter of a ventriloquist’s dummy. But once the decorations were down, he settled into the only ritual that saved the whole ho-ho-hopeless season: a circle in the yard cleared of snow, the tang of gasoline and pinesap, the snap of dry branches, beer cans blackening in the embers, and the blessed heat of that 60-dollar Scotch pine glowing more beautifully than ever, its needles outlined in flame.

Brendan Mathews is the author of "The World of Tomorrow" and "Leavetakings," both forthcoming from Little, Brown

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They pushed their way through the hired cast of hors d’oeuvres-bearing town criers to the backyard where the former figure skating champion Tonya Harding was doing Salchow jumps on a rented skating rink. Annabelle really thought it added something to the festive ambience, this skating, so she had the rink installed each year for her pre-Christmas Christmas fete, but no one ever ventured out on it until the end of the evening when they were hammered, so she’d started paying former Olympians to warm things up a bit.

Courtney Maum is the author of the novel "I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You"

After the divorce I lived in a guest house, which was perfect because it belonged to someone else, was filled with someone else’s books containing someone else’s lovelorn inscriptions (Did you ever really love me, or were you just coming down? -Scottie), and also because I never felt alone; glass doors spanned the wide back of the main house, so that I only had to look up from my desk to see Tucker and Liza moving around inside the house, carrying cups of coffee, he shirtless and she in her underwear, their bodies bronzed and fit in the way of rich people with plenty of leisure time.

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It was a sexy property, big languorous oaks overhanging the deck, dropping acorns into the Jacuzzi, outdoor speakers piping jazz and trance music through the yard all day and into the night; even the guest house was furnished like an opium den, the furniture built for snorting coke or screwing, and though at first I had wanted to live like a monk, gradually the place began to transform me, so that one night around Christmas, when I saw the globes of Tucker’s ass working as he fucked a woman who wasn’t Liza on the silver couch of their living room, I walked down the pathway toward the house and sat in the hanging rattan chair to watch, the turquoise pool glittering like a jewel, the Louisiana night mild and green-smelling, Snow Miser and Heat Miser dueling, unwatched, on the television behind them.

Keija Parssinen is the author of the novels "The Unraveling of Mercy Louis" (forthcoming, March 2015) and "The Ruins of Us"

“How’s my little Heat Miser?” said Sue, prancing into our bedroom.

“I’m not Heat Miser, I’m Snow Miser,” I informed her, covers pulled up to my chin (a lie, I actually am Heat Miser, just with someone else).

Ariel Schrag is the author of the novel "Adam," the graphic memoirs "Awkward," "Definition," "Potential" and "Likewise," and has written for television series on HBO and Showtime

“As usual, whenever she entered the room his heart would go all heat-miser on him -- it would positively melt. The next moment, however, as she brushed past him, or spoke over his shoulder as though he wasn't even there, it was cold-miser all over again.”

Johanna Skibsrud is the author, most recently, of the novel "Quartet for the End of Time"

Snow Miser, getting colder. Heat Miser, hot-blooded, panting, and thinking: Okay, maybe I overreacted to that last crack about the hair.

Adam Sternbergh is the author of the novels "Near Enemy" (forthcoming in January) and "Shovel Ready"


David Daley

David Daley, a former editor of Salon, is the author of the national bestseller "Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn't Count" and the forthcoming “Unrigged: How Americans Fought Back, Slayed the Gerrymander and Reinvented Democracy.”

MORE FROM David Daley



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