Chapter Twenty-Eight: “People will listen to it with their loved ones and weep”

Tom, the sad folk singer, wanted to record a Christmas song to release separately from the full-length album they were in the midst of recording. Sybil was having a hard time imagining what that song would sound like. It would be undoubtedly depressing. It would be the most depressing Christmas song ever written. It would probably involve the death of orphaned puppies. Tom said they could release it and all the proceeds could go to a charity, which was a lovely sentiment. It would be the saddest Christmas donation of them all.

“Well, they’ll probably be able to retire that Sarah McLaughlin song from the SPCA commercials after this,” Sybil’s co-producer Chris commented as Tom set about getting ready to play them the Christmas song he’d written. “And there’ll be no need for ‘So This Is Christmas’ anymore. Tom will have written the world’s most depressing Christmas song of all time. People will listen to it with their loved ones and weep.”

“Maybe it won’t be as bad as we’re imagining it will be,” Sybil replied, cautiously optimistic.

“I want you to think about ‘Here Comes the Harpoon Again’ and then try to make that claim again,” Chris returned dryly. Sybil considered it for a moment.

“Yeah, alright,” she relented.

“It’s going to be like ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’, the sombre, realistic retelling,” Chris said. Sybil didn’t even bother trying to argue.

As it turned out, the song Tom had written especially for the holidays was about a family torn apart by their youngest son’s drug addiction. For the first two verses, Sybil had a hard time trying to work out how exactly Tom was claiming it as a Christmas song. It didn’t have a lot to do with reindeer or jolly snowmen, but it did have a lot to do with needle drugs and overdosing in back alleys in the middle of the night. It all came to light in the chorus, however, when Tom began singing about how the son’s parents would never be able to celebrate another Christmas the same way again because their son was shot on Christmas Eve trying to score heroin from a particularly nasty gang of drug dealers.

“What a lovely sentiment,” Chris remarked sarcastically as Tom began singing the third verse.

“I don’t even think the SPCA could play this song in their Christmas commercials,” Sybil replied. “This song is too dark to be played during a minute-long segment about abandoned golden retrievers.”

“On the other hand, it’s a really nice cohesive fit with the rest of his album,” Chris said, rolling his eyes.

Tom finished singing the most unjolly Christmas song of all time and turned to look at Chris and Sybil through the glass of the sound booth, waiting expectantly for feedback. Sybil didn’t even know where to begin. Technically, it was a good song. It was beautiful and the lyrics were well-written, if not horribly, tremendously depressing. She didn’t really see it taking off, though. If the point was to make money for charity, Sybil figured he was probably better off breaking out something far more upbeat about snow or Christmas cookies or an especially jolly Santa Claus. This song about a heroin addict getting shot on Christmas Eve and forever ruining Christmas for his dejected, world-weary, embittered parents was probably not going to raise a lot of money. It was going to increase misery and tears.

“Well,” Chris said after a moment, clearly just as at a loss for words as Sybil. “It’s a complete song. You’ve done well with the transitions and the overall sound.”

Sybil nodded along, letting Chris take point. If he could continue saying vaguely supportive things, then she wouldn’t have to say anything at all. They could record a demo, play it for their boss Angry Ron, and let him tell Tom that it couldn’t ever be released as a Christmas song because it was so sad, it might as well be about suicidal elves. But Chris stopped talking, apparently having run out of evasively positive things to say about Tom’s song, which just left the pair of them sitting behind the soundboard, smiling faintly and willing the moment to end.

“So you like it?” Tom asked after a moment. He looked at Sybil specifically. He really valued her opinion, which undoubtedly had a lot to do with the fact that he was somewhat in love with her. It was a love that plagued Sybil on a near daily basis.

“Well, the guitar sounds lovely,” Sybil offered in response, leaving it at that.

“And the lyrics?” Tom prompted. Sybil had really been hoping he wouldn’t ask directly so that they could avoid answering directly. There was very little chance that would end well for any of them. For one thing, she wasn’t overly fond of confrontation. For another, she was constantly afraid of what negative criticism would do to Tom. He always seemed to be just a little too close to the brink, if his music was anything to go by.

“They’re not the kind of lyrics you’d expect to find in a Christmas song,” Chris commented after a long moment and a fraught silence.

“It’s unique, right?” Tom returned, as close to excited as he was capable of getting. “I embrace individuality.”

“Well, there certainly won’t be another song like it on the radio this holiday season,” Chris replied with a fake grin, which satisfied Tom enough that they were able to record the song and move on, returning to the album. It was a long session of maudlin music and overwrought, weepy sentiments.

That night, Sybil met up with Jemima, Tallulah, and Iggy for dinner. Iggy had organized it so that she could reuse her Blonde Bombshells hashtag, despite the fact that Tallulah had black hair. Besides which, all their other friends already had plans. Much to Sybil’s immense displeasure, she spent the entire subway ride and subsequent walk to the restaurant humming Tom’s depressing Christmas song in her head. She even started singing it under her breath while she was looking over the drink menu. Iggy shot her a confused look.

“What the fuck are you singing?” She asked after a moment.

“Oh, Tom, the really sad folk singer, wrote a Christmas song,” Sybil answered. “It’s about a heroin addict who gets shot on Christmas Eve and about how sad his parents are for essentially the rest of their earthly lives.”

The other three stared blankly at her for a moment.

“Good Christ,” Iggy said.

“Oh my God, hilarious!” Tallulah said at the same time. Sybil rolled her eyes at her.

“He wants to release it as a single to raise money for charity,” Sybil continued to explain.

“That’s not going to raise money,” Iggy returned immediately. “Who’s going to buy that?”

“People don’t want to be sad around the holidays,” Jemima agreed, nodding with a sage expression. It wasn’t a very believable expression on her face, but Sybil let her have it.

“Yeah, they’re already forced to spend time with their family,” Iggy added. “That’s depressing enough.”

Tallulah laughed at her.

“To be fair, not everybody has the same relationship with their step-mother that you do,” she told Iggy. “I mean, my parents are very nice people.”

“Your parents are so weird, don’t even try, bro,” Iggy retorted instantly, turning in her seat to frown at Tallulah next to her.

“And yet, my mother has never once made passive-aggressive comments about me eating pie,” Tallulah returned calmly.

“In Iggy’s defence, your mother once tried to macramé hand towels,” Jemima said to Tallulah. Tallulah gave her a suspicious look.

“I feel like you don’t know what macramé is,” she eventually replied.

“It has something to do with macaroni noodles,” Jemima answered matter-of-factly.

“No it doesn’t,” Sybil told her. “I think the term you’re looking for there is macaroni art. See, you’ve gotten macaroni and macramé confused. Macramé is basically knitting with your hands. Or, like, extreme friendship bracelet-making. So, it’s not actually that weird to macramé a hand towel.”

“I mean, they absorb fuck all, but they’re still not macaroni noodle-encrusted,” Tallulah cut in.

“How do you know so much about crafting anyway?” Jemima demanded, slumping in her seat and glowering at Sybil and Tallulah.

“Well, as we’ve literally just discussed, my mother often macrames shit,” Tallulah replied, talking like it should’ve been obvious.

“Also by existing in society,” Sybil added dryly. Tallulah laughed and high-fived her, Jemima glared at them both, and Iggy ignored them entirely, having diverted all of her attention back to the drink menu that she’d stolen from Sybil’s hands.

The next day, Sybil arrived at work with a coffee for Chris and one for herself as well. Tom was setting up, getting ready to start recording for the day. Sybil took her usual seat next to Chris and greeted him with a small wave. She’d had a lot of wine the night before at dinner. She’d actually had too much wine the night before at dinner. She blamed Iggy. It was always Iggy’s fault.

“I have bad news,” Chris told her after a moment, cradling the coffee she’d handed him in both of his hands, hunched over it like he could absorb the caffeine and the heat without actually having to consume it. It was steaming so they hadn’t yet reached the two minute window between it being scaldingly hot and room temperature wherein it was safe to drink.

“How bad?” Sybil returned, holding her own coffee in both hands and not paying close attention, watching Tom tune his guitar instead.

“Angry Ron is letting Tom record his Christmas song,” Chris answered. Sybil turned to him immediately.

“What?”

“Right? Angry Ron likes it because it’s different than all the other Christmas songs. I asked him why he thought that is, but he didn’t seem to get it,” Chris began to explain. “He said it’s the first original Christmas song he’s heard in a long time that doesn’t make him want to slit his own wrists and then jump off the fucking office roof. Those were his exacts words, by the way.”

“That’s very different than how most other people are going to feel,” Sybil pointed out.

“That’s the exact opposite of how most people are going to feel,” Chris amended.

“Dear God,” Sybil muttered, slightly horrified that she would be at least partially responsible for bringing Tom’s unbelievably sad Christmas song about intravenous drugs into the world.

“Yeah,” Chris agreed solemnly.

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