The holidays meant more to him than most. They have ever since Gustav got off the ship one soggy November morning. His soles sunk into the soft earth of America. Fealty filled his lungs with his next breath. He pledged allegiance shortly after. He shook the judge’s hand, and thanked him profusely. He began thanking everyone.
Holding a door?
“Thank you, madame.”
Offering another cup of coffee?
“On the house? You’re too sweet.”
Discounting the security deposit for an apartment?
“I’ll never forget you, sir.”
He thanked them through the fourth Thursday of the month, when snow fell and his charity deepened. He spent Saturdays at homeless shelters, dropped his change into every bucket he saw, and gave blood. Too much blood. He found himself going to different precincts and lying about when he’d last given to give more.
It began a cycle. Now every autumn Gustav thanks the giving, and every winter he is filled with good will towards all men. It lasts unto a drunken explosion on the 31st of December, when his eyes are all glitter. It’s the only night he ever gets laid. Whether by luck or an unchecked alcoholic libido, he doesn’t know.
The weather warms and he hits more hospitals. He gives up booze for forty days and allocates that money toward some nurse’s education, even if he really needs it for himself. It’s a bribe to get him inside birthing rooms, where his chubby hands are sterilized and assist delivering babies. Ten months a year he can’t stand them, but for two, he spanks breath into them and jockeys to hand them to Moms. Sometimes he leaves Cadbury crème eggs behind.
The weather overheats, and hospitals lose appeal. He meanders. He has less to do until about the beginning of July, when he falls in love with his country all over again. He weeps, buys everyone at the bar another of whatever they drink, and will drive a hundred miles to see a bigger fireworks display. Last year he didn’t even realize it was the 4th until he was stuck in traffic, heading for the riverside show.
These months are slow and sweaty. He tries to occupy himself at the church or hospital. It doesn’t last. Those addictions are dormant. They don’t work in the summer, but he needs something to take his mind off what is coming. It kills him that nobody wants to talk about fireworks on July 6th.
Gustav needs that distraction, doesn’t get it, and every year this happens. Days climb longer, apex, then dwindle into autumn. As night comes sooner, he trails women home. Hopefully one invites him, but if none do, he’ll find a stray girl on her way back from work. He will go to the sidewalk outside their house. He will go up to the door, and beg his fingers not to push for the bell. By October 1st, he’ll break in after them. He wishes he could stop stalking, but it’s out of his power. Halloween is nigh, and so few people have Jack O’Lanterns to ward him away.
Blessed November 1st. After a long shower, he can thank everyone again.
Authorities think it’s an annual serial killer. They can’t catch him, because they don’t think to look for a serial thanker in November, or a serial patriot in the summer. They don’t know what holidays mean. Only he does.