Friday, September 28, 2007

Christmas myth

Category: Issue 12

The annual gathering, the time when old ones watch the arrival of their peers, half disappointed that no one has died this year.

‘Ready for another one yet?’ says uncle Charlie. I look at his hands. Age spots freckle the white skin, blue veins knot in random lumps.

I shake my head. ‘No thanks, Charlie, I haven’t finished this one yet,’ I raise my glass.

‘Better get a move on then, we’re all way ahead of you.’ He drops a lid over his rheumy eye and drifts off among the relatives.

My sister Jean is hosting the party. She’s fashionably slim and her outfit super sharp. If I cocked my ear I could hear it scream, look how expensive I am. I don’t cock my ear. I don’t care. Bordering on anorexic, Jean has huge breasts. Not bestowed through family genetics, but the benevolence of her rich husband. She displays her jewellery with the same bad taste as she displays her breasts.

My brother Adam’s kids are tormenting the cat. He doesn’t believe a cuff around the ear to encourage good behaviour is the way to go. Wisely, the cat has wedged its tabby body behind the settee. The older of the two boys suggests getting a stick to flush it out.

Jean is making the rounds with a plate of sausage rolls. My five-year-old niece Chantal is following handing out paper plates, the edges decorated with printed holly.

‘A sausage roll, Sarah?’ Jean thrusts the heaped plate under my nose. I shake my head. She gives a knowing smile. ‘The mince pies will be round in a minute. You won’t refuse those, I’m sure.’ Her eyes fastened on the bulge in my Slimma skirt. I suck in my breath but she has moved away, the blow delivered.

Chantal is heading towards me with the paper plates. I view her with trepidation.

‘Santa’s coming tonight.’ Her voice has the brittle shrillness of Jean.

‘Yes,’ I cross my legs and the invitation of a lap disappears.

‘He’s going to bring me presents.’ She singsongs the words smugly and I wince. She leans against my hip and pushes her face close so I can’t avoid looking at her. Her eyes are duck egg blue, slithers of green blend in the iris and her hair is the colour of wet straw. She puts cake sticky hands on my new blouse. ‘My mummy says I’m a good girl, so Santa’s going to bring me lots of presents.’ She lifts a leg to straddle my crossed knees.

I’m forced to make a lap. ‘What’s he going to bring you?’

She chants a long list. I tune out and look across the room. The boys have found a broom and are poking the stick end under the settee. The cat has long since made its escape.

I feel a tug at my collar. ‘Is he coming down the chimney, auntie Sarah?’

‘Who?’ I say. My eyes are on Charlie’s new woman. Thirty years younger and flirting with every male in the room.

Uncle Charlie hasn’t chosen too well, but then, young flesh can have that effect on men about to crumble. I wonder how he is coping with the embarrassment.  I needn’t have worried. He’s sharing a sofa with aunt Margaret and they’re both asleep. Brown, beer spittle is inching down grooves by his mouth. Aunt Margaret’s face is red and light is bouncing off goose grease left on her chin from dinner. Soft snores are whistling through her badly fitting denture.

Aunt Margaret, despite her clicking denture, has managed to land no less than four husbands during her sixty odd years. The husbands passed away at various intervals, leaving her rich. The family take a great interest in her affairs and makes book on how long each one will last. Margaret is a widow again. I notice she’s brought a male companion with her – I wonder if I ought to warn him.

‘Santa. You’re not listening to me, auntie Sarah. Is he coming down the chimney?’

I turn my attention back to her. ‘Yes, of course he is, darling.’

‘I’m going to stay awake and when he creeps into my room with presents. I’m going to give him a big kiss.’ Her face is alight with excitement.

She twirls to the centre of room in tight circles, her arms wide, her head thrown back. My lap feels cold. She overbalances and falls. I watch as Jean bends over her and smoothes the wet straw hair from her flushed face.

My sister scowls at me. ‘I hope you haven’t been exciting her with your weird tales?’

‘No,’ I look at my sister’s painted eyebrows and wonder what her scowl would be like without her eyebrow pencil.

‘Good. I don’t want her to grow up like you - with a head full of nonsense.’ Jean never forgave my childhood joke when I claimed a monster lived up our chimney.

‘Of course not.’

Jean lifts a serving fork and a hot mince pie lands on my plate. ‘I want her to grow up with a grip on the reality.’ My sister can sound pompous without effort

I shrug. ‘So, it’s okay for a strange man to creep into her bedroom. Just as long as he brings presents?’

Jean’s face flushes. ‘Oh, trust you to put a weird spin on the simplest thing.’ She flounces away.

‘Any chance of a coffee with the mince pie?’ I call after her retreating back. She doesn’t answer and I give a sigh of satisfaction. As long as I’m able to annoy my sister, I can put up with Christmas.

Posted by littlewhitewolf on 09/28 at 12:11 PM | Permalink
(1) Discuss • (3) Comments

« Almost      Dirty Man »