Saturday, December 23, 2006


Christmas short story

Obviously not entirely true, but based on a real incident. Enjoy! DM

"A merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight."


I reflected on the sonorous emphasis of the Goodnight as I lay in the top bunk, arms folded behind my head, gazing morbidly over at the two rugby socks on the fireplace: one for me, one for my sister.

At seven and a half years of age (I was always particular about mentioning the half as it separated me from all the poxy little twerps at school who were merely seven), although no longer under the impression that all other people in the world were simply provided for my entertainment, I had yet to develop any kind of true insight into the workings of other people's minds.

All I knew as I listened to the drunken revelry downstairs was that it was stupid to put a seven and a half year old to bed and expect them to go straight to sleep, especially on Christmas Eve.

Because of early bed times, sleeplessness had latterly become a nightly ordeal for me: sometimes my parents would become aware that I wasn't asleep so they would come in and shout at me to go to sleep, then I would get upset and so it didn't really help. On other nights, I would lie in the dark frantically trying to go to sleep, terrified lest one or other of the parents came in to check on us and berated me for being awake. Of course this state of nervous tension wasn't really conducive to peaceful slumber either.

If my usual sleeplessness was a strain on me, Christmas Eve sleeplessness was doubly so. Earlier in the evening I'd had my uncles roaring with laughter and my aunts pale with shock when, on bended knees, I had begged my father to mash me in the head with a hammer, thus rendering me unconscious until the morning; I had even brought his largest hammer from the tool box in the downstairs toilet, ignoring the feral-tom stench caused by my uncle having accidentally urinated in said tool box the previous evening. Cruel to be kind I had said then, remembering an adult having used these words before and thinking them suitable to this occasion. Sadly my father wasn't cruel enough to be kind, but he was at least cruel enough to call me a stupid git and tell me to give the hammer a rinse under the tap before putting it back.

I wasn't the only one who'd suffered planning difficulties in the lead up to Christmas: my mother, after having had a particularly difficult time with buying presents the previous year, had vowed to complete the Christmas shopping by the end of August this time around: all of it. Which, as it turns out, included the turkey which she had purchased in non-perishable form

The first time our cat saw a live turkey strutting round the garden, it went flat eared with terror and shot up the apple tree like a champagne cork. Shortly after this it was living in hermetic solitude in the attic, occasionally venturing out onto the roof to defecate in the gutter.

I was hardly any happier as I liked to play football in the garden during the summer months when the ground was harder and less likely to be damaged by my play. The turkey was a serious obstacle and made a tremendous noise the first time it got hit by a ball. My mother confiscated the ball after this and told me I could have it back at Christmas, which annoyed me even more. I pointed out (quite reasonably, I thought) that Christmas was a time when my parents should give me new things, not things they'd stolen from me four months previously. My mother, seeing the truth of this, told me I would receive a new football for Christmas then attacked the existing ball with a kitchen knife, succeeding at last in puncturing it after several nasty ricochets.

As for the precious turkey itself, it led a life of moribund perplexity in our garden for the next fortnight before it was picked off by an opportunistic fox. My mother, although no doubt secretly glad to have the cat back, was absolutely livid about the loss of her turkey and went so far as to phone up a fox hunt in the Warwickshire region and demand that they come and rid us of "this bloody menace". I could only hear my Mother's side of the conversation on the telephone, but I guessed that the fox hunting fellows weren't keen on the idea. She harangued them for fully ten minutes by my count before they had the sense to hang up.

As I mused on this, I heard the click downstairs of the kitchen light being turned off, soft footsteps on the stairs and whispered goodnights. A heavy, suffocating silence descended on the house.


I was as susceptible to nocturnal paranoia, fear of the dark and phantoms of the imagination as any other child my age. With the house completely quiet, save for the roaring of blood in my ears, so loud I felt it must surely wake everyone up, a nasty thought came to me: I suddenly became convinced that breathing required a conscious effort on the part of the breather. To test this, I decided to halt all breathing effort and try to get some idea of how long I would be able to last in the event that I forgot how to breathe.

After five minutes of listening to my strangulated gasping, my six-year-old sister in the bunk below told me to shut the fuck up. We had heard my father shouting these words at some carol singers and thought them tremendously adult. I was even impressed with them coming from my sister, but, then again, she always had a curiously deep voice.

With my sister asleep once more, I had nothing better to occupy myself with than trying to recite The Night Before Christmas in my head. Although I had most of the story down pat, the reindeers' names always gave me a bit of trouble.

I had got as far as Rinser and Mincer when the door swung open.

A rotund figure in a red hat bestrode the doorway; I was less than happy- it was my father. Thoroughly expecting to be shouted at for my inability to sleep, I lay motionless in the bed. However, whatever mysterious sixth sense usually enabled my parents to detect wakeful children was evidently not in action tonight. My father, after a perfunctory scan of the beds, tiptoed across the room in a camp pantomime style, removed our stockings from the fireplace and snuck back out.

There were furtive rustlings outside.

The would-be St. Nick came back in, replaced the stockings delicately on the fireplace, downed the whisky we'd left out and pocketed the mince pie.

Just as my father reached the door, I called out "ho, ho, ho" in a low voice. Pausing in the doorway, he called me a bastard, then left.

I grinned in the darkness, rolled over and was asleep within five minutes.

Delightful! Sure beats the pants off Kafka.
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