Correspondent – A Short Christmas Story

A family reunion.

With such a busy year, I haven’t had the time to flesh out this short story I have been working on, so see it as a first draft being publicly presented. It is more of a sketch, a scene rather than a short story. It is darker than last year’s more comedic tale, a family drama in miniature. It was inspired by ‘Jim: The James Foley Story’.

Christmas Day. He was reluctantly smoking a cigarette with his cast-covered arm. He swore he wasn’t going to have one until the end of the holidays, blowing white smoke into the air, equal parts formed by smoke and the cold. He looked out onto the garden that winter had made ruffled and muddy, with a lone swingball from last summer standing like a rusted monument. It reminded him how alien he felt every time he came back to the UK; how Kate’s kids looked and acted differently every time he saw them; the endless questions about his future, like, when he was going to get a girlfriend or if he’d move back into the area. His sister Kate hated his dependence on cigarettes, not just because she didn’t want her patio covered in ash and cigarette butts, but that her baby brother would be giving himself a death sentence. He brought his own ashtray, which he set beside him on the floor.

‘You’re going to miss the Queen’s Speech,’ Kate said as she slid the patio door open. He turned and they looked at each other, one bemused and the other in resigned acceptance he is in trouble. Kate’s eyes rolled as she saw the cigarette in Arthur’s hand as she slid the door closed. ‘I’ll forgive you, just this once’
‘I brought an ash tray’
‘I saw, it looks like a love heart’
‘Would you believe me if I told you the others were sold out?’
She kept silent.

Kate folded her arms and she kept moving around in the same spot. She was just wearing a Christmas jumper with a picture of a deer jumping over a log on to keep her warm, and she wasn’t planning to stay out there long. It looked like it was going to snow. ‘So, been enjoying today? I know it’s not like mum’s-’
‘It’s been good, it’s been good.’ Arthur put out his cigarette in his ashtray, and looked out to the sky, a grey canvas. Kate looked at Arthur and wondered what was really going on, as he had been rather quiet throughout Christmas morning, particularly when her kids started to excitedly rip open his presents to them. They were always enamoured with Uncle Arthur’s presence every time he came to visit. He didn’t visit much. When Arthur was silent, it meant something.

Arthur knew he had to tell her what was on his mind. He could see that she wasn’t going back in, and he needed her to go back inside and watch The Queen’s Speech, and could catch something if she stayed out for too long . ‘Kate, go back inside, I’m about to finish up.’
‘Arthur, I need to ask you if you’re…’
‘Yes, I’m going back Kate.’ Kate pretended that she was shocked, but she couldn’t pull it off, there was a reluctance in her to give up, even though it was a losing battle. ‘What do you mean-?’
‘You’re pretending, don’t pretend.’
‘I’m not pretending.’
‘You want me to say it out loud, like it will change it.’
‘Why can’t you ever say it? Anyway, you’re freelance, you’re don’t need to go anywhere or do anything’
‘Kate, I have to go. I’ve already got the flights booked and my equipment packed.’
‘I will refund you the costs.’
‘You can’t afford-’
‘I will pay-’
‘I have to go.’
‘No, you don’t. You never ‘have’ to go Arthur.’
‘Have you talked to Paul about this?’

Kate stood her ground, but they both knew she hadn’t told Paul. Paul would explode in anger if he were to find out about Arthur’s next move. The destructive effect it had on Kate’s temperament, and the continuing days or moments that she would think of her little brother made Paul somewhat hesitant to accept Arthur as his brother rather than brother-in-law. ‘I can’t tell Paul.’
‘Maybe I will be the one to tell him this time.’ Kate went up to Arthur and knelt down on her haunches, she looked at Arthur, ‘Please don’t go,’ Arthur started to tear up but remained calm. He looked at Kate, and just shook his head. Kate held Arthur’s cold face with her palm, feeling his beard, ‘please don’t go.’

Kate stood up as Arthur sat frozen. Arthur couldn’t articulate why he was going, or why this time, but he had to. He didn’t want to say it was the only thing he was looking forward to in the new year. He loved his sister and her family, as they’ve been his ballast, but he had to go back for the others who didn’t have them. Kate saw just her little brother in his mind, but while Kate knew what he had to, but she knew it would end him.

‘Don’t tell him today, leave it ‘til tomorrow. Promise?’
‘I promise.’

Kate moved the sliding door as the Queen was just finishing up her speech. ‘Kate,’ Arthur said. Kate turned back, and looked over, ‘Is the Turkey ready yet?’
Kate reluctantly smiled and chuckled. She shouted over to the kitchen, ‘Is it ready yet?’
‘What’s ready?’ Paul shouted from the kitchen,
‘Oh you numpty, you know what I meant’
‘Soon?!’
Kate looked back to Arthur, ‘Soon, he says.’
‘Good.’
Kate took a step inside and left the door open. Arthur got up, went back into the house and closed the door behind him.

It was their last one together.

Would you wish for Christmas everyday? – A Short Story by Milan Matejka

 

This story is set in England, where all the shops, cinemas and event venues tend to be closed on Christmas Day. If this happened in America,  I guess everyone could rewatch Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and eat Chinese takeout every day. This type of Christmas might not be as bad as the story that is about to follow.

 

One Christmas ball hanging on leafless branch against of white background. Isolated

One day, a couple of days before Christmas, in some undetermined year, in a different time and space, in a different England, Abi wished, mistakenly, to have Christmas everyday. She was a child, and was not to know the cost of such a ridiculous, errant Christmas wish. Her wish, though naive, had a good intention at the time. So, on that fateful white Christmas day, where the normal festivities were unfolding according to tradition, or at least what people felt was appropriate. People went to church, some went outside to make snow sculptures, some had too much to drink, and some have fallen asleep in front of some mindless tripe on television. Little did they know that this would soon change for everyone in her town, Scrooge and Christmas lover-alike. A snowglobe of hell.

It was like Groundhog Day, the movie, not the actual day. Everything seemed to be repeating, aside from the fact that everyone was now aware of their new situation. Roger Penforth, of 27B Wilson Drive, tried to go to another town nearby to visit his parents, but found that his car refused to move beyond the town limits, having bashed his front bumper beyond recognition. Tracey, of 12 Lambert Avenue, tried to jog around the nearby, beautifully scenic forests that surrounded the town, and found that by hitting, at first invisible, glass wall at full pelt, it would break her nose. This invisible wall between them and out there…. It was like groundhog day, and they couldn’t get out of it.

In this microcosm, the town had started learning The Queen’s Speech off by heart, almost as if it was a mantra. The words of goodwill turned religious and irrelevant at the same time, a white noise you would only notice when you paused and started to listen. Previous complaints by families, children, and adults regarding the endlessly repeating Christmas television programs went on overdrive, as it took over all the media around them. Social media was also frozen in this time bubble, like the outside world was trapped with them. Their pleas for rescue were turned into romantic Christmas soliloquies. ‘I need help’ became ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘I’m dying’ turned into a post about cracker jokes. Marie-Claire Matthias, of Elm Walk, wrote a suicide note that, as soon as she pressed the send key, put up lyrics of ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, repeating ad nauseum. Christmas doesn’t have to be too nice.

Whatever was broken on Christmas Day became suddenly fixed. At the start, car wrecks littered around the four corners of their district, to which, Arnold, of 23 Admiral Street, added his Ferrari to this collection. He stand on the side of the road, crying both about his negated excuse of existence, and the failure in his attempt to get out of town in one piece. Each car would soon be returned, repaired and snow covered. For Arnold, this was definitely a mixed blessing.

A Santa’s Grotto, located near the shopping centre, was destroyed piece by piece by vengeful Dads repeatedly through the passing weeks. First they liked to draw spiteful penises with spray paint, and then they beat the thing into a near pulp so they could and set fire to it. Neal West, of 423 Springfield Road had a neon green spray can. The next day, the Grotto returned as a fort of Christmas cheer and dodgy looking elves gnomes.  Nothing they did would dent that Christmas feeling, that malicious Christmas feeling.

Pretty soon after, they tried to loot the shops. They tried to find Easter eggs. They tried to find anything that was not glittered, festive and merry. The shops which decided to stay closed on Christmas Day had a supernatural spell all on their windows and doors. They will never be breached, they will never be opened. they could not be breached or could be unleashed. The Goldbergs, of 65 Tower Road, the only Jewish family most people knew that outright refused to do anything festive and ‘jolly’, were called upon to unleash the doors and allow people the freedom of choice. The freedom to have anything other than turkey, turkey roast, turkey sandwich, turkey stew, turkey du vin, turkey fajitas, coconut turkey, paleo turkey, turkey nuggests, liquid turkey, turkey salad, turkey anything.

However, The Goldbergs were not successful. As they put their hand to door handles to open the door, to cricket bats to smash the snowman decal off the windows (and the windows too), they could not breach the crystalised stillness inside of that Poundland. Other non-Christmas families tried, many who condemned the pagan roots, and those who celebrated Christmas in January to believers of other faiths and creeds. It didn’t matter. They failed. The Haques, the Muhammeds, the Farahs, the Usmans, the Osmonds, the Chans, the Fletchers, the Cromwells, the Lees, the Batras, and they even let a haggard homeless man have a go. Christmas as a whole was in the air, and it affected everyone like a virus. It doesn’t discriminate who was naughty or nice, or plain indifferent.

People couldn’t die on Christmas. Jerome K. of Archer Way threw himself into the sea, and came back in his bedsheets, next to his Staffie, Chuck. Jerome K. was thankful that it was permanent when Chuck decided to lick his face. He too knew what happened, burying himself into the bedsheets to get closer to his master. A Christmas Miracle! Margaret Ribbon, of 23 The Willowsby, and her family, Bob, Chuck, Khaleesi, tried poisoning. A Tiramasu of doom, Margaret did not tell her family that she had done this, and thought better to not tell them. A Christmas Miracle, for they awoke in their rooms to no adverse affect! Margaret had to explain herself however, leading Bob to question Margaret’s sanity. Charlie Hack, also of The Willowsby except he lived at 18 The Willowsby, hated Tim Bucket, of 1 Tyler Lane. Tim hated Charlie. Charlie decided to bludgeon Tim with a frozen turkey, but as soon as dawn approached, Tim can now plot his own vengeance. A. Not. So. Christmas. Miracle. Christmas wishes were both miracles and curses to the eye of the beholder. Christmas opened up immortality to the populace, and some found the idea of it wanting. Stabbings, car crashes, beheading, gunshots to every orifice, countless people throwing themselves at gravity’s hands, and meeting pavement with crimson below. The trauma they inflicted on their bodies would heal, but not of their minds… that soon.

Leftovers of their nights became uncooked as they woke, and the presents lost their allure in their state of perfection under trees. Some, like Thomas Abbott, of Flat B of Rock House, on the corner of Faraday Road and countless others, decided that they should burn the trees and the presents, to say to the deity that has trapped them they give in. They gathered their decorations, their cheer, their apparel and their fairy lights, and placed them into the middle of the town square. Fake and real, green or teal, no tree was missing as they were piled and piled. They wanted to stop this wish, but a wish is not something you worship or appease, it is something to be given and taken away. Bonfires of many Christmas nights smelt of pine and plastic, and spread across the town. Each cloud would collect and drift into the sea, trying to find somewhere to call their own, and drifting into the cold, sea air. It was the best Christmas Thomas had in awhile, as he was not alone. However, no amount of electronic tablets would appease as they woke back up from their Santa themed bed covers.

Everyone knew they were just re-enacting the plot of Groundhog Day, but they had to do something.

Not to say that many were horrified, some actually learned to live with it, loving this new found metaphysical freedom from the wilds of the working life. Some were glad they did not have to bear with the winter’s cold air, staying in hibernation, with some nice hot chocolate and a fire nearby. Many were glad they could have a forever renewing food source and they never have to pay for the heating again for the rest of their lives (the McCarthys, of Gloucester Road, were just happy from the landlord’s unintended reprieve, but January is always waiting for them to be put out in the streets), and and some decided to experiment with the types of Christmas they could have. Trevor MacDonald, of Abbey Wood, proceeded to put pineapple with his turkey instead of his gammon. He was proud. Some, the Taylors of East Ride Drive, were a bit more inventive, learning the myths behind Germanic folklore and Christmas, and growing closer as a family. Many families shared more about their dreams and aspirations more than ever could in a year. Trevor did not have to go to work early the next morning, and learned which Ben-10 was Johnny’s favourite. Trevor would finally understand why.

Some learnt they hated their families more than even their enemies. Joel and Margaret Smith of Bailey Road, learnt their passion has grown cold after many years of verbal barbs. They would toss and turn in bed, they would fight over what repeat was going to be on the television, what they should do with the turkey this time. Endless chaos, endless depression for the both of them. Margaret and Joel came to the decision separately, but together they told each other. They wanted a divorce. And then they went to friend’s houses for Christmas instead. But… every morning they would be returned to the purgatory of moan and groan, and awkward shuffles out of their wedded house. They would share their hatred and bed together, but then it turned into silence. They, in the morning, would silently get up separately, change and go about their day. But then nothing, drifting past each other as ghosts without feeling. Their children were in other parts of the country and could not return for Boxing Day to remind them of their vows or why they stuck together in the first place.

The police could do nothing. The hospitals could do nothing. The Fire Station could do nothing. DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS TIME? YES THEY DO. It was the only song that inspired justifiable murder, but then forgiven the day after. Other countless, Christmas songs that permeated the day were also banned. People grew to love and hate each other more and more, learning more about their neighbours, and learning to put up with their foibles/blessings. Tim and Charlie are the only exemption, no one willing to get a word edgewise to stop their madness.

On some days, the town gathered every day in the local church, arguing about their situation. Why were they in such a state? In sessions they called Convenings, they proceeded to ban festive garbage and make concessions to families and neighbours in efforts of goodwill, bringing an oddly Christmas spirit in trying to manage this crisis. They made a government that dealt with the mind and soul, seeing as they could not fix that pothole on The Avenue, no matter how much old pensioner Faye Canterbury, of Battle Road, would shout in every Convening, at least until her expulsion. Governance was steady, taking turns at dealing with crises and concessions, but they were ever hopeful they would be freed.

Until… after so many Convenings, after so many meetings, the small girl arrived, parents in tow (Andrea and Dave) and announced her sin. The one who began it all. Abi Trout, of Westmore Road, wished it could be Christmas everyday.

At first, they were outraged, not by the mere fact that she committed the wish, but that they referenced a banned song, ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ by Wizzard, which was banned at the 26th Convening. As the jeers became low, she tried to eloquently explain, for a seven year old, why she made the wish in the first place. She wished that it would be Christmas, that her dad could stay, that mummy wouldn’t drink too much, and they both wouldn’t leave each other. Abi didn’t want all this madness, and she just wants it to stop, but she admitted the wish worked, and the family were stronger now.

The Head of this Convening, Mark Donovan of Trinity Road, proceeded to tell the girl that the town will personally make sure that her mum and dad will never divorce. Joan Kettle, of Riverwood Terrance, tried to question the validity of trying to stop two people divorcing, even other town members questioned if they should meddle. The parents, Andrea and Dave answered that they already have promised to Abi that they would not try to divorce any time soon. Mark, hearing this, told the little girl that because the wish worked, it means everything should go back to normal, and she should say thank you to Christmas.

Abi said thank you.

Nothing happened.

Thomas, of Flat B of Rock House, after so many burnings and still feeling the crippling isolation broke at that moment. He pulled out a pistol and proceeded to shoot Abi multiple times, killing her, and then he shot himself.

A Christmas miracle. Abi woke up to the smell of cinnamon, the warm fire in the midst of winter, to thankful parents united in their love for her. Thomas was alone in his flat, cold, similar to the last Christmas he had. He cupped to his face, crying. He doesn’t know what else to do.

With no recourse to change the fate of the town, the town learnt to live with Christmas, to live with it for eternity. While peace and goodwill became more common admittedly, there was nothing interesting going on, people learnt to love it and hate it in good measure. There was barely any crime, and whatever was done the day before could be undone meant that the town seemed to be more inclusive of each other, and more accepting of their current places. Perhaps boredom allowed many families to unite and commune. They talked. They shared. They cared. While it might be years until they were freed, they learned to make do with the now. It snowed every day.