Here’s a short story that occurred to me this morning as I was strolling to Tesco. I was full of seasonal goodwill, obviously.
Andrew swung his legs under the kitchen table. It helped him to think. So did sucking the end of his pencil. Both of these activities were verboten and earned him two clips around the back of his head as his mother made her way from counter to wine cooler and refilled her glass. She exhorted him to sit up straight and get a move on. Santa would not come to naughty boys who didn’t write a letter, a proper letter, mind you.
She snatched up Andrew’s piece of paper and gave it a scornful appraisal. She screwed it into a ball and bounced it off his forehead.
“Start again!” she commanded. Raising her voice caused her to belch in a most unladylike fashion. She didn’t say pardon me. Andrew always had to say pardon me or get his ears boxed. It wasn’t fair. Grown-ups were horrible and his parents especially so.
The tip of his pencil hovered temptingly near his mouth. He caught himself, wary of his mother’s watchful eye.
“Dear Santa,” he began. It was his fifth attempt. It was ridiculous. He was eight years old and had given up all hope of Father Christmas ages ago. But his parents insisted. Traditions must be observed. He must be a good boy or else he wouldn’t have a happy Christmas at all, would he?
Suddenly inspired he asked if Santa was in good health and ready for his busy night’s work. It couldn’t be easy, Andrew recognised, making worldwide deliveries in such a short space of time, although he reckoned the different time zones would buy Santa a few extra hours.
He went on to say he didn’t want much this year. An outbreak of peace in the Middle East might be nice. An end to hunger. A bed for the night for the homeless people he saw dotted around the town centre. And for himself? Well, now that you mention it, Santa, I would very much like –
“Hasn’t he done that yet?”
His father was home. Mum crooked her neck, hoping for a peck on the cheek but was disappointed.
“Little shit,” said Dad, cuffing Andrew’s head. “That should have gone up the chimney hours ago. You should have made him.”
“Well, you know what he’s like,” Mum sneered. “Drink?”
“I should bloody say so.” Dad headed directly for the whisky. “It is Christmas Eve after all.”
He poured himself a generous amount and swigged it back in one go, gasping as it hit the back of his throat.
“Busy day?” Mum ventured. It was a risky question. The answer could shape her husband’s mood for the rest of the evening.
“So-so,” Dad refilled his glass and opened the fridge in search of ice cubes. “People are afraid to go out with that lunatic running around.”
“Hmm,” Mum nodded sympathetically. “They haven’t caught him then?”
Dad gave her a withering look. He took his drink through into the living room and zapped the telly on.
“What lunatic?” Andrew looked up from his letter.
“Never you mind,” snapped Mum. “You get on with that letter. Little shit.”
She drifted into the living room, pausing only to snatch the wine bottle from the counter.
Andrew could hear the television. Dad had the news on. Andrew recognised the fanfare of beeps that heralded the local reports. He cocked his head towards the door, listening. He couldn’t hear every word but he caught repeated phrases like “Christmas killer” and “stay indoors”.
A soap came on. He heard Dad complaining through the dreary theme music. Dad always complained but he always ended up watching all the way through.
Andrew finished the letter, adding his childish signature with a flourish. He folded the sheet of paper twice and fumbled it into the envelope, which he licked and sealed, pulling a face at the bitter gum across his tongue. David Burton at school said they made the gum on envelopes out of horses so when you lick an envelope you might as well be licking a horse’s bum. That couldn’t be true, could it? That was just a story people said.
Like Father Christmas.
He jumped down from the chair and headed for the living room. Mum or Dad would have to do the sending-up-the-chimney bit. He wasn’t allowed. Too young.
Mum screamed when he went in, clutching her blouse to her chest, a bare shoulder peeking out. She climbed off Dad’s lap. Dad’s trousers were around his ankles.
“Get out! Get out! Go on, piss off!” she screamed.
“Get to bed, sneaking about!” Dad roared.
Andrew backed into the kitchen, confused. What had they been doing? Why were they so cross?
He propped his letter to Santa on the table between the salt and pepper pots. He didn’t know what else to do. Mum or Dad would be bound to see it there. They’d send it up the chimney, wouldn’t they? They wouldn’t break the tradition.
Oh, why couldn’t they be nice? Andrew wondered, not for the first time. Why didn’t they like him? For a brief second, he wished it wasn’t Santa who was due to make a visit that night but this so-called Christmas killer. That would teach them.
Feeling guilty for such a terrible thought, Andrew went upstairs and got ready for bed. It was early but then he would have gone to bed earlier than usual on Christmas Eve anyway. He didn’t even bother with his prayers, knowing Mum and Dad weren’t at the door listening to make sure. He turned off the light, pulled the covers up to his chin and waited for sleep.
A few hours later, he stirred and woke up. Noises downstairs in the hall. Mum opening the front door. The sounds of Christmas carols. Mum laughing, calling Dad to come and see.
Andrew drifted back to sleep. Perhaps things would be better in the morning, better for Christmas.
He woke early but forced himself to stay in bed, in the warm, until the sun had come up. He shuffled into his slippers, thrust his arms into his dressing gown and tiptoed down the stairs.
The house was silent. Too early for Mum and Dad to be up and about, especially because they’d been drinking last night.
He pushed the living room door open. The lights on the Christmas tree were twinkling; they must have been left on all night. But the tree was crooked and looked ready to topple over.
It was straining under the weight of his mother’s head, which had been rammed on the top where the angel was supposed to go.
Andrew took a step towards this horrible sight and beneath his slippers, the carpet squelched. He looked down. The carpet was dark with blood, blood from the headless corpses of his parents that were sitting primly on the sofa.
In the open fireplace with Andrew’s letter to Santa in his mouth, Andrew’s father’s head was staring blankly up the chimney.
Andrew took in the scene with a growing sense of wonder and delight. He clapped his hands together and began a little dance.
“He’s been!” he cried, grateful for this best of all Christmas presents. “Oh, he’s been!”