Jeanette Winterson, one of my favourite writers, has a tradition at this time of the year of publishing a Christmas story on her Website. It’s a great idea. So I stole it — since it’s the solstice. Winterson’s is about a donkey, a frost, a little girl, and something unexpected. Mine isn’t. I nipped around to the Bard of Laugharne’s Boathouse and suddenly found myself writing this.
The following contains storytelling. It is full of language like quips, puns, riffs, witticisms, aromatic rubs, fragrant scrubs, and it is mean, offensive, and will sleep with your mother. No animals were hurt in the writing of this tale, although a few fictional ones will be before it ends. Don’t read if under the influence of other writers. May not be suitable for vegetarians, those with religious beliefs, or those suffering from mood swings. Some subject matter may be offensive to holy mothers, reluctant fathers, saints and madmen, the man at the bus stop, in-laws, outlaws, small children with widgets, the insane, the countersinks, the girl next door, the dead kipper, the left wing, the right wing, Bolsheviks, the Russian ballet, conservative housewives, the duck’s wing, the goose’s wing, the dog’s hair, the ass’ rump, the riddle man, the sand man, the last passenger on the Intercity 125 just before Hull. Some content may be unfit for human consumption — but then it’s a story and it really shouldn’t be eaten like a meal. And some content may upset sensitive readers with a rash. Other contents will include the contents of a purse, a dead man’s stomach, a table of contents, and the contents of a brief as worn by Harry Longshanks. Those allergic to nuts strongly cautioned.
In those days, I couldn’t remember if it was my mates Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who said I was still a little grig at heart.
My Christmas always began by the sea, like a corpse’s cold hand ruckled with lifelines and ice-edged with fish mouths just blaspheming enough to take away the goose pimples. And I can’t remember if I had kissed six girls when I was twelve or twelve girls when I was six.
Then there were the distant voices speaking. One was definitely my mum. The other was my friend Iggy, his pale face pressed against the frosty panes of the last house on the hill. His miserable parents had decided to keep him in for Christmas because he had taken to wearing the Grim Reaper’s cerecloths and pushing babies in prams on outings to the local cemetery.
Rosencrantz had said we should stand below his window and serenade him to cheer him up, to which I had replied surly, “That’s Romeo and Juliet, you pillock. And don’t forget, you’re minor characters in this tale, too.”
So, with much ado about nothing, we decided to leave Iggy to his fate. There were, after all, soon to be spinster aunts besotted on thimble sips of sherry; robust uncles blindly sloshed on barrels of Double Dragon; female cousins who had a predilection for crawling under the festive table and showing me what I had only dreamed; mother with the large wish bone in her small hands; father with a rime of frost on his lips after returning from outside — having just kissed the next door neighbor’s lips without a bunch of mistletoe; the stray black cats that marched down the middle of the street when the coals shifted in their warm cage; and the canary that always flew behind my grandmother’s stained apron and sang on her slow, rising chest.
It was a festive time. And on this eve, I had a rendezvous with a local girl in the old bunker on the sands.
I ditched Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at Ivor Pritchard’s. He lived with the mule that had kicked him in the head while serving with the Desert Rats in North Africa. He kept the mule in the house and his wife in the field out back. I knew the mule would distract my mates for hours as they watched the wily animal sitting by the fire reading to Ivor, since he would listen to only the mule. Every one said it was on account of the blow he received. Secretly, he told me it was because he always argued with his wife, but with the mule, after the initial disagreement, which was all just a misunderstanding, the animal was more favorably disposed to him than his wife, God rest her sooner than later.
So I made my way to the bunker, which during WWII had been used by the local men in uniform to spy on Bloddwyn Davis, who at approximately 9:45 each night, and just after the Black Out, would flick on all the lights in her house and strip before the lace to the sound of the chapel-singing Methodist neighbors Gwyn and Dolores Liturgy. And it is rumored that Private Blake would call out, “Oh, if I could only fuck her in church time!” It was to these hallowed stones that I was making my way. To the bible-black interior that smelt now of piss and smoke, not the sweat of real men in army uniforms protecting the land from sea invasion.
To get there I had to tumble down sand dunes as voluptuous as Miss Angler’s bosom — and just as silky. And the moon was like a claw that was just about to rip the night’s habit off.
Stealing my way to the bunker, I stopped to listen to the sea. It sounded a lot like the wheezing, farting, gurgling sounds that came from my relatives after feasting on the bird for hours. But it was, at least, a comforting sound. A sound that heralded the postpartum of the stable where the baby laid in swaddling clothes. And also the postcoital silence. Or the postmortem hush when the body is cut open and its inner organs are neatly arranged to look like strange planets with only the heart as a guiding light.
Reaching the bunker, I crawled in and felt sand in my trousers. I could see the lights of the town flickering like the eyes of envious wild beasts. Even from here I could hear doors being slammed in an effort to draw attention away from me. There was even a gossamer thread of smoke from a few houses, drifting into the black web of night so that the Widow of Silver Terrace could climb down and haunt her old abode before cock’s crow.
The sea spat on the sands. I heard the distant sound of bleating and knew it to be Dai Revenue, the local French taxman, trying to get some sleep in a ditch of nettles. He needn’t. His wife had just bought a nice new set of bedsheets decorated with large chrysanthemums. But he preferred the sting of the weed to the smothering, indecent sexual wantonness of ornamental flowers.
I waited for Rachel, watching as a corpulent Obelix ticked his way around the face of my wristwatch and praying that Asterix would make it to the hour.
It was cold in the bunker. I felt the ghosts of the Tommies huddled in one corner.
Then from down in the valley voices lifted and lots of heavy chains were pulled and things better not spoken about got flushed.
A choir began singing carols. It mixed with the silver shiver of the surf and the twinkle in Orion’s belt. It made me weepy. I remembered the time I got my hands on Eirwen Moses’ zipper one Sunday afternoon. And the raised voices and the harmony of the carol were an almost exact melody to that drama. On that day there were the raised voices of her parents and that lovely song of the zip sliding down its teeth and exposing satin. (She was a rich girl.) I could have sung that day, too, if only the parents hadn’t dragged me away.
The carol ended and somewhere in the universe a little star went out for good — only to be immediately replaced by another satellite.
When a braying started up I knew it was the local thespian, Alfred Molar, practicing for his part as Bottom in A Weaver’s Tale Told From Behind. Looking through the slit in the bunker, I could see his silhouette. And then it was either his behind or the high beams of a passing car.
With nothing to do to pass the time, I imagined I really saw Father Christmas flying across the sky on his sleigh. But all I saw was some Nordic god driving his quarrelsome dwarves over the rooftops dropping icicles on eaves and gutters and stopping off at the nearest fork in the road to fondle the hoar frost.
Rachel never showed up. But her cousin from Rhondda did. And waking one night to the moans of the Ghost of Christmas Past, he ran right into Rachel’s bed. Then hearing the groans of the Ghost of Christmas Future, he proposed marriage and offered her a life in Newport where he would work in the mines until he found a lump of coal that held a diamond. I never heard from Rachel again.
And so as the night wore on like a bad comedian before the lap dancing show, I decided to return home. It was Christmas Eve, after all, and my parents believed me to be at the Midnight Mass. And, in a way, I was: midnight was amassing and my blood would be spilt if I came home any later.
The house was quiet when I arrived. Santa’s biscuit and shot of whiskey were set out. I took both and rubbed some soot all around the furniture and all over the white poodle. As I crept up to bed, I witnessed a few dejected gifts still in need of colorful wrapping paper.
When I finally found my bed, I undressed by the light of the moon and saw a bright star blink. Quickly, I jumped into bed, hiding as hurriedly as possible a part of my anatomy that even made the empyrean doubt.
Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the drunk pissing against Miss Havisham’s old Morris Minor, I wondered about what great expectations the world had in store for me.
I watched as the lights went out in all the windows on our street — except for one. (And in the morning I was to find out why. Old Mr. Parsifal had drunk one too many at the local pub and had tumbled down a holy well.)
Snow began to fall steadily. I turned over and away from my sleeping brother. I whispered some expletives about Rachel to the darkness, knowing my parents would never hear, so tired were they after their long night. And then I slept.
For tomorrow would be Christmas day.