I decided to test myself very recently to see if I could create something sufficiently Christmassy before the big day itself. The final culmination was "Jolly".
Concieved after a busy night of shopping in early December, I wondered what it would be like to be a portly gentleman of a certain age carrying a heavy brown bag through masses of snow, amidst all the glaring festive street lights, booming Christmas no. #1s of yesteryear and the year before that, and the heaving crowds of flustered customers. And then I decided to stick a cigarette in his mouth, make him newly-divorced and slap the name Nicholas on him for good ironic measure. Then everything else pretty much tumbled out, especially whilst listening to the good ol' Xmas Playlist as you will doubtlessly find out for yourself.
Just to warn you this is not really a feel-good festive short story; I've reached that unfortunate age as both a man and a writer where happy endings just don't fit the bill anymore. Then again, I'd hardly say that this was realist but it's as real as I can muster at this magical time of year (I am still a big kid at heart or, failing that, a big bouncing ball of energy, screaming and paper-tearing glee...).
But enough about my hang-ups. Here it is for your perusal. However I would suggest that you cast this aside till after Christmas if you're the sort who gets a bit down by seeing or reading anything other than hype for the day itself.
Anyway, without further ado:
Nick started off slowly in his hiking boots. He had come prepared this year: a large brown shoulder bag for the goodies, a thick red toggle coat to hold off the chill and even a big green bobble hat to sit awkwardly on his balding head.
He took a long drag from his cigarette and sighed. December 3rd and the mania had already begun.
'...We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar...'
The tannoy system crackled and mumbled off into silence as the double doors wafted shut. From behind him two scrawny men slid out into the draught. They were travelling light with only two small paper bags between them but they knocked into Nick all the same. Neither turned back to apologise.
"Bastards have no patience." Nick mumbled to himself, crushing his cigarette under one heel, "Young'uns too."
At fifty-seven, Nick was nearly always surrounded by 'young'uns'. Thinner, faster with next to no patience. He may have been white around the whiskers, a little lumpier in places, even a bit creaky in the knee joints but that certainly did not merit all the 'tut's and 'excuse me's that seemed to follow him around everywhere.
And why would they even want to rush out tonight anyway? The pavements were lined with sleet and little clumps of snow where the footprints appeared to have missed in their tread. Why rush in December at all? Now there was a good question. Pity that there were dozens of possible yet equally inadequate answers.
"Ah well." Nick thrust his bag back over one shoulder and rejoined the chaos.
'...It's the season of love and understanding
Merry Christmas everyone...'
Nick raised a gloved hand. How much was there left to do now?
Well, I need to pick up that glittery doll thing for Rudie, don't I? And then there's a bottle of bubbly for the Lake's next door. And...wrapping paper? Wrapping paper! Festive bloody wrapping paper...
Nick hated buying fresh rolls of wrapping paper. It always seemed so wasteful to him not to just reuse last year's. Then again, last year's was back home, wasn't it? Not the crappy little flat he had now.
Nick longed to be back at No. 34 Skelling Street for numerous reasons and none of them were for his wife. Sorry, ex-wife. The papers had just gone through last Saturday. Sixteen years gone and forgotten within the space of one working week. It was a lucky thing that Noel was off at uni or else the whole business would have been a lot messier. But Rudie...tiny little ruby-faced Rudie had to deal with the whole stupid process on her own. She was only eleven. She didn't need to hear all the petty late-night arguments, didn't need to catch the frosty reception the mornings after. She didn't need to watch her father being slowly kicked in the bollocks everyday by a woman who had lost her mind to the infectious paranoia of her twittering brood of friends. She just wanted a doll.
But that's how it happened. Now Carol had 'reclaimed her stolen confidence' along with their baffled daughter and was swiftly transforming his father's home into a 'testament to her feminine power'. The last time Nick was down he only got a quick look-in through a crack in the front door but that was enough. She'd even changed the bloody wallpaper.
Nick turned the corner, partially deafened by the sounds reverberating from a Sports Warehouse.
'...I turned my face away,
And dreamed about you...'
Nick stood on the doorstep.
Carol thrust the door open and glared at him.
"Carol. What happened to 'Nick'?"
"I don't know. What did happen to Nick?" She folded her arms. There was something very uncomfortable about the movement.
Nick sighed. "Let's not have this, eh? I'm too tired to piss about."
Carol's arms loosened slightly. "Alright. Do you remember what we agreed on? For Rudi's present? Her doll?"
"Oh, yes. That Prissy thing..."
"Priscilla. Priscilla and Her Pink Party Kit. And Noel?"
"Now, I know it was something beginning in 'I'..."
"An I-Pad. The latest model. Just ask at the desk, they'll know what you mean."
"I can always check online beforehand. I'm not that old and doddery."
Carol's top lip stiffened.
"Eh?" Nick tried.
Carol didn't say a word.
"You don't think I can manage it all, do you?" Nick grunted, "Christmas. You think I'll crack or something."
"Well thanks for the bloody vote of confidence."
Nick spun on his heel and stormed down the paving. So, it was official. Not only had the old hag soured on him, she had lost all confidence in his ability. She probably thought he wouldn't last through to New Year's. In fact, she'd probably even lay a bet on it.
Well, that was enough for him. If there was one thing Nick wasn't it was incapable. He'd do it all in one night. Yes, in one bloody night. No time like the present. It would be his new bloody 'testament' to her. If he was lucky enough, it might even shut her up for a while.
Having managed to yank the bag free from the doorframe, Nick launched himself from the entrance. He caught a sign post in the nick of time and hoisted himself back upright.
"Bloody reef. Bloody baubles." He mumbled, catching snatches of his breath back, "Better be worth the extra damn weight."
Nick peeled back his damp coat sleeve and glanced at his watch. 7:45. Shit. He was running out of time, out of energy too. He'd promised himself everything would be done and sorted by 8pm. Now he was huddled over a yellowing patch of well-trodden snow, heart thumping through an extra thick sweater. No time like the present, indeed.
He took a deep breath in. Out was the hard part. Regardless of this he carried on up the High Street.
'...Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies...'
Nick tried his best not to make eye contact with the carollers. Their coin buckets jangled in time with the music. It was all part of their elaborate mind trick. Either way, he had no change on him. The Christmas tree lights alone cost him £20 exactly. It was all a total rip-off. Goodwill shouldn't cost that much, but nowadays it certainly did.
"Nowadays..." Nick rasped. His throat was drying up again. He tugged at both ends of his scarf.
Feeling a particularly bad mood coming on, he turned his gaze up at the night sky. He could barely see anything through the dazzle of street Christmas lights. He sheltered his eyes with his black gloves and stepped back.
'Have a Happy Hanukah'? 'Eid'? 'And Kwanza'? He read. What the hell is Kwanza?!
Since when had the holidays gotten all PC? Surely these religions had dealt with the whole Christmas hype before; so why not now? Half the people who lived in this city probably didn't even celebrate Hanukah or Eid. And Kwanza? God knows...
Nick picked up the strap of his shoulder bag and pulled it back up. A twang of pain rippled across his chest. He stopped.
His breath caught again. All of a sudden even the shallow ones stung.
Is this-? Can this-? Yes.
Nick managed to make a few steps and then staggered over to a lamppost. It was obviously new-fangled but it reminded him of the lampposts of his youth. Tall. Majestic.
He tumbled down onto the snow.
'...But the very next day you gave it away,
(Gave it away)...'
Attempting to stand, he moved his leg out only for it to slip on a hidden patch of ice.
Christ. He thought, This isn't because of what I said about the other religions, is it?
"Sir, are you alright?" A voice. He turned his head slightly to the left. A pretty young thing looked down at him. Long raven hair and green eyes. Just like Carol but back in the early days. He attempted a smile and turned his head back.
He sighed. I suppose not then.
'...I'm holding very tight,
I'm riding in the midnight blue...'
Nick gazed up at the sky. Crystal clear. At least the cold was good for something. Except, in the distance. There was a bright white glare, a flash of something just ahead of the City Hall. A star. The Star. He really didn't care which. It warmed him. It welcomed him.
'...It's the most wonderful time,
It's the most wonderful time,
It's the most wonderful time of the year.'
His eyes collapsed shut. 'The Star' flickered out.
So that's me done for the time being. I might just attempt a piece for New Year's but that all depends on how much time and energy I have (i.e. how many presents I have to play with). Either way, I'm sure you'll hear from me sometime in early 2012. Hopefully...:D.
Thanks for reading and have a very Jolly Christmas and a Wondrous New Year,