This was my entry for the Amazon ‘Twas the Night before Christmas competition, December 2016. The brief was 350-700 words on a Christmas or Winter theme, a modern story but inspired by the classic Clement Clarke Moore poem.
Cambridge garduate and copy-writer, Lucy Bank’s won with her enchanting tale, Sol the Slug’s Night Before Christmas – obviously aimed at a younger age-group than my offering.
I don’t really know what inspired mine. Perhaps it was the result of seeing pictures of all those surfing Santas on Bondi Beach, or maybe just a bit of wishful thinking on my part (dreams of a different typw of family Christmas now that Boy is that little bit older).
Here it is……
The Night Before Christmas
All is calm, all is bright. Well, one out of two isn’t bad, I tell myself. It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m not going to let a little noise pollution and domestic friction spoil things.
I’m on the patio, involuntarily listening to Carols by Candlelight seeping from the Jacksons’ home audio system, whilst enjoying their light display. Last year, it was just a string of fairy globes in the gumtree. This year, there’s a giant inflatable snowman and a chain gang of illuminated elves tethered to their roof. Brave, given the prediction of strong northerlies.
Home for the holidays, I’m trying my best to chill. But it’s not just the words to Silent Night that disturb me. Fran and Billy are in the kitchen, finishing a Skype call to the in-laws. My wife’s Scottish accent is more pronounced than usual, but I make out the words maybe next year, and lots of staggered Goodbyes and Merry Christmases. Fran keeps her voice upbeat, but, as soon as the call ends, she’s back beating the eggs for tomorrow’s pavlova, whisking furiously.
“Come and join me!” I call. “It’s lovely out here.”
Fran puts her bowl of angry meringue down. Smiling weakly, she picks Lily up in her rocker, and takes Billy’s hand. But it is Anne, who is first out.
Five feet, eleven inches, of querulous teenager towers over me.
“Shouldn’t that be mulled wine or something more traditional, an egg nog perhaps?” She scrunches a remnant of wrapping paper up, balls it in her fist, and eyes my drink suspiciously.
“Cranberry chaser.” I shrug as I add a slice of mango and a large clunk of ice to my glass. “A bit of innovation, and adaptation. Keeps things fresh,” I add, winking at Fran who is now sitting on the rattan sofa, smoothing the fluff on Billy’s cardigan, and rocking Lily with her foot.
“Like swapping the carrots and milk Mom leaves out for Santa for a six-pack? If everyone does that, Prancer and Dancer won’t be able to circumnavigate the globe.” Anne contorts her face into a parody of grief. “There’ll be a mid-air collision and venison carnage.”
Fran gives her that look, the one she ordinarily reserves for snotty cars salesmen and rancid butter. Time to head things off.
“You’re showing your age, Kiddo. Sleighs are fitted with autopilot and GPS as standard nowadays.”
Anne rolls her eyes, but Billy looks at me, wide-eyed, not quite sure.
“Really?” he asks. “I was wondering how Santa can visit everyone’s house. Barry’s Dad says it’s because Santa’s cloned himself, but I think he uses drones.”
He leans forwards, makes a whirring noise and flaps his hands over his little sister’s head. “Special delivery for Lily Davey….”
Lily is a placid baby. Nothing much phases her, including Christmas, but she gurgles obligingly as Billy pretends to dive-bomb her with a stray strand of tinsel.
“Santa doesn’t need clones, or drones, Billy, because he’s magic….”
“So, if Santa’s magic, why doesn’t he teleport Nanny and Granddad to us? Or imagine Christmas morning, a giant drone flying in, dropping a parcel, and out pops Nanny. She’d love to meet Lily.”
A tear wells up in Fran’s eye. “Time for bed,” I suggest.
At least Lily takes the hint. Her eyelids are closed, and a pearl of dribble glistens on her bottom lip. Under the glow of the fairy lights, she looks like a sleeping angel. We all sit there, silently watching her for a moment, a tiny miracle made flesh. I gently blow air kisses onto her check before carefully picking up the rocker and handing it to Fran.
“Bed. All of you.”
Billy looks like he’s going to protest, but Anne, for all her premature cynicism, gets it. She pulls him off the sofa, and tugs him after Fran and the baby. “Hurry up, or Santa won’t visit. Dad’s got Dad stuff to do.”
Alone, I wrap my presents in a jiffy. Four-matching bobble hat and scarf sets. More original than you might think, for an Aussie winter.
In one of the hats, I’ve slipped a little extra something too. Five tickets, and the weather forecast for Inverness.