CHRISTMAS ADAM

Morning, I said to the boy. Isn’t it a lovely day? Clear, bright sky, not too hot yet.

It is, he replied. And Merry Christmas Adam.

Christmas Adam?

Yes, he explained, the day before Christmas Eve. Oh, OK.

Funny what they come up with, kids. Raised as a strict atheist, the mythology of this centrepiece of Western civilisation still infiltrates. Even here, downunder, where all the trappings and symbols are entirely out-of-place. No need for strings of lights to brighten dreary streets when it’s warm and light until nine o’clock in the evening. Yet we add to global warming with our tree lights and exterior displays though those who would most enjoy them are tucked in bed by the time you can actually see them.

Don’t be a Grinch, says the boy’s mum. I don’t do Seuss, I snap. I learned from a newspaper quiz that the Grinch has a dog named Max. The boy enjoys reading me the quiz when we get the paper. Sometimes I score well, mostly not. The Grinch’s dog? What kind of opening question is that? Who was the bumbling spy in the 60s sitcom? What was the name of the wild boy in the wolf suit? He laughs and carries on with the questions. I do awfully, as usual.

It is indeed a glorious morning. Perfect for busking.

That’s what the boy is off to do in a few minutes. There’s a community market in the car park of the university not far from our home. Same university I worked at for fifteen years. Can almost walk around it now without a shudder, which is good because the grounds are lovely and there are ducks on the lake.

The market will be bustling on Christmas Adam. Fruit and Veg, garden stuff, food caravans, trash and treasure. And buskers. A middle-aged pan flute player, a stringy girl scraping at her violin, the sullen adolescent whose cheap acoustic guitar is drowned by the hubbub. 

Our boy wants to get there early to get a good spot. He expects stiff competition for his Christmas Carols. Last week it was raining; few punters, even fewer buskers. The market organiser invited him to stand under his awning, which was sweet. He did well, partly due to the lack of competition, partially from compassion on the part of the marketeers. Compassion. A good word for any time of year. Most of the people who gave me money were older, he said. 

Today it will be a barrage of Silent NIghts, a cacophony of carols. Should a non-believing child with a clarinet profit from a once-religious ritual? Commercialism. A good word for this time of year. There’s nothing we need; let it go.

What do you want the money for, his mum asked. Anything special? 

He hesitated. I want to buy you and daddy presents, he said.

Isn’t it a lovely day?

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CHRISTMAS EVE

It’s early on Christmas Eve, just after seven. Still and overcast outside; mild but it will warm up later. Not too much though, the high thirties days are promised for later in the week. This year we get a temperate Christmas.

The house is quiet. Lulled by the low cloud, birds have slept in; their morning chatter drifts through open windows. Inside it’s silent. The boy is still abed and Cal has gone shopping for Christmas supplies. I’m going early, she said, it’ll be nuts by nine o’clock.

Silhouetted against the window is the tree, dark against the grey-blue sky. Even in the semi-dark I can see the drooping fronds. If there was more light I could see the tree’s sagging shoulders and wilted waist.

Cal ordered an Oxfam Christmas tree. It’s well covered with decorations and tinsel, but they don’t hide the desiccated limbs and browning pine needles. The tree arrived on a stinker of a day—a hundred degrees in the old currency—and never recovered. Always striving for perfection, Cal wanted to buy another one and start again but I couldn’t face the dismantle-rebuild, the floor covered with scented hypodermics, so I said no. As each day has passed I’ve felt more mean.

In the afternoons when the summer sun slams through the window she looks sadly at our dying tree but it’s too late to do anything now. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the boy transitioning to adolescence. He’s holding tenaciously onto ‘believing’ and we’re going along because we’re no more ready to surrender the innocence of childhood than he is. A part of me, a hard-nosed bit, wants to announce to all and sundry that this will be the last year of  Santa. Never liked the materialistic old bastard anyway. But I won’t, and even as I write I’m working out how to stop the boy reading this, because he is entitled to his naivety, to his participation in this December ritual. Shit, his Daddy has even played Father Christmas and got paid for it!

Decorating the tree is a Mother and child thing in our house. My contribution is to hang a couple of Christmas LP covers on the wall and a string of lights in the front window.

When I hung the lights this year, there was the usual awkwardness of tangled wires and the nervous tinkle of the glass globes knocking together. As I hooked them around the edge of the frame, they tapped against the glass, a rhythm evoking memories. We used to be on your family Christmas tree, they whisper. A spindly fake pine made magic by the deep, vivid colour of the decorative candlelights. These lights are as old as I am, still intact and still willing to cast their fifties glow into a different suburban street.

When I turned them on this year, they flickered then went dark. I carefully went around the perimeter, pinching the globes into their sockets. After all, they’ve been sitting in an old suitcase in the garage all year. Touching each candle seems a way of re-connecting with them, bringing them to life. When I get to the last globe, a red one (they are the best—deep scarlet with a glowing heart) it breaks into my hand. I’ve squeezed too hard and the glass, a half-century old and more, has fractured. Oh. There’s some anguish in my voice. Cal comes in to check I’m all right.

It’s OK, I say, but there’s a tightness in my throat. She hears it and says nothing. I hold out my hand with the crimson shards. The family Christmas lights, I just broke one. She nods. You OK? I nod back. We’re both thinking of my mother’s death, in April but so long ago. That’s quite all right in one way, but the death of the lights somehow hurts.

I scrabble around in the box, so old it is a collection of bits of cardboard rather than a container, and find a couple of loose globes from another, long defunct set. I screw one into the string and flick the power point. The lights burst into life, except for the odd one. It remains dark, but completes the circuit.

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