A seasonal story for you all…
I wrote this back in 200(a medium number) as part of a creative writing course I was taking. This is the unedited, original version…
Christmas Eve. 1430 hours.
Oooh! Delayed! Where’s that going? Ah, perfect. Game on!
C’mon, c’mon. Answer the damn phone.
“No, it bloody isn’t.”
“That would be my brother, ladies and gentlemen. You do realise you’re on speakerphone?”
“I should hope so! Damn thing cost enough last year. Anyway. Change of plans. You’re all coming to mine this year.”
There’s a crash from the other end of the phone, the shriek of a needle jarring across a turntable. The Christmas music stops.
“Very funny. Radiophonics CD one you hadn’t got, then? Opening presents early?”
“Milo, it’s Christmas Eve! We always open one present. Yours are always, well, strange. So we’re all descending on you? You still in Canterbury?”
“Nope. Bloody Heathrow. M25 is a no-go, M20 is iced up and someone’s stolen the A20. And my car.”
“Yeah! Full length from junction 3 all the way past Sittingbourne.” Pause. “Of course not, yo0u plank. Both car and A2 are fine. Or they will be when they’re dug out from under the snow.”
“So we’re coming to Heathrow?” Tom’s less certain about this plan.
“Can if you like, I’m on the next flight to Cape Town. Your mission, and I know you’re going to accept it, is to bring Christmas to me. You can pass on the snow but I want the rest. Tree. Turkey. Presents. Stupid hats. The works. You in?”
“Game on.” Click.
Christmas Eve. 1440 hours.
“Tom? Was that Milo?” Yvonne Bailey, Tom’s wife, Milo’s sister.
“Coming round later?”
“How ‘not exactly’ this year? Prague? Tallin? Helsinki?”
“I’ll phone Dad.”
Christmas Eve, 1700 hours
“Just charge the upgrade to this,” Milo hands over his card, keys in his pin without wincing.
“Enjoy your flight, sir.”
“Oh, I will.”
A few minutes later he’s aboard the flight. Comfortably quiet in business class. Nice.
“Travelling alone, sir?”
“Never. Always got company on an aeroplane. There’s you, for a start.” He flashes the stewardess a broad grin, finds his seat and slouches into it. “Large whisky and the movie list, please?”
Lincoln, 1730 hours
“Right. Dad’s getting the turkey, we’ve got the presents, my sister’s got the tree, your parents are organising transport.”
Tom shudders. Not again. Oh, dear god, not again.
“You remember last time, don’t you?”
“No?” Yvonne grisn. “What was wrong with last time?”
“The one-horse open sleigh? From Helsinki airport to the town square? Nearly froze to death!”
“Nearly, didn’t. Still, won’t be cold in Cape Town.”
“True.” Tom pauses, hand on passports. “Who’s on music?”
“I’ll phone Steve. Get him to bring some CDs.”
“Sorry, mum, bad signal. We’re meeting you where?”
“RAF base just up the road. Peachy owes me a favour.”
“So where is your Milo this year?” Somewhere behind the moustache is a Lieutenant-Colonel. It’s hard to spot him, though.
“Cape Town, apparently. Tom got a text, said the rv was on top of the table.
“Table mountain? Excellent. Well, my boys will get you as close as we can. We’d do an air drop for you but the kids would invalidate the insurance. Paperwork would be a nightmare.”
“Close as you can will be peachy, Peachy.” Mrs Q turns and addresses a small crowd shivering in the snow. “Right. Steve, give that CD to Peachy, give us some music to work by. Brian, get the food loaded. Elaine, get your lads to load the tree. You’ve checked that the lights work?”
Elaine shakes her head as Roy Wood starts wishing it would be Christmas every day. Mrs Q crosses her fingers, hoping that never happens.
“Tom? Presents. Those containers there. George? Don’t do that. Arthur, in-flight entertainment. Charades.”
There’s a collective groan, mutterings of dissent.
“Charades,” says Mrs Q firmly. “I like it, Milo likes it. We’re playing charades.”
—Some time later, mid-flight.
“First word, ‘the’!”
“Third word, a little word. ‘a’? ‘it’? ‘of’!”
Arthur passes Tom a glass of mulled wine.
“This could take some time, ” he whispers.
“What did you give him?”
“A Blue Oyster Cult classic, ‘The Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankenstein’s Castle in Weissaria.”
Touchdown. Now it’s a race. Customs, Immigration, taxi to the mountain. All goes on the credit card. Milo checked the arrivals board, nothing else came in from the UK so far today, nothing’s due for several hours. Excellent.
His first indication that he might not have won is the paper hat placed on his head as Mrs Q hugs him.
“You lose. You’re coming home next Christmas.”
The restaurant on Table Mountain is covered in fake snow, Slade blasting from the PA system, tree, presents and the unmistakable smell of boiling sprouts. Incredible.
“Happy Christmas, mum.”