“Hey kids, I’ve got some good news and I’ve some bad news,” said Mum, as we got in from school.
Kate and I tutted as we dumped our bags on the door, both looking at her to get on with it.
“We won’t be spending Christmas with Hugh and Marie this year, sorry.”
“Oh no,” Kate and I said in unison, “Why?”
“They’re going to Zimbabwe for Christmas,” Mum explained, “But the good news is that it’ll just be the three of us and we’ll have a great time, trust me,” she reassured us.
“Yeah right,” said Kate, “Highly unlikely,” I added.
We had spent Christmas with our uncle, aunt and two cousins, Karl and Huw, for as long as we could remember.
It was our annual high-light of the year. As part of a one parent family, it felt good being around other people. And anyway, our house was crap compared to theirs and it was the only time of the year we got to live in the lap of luxury.
Anyway, the weeks turned into days and the days into hours and before we knew it, it was Christmas morning. Kate and I ran down the stairs, into the front room to open our presents.
We had to rub our eyes to make sure they weren’t deceiving us.
There were no Christmas presents under the tree, not one, it was empty and bare, devoid of Christmas cheer.
“Where are the presents?” we said looking at each other.
“Hey Mum, where’s the presents,” we yelled from where we stood at the top of our voices so she hear us from her upstairs bedroom.
“Mum.......Mum.......Mum,” we yelled.
It took her a minute to wake up, put her dressing gown on and come down stairs.
From the sly grin on her face we knew she had something up her sleeve.
“Where are the presents Mum?” we asked.
“They are hidden around the house,” she answered.
“It’s a Christmas game kids,” she said, “the presents are hidden around the house and you have to find them.”
Kate was about seven and I was three years older at ten. ‘Trust me, games are for kids’ and we just weren’t in the mood.
“Oh mum, can’t you just give us our presents, please....”
“Oh come on kids, it’ll be fun...” she assured us.
So the next five minutes saw us trudging around the house searching for our Christmas presents. Was it as much fun as Mum promised? ‘I don’t think so....’
I found one behind the curtains, Kate found one behind the sofa, I found another behind the door and Kate found yet another one behind the book shelve. So on and so on.
It didn’t matter what we got for Christmas, it was the fact we had to spend our time looking for them, which put us in a downer...
“Oh come on Kids, cheer up, it’s Christmas day and this is meant to be fun,” Mum said.
Our glum faces said it all, ‘Whoopee Do.’
“What a waste of time,” I said.
“Thanks for nothing,” said Kate.
“Better luck next time,” I said.
“I wish we were at Marie’s and Hugh’s instead,” said Kate.
As we stood there with our hands on our hips, with the year’s Christmas presents unwrapped and unappreciated, standing there with sour looks on our faces, disapproving and loathing, Mum snapped.
“I've tried my best to make this Christmas special and what do I get in return? Moan, moan, and moan. Well, fuck you kids. Make your own Christmas, spend it without me, see if I care,’ she shouted, flinging her arms up in despair.
She turned around and stormed out of the room and upstairs to her bedroom.
Slamming the door behind her, Kate and I looked at each other in shock and amazement.
We had often seen Mum angry, but nothing like this. This was new and unknown territory. “I mean, she actually told us to ‘Fuck-off’, and she’s never said that to us before.”
Our Christmas had suddenly turned into our worst ever Christmas. Our Christmas was ruined. We sat in doom and gloom, working out what had happened.
Two kids on the verge of crying, two kids all alone on Christmas Day.
Our minds raced. Could life get any worse? Is this what abused kids had to go through? Have we still got a Mum or not? Is Santa Claus really real?
But then our thoughts were interrupted with a ‘Ding dong.’
The doorbell took us by surprise.
We wondered who this could be, as I slowly opened the door.
Standing there was Mum dressed up as an old lady.
Bent forward, frail, supported by a snooker cue, dressed all in black with a scarf wrapped around her neck.
She wasn't wearing her glasses and squinted at us as she stood there smiling.
“Hello children,” she said in a frail crooked voice, “I’m a friend of your mother’s, is she home?’ she asked.
“Mum, what are you doing?”
“Oh, no children, I’m not your mother. I’m a friend of your mother’s. Do let me in, it’s cold out here.”
“Mum,” I yelled, “Don’t be so ridiculous.”
I ran upstairs to Mum’s bedroom, just to appease Mum at the door. The door was locked; and there was no answer.
“Your mother isn't in? Well we can have a party without her,” said the Mum at the door, who we knew was our mother but somehow weren’t completely sure!
Once inside she made herself at home. We sat her down and offered her a drink. Mum always drank coffee and would spit it out, if she ever tasted even the hint of sugar. So, we made her tea with five sugars, of which she sipped happily and asked for another. Kate and I watched wide eyed in amazement as she did so.
Slowly but surely magic seeped into our day and we began to believe her. Perhaps this woman wasn’t our mother after-all....
As far as we were concerned our mother was upstairs locked in her room and, to be honest, we were having too much fun to care.
“You must be hungry,” she said, to which Kate and I nodded, “Well go children, take what you want from the cupboard, pop the Bucks Fizz, and let’s get this party started.”
And that’s exactly what we did.
Kate and I raided the cupboard and brought out all the Christmas goodies which we weren’t allowed to touch until Christmas Day.
Games, music, laughter, chat and stories, presents, sweets and drink. By the time she got up to say goodbye, we were begging her to stay.
“Oh I have to go children,” she said getting up and wrapping her scarf around herself.
Waving from the door, we watched her hobble up the street out of sight.
Amazed by what just had happened, I went upstairs to find Mum, but her bedroom was still locked.
Kate and I just collapsed onto the sofa, stuffed full and happy.
Sometime later Mum came downstairs, and we ran to her in laughter.
“Get away from me,” she scolded us.
“Hey come on Mum,” Kate and I answered, “Good joke Mum, you really got us,” we said.
“What do you mean, and what is this mess? Who said you could do all this?”
“But Mum,” we cried in innocence.
We told her everything that had happed, about the old lady who looked just like her, who came in and let us do what we wanted, how we tested her by giving her tea with five sugars and how we had the best fun in the world. But Mum just sat there, as if she knew nothing about it.
It was the best Christmas ever...
A tale from Taylor Tales, available now....