by Hannah Retallick
We bought a garden heater in October so that we’d be prepared for Christmas, whatever the rules, whatever the temperature, whatever The Relatives thought about The Current Situation. Aunt Janie doesn’t believe Covid-19 exists, Uncle Malcolm ‘has his doubts’, Mother has hardly been anywhere since January because she’s unsociable, and my darling twins don’t care about anything or anyone. Who raised them so badly? … Let’s move on.
Christmas Day. Cold and breezy. Wrapped up in woollies, sitting on the patio at the garden table, under a hired gazebo, we chomp on our roast turkey dinner. 2020 has been a nightmare, but we have some semblance of normality today, arguing with our usual venom.
Aunt Janie and Uncle Malcolm won’t shut up. Government this, government that, conspiracies left right and centre, but they both contradict themselves and can’t remember any of the facts. I’m glad they’re two metres away – thank goodness the table’s big! Aunt Janie insists on using the toilet and rushes off before I can instil my Covid guidelines, which of course she wouldn’t follow anyway, and returns complaining about my scentless soap. It’s cheap and germ-killing – what more does she want?
Mother isn’t just unsociable; she’s downright antisocial. Not only does she keep snapping at the twins – who deserve it, by the way – but she’s complaining about the mushy vegetables. What did my Brussels sprouts ever do to her? (That’s a question best left unanswered.)
The twins pick at the food like fussy birds and then run onto the lawn, hitting each over the head with un-pulled crackers. Their white silk party dresses are soon decorated with green marks as they drag their knees along the grass, still locked in a duel, gold bows slipping from their dark shiny hair. Aunt Janie leans my way, asking if I’ve considered consulting a child behaviour therapist. Mother interjects that a good bit of old-fashioned discipline would be sufficient. The twins are actually on their best behaviour, but I keep that to myself, trying to save what’s left of this sorry celebration. Why do I bother?
Anyway, we’re soon done. The weather forecast gave a 5% chance of rain, but that 5% was mightier than the 95%. Hailstones bounce off the gazebo and blow into us. Despite our many layers and the orange glare of the patio heater, it’s cold and miserable and we all know it. I quickly take the heater indoors – electrocution wasn’t on my festive wish list – and when I return, Aunt Janie, Uncle Malcolm, and Mother stand up and say it must be time to make a move. I can’t say I’m sorry. I usher them to their cars, give socially distant air kisses, and send them off.
I love my family; I love them even more when they’re far away. It turns out I’m as antisocial as my mother. Merry Christmas.
About the author