by Sarah Morgan-Bilaney
mulled wine, gone cold
The alarm goes off early, you curse, you have forgotten to switch it off. A feeling of dismay fills your very being. Memories of the previous evening return and you shudder. Did you really say that? Did he really do that? Then you realize, it is the day of the year you dread, the one you hate most. Christmas day. A day spent cooking, waiting on people and trying to calm those inevitable moments where bitter simmering family differences bubble to boiling point resulting in almost violent rows. Slowly and ginger you creep downstairs, hoping, praying that no one else is awake. You need to clear up before the family comes down demanding coffee, toast or just an aspirin.
You have just started to refill dishwasher when your childhood friend enters the kitchen. Her large blue eyes are ringed with small wrinkles and her once bright golden hair is now dyed a vibrant yellow. She is not a female who will grow old gracefully. You smile and she smiles in response. Neither of your smiles reach your eyes. Memories of the previous evening has put a chill on your friendship. You continue to clear up, while she absentmindedly makes a concoction that is supposed to revitalize her youth. The sickly-sweet smell of vanilla fills your kitchen as she stirs her drink.
Your eldest granddaughter enters the kitchen, demanding that she is allowed to open at least one of those tempting parcels under the Christmas tree. You make her porridge, and she sits at the table toying with her spoon, moving the porridge everywhere except her mouth. She is gazing longingly at the brightly decorated tree that fills the window. In the kitchen, your oldest friend has left a trail of white powder on your freshly cleaned surfaces. You would like to scream but don’t. More family comes down and your small kitchen is now filled with people, both young and old. All showing that their needs are of paramount importance, all getting in each other’s way.
You turn to the tree, and there is your grandson sitting in a middle of pile of gifts, a couple of which he has already opened. You quickly remove him, and after handing him over to his father, you try to rewrap all that he has undone. You are not successful. Then your eldest son demands to know why the f.. his younger brother has not arrived yet. Pointing out that everyone is waiting and that the Children want to open their presents. This seems to prophesize the first row.
Your youngest child draws near the tree carrying an armful of small presents. This is surprising: he has always claimed that Christmas is a commercial enterprise designed to increase spending and fill the pockets of the rich. At last your middle son arrives and the customary opening of presents begins. There is a mixture of shouts of delight and disappointed faces, children squabbling over each other’s toys. When everyone has almost finished, your youngest son hands out his parcels. Yours contains a fresh onion. Your eldest son’s face is contorted into an expression of disgust. His packet contains a small, rather limp, carrot. The middle son starts to giggle and your friend, who has been given a rosy apple, beams on appreciatively. The gesture has clearly met with their approval.
And now you move to the kitchen, to clear up the mess made by a variety of breakfasts. Your friend follows you. And while she is sitting on the kitchen stool and while she is watching your frantic efforts to clean up so you can start cooking, she giggles and comments that a woman’s work is never done. She continues pointing out that she has a high-status job and is very tired, and anyway she is on holiday, so cannot be expected to help with mundane domestic matters. You think of your own mundane job, that still requires time and effort and wonder why cooking and clearing up is not considered work. You know that if you were employed as a cook in a restaurant, your efforts would be considered valuable work, or at least appreciated.