by Emma Robertson
12 year old single malt
Alfie picked up his dram (a supermarket single malt; he was keeping the good stuff for Hogmanay) and raised it to his wife. ‘Slainte!’
‘Cheers!’ Kate lifted her G&T back at him, smiling when she noticed the glass he’d selected. ‘You’re using it!’
‘Aye, well, it’s Christmas.’ Alfie was gruff, slightly embarrassed to have selected the penguin-design glass that his mother-in-law had gifted him the previous year. It had stayed in its box since then, stashed in the cupboard that stored such assorted ephemera – shot glasses from their trip to St Petersburg, a bell printed with ‘Ring for Wine’ – and many, many penguin-themed novelties.
Kate put down her drink on the mantelpiece next to the penguin Christmas countdown ornament and picked up her phone. ‘Let me take a photo of you using it.’
Alfie groaned; he knew this would happen. ‘Come on, Mum will love it!’ Kate cajoled, gesturing for him to stand by the tree, so she could also fit in the penguin tree decorations from two years before. ‘Say penguin!’
‘Get tae fuck,’ said Alfie, but he did smile. Kate took the photo and kissed him on the cheek.
Alfie wasn’t really sure how this had happened. One day, about ten years ago, Kate had mentioned to a few people about how much Alfie had enjoyed a documentary about chinstrap penguins and someone, he couldn’t remember who now, had said, ‘Oh, I didn’t realise you liked penguins?’ Alfie honestly couldn’t remember confirming or denying whether he did indeed like penguins, but the following Christmas, not one, not two, but three penguin-themed gifts found their way to him.
‘Ah, of course! Alfie likes penguins!’ his sister-in-law had exclaimed, after he’d unwrapped penguin socks, a wind-up waddling plastic penguin and – what proved to be a Christmas staple from thereon in – a big chocolate penguin. Alfie had shrugged good-naturedly and Kate had found it hilarious, so there began a new Christmas tradition.
‘Buckle up, penguin-boy!’ Kate grinned, uploading the photo to Facebook. ‘It’s your time to shine!’
Soon came the likes, the laughing emojis, the teasing comments and the dancing-penguin gif from Alfie’s uncle, who’d recently learned how to use gifs and now put them everywhere. Alfie sighed and drained his dram, glaring at the glass as he did so.
The next day at Kate’s mum’s house, after unwrapping penguin bubble bath, penguin face masks (very 2021!) and a penguin-shaped box of shortbread, Alfie video-called his family north of the border, too far away to visit this year, and told them what presents he’d received.
‘Strange, I dinnae mind you liking penguins when you were wee,’ his mother mused. Alfie shrugged; he didn’t remember ever really having an opinion on them at all.
Back in the living room, Kate’s brother, a teacher, unwrapped a penguin tie from his pupils and everyone exploded with laughter.
‘You should give that to Alfie!’ Kate’s mum cried. ‘Alfie likes penguins!’
Everyone laughed again and Alfie decided to break out the good whisky early this year.
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