Christmas Presence

by PeterG09

It was the night before the night before Christmas and nothing was stirring throughout the house. Except me. I was on the prowl. The parents were out at a party. When they came home they would be giggling and going SH! very loudly and then tripping over stuff and generally keeping as quiet as possible. It did at least mean that they would sleep in on Christmas Eve so I could have the telly to myself in the morning if I kept the volume down.

My Grandpa was supposed to be babysitting me. What 12-year old needs to be babysat? Yes, well, they were apparently not allowed by law to leave me alone while they went out. Even though it was generally them who needed the babysitter.

Grandpa was not the most attentive person at this job. He tended to doze off once he got comfortable, which was quite often. Tonight he was sitting in the dining room where the gas fire was on. The sitting room was quite cool, and anyway the dining room was where Dad kept his collection of sauces. There was whisky sauce (three varieties), sherry sauce (ditto), two kinds of gin sauce, and various exotics that were refugee prizes from the raffles at the quiz nights they often went to. Of course I had not sampled any of these. No, really, not even secretly on my own.

Grandpa sampled them quite a lot which is why currently he was snoring gently having found a comfortable way to pass out near the fire. On his lap was the book that he had started to read sometime before. He was no fan of TV, especially the very unfunny specials that seemed to fill all channels in the run-up to Christmas. If it was the festive season why were so many of these shows so dire? Anyway.

I was in my pyjamas, supposedly ready for bed. And obviously, effectively having the run of the place, I was casing the loot around the tree to see if anything interesting, intriguingly lumpy, or both, offered itself. There was one interesting package, quite flat, about the size of a book, but not quite right. I started teasing the wrapping undone without disturbing the sticky tape. I could just see that it was a framed family photo. On the right of the picture, the bit I'd managed to expose, I saw Davy. Goofy lovely Davy. My best friend in the whole world. Davy who was born on the same day and in the same hospital as I was. Davy whose mother met mine at ante-natal classes and became her fast friend. Davy who grew up so close to me that we lived in each other's houses and did everything together. Davy who some neighbours assumed was my twin brother. There was a joke that our mothers each brought home half a set of twins. Who sometimes finished my sentences, and I finished his and often we didn't need to talk at all. Davy with the hazel eyes and curly chestnut hair. That Davy.

"Hello". From nowhere came a voice I did not know. I shot up in surprise and accidentally tore the wrapping paper. In front to me was a tiny creature, only a foot high, seeming very familiar.

"Who are you? Are you real?"

"Look at your tree. Notice anything missing?" That same high tiny voice again.

I looked. "You're the fairy from the top!"

"Yup. As per spec."

"Are you real or am I dreaming this?"

"I'm real enough. Like the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny".

"You mean you're not real at all?"

"Oh yes I am. It's you who's stopped believing in all of us".

"My parents used to tell me that Father Christmas came down the chimney with the presents. Dad used to leave out a mince pie and sherry with a carrot for the reindeer".

"And your point is?"

"I found out that every shopping centre and garden centre and everything had a Father Christmas who was just some bloke in a suit. Obvs not real. He's just some random fat bloke".

"You try living on mince pies and warm sherry and see what shape you're in".

"But he's not really real is he? He's just my Dad dressing up".

"Rubbish. He did not stop being real. You stopped believing in him. You got all arsy know-all and up yourself".

"But you – you're plastic and I saw my Dad take you out of the old shoe-box and put you on top of the tree himself".

"Yes. And take it from me, he has cold hands. And where he puts his fingers is what no gentleman should do and no lady should have to put up with. On top of that he shoved me down on a pine twig, straight up my tutu. It's not proper".

I could hear grandpa still snoring gently. The house was quiet. I could hear the fridge running and the clock ticking. As far as I could tell I was awake and had not gone bonkers.

"So, why are you doing this?

"I saw you looking at the picture of Davy. Do you like him a lot?"

"I, I…I love him". Suddenly I choked up and tears streamed down my face. When I could speak I went on. "We were everything together. Then two years ago when I was ten his family moved away. They're about a hundred miles away and I never see him any more".

"I thought so. I was just checking out your story" said the fairy. "I could read your mind as I looked at you. Well, I'm here to help".

"You are? Is this he whole three wishes business?"

"Oh Pur-leez don't come on with that cliched stuff. That's for your Fairy Godmother. And even she won't easily do it. No, I'm more your facilitator sort of thing".

"You're like an influencer?"

"Well, kind of. I can't dob you a million quid or make your parents stop telling you to do your household jobs. Those would be miracles. Not my territory. I can, you know, assist things to happen. Move things on a bit. Nudge. There's something I need to influence first." And while I watched there was the slightest blur of movement on the wrapping paper of the photograph, and then it was as if it had never been opened.

"I've got to get back on that tree. Got to look like some fairy version of the Statue of Liberty holding my wand. It gets really tiring you know."

"Wait, wait. What's going to happen?"

"I've absolutely no idea. I've got some thinking and then some nudging to do" and with a flick of light she was gone. When I looked at the tree she was there on top. Plastic.

Christmas Eve is a strange day. Lots of getting ready, excitement about the big day even though you know that its going to exactly like it was last year and the year before. After lunch I was in the dining room busy thrashing Grandpa at Scrabble only he was beating me because he knew more weird words than I did. I overheard a fragment of conversation between my parents. "…should we tell him?" "No just let it happen." Then the kitchen door was shut and I heard no more. Were they planning to put Grandpa into a home? Sell him to a circus? Eventually the game finished and I went to my room to let Grandpa have a snooze.

Around five in the afternoon it was already dark outside. I was watching something on the telly. The door-bell rang and Dad leaped up to get it muttering "ruddy carol-singers". This was odd because usually he kept the door shut while they sang. If they did more then one verse of a carol he'd open up and let them have some sweets. If they also sang 'We wish you a merry Christmas' they got a second round of tooth-rot. But here he was jumping up and positively running to the door.

Next thing he called out "Richard. Someone for you." I got up and went in to the hall and there on the step was Davy. That Davy. The one who was supposed to be with his parents, staying with an Aunt in Australia. My Davy. And behind him were his parents.

I have no very clear memory of the next few minutes. Apparently the two of us sort of collapsed in to each other and just stayed that way.

There was obviously a story to be told. It seemed that they were actually in the queue for boarding at Heathrow when they were told that there had been a fresh Covid outbreak in Australia and visitors would not be allowed to land there.

While Davy and I sat holding hands for fear someone would try to part us his Father took up the story: "They told us that we would be able to claim the fares back, or maybe have vouchers for flights some other time. We're still thinking about that. They also told us that our luggage was stuck on the plane and because of Christmas it probably would not be unloaded until Boxing Day at the earliest and then we would have to go back to the airport to reclaim it. They said they would put us up in a hotel for the night. Well it was all a bit of a shock. So we talked about it and about maybe driving home to Birmingham and then having to come back again to get the bags, and I said I didn't fancy doing all that driving or having Christmas in some budget hotel with our food coming in those paper bags. Then Davy here suddenly said 'Rich stays quite near here. Can't we stay with his family?' So I rang your Dad and he said 'Yes' just like that, without even thinking. And here we are. We've got nothing except what we're wearing and an overnight bag with our wash things".

"Well" said my Mum, "I think it's brilliant that you called us. There's going to be enough food, there always is. You can have the spare room, next to Grandpa's. Davy can share Richard's bedroom. We'll make up a bed on the camp mattress on the floor (Oh no you won't. I thought). Not sure what we'll do about clothes. All the shops are shut now. Davy can wear some of Richard's things. I'm sure we have things that'll fit you two somehow. We'll chuck everything in the washing machine and it'll dry overnight".

The rest of the evening passed in a sort of haze of happiness. The Fathers organised the spare room while the Mothers talked about food and stuff. Around seven we all got together for a scratch meal. I noticed that there was already an empty wine bottle in the recycling. I suppose we had cheese and salad things, I don't remember. I do remember that Davy and I would happily have eaten each other.

Somehow we persuaded the parents that Davy would be uncomfortable on the floor and that my bed was big enough for two. There was no discussion, which was surprising. They just agreed. We had done this before but only when we were a lot younger.

The happiness haze continued through the evening. We played games, talked, and made plans. Somehow the idea evolved that our guests would stay until the New Year. That was a whole week off. It would make sure that they could get their luggage, and then not have to travel in a lot of holiday traffic.

Late that night, on the edge of Christmas Day, I came awake with a start as I remembered something I had to do. I got up, without disturbing Davy, put my dressing gown on (it wouldn't do to walk around naked) and went downstairs. Earlier Dad had put a mince pie, glass of sherry and a carrot on the mantelpiece. I thought it strange because the year before he'd clearly told me I was too old for all that stuff. The pie was gone, just some crumbs left. The sherry glass was empty, a drop had spilled on the coaster. The carrot was gone. My stocking (we still did a family tradition of stockings) seemed to be full and so was the one next to it that I didn't remember putting out.

I did the job I had to. I stood in front of the tree, looked at the plastic fairy, and said "Thank you."

On Christmas Day I had to lie. Dad asked me if I'd eaten the mince pie and I said "Yes". "And what about the sherry. Did you drink it?" "No. I poured it back in the bottle so that it would not be wasted. I put the carrot back in the vegetable rack".

"Well, thank you" he said. I forgot to come down and do it".

Each set of parents must have assumed that the other provided Davy's stocking, but no-one said anything. I didn't recognise any of the small gifts in it and they weren't anything like what I got.

It was funny seeing Davy wearing my clothes. He was a bit taller than me after a growing spurt, but a bit slimmer. So the jeans I lent him had to be pulled in by a belt and left a tasty two inches of ankle showing. I lent him socks and pants. I knew which pair and I was going to be sure they were my special pants in future.

His Father looked equally silly in a pair of my Dad's trousers, while his Mum was able to get in to a pair of my Mother's jeans, as they were about the same size. But it was a day for silliness.

There was one strange moment during the day. Davy, who is very observant, said "That fairy on the tree is left handed. I'm sure when we came she was holding the wand in her right hand". I made some non-committal noise about 'maybe you made a mistake' but I knew he hadn't. He was right.

We all went to the airport to retrieve the luggage once it had been established that it was actually in the reclaim area. On the way back home we went to the café at a garden Centre and had lunch. I thought Davy might not want to hold hands in public, but no, he took the initiative. I could not care, I was happy beyond telling.

The week shot by and then it was time for the guests to go. Davy and I clung to each other as long as possible. As we all stood in the hall he and I were crying, it seemed so cruel to be pulled apart again. Then his Dad surprised us all: "Margaret and I have been talking. Staying with you reminded us of how happy we had been here and we've decided that we're going to move back. The Midlands hasn't really worked out for us." And as an after-thought he added "and at least these two (he pointed at Davy and me) will be able to see a little more of each other".

Talk about getting a late Christmas present.

We have a family tradition about decorations. Up three days before Christmas, down on Twelfth Night. When we undressed the tree I made sure I got on the ladder to get the fairy down. I had put some soft paper tissues in her shoe-box. I picked her up very carefully by the waist, carried her down (right way up and not exposing her nethers) and laid her in the box, ready to go back in the loft until next year. Just before I put the lid on I mouthed 'Thank You". I can't be sure but I think I saw her plastic eye wink at me.

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