Friday, December 26

Turkey Queue

CHRISTMAS IS OVER. I sit here on the bed, writing in a position I never relax into, dwelling on Christmas being over. This time of year, to me, is a perilous period of ups & downs – mostly the latter – strung together in short days of very little sun. I wish I could be happier about the festive period, but I cannot. It makes me miserable and I can’t explain why.
This year was a quiet affair, just my immediate family, perhaps the smallest I have ever known (though my parents remind me of one other year when it was just Us, and I caused an argument at the dinner table and was sent to my room by an upset mother; since then I have blocked the memory from my mind and not a single scene can be recalled). My brother and I live away from the family these days, so a reunion is more special than it was; a guest list that five years ago would have made us groan is now pleasant if understated. There is also a baby in the middle, all soft and plump. My mother is enamoured by her. She fusses over the useless baby constantly, even when she should be enjoying the Christmas feast, just to check whether she is asleep or awake. I myself, admittedly, find something compellingly relaxing in watching the babe slumped there, licking her lips and blinking at the winter-lit living room. Did she just smile? I put my tongue out again and ask—‘You find my little tongue funny?’
The baby brings with it some more excitement to the family and to Christmas. I wonder what it would be like if I had a child. There is no effort for her to amuse everyone. I ease up on the drink because it is four o’clock and we have not eaten; the parents are still opening presents for the child. The sun is gone down. Blue pasty skies and the warm windows keep glowing out there.
I feel I should savour every minute. Coming home with my father I am concentrating hard on savouring every minute. It is just he and I. I remember the drives back from university, ten years before. The farm he bought the turkey from is near the village I was raised in. It is set just off from the road, by a river that disappears underneath a bridge. All year the geese and turkey roam wild and then, a few days before Christmas, the fields fall silent and long queues of people form, chatting between each other in that polite rural British tongue. The farmhouse is white and the farmer has extra help. The cold midday sun is low in the sky as the farmer walks down the queue, checking people’s order numbers.
My mother lives for Christmas. She wears an apron constantly to keep her clothes clean as she cook cook cooks, and the house is done up entirely so that it twinkles and glitters and all the paraphernalia and icons sparkle. She is obsessed with it. When she was a young girl her father died at Christmas. Every year she makes sure she goes to mass and lights a candle for her father and her father-in-law and prays that her mother gets better soon. Her mother is always sick. I saw her sitting in her chair with her eyes different sizes, all greyed up car windows, her right hand and her feet swollen, her dentures loose, her wheezing filling the room, her bobbing head as she attempts to talk in my direction, and the fumbles she makes trying to insert her hearing aid. I cannot kiss her as I am coming down with a cough, She is ill; too ill to move from her chair. The visit is only brief and I put my hand on her bent spine as I am leaving. ‘I love you,’ she says. ‘Be happy … it is the best thing you can be. Please just be happy, darling. As long as you’re happy.’ My hand is on her bent spine. I leave the room. When I am outside I know that she will not see another Christmas and that I might never see her again.
Christmas is over. All the build-up to this day and it is over. I should take a break from all this, but I think of the summer coming along. So much has changed this year.
‘I think you should talk to your brother. Maybe you can sort him out.’ I don’t know what to say to depression. I love my parents with all of my heart but to imagine this house empty, with just him and them, I feel sad for him. I don’t know what to say. I talk to him about things that are not depression or suicidal thoughts or anything of that nonsense – à la mode! – but just enjoy being brothers again. I have listed out all of the things that depress me to tears and have set myself to address them in the new year. The list is long and each item shall be addressed, one by one. One of them reads—‘I no longer talk to my brothers. I am a bad brother.’ Perhaps I shall write them all down here, too, so that they are out there in the world and are undeniable.
But for now, Christmas is over. I have finished the red wine in the decanter (for the occasion) and the cat beside me is as ready for sleep as I am, but he will wake up before me and put his claws in my beard and up my nose, just to playfully piss me off. This is it. Christmas is over.

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