YOU Fiction: All I Want For Christmas

24 December 2016

Danny just wanted an Xbox for Christmas, but his parents seemed more intent on arguing than feeling festive . . .

by Bernadette James

THEY were arguing again. I thought grown-ups were supposed to know better. If I’d rowed like that with Josh I’d have been sent to my room. And that would be no fun, I can tell you.

My Auntie Joan says kids are all spoilt these days. They get sent to their room and get to watch TV and play computer games and listen to their iPods. She says we don’t know the meaning of punishment. But my room didn’t have any of those things. In fact, apart from the bed and a Manchester United poster it didn’t really have anything at all. Just as well I didn’t get sent there often. Though when they were rowing I went there anyway and put a pillow over my ears.

Josh was too small to understand. He didn’t know about all the stuff you needed when you got bigger and how the other kids laughed at you if you didn’t have it. He didn’t know about parents getting divorced and the kids having to live in two different houses and never being a proper family again. Billy Walker had to do that and he said it was the pits. Mind you, he did seem to get lots of extra stuff to make up for it. So it wasn’t all bad, I suppose.

It was nearly Christmas, which was a great relief as I needed an Xbox like Billy had got and couldn’t bear to wait much longer. I didn’t believe in all that Santa stuff. I’m nine, after all. I always pretended so as not to spoil it for Josh, because Santa’s a big thing when you’re four. But Mom and Dad didn’t know that I did that so I reckoned it was worth a shot asking for one. They couldn’t have Santa let me down, could they?

Anyway, this time Mom and Dad were fighting about the holidays. I couldn’t really tell what they were saying, not through the pillow, but I got “Christmas” and “work” and “how” and I heard my name and Josh’s. I thought maybe they were arguing about Auntie Joan coming to visit, how they were going to work out where she’d sleep, or something. Usually, Josh and me had to sleep downstairs when she came, which isn’t great for Christmas because of Santa and the chimney and stuff.

Next morning the kitchen was quiet, as Mom put out the cereal while Dad ate his toast. At least they weren’t shouting now.

“Is Auntie Joan coming for Christmas?” I asked.

“Whatever gave you that idea?” said Mom. “You know we don’t have the room.”

“I’m sure we’d manage,” I said.

Mom gave Dad a funny look, then stroked my head. I liked it when she did that, as long as Billy and the others didn’t see.

“That’s an odd expression to use,” she said. “Where did you hear that?”

I just shrugged. It didn’t seem that odd to me. She and Dad seemed to use it a lot. Or, at least they used to. Actually, I hadn’t heard them say it for a while.

“Come on Danny, eat your toast or you’ll be late for school.”

“Is Dad taking me again?” I asked

“Yes,” Mom said, then muttered something under her breath that made Dad sigh.

I went and got my bag. Mom always used to take me to school, but then Dad stopped going to work so he did it instead. I liked my dad taking me to school, no matter what Billy said about it.

The last day of term was always great, especially the one before Christmas. We had games and a bit of a party and the holidays to look forward to. And an Xbox under the tree, with a bit of luck. It was a surprise when Mom came to pick me up, Josh trailing behind her.

“Where’s Dad?”

“He’s got a little job, Danny. That’s good, isn’t it?”

“But it’s the holidays!”

“Well, not for grown-ups,” she snapped. “Grown-ups have to work so that they can pay the bills and put food on the table. You’re old enough to know that.”

’Course I was. But then she was old enough to know how boys looked forward to the holidays and going to the park with their dads. I didn’t say anything though. I was old enough to know not to when her face looked like that.

When Dad got home later he didn’t seem that happy. I braced myself for the arguing again, but they were both just sort of sad, like they were too tired to fight any more.

I went to bed without a fuss so as not to make it worse, but came back down for a glass of water and I could hear them talking.

“It won’t be for long,” Mom was saying. “Things will pick up in the new year.”

“But it’s so humiliating.”

“I know. But it’s Christmas. And Danny’s got his heart set on that Xbox thing. We need the money now.”

“It still won’t be enough.”

“We’ll manage. We always do.”

I crept back to bed to think things over. At least we were back to “managing”. That was a good thing. And they weren’t fighting, so the divorce was probably off. Also good. But they weren’t happy. And that made me feel almost worse than the fighting had.

I hated shopping with my mom, but at least at Christmas there was lots to look at with all the lights and everything. And I’d been at Billy’s the day before so I couldn’t go back again yet. Actually, we’d had a bit of a falling out, but I wasn’t going to tell Mom that. She kept picking things up, looking at the price and then putting them back again, and it was taking ages. Josh had seen all the signs for the Santa thing and had been trying to pull her towards it, but she wasn’t having it. She kept saying “In a minute”, but that’s ages when you’re four.

“I could take Josh to see Santa,” I said. “You can see the queue from here. You can keep on shopping. I’m big enough.”

It was true. It was only a little way away, still inside the shop and you could practically see right in to where Santa sat. Not quite, of course, because they wanted you to pay and if you could see him for nothing then you wouldn’t bother, would you? I could see Mom thinking it over. She’d let me do stuff before, but seemed to be worrying more about this.

“I didn’t think you’d want to bother. You said it was rubbish last year.”

“It’s not for me. It’s for Josh. I’ve got the money.” I’d brought it specially out of my moneybox so she couldn’t say no because of that.

Josh was chanting “Santa! Santa!” in his silly girlie voice now and I knew I’d won.

“Well, as long as you stay where I can see you until you go in. And don’t let go of his hand. And…”

But I’d already gone before she could change her mind.

I must admit I felt a bit daft sitting on one of Santa’s knees, with Josh sitting on the other. He wasn’t the best Santa I’d ever been to either, though I suppose I shouldn’t say so.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” he said as he turned to Josh, who rattled off a list of rubbish as long as your arm before Santa could even ask him what he wanted.

Then he turned to me. His voice was all weird and he kept his chin tucked into his beard.

“And what about you, young man?” he said. “What would you like me to bring you this year?”

I thought of the Xbox I’d played with at Billy’s. I knew I could get one if I really wanted. I took a big breath.

“A soccer ball,” I said.

Santa seemed a little shocked by that.

“Really? All the other boys want Xboxes and computer games. Don’t you like those?”

“No, not really. Everybody’s got those. I’d like a soccer ball, please.”

Santa’s eyes narrowed below his bushy eyebrows.

“A special one? Man United, maybe?”

“No, thank you. Just an ordinary one. The sort I can kick about with my dad.”

Santa had a bit of a coughing fit then and Josh and I had to get off. We went back to Mom, who looked a bit nervous.

“How did you get on?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said. “I got what I wanted.”

“Well, you don’t know that yet.”

“Yes, I do,” I said. “Santa won’t let me down.”

And I knew he wouldn’t. I knew neither of them would. And I knew there’d be no divorce and that we’d manage like we always did. And if Billy and his mates laughed at me I’d try really hard not to care and to be sorry for him instead, because he only had his dad every other weekend and I had mine all the time. And I also had to say sorry to Billy about the fight we’d had because actually he’d been right about one thing.

It really was a rubbish Santa disguise my Dad was wearing.

© Bernadette James

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