The Long Job

It was my last job of the night.  Of course, I didn’t know it was going to be my last job when I started, but that’s how it ended up anyway.  It was just before Christmas, my busiest time, and the weather was on the turn; there’d been a bit of snow and there was one of them cheeky winds that takes a shortcut through a bloke instead of going round.  He was an old codger, this pick-up; smelt a bit funny!  You know the type – didn’t seem like he spent too much money on soap, if you get my meaning.  He seemed a bit touchy and rambled a bit.  Half the time I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or to himself and some of what he said was just rubbish.  It’s sad when they go like that, but he was getting on.  Looked as though he’d had a good innings even if it wasn’t a happy one.

He didn’t look all that well when I picked him up and, if I’m honest, I didn’t think he was long for the world and I was worried his heart might give out during the journey and then I’d be stuck answering a load of stupid questions.  It’s happened before; the other bloke had that same grey look that this fella had so I made a mental note to keep a close eye on this one.

It had to be one of the longest journeys I’ve made since I started doing this job .  We bounced all over London and stopped off at quite a few places: we went to see his sister, who didn’t look too good herself to be honest; we went to some place he used to work, which is not something I’d fancy doing if I didn’t have to, and then I took him to see his ex.  I’ve made that mistake meself before.  Never go to see your ex when you’re feeling a bit low; it never ends well.  They hadn’t parted on good terms, as it happens, so he was pretty emotional by the time I dropped him back off at his, but at least he was still in one piece, so to speak, which meant he would be somebody else’s headache if he croaked.

Not that I was unsympathetic!  I’d been in his shoes meself.  You take a wrong turn and before you know it you’re headed into all sorts of wrong and sometimes you just can’t see how to get out of it.  In fact – and again, I’m speaking from personal experience – it’s easy to get so far down the wrong road that you don’t even recognise it’s wrong and you start to think everyone else’s way is the mistake.

I was pretty young when I strayed.  I’d been a bit of a shy kid and didn’t have many friends so, when some lads who lived by us started showing an interest, talking to me, sending me on messages, sticking up for me and that, well … I suppose I was just trying to make them like me.  When they started to ask me to do things that I shouldn’t have – a bit of nicking and suchlike at first and then worse stuff that I don’t rightly like to think of now  – well I didn’t want to say no.  And if I’m being honest with you, I liked doing it!  It made me feel like someone important, seeing people scared, and I was good at it.  I had more stuff than I’d ever had, better clothes, even a decent place to live.  It was hard to see the downside even while I still knew I was out of order.

In the beginning I was telling myself it was just until I could move away; until I’d made enough money to tide me over until I could find proper work, like.  Not that there was much I could do, with me not having been all that clever and not really having a trade to fall back on; sort of felt like crime was the best option, or the only option.  As the years went on and on, I forgot I’d ever even thought about stopping and then I got into a bar fight and some big fella put a bottle through me and it was too late.  I was dead!  So I ended up doing this for me sins; taking people – like old Ebenezer there – to see their old Christmases, to try and get them to see the error of their ways before it’s too late.  Fingers crossed it works out for him; he seemed an alright sort before he got greedy.  Let’s just hope I’ve scared him straight, eh!  I wish someone could have done that for me.

Happy Birthday, Liam

This is for you, a birthday gift,

It’s all I have to send.

A smile, a thought, a poem.

My brother and my friend.

No birthday card, no wrapping,

No singing and no cake.

I decorate my tree today

All for your memory’s sake.

I read your books now that you can’t,

Play songs for you to hear.

I hold you in my head and heart

And wish that you were near.

To shoot the breeze and have a laugh

To listen and to talk.

To wander down those roads once more,

Where in the past we’d walk.

But there’s a place tucked in my head

Where you’re a call away.

And I can just retreat to there

To celebrate the day.

So, happy birthday Liam,

I give my words and tears.

Although I’ll always miss you

I’m glad we had those years.

This is for my big brother, who is now my little brother.

O, Christmas Tree!

I looked out of the window at the empty street.  It seemed as though I had been sitting here for days and days.  For a while, I’d dozed off but not for long, I’m sure.  Nothing in the street had changed.  Glancing back at the room, I could barely comprehend that this was my home; it looked so different with all this adornment.  The tree in the corner, the shining, glimmering strings draped on every wall.  When he was home, the lights on the tree would flash, calling and repelling me at one and the same time as the fragile trinkets reflected the tree’s distress signals.   When he left, he would turn the lights off and warn me to leave the tree alone.  What exactly did he expect me to do to it?

It was decorated to his taste and his alone!  Although I’d tried really hard to help, he simply couldn’t share the task, criticising everything I did, until he actually got angry and I took myself out of his way.  In my head, I could imagine how it would look with my ideas as well as his: instead of his, even.  The decorative birds were all clustered at the top, too close together instead of spread around with some in the middle or near the bottom.  It made no sense!  He’d placed festive chocolates all over it and then changed his mind and removed them, leaving it looking quite bare in patches.

Decorating the tree was one of the many ways in which he would let his desire to control everything slip through.  He decided what and when we ate, what time we went to bed, when I could go out.  It had been so long since I had made a decision beyond when to pee that I wasn’t even sure whether I could fend for myself now and I didn’t expect I’d get a chance to find out anytime soon.

The street was still empty and rivulets of rain were racing to the bottom of the window pane as I leaned on the glass and sighed.  My breath misted up a little oval on the window and my nose cleared a streak of it as I shifted slightly.  I looked back at the tree.  I wondered how much he would notice if I just spaced out a few things to hide some bare patches.  He hadn’t taken a picture of it, had he?  Would he really pay that much attention to the exact layout of the odds and ends that were spread over it?

Walking towards the tree, I studied the patterns made by the strings, the lights, the balls, the branches.  The tree was really tall, though.  Too tall for me to reach all of it, but I could make a few adjustments here and there.  I reached out and felt the smooth surface of a golden-coloured metallic bell and it jingled sending a simultaneous chill and thrill right through me.  For some reason, I felt as though he had heard and considered the dire consequences of messing with his ordered life.  Backing away from the tree, I sat once more and just looked.

I wished the lights were on; the tree looked so other-worldly when it was lit up, but the trouble with living with somebody who doesn’t count you as an equal is that they never feel the need to let you know when to expect them back.  He could be home in a minute, he could be home in an hour or it could be more.  It was still light outside though and he often came back after dark so as I looked at the tree that had already caused so much trouble between us it was just too great a temptation to resist.

The switch for the lights was behind the tree so I slipped carefully around the side.   Turning it on wasn’t as easy as I had expected and I pushed at it twice, three times with no effect.  What was the matter?  He didn’t seem to have any trouble doing it, so why should I!  I struggled in a little closer, but something brushed my ear and, without thinking, I lashed out.  I felt a wire catch on my foot and tried to jump sideways but a branch scraped my back.  In a panic, I struck at every moving part that came near me and heard my own cries as I swiped at the cascade of items that seemed to be coming at me from every side.

With a slam and a shattering of glass, the tree stretched across the room.  As a lone bauble bounced onto the wooden floor and rolled toward the door, it opened and I looked up into his eyes.  There was a moment of silence before he yelled “I knew you’d do something like this, you stupid bloody moggy!”

The Day Before Christmas (Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

‘Twas the day before Christmas, when all through the land
The nerves of the masses were stretched like a band
After finding once more that they’d left things so late,
That there’s really no chance that their day would be great.

The children are praying for Playstation 4
But the shops are all empty, the signs say ‘No more’.
For Johnny a CD, for Tilly a dress
A keyboard between them so it costs a bit less.

When on the TV there appears ‘La Nigella’
For a change it’s got nothing to do with her fella.
She’s stuffing a turkey with handfuls of cake,
And boasting how easy it all was to bake.

She’s roasting potatoes in a gallon of lard
And telling us all that this feast isn’t hard.
While there in your kitchen, you reflect with a pout,
There’s nothing prepared, not so much as a sprout.

You meant to be organised, get started quickly,
But the effort of trying just made you feel sickly.
Until with a tremor you noticed the date,
And were forced to admit that you’d left it too late!

“Now Tesco! Now, Asda! Now, Aldi and Lidl!
You’ve queued up for hours, you’re bursting to widdle!
You don’t have a turkey or stuffing or spuds!
They’ve sold out of chestnuts, there are no Christmas puds!”

As you scramble for apples, satsumas and nuts
You get the most terrible pain in the guts.
It’s not out of hunger, it’s even more shocking
You’ve yet to find gifts that will fit in a stocking.

And then, in a moment, you get an idea
So you dive in the car and zoom off to Ikea.
You stock up on Daim bars and napkins in red,
And cushions with elks on to place on the bed.

You load up on pencils and paper tape measures,
Brown paper and string like they’re all buried treasures.
There are lampshades and glassware and Lufsig and Mala.
And a yellow felt creature called Vlad the Impala.

You try not to picture the children’s sad looks
As they open their stockings and find photo hooks.
But you don’t have much choice, you resolve to be fiendish
Point out to the children that Lapland is Swedish.

At least you remembered to buy some mince pies!
Though the kids say they hate them ‘cause they’re made out of flies.
And there’s half a Swiss roll that the kids haven’t seen
And some frozen puff pastry and a full squirty cream.

As you tuck in the children you make the old threat
“If you don’t go to sleep then you know what you’ll get!
Father Christmas won’t call and then you will be sad.
It’ll be your own faults, don’t blame me or your dad!”

Then you sit in the lounge feeling shattered, not merry!
Just wondering if you should drink all the sherry.
And you turn on the Christmas lights, draped on the tree
Fall asleep to the Christmas edition of Glee.

You wake in the morning at quarter to four
As the kids come and empty their stuff on the floor.
“Just look what we got in our stockings!” they yap
And you beg for some peace “Please let mum have a nap!”

Once you’re up and about, though the presents are scrappy.
The children are playing and reasonably happy.
As you start to relax, there’s a knock at the door.
You forgot you’d invited your mother-in-law.