A man in his forties walked out of an Arrivals building at Southampton Airport at night while wheeling his baggage behind him, and walking over to a National Express Bus Stop. He showed his ticket to a driver who then took his luggage and placed it into a below storage hold, allowing him to board the bus and to find a seat. The man was looking out of a window at Christmas lights as the bus was travelling along different roads and going around bends for an hour – his eyes glimpsed Bournemouth Pier with its lights lit brightly, I’m home, he thought.
The coach entered Bournemouth Bus Station, and the man got off the bus and went by taxi for the final ten minutes of his journey. He was stood outside a semi-detached house watching the taxi pull away into the darkness. He walked up to the door and rang the bell, sighing, a Christmas melody was chiming. He could hear footsteps, the door opened, ‘Uncle James! Hello!’
‘Hello Benjamin’ He’s getting bigger, a teenager–
‘Who is it?’ a voice sounded.
‘It’s Uncle James, Grandma. Grandma, it’s Uncle James!’
James walked into the house – in the vestibule he was dazzled by the brightness of the fairy lights, and with the Christmas decorations and tinsel. His other nephew came to greet him, ‘Hiya Uncle James.’
‘Hello Owen. Are you both looking forward to Christmas?’
‘Yes, I’m getting a new bike, smartwatch, a laptop, and new games for my Xbox, and Ben is also getting a smartwatch, laptop, and new games, but he’s getting a new electric guitar instead of a bike. And we’re getting wireless headphones.’
The teenagers ran into the living room.
James went upstairs towards where he had heard the voice, knocked and walked into a bedroom, ‘hiya mum, dad’ – they were lying in bed.
‘Hello son’, they replied.
‘How are you?’ he asked.
‘We’re fine’, his mother stated.
‘The kids are here.’
‘Yes, we’re just minding them for your sister, to give her a break. But we don’t mind, do we Stanley?’
‘No’, her husband answered.
‘We enjoy having them.’
‘Yes’, James agreed, ‘have you’–
‘Listen, I’ve left you some dinner, if you’re hungry, all you have to do is to heat it up in the microwave. I’ve also made your room up, you’re in the smallest one because the boys are staying the night. You must be tired, travelling all that way. How long does it take to fly from the USA? Boston?’
‘The whole journey, including transfers, takes about eight or nine hours.’
‘Well, you must be tired. I’ll leave you to have your dinner and to rest a little. I’ll speak to you tomorrow. Go and have your dinner.’
‘Ok. I’ll see you tomorrow. Goodnight.’
The next morning James walked into his parents’ bedroom, ‘good morning.’
‘Morning’, his mother replied coldly.
There was no response from his father.
‘It seems strange to be back. Here on holiday, and with living in Massachusetts.’ James observed a contemptuous expression appear on their faces. What’s wrong with them? Is this about before? ‘I was hoping the airline would have given me a free upgrade when I was checking in, but they didn’t. Maybe one day, although I don’t know’, cheerfully.
James’ father got out of bed, ‘who would want to give you anything’, angrily and scornfully as he walked past him and out of the room. His mother was playing a card game on her iPad, smirking.
She looked up, ‘I’m not going to speak to you while you’re here. I don’t want to speak to you’, affirming nastily.
What?? ‘What? Why? What have I ever done to you? I have travelled all this way to see you and to see everyone’, tired, raising his voice slightly, I shouldn’t have raised my voice. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. I forgot, she wants me to do that.
Smirking again, ‘oh, you’re shouting. You always shout.’
‘I didn’t shout.’
‘Yes you did. You shouted. Shouting at your mother’, smugly.
I’ll remember next time. ‘Is this because I couldn’t go to Ben’s recital in April? I told you, I was ill.’
‘You didn’t want to go to the school and see Ben play in a band.’
‘I was going to go, but I was sick’, maintaining a calm and polite tone, ‘I was vomiting, you know this, you saw me vomiting. I had some sort of virus, I was dizzy, when I was walking, it felt as if the rooms were literally at an angle. I was ill, and the very next day I had to fly back to Massachusetts. I was worried that I would feel ill and that I would be sick on the plane. Having had an early night before flying back helped me, but I was still dizzy when I was on the plane. I couldn’t go to the recital’, frustratedly.
His mother was shaking her head, ‘no, you didn’t want to go, and Ben wanted you to go to watch him play in the band.’
‘I couldn’t go, I was ill, and the next day I had to fly back to Massachusetts’, he conveyed firmly, yet respectfully.
She continued to shake her head.
I don’t understand. You must know that I was ill.
‘I’m not going to speak to you while you’re here.’
I shouldn’t have bothered coming back. ‘This started in April, not speaking to me, and when I came in August for the summer holiday, you kept on mentioning it, and now, you’re carrying on with it. But this is worse. I can only come three times a year. You just don’t care, do you?’
His mother kept playing the card game on the iPad.
‘You don’t care that I was ill. You just want me to do whatever it is that you demand. I shouldn’t have come back’, I should have stayed where I was. ‘I’m not coming here for the next holiday in April’, he asserted, that would be a year that this would have been going on for. ‘I’ve had enough’, a sad and unsettling anxiousness passed through his body. You need to learn that you cannot treat me like this. I may. I probably, will come some other time, but not in April, and maybe longer, resigned.
She remained silent, on her iPad, ignoring him.
James turned and walked out of her bedroom – I’ll go back to my room, close the door, and stay out of the way.
James was in the bedroom flicking through different television channels to find a Christmas movie to watch, when he heard his sister come into the house – I should say hello, although I don’t want to go down there. He was walking down the stairs and he could hear muffled sounds coming from the kitchen, from his mother who was talking to his father and sister, he went in – she stopped immediately – silence.
They seem surprised. I’ve caught you!
His mother, father, and sister were staring at him–
The silence remained.
This is awkward. ‘Hi Kayleigh.’
‘Hello’, his sister said, looking away and raising her eyes as if to the heavens.
The silence was prolonged.
‘I only want a drink, a bottle of water.’ James opened the fridge and took out a small bottle. ‘Ok then’, and as he was walking back to the bedroom, he could hear his parents and sister starting to talk quietly again, so that’s why no one really spoke with me when I was last back.
He was watching a Christmas movie, I don’t know why I’ve come here, being stuck in this room all day. I should have just stayed where I was, instead of being here – the bedroom door burst open with his mother charging through it – ‘eh you, I want a word with you.’
No! What now!
‘You’ve really upset your dad and sister.’
She’s almost spitting venom, ‘oh, why?’ calmly.
‘You know why’, glaring at him, ‘your dad and especially your sister can’t get over the fact that you didn’t want to see Ben play in a band. And Ben was upset because you didn’t go.’
James looked directly into her eyes, ‘I was ill. The next day I had to fly back to Massachusetts. I couldn’t go’, assertively.
‘You come here, staying here in my house. My house. You owe me. I wanted you to go and watch Ben play in a band, so you should have gone. I told you to go.’
‘I couldn’t. I would have been ill flying back all that way.’
Dismissively, ‘I knew you wouldn’t go. I had told Kayleigh that you wouldn’t go before she asked you’–
That’s why you keep going on about it! Because you had already said something to Kayleigh, ‘you’re wrong. I was going to go, but the room was spinning, I was dizzy. I couldn’t walk straight. I thought I was going to be ill flying back. Having had that early night helped me’, you can’t be wrong, can you.
‘I’m not wrong. I’m never wrong me.’
Why do you need to be right about everything? ‘What? You’re never wrong. You have never made a mistake. You are always right about everything’, restating almost comically.
‘I don’t make mistakes’–
What’s the matter with you? There’s something wrong with you. You never make mistakes. You’re always right. ‘Wow!’ You’re like God, you must be a God. I suppose it’s Christmas–
‘I’m always right.’
Why are you like this? I don’t get it. All these years, I’ve learned that you must always be right. And if people don’t agree with you, you’ll fight, and argue, and go on and on until people give up for a quiet life. But I’m not doing that anymore. I know you do this, but why? What’s the reason? There must be a reason! ‘You have my answer about why I didn’t go to the recital. There is no other answer.’
His mother waited for a further explanation.
James did not say another word.
She turned to walk out of the door–
James was relieved–
She moved sharply back around towards him–
‘You think you’re clever, don’t you? Because you’re a teacher, working at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’–
‘Let me tell you, you’re not. You’re not more clever than your father or me. Your father and I are more clever than you. If we had the opportunity to go to university, we would have done far more than what you have done’, scowling, revealing her repugnance.
Shocked and unsurprised, here we go again, how many times have I heard this, why? It’s ridiculous, laughing sadly inside. Why do they say this to me? feeling hurt and dejected, ‘well, if you and my father had had the opportunity to go to university, I’m most certain that you would have accomplished great things’–
She paused, the wind taken out of her, quiet–
We all make mistakes–
She turned to walk out of the door – she spun back around–
Oh no, even more!
‘You owe me. You owe me for all the toys and presents that I bought you when you was a child, for the clothes, and all the food that I had to buy you.’
Aghast, what??? ‘Are you saying that I owe you money for the toys that you bought me when I was a child?’
‘Yes, you owe me.’
‘I don’t owe you money’, dumbfounded, that’s insane. ‘If you choose to have children, if you make the decision to have children, you must pay for them. It’s your responsibility to pay for your children. If I have children, I will pay for them’–
She was shaking her head–
‘Every generation pays for the upbringing of their own children, and that’s the way of life.’ It was a loan, was it? I don’t remember you sitting me down when I was a child to explain to me that the toys you were buying were part of a loan, or explaining to me what a loan was, otherwise I think I would’ve said no. Maybe I would’ve had one or two toys. I don’t even think entering into a loan agreement with a small child is legal.
‘You owe me.’
James’ mother waited for him to persist…
…he did not say another word.
His mother walked away but turned her head as she was going through the door, ‘you should’ve gone to Ben’s recital’–
James’ eyes opened widely, finally, realising what was wrong with her, what she was, you’re a nar, you’re a narcissist. Of course, it makes sense now. All these years not knowing. Wondering. Now I understand, the way she behaves towards me, and other people. It must be on a sliding scale, like the autism spectrum, from a mild form to severe. You’re a narcissist!
The next day James was sitting on the bed with his laptop and with a Christmas movie on the television – his mother came bursting through the door again–
‘I’m going to give you back the five hundred pounds that you gave to me in the summer’–
She wants me to say, oh, no, please, why? I want you to have it–
‘Because I was thinking, when you said you were given it as part of a bonus, did you mean that you did not want to give it to me because it was your bonus? You can have it back. I don’t want it from you’, snarling.
Outwardly relaxed and peaceful, ‘no, I did not mean that, I was saying at that time that it was ok, I wanted to help you, I didn’t mind, I wanted to give you the money, and that it was extra money that I had, I wanted to give it to you. I wouldn’t miss it’, inwardly screaming.
‘You can have it back’–
I know what you are now, and I’m not getting drawn into it, ‘sure, if you want to give me the money back’–
‘Ooh’, startled, ‘I can’t give you the money back now, because I’ve spent it. I’ll have to save it. I only receive a pension.’
If you’re throwing it back in my face, ‘when will you be able to give it back to me?’
‘Erm, in a few months, in six months.’
‘That’s fine, there’s no rush. Whenever you have it, let me know’, I can’t do anything right by you, can I? I can’t even do anything nice for you, like give you five hundred pounds without you throwing it back in my face–
She stopped in her tracks, speechless, left open-mouthed, he’s changed, she thought, ‘ok’, and she went out of the room noiselessly.
The end of this Christmas holiday can’t come soon enough for me!
It was Christmas morning, and James was lying on his bed, feeling unable to keep his eyes open, nearly drifting off, exhausted from the negative atmosphere in the house, jolting awake – ‘James’, his mother called in a pleasant manner, ‘if you want to come down, the Christmas dinner will be ready soon.’
He walked down the stairs, there was Christmas music playing, the decorations look nice, and the table, it’s wonderful! In the kitchen, he saw the turkey, roast beef, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, mashed carrot and turnip, small sausages, Yorkshire puddings, and gravy – the sight and smell made his mouth water – ‘there you are’, his mother said with a friendly smile, ‘are you hungry?’
‘Yes, it looks delicious.’
‘I’m so pleased. Go into the dining area, and sit down.’
‘I’ll give you a hand to carry things in’–
‘No, go in, go in, your dad and I have everything covered, go in’–
‘I’ll give you a hand’–
‘No, go in’ – gently pushing him in the direction of the dining area.
James walked in – he halted abruptly – immediately – his eyes transfixed on an elderly lady sitting at the table – he was motionless – ‘Grandmother! What! How?’
‘Hello love, I’ve missed you!’
‘I’ve missed you too’, tears filled his eyes.
‘I’m here’, speaking softly.
His mother went past carrying a tray of food, with his father following behind her, also carrying a tray, ‘we’ve all missed her, haven’t we Stanley?’
‘Everyone, sit down, sit down.’
James was sitting down, there was warm Christmas music playing, and tinsel and decorations glistening from fairy lights, he was observing everyone, his grandmother, mother and father, sister, and his two nephews – Ben was saying to Owen, ‘you can borrow my guitar anytime.’
Sitting at the table, James was smiling with everyone.
He glanced over at his mother – ‘James – James’, he heard – ‘James’, his mother yelled from downstairs – he jolted, ‘yes.’
‘Are you ignoring me?’
‘No’, he shouted down, I’m fed up with you always saying that! I’ve never ignored you.
‘Come here, I’m putting the dinner out now.’
James was walking down the stairs, there was Christmas music playing, the decorations look nice, and the table, it’s wonderful–
‘I didn’t say that mum, I didn’t say that’, Kayleigh was almost screaming–
No!!, James thought, going into the kitchen.
‘You did say that’, his mother replying sternly.
Can you give it a break, just for one day, James pleading inwardly – the sight and smell of the food made his mouth water.
‘No mum, I said I don’t want any Yorkshire puddings because I don’t like them. I didn’t say that I don’t like the way you make them.’
‘You did say that you don’t like the way I make them. I’ll tell you, you’ll eat them because I’ve made them.’
‘I didn’t say that mum.’
‘You did, well, same thing.’
‘No, it isn’t’, screeching.
‘Go in. Sit down at the table’–
‘Why??’ – Kayleigh storming out of the kitchen–
I know why, thinking to himself–
‘And don’t be sitting opposite me, I don’t want to be looking at your miserable face across from me’, voicing loudly. ‘James’, in a hushed pitch, ‘I want to know, when you said that you didn’t mean that you didn’t like giving me part of your bonus, was that right?’
Not this again, sighing, ‘no.’
His mother was waiting for further clarification–
I’m not getting into this, James did not explain further–
‘No, you mean I can have the money?’
‘Ok, I won’t give it to you back. Can you help me, go in the cupboard and put the sauces on that tray, and take them into the dining area.’
‘And there’s no room at the table for all of us, so you’ll have to use the plastic extension that we have at the end of it, and sit on the plastic chair.’
‘What? That’s where the kids sit!’
‘You’re still at the table, but sitting at the plastic extension. The children want to sit at the table’, dismissively.
‘I’m not sitting’–
…walking away, ‘you’re using the extension’, grinning to herself slightly.
James flung the cupboard doors open, I’ve really had enough of this, he grabbed the sauces and slammed them onto the tray, Bitch, you Bitch! I shouldn’t think that, putting his head down – walking into the dining area while carrying the tray – seeing his mother, shaking his head, no, but you are, you’re a Bitch–
‘Stanley, it was your idea’, his mother saying, ‘remember, I’m helping you.’
‘Oh’, he replied, seemingly confused, ‘oh, yes, yes.’
Trying to manipulate him, James reflecting upon the events, I know what you’re doing, you try to manipulate everyone, placing the sauces onto the table, then sitting down at the plastic extension.
There was warm Christmas music playing, tinsel and decorations glistening from the fairy lights, and James was observing everyone at the table – he noticed his father looking at him contemptuously, and his sister, distressed–
‘I didn’t mean that mum.’
‘No mum, I didn’t mean what you’re thinking’, screeching.
‘I said shut up, I’m trying to eat my Christmas dinner.’
She started to cry faintly.
‘This is awful!’ his mother proclaimed, ‘I’ve been working all day preparing this Christmas dinner, and I want to sit here and enjoy it’–
Ben and Owen were pulling and tugging at each other, ‘get off it’, Ben roared, ‘get of my smartwatch.’
‘I want to look at it.’
‘You’ve got your own’ – punching him hard in his arm.
‘Oww! That hurt’, Owen was bellowing – punching him back–
‘Owww!’, rubbing his arm–
‘Stop it you two’, his sister snapped–
‘Eh!’ his mother interjected, ‘don’t speak to them like that.’
‘Mum, I’m telling them to behave!’
‘Well don’t, not like that’–
‘Everything I say is wrong!’, screeching distraughtly–
It’s like she’s having a nervous breakdown, James, concerned, oh god, don’t be like that. Try to enjoy your dinner–
‘Stop it! Stop it!’ James’ mother demanded angrily. ‘Not another word from any of you. I’m going to sit here and eat my Christmas dinner in peace. You know, when I’m no longer here, when I’ve gone, dead, you’ll all regret not having a mother. There’s nothing like losing a mother’–
Here we go again, you’ve been saying this for decades, James thought.
‘And that goes for you too, James, when I’m no longer here, you’ll regret the way you’ve treated me. Nothing can compare to losing a mother.’
You are getting older, an apprehensive unease darted through his body.
‘I still miss my mother’, she declared, ‘after all these years. Not a day goes by without thinking about her’, a few tears rolled down her cheeks.
‘Hmm’, if my grandmother were here, she would stop you from doing this. I think she was the only one who could stop you–
His sister screamed–
People jumped a little–
The lights flickered…
… then went off.
The electric was out.
‘What was that?’ his sister asked agitatedly.
‘I think it must have been an energy surge’, his father said, ‘I’ll check the fuse box’…
‘My heart’s beating, I got a fright’, holding her chest.
The lights and music came on…
… ‘the fuse tripped, that’s all’, he sat down.
James was sitting at the plastic extension whilst observing his family around the table, viewing their bad-temperedness, nastiness, and sadness. I wish everyone would smile, say nice things to each other, enjoy each other’s company, and be friendly. Perhaps one day, that would be happy, merry and jolly, that would be a Joyful Christmas Wish.