Here is a seasonal extract from CATBIN FEVER. Merry Xmas (if applicable).
On the phone before I came over, Brenda said her goddaughter had been spending the whole day ‘playing with her wee in the living room’. I said nothing because firstly it’s not my place, and secondly I wasn’t in the least surprised. However, I walk in now to find her dancing about in front of the telly and waving some bits of plastic around. She says you can play all sorts of games with these things. I suggest ‘fetch’ and moments later she’s out in the back garden trying to find them.
In the kitchen, Brenda shows me another drawing her goddaughter has done. I can tell the blue circle with the red circle balancing on top and lines coming out of it is Brenda, because she has explained once before. The small yellow circle with a red circle on top, and yellow scrawl over that, is Brenda’s goddaughter. But this particular piece of challenging art has a third mess of colour, next to the other two. It’s a big purple circle with a red circle on top, and a squarish mass of grey scribble haloing that. I ask Brenda about it and she tells me that it’s supposed to be me. I am furious, but I don’t say anything. Brenda seems to think it’s wonderful. She says I must be proud that her goddaughter thinks so much of me. I suppose it’s just possible that the drawing isn’t intended as an insult. She might just be pathetic at art. After I’ve studied the piece as a whole for a while longer, I decide to magnanimously accept that as the explanation until another, more obvious, personal attack presents itself. The back door swings open and in stomps the little madam herself with her bits of plastic. She looks up at me and grins. She is so difficult to read.
After we have all had some sandwiches made from turkey leftovers, Brenda gives me a small colourfully-wrapped parcel to open. It contains a red velvet box, and within that is a very nice delicate necklace with a silver pixie pendant on it. She says it suits my mischievous side. I don’t know what she thinks she means by that, but I like the necklace and wear it immediately. Then Brenda pulls a mischievous expression herself, and says that when she was at the jewellers, she just couldn’t resist buying herself a present as well. She shows me the present she has bought herself. It’s a watch. It’s a Rotary, with a white leather strap and a mother of pearl dial. It looks more expensive than my necklace, which casts serious doubt on her whole story about what she went to the jewellers for in the first place. Brenda is saying that the watch is water-resistant. She seems overly impressed with this. I suggest that she might have paid extra for a spurious claim. It probably says ‘flame retardant’ on the box too. I insist that the watch should be tested. Brenda follows me up the stairs to the bathroom, burbling about it not being important, that I shouldn’t worry myself about it, but I assure her that it’s no bother. The next couple of minutes are a blur, but the watch proves not to be flush-resistant. As we stare into the empty toilet bowl, there’s plenty of time to think about how I could have tested the watch in the sink instead, but in the heat of the moment things get missed. That’s just science. It’s certainly not my fault, but I can’t help but think Brenda is going to hold me responsible for this. I would give her a sad kitten card to cover it, but I’ve already used one as her Christmas card by drawing a festive-looking hat on the kitten and writing XMAS on its face. Hopefully that card will serve as some kind of example to her goddaughter with regard to drawing things properly. To cheer Brenda up, I remind her that she has yet to open her present from me. As we trudge back downstairs, I also point out that she has a perfectly good clock on the oven in the kitchen if she needs to know the time. In fact, she could just ask me what the time is, as I have a perfectly nice watch. I don’t want to draw attention to that though, as it may seem like I’m rubbing her nose in it. Also, she might ask me for my watch. That would be very selfish of her. I’d hate not to have a watch. That’s awful, if that’s what she’s thinking.
I’ve left my presents in the car, as I thought Brenda’s goddaughter wouldn’t be able to resist opening them immediately if I’d brought them in before lunch. Children are very greedy, especially at this time of year. I go out and bring them in while Brenda brews some tea. I put the two parcels down on the coffee table, and Brenda’s goddaughter immediately stops dancing around in front of the telly, puts down her plastic things and comes over. I tell her to try to guess which one of the parcels is for her. She giggles and says both of them. Typical avarice. As Brenda comes in and puts the tea tray down on the table, I point out to her goddaughter which present is hers. She grabs it and greedily rips the brown paper off on the floor. She starts thanking me effusively when she gets as far as the packaging, which she tears apart in seconds, and comes up clutching the Clubstaz Stella doll I have bought her. Now that I see her out of the packaging, I am regretting it. Stella is dressed like a little whore, in a tiny crop top and a skirt that’s barely more than a belt. It’s disgraceful. I had seen the Clubstaz dolls advertised on the telly. It said they had attitude. It seems to be a bad attitude. Stella was the only one they had at the supermarket, and the packaging assured me that she was suitable for ages three and up. Mind you, it also assured me that she was a choking hazard, and I can’t see her strangling anybody with those tiny hands. In fact, it doesn’t look like she moves on her own at all. She is a pointless little slut. Realising that I have said this out loud, I explain to Brenda that I am talking about the doll, while she mops up the tea that she has just spat out. Her goddaughter is in hysterics.
Once Brenda has cleaned herself up, I hand her parcel over for her to unwrap. Her goddaughter is playing happily with her prostitute doll. She says she can’t wait for it to meet Rachel and Bruce. Rachel is one of the other Clubstaz dolls from the telly. I assume Bruce is their pimp. Brenda takes ages over unwrapping her present. She is the complete opposite of her goddaughter in this respect, patiently picking at each bit of tape and carefully unfolding the paper. Is she planning to keep the paper? If I see it wrapped around my present next year, I won’t be best pleased. Finally her gift is revealed. It’s a lovely novelty salt and pepper set, modelled after Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. The monster is the salt, and Dracula is the pepper. If I was making them, it would be the other way around, but I’m not sure why I think that. There is a hesitancy in Brenda’s thanks, so I assure her that it’s exactly the sort of thing she likes. She informs me that they are just like the ones she has out on the dining room table right now. I tell her that this is probably where I got the idea. She says I bought her those ones as well. And the ones from the year before that. This is starting to smack of ingratitude. I remind her that I have, and use, ones just like them at home. I do. I have another six boxed sets left. I only wanted to get the one pair originally, but it had been my first go at buying things from the internet and I had got the quantity wrong. Brenda closes the box and says ’never mind’, and with that, this ugly witch hunt appears to be over.
Brenda’s goddaughter’s face has just lit up. She’s remembered something exciting. She goes to the cupboard under the stairs shouting that she has ’something for you’ behind her. At last, a present. I don’t quite understand how she didn’t remember this as soon as I gave her the plastic tart. She returns with her coat, beaming, and rummaging through the pockets. Finally she finds what she is looking for and deposits a tiny bundle of tissue paper tied with a ribbon on the coffee table in front of Brenda. One small present. One. And it’s for Brenda. I don’t say anything, of course. It’s not for me to point out the injustice at work here. Brenda makes lots of cooing noises as she carefully unwraps the small package. She produces a tiny porcelain figurine from the tissue paper and extravagantly thanks and hugs her goddaughter, saying how lovely it is. She hands the figurine to me for confirmation of how lovely it is. The next thing I know, I’m stood in Brenda’s porch promising to help her find it once the snow eases off a bit.
It’s later in the evening and I’m being festive. I’ve just thrown a snowball at Brenda’s goddaughter. Brenda is refusing to pour me another one.
CATBIN FEVER OUT NOW
‘I have momentary aberrations. We all do.’
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