Sunday, 25 February 2018

Pyrrhic Christmas - Flash Fiction

I was so looking forward to tomorrow’s first Christmas with my reconfigured family. To lapping up the sight of my new husband’s forearms ripple as he sliced the turkey. My son’s face lighting up brighter the the Christmas tree illuminations, when he claps eyes on his present. The two of them forging a lifelong bond over pulled Christmas crackers, bad jokes and lopsided Charades with only three players. My fervent Christmas wish, was that in time, step-father would legally adopt step-son as his own. 

I groggily figured I wasn’t the one in the house most excited by the dawning of Christmas Day itself. Seeing as I hit only cold air on the mattress next to me. I could only speculate whether Charles had beaten Sam to the punch and could at least have prevented Sam tearing into his gifts before I was present to witness his joy. But when I went into the kitchen, there was only Charles there frying up something delicious for breakfast. What a man! But where was my little man?

Eventually he emerged and the presumed skein of sloth was immediately moulted from him as he charged past the kitchen doorway towards the living room and the tree. “Hold on a moment Sonny Jim! Come and say hello to your parents and have some breakfast first”.  My heart went ‘ping’ at hearing the word ‘parents’, but was soon sent into spasm as Charles surged forth out of the kitchen and returned dragging Sam by the scruff of his neck. 

“Breakfast first, as a family, then you can open your presents” he restated firmly. I was torn as assuredly as any wrapped gift would be imminently. Perfect sentiment presented in a gauntleted fist. Sam slumped down on his chair at the table. Charles laid an aqua blue cereal bowl down in front of him, with no percussive slam betraying any anger. “I’m not hungry” bleated Sam tonelessly. “No, you just want to go and attack your presents. But I’ve said we’re going to sit together and eat, like a civilised family. Here, Wheatabix, your favourite”. (Which you’re led to believe is his favourite, from the crib sheet I provided you, not your own explorations of his psyche). A cascade of milk, from such a height that some of the drops bounce off the wheat bricks, like a science experiment on heated atoms. “I’m not hungry”. Arms folded, petulant. Been here before, see how it goes this time with different adult geometry. Charles takes his seat, thankfully not diametrically opposite Sam. That alignment falls to me as Sam draws a bead pleading silently. No, not pleading, lasering insistently.

Taking a leaf out of his playbook, I don’t meet his gaze. I hear the vigorous relish with which Charles is demolishing his food. Modelling behaviour. Wordlessly hectoring his stepson. Oblivious to the inevitable stillbirth of a soundless strategy to bring someone out of their own muteness. My problem is I’ve got both parties in this fight. I mean Sam has always tended towards this cussed resistance, but with me he’s never had to maintain it for terribly long before I cave. Charles I suspect is made of sterner stuff. Stags butting antlers. A more fitting contender. He’s not surely going to keep this up all morning is he? Not with the pull of his presents under the tree. Famous last words. Mouthed dumbly inside my head of course… 

I stare forlornly at Sam's bowl. Like a shipwreck now, since the wheat block is so saturated that grains break off into the milky main and float away. Leaving a diminished wheaten life raft that carries us all away, not to safety, rather to be dashed on the rocks of unblended family. Charles has finished, but won’t indulge Sam’s power play as he rises from the table, his empty bowl emphatically swept up in hand. Score one to Sam, Charles broke first, even if it is within the permissible bounds of mannered tables. Charles leans over into him, “you’re not leaving this table until you’ve drained your bowl”. He pirouettes away to go wash up. Pretty poor show I think, not to show solidarity with me stuck in place, slowing my mastication up to inch towards Sam’s stasis. It strikes me that Sam is wearing his orange t-shirt, like a Guantanamo prisoner, or someone condemned to death row. Apposite for the siege situation we have here. But it must also hint that he was not so excited by the prospect of present unwrapping, that he didn’t first make time to dress. Has he planned for this showdown? This trial of strength? This prison break?

A further marker of ceramic chronometry. The wheat has now broken up entirely. All hands lost to the brine, but Sam’s countenance is set firm and sheds no salty tears. Oh for a plug in the bottom of his bowl, so that the bilge could leak away to bring about the desired outcome with no loss of face to either male of the house. Oh for a plug in the planet to pull out and have us all slip painlessly away and for the earth to empty of its lethal tidal flow. I have to break this impasse. I too rise from the table, without chancing to catch Sam’s eye. I make my way to the living room, where all our Christmas lives hung in the balance. As assuredly nailed to the mantlepiece with the stockings, foreshadowing the Saviour’s next anniversary in the calendar, his crucifixion. 

I remonstrate with Charles about his demonstration of authority. Our hushed tones climb the scale in irritation. "Do you honestly expect to keep this up and keep him from his presents, from his Christmas?” “I don’t know, he’s your son. Do you expect him to keep it up?” “But what about the turkey? What about all this effort I’ve put in to making us a special lunch? And for what? At best all you’ll achieve is a Pyrrhic victory”. “You’ve used one syllable too many there. A prick victory, for your little prick of a son”.

I stormed out the parlour of the heated parley and marched back into the kitchen. I was about to seize up Sam’s bowl, when I saw that the top layer of milk had curdled. An atomic clock that had marked in just the course of half a morning, the curdling of all love. 

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