Monday, December 22, 2008

Deck the Balls: Part 1

I’m not sure what’s more annoying?

Annaleise’s diatribe sounding as though she’s channelling our mother - like her, she’s not coming up for breath, or the rum balls. They’re tragic. The ones I’ve managed to fashion look more like mutant globules from outer space than Christmas delights. Annaleise drones on. I try to ignore her and extricate the sticky mess that now resembles a rampant form of leprosy.

Merry Effing Christmas!

This was why I had planned to stay in London this Christmas. I didn’t care if I celebrated alone. But Annaleise spoiled it, forcing me to use my emergency return ticket six weeks before Christmas, for her surprise wedding.

“Annaleise – your bum seems to have found its way onto the bench again.”

It’s the possibly the only thing I have in common with my mother, the objection to Annaleise randomly parking her behind on the kitchen bench. She slides off awkwardly with a pout that sits poorly on her adult lips.
“Man you’re anal!”

I attempt to scoop another teaspoon of the rum rich mixture and roll it into a ball, but the situation has deteriorated further. My hands are now tar and feathered with dough and desiccated coconut. If these things don’t look edible there will be no clandestine supply of rum for me tomorrow.

At Christmas there’s always someone counting my drinks and shooting disapprovingly looks in my direction. No one will think to tally rum balls. If there is no Brian tomorrow I’ll need hard liquor and lots of it. I won’t survive otherwise. It’s OK if the crutch is heavily spiked festive treats.

“You’re meant to wet your hands first.” The advice comes after watching me struggle with the mess for fifteen minutes.
“Are you here for any specific reason Annaleise?” I’ve forgotten if there was a pretext for her unexpected visit.
“I came to remind you about Midnight Mass.” I’m certain she came to snoop and see if Brian is actually here.

I glance over at the clock on the microwave. There’s ten minutes to think up a solid excuse for missing Midnight Mass, then evict Annaleise. An hour to feel guilty about not going; followed by approximately thirty minutes to become so absorbed in Love Actually that I don’t care that my family thinks I’ve disrespected them and deserve to burn in hell.

“I’m not going.”
“You’re expected to go.”
“I’m not a Catholic anymore.”
“What do you mean you’re not a Catholic anymore? You don’t just stop being a Catholic.”
“I’m lapsed then.”
“Lapsed – more like into weird shit!”
“You’re referring to being a pagan I take it?”
“Or you’re not going to mass because of Brian?”
“Thanks for the invite but I’ve already done my Yule worship.”

Two nights earlier I celebrated the summer solstice - alone. My badly constructed straw man burning in the tiny fire I’d illegally lit in the bush near my flat. I remember trying not to transmute the straw man into an effigy of Brian or to feel a certain delight at his fiery demise.

“I’m not talking about your weirdo gatherings. I’m talking about Christmas.”
I sigh with relief at the diversion and wonder how it’s possible we’re from the same gene pool.

I finally get my hands clean to a point where rinsing them won’t clog the sink beyond repair and re-engage with damp hands. My pagan leanings have always repelled me from Father Greg’s mind numbing sermons, but this year it’s more than that. I don’t want to answer questions best left for tomorrow. Plus there’s the mystery of Brian’s gift.

“Chris going this year?” It’s more a statement than a question. The entertainment value of my new brother-in-law, ex professional AFL player, sitting there trapped in the pious embrace of the MacAveny clan, singing off-key Christmas hymns is almost an enticement to go.
“He’s out with friends tonight.”
“So it’s true he’s not really a Catholic then?”
Annaleise snorts.
“Father Greg passed him.” I’d heard only because Dad had a quiet word with Father Greg. “Don’t go getting on your soap box. Just because he’s good with his hands and not his head!”
“Yes well that’s obvious.”

I stare across the pile of potent rum balls to Annaleise’s growing abdomen. I’ve seen enough pregnant bellies on close friends to know that what Annaleise is carrying is not a honeymoon baby, like everyone is pretending it is. She blushes for a moment and then snatches her faux Gucci handbag off the bench, brushing off the accidental dusting of cocoa powder. I pretend that I’m totally absorbed in my gastronomic sculpturing.

“I’ll see you tomorrow. You and Brian.”

I’m convinced she’s put unnecessary emphasise on ‘and Brian’. She knows my terrible secret. She can’t wait to revel in the fall out tomorrow.

I don’t look up from my little alcoholic treasures.

“Just let yourself,” and the slamming door reduces my ‘out’ to a mutter.

I should panic but that won’t make Brian materialise. Wham's Last Christmas blares through my iPod, on repeat and I struggle not to cry into the last of the rum ball mixture, wishing it was me soaked in rum.

... to be continued tomorrow

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