Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Deck the Balls: Part 2

When I arrived for the wedding solo everyone assumed Brian, my London-based boyfriend, would accompany me. I said he was caught up with work. So they assumed he’d finally join me for Christmas this year … and I let them. Now all I can see is the empty place setting at the table beside me tomorrow and the sea of accusing looks. My mother, accompanied by Annaleise and the Aunties, will drag out the well rehearsed litany of recriminations - such hits as ‘you’re too fat/skinny, too clingy/aloof, too prudish/exhibitionist’ - no wonder I can’t hold onto a boyfriend.

This year there’ll be a bonus track, ‘Why can’t you just get married like your sister Annaleise.’ Depending on how many rum balls I’ve quaffed, I’ll either back away with the lie ‘I’m happy being single’ or attack with something like ‘because I’m responsible and use birth control.’ It doesn’t really matter though, witty, scathing or pathetic - I may as well be mute. They made their minds up about my love life years ago. God’s way of damning me here on Earth.

But there’s Gran. She’s always on my side, promising me that the right man will coming knocking on my door one day. Then Mum, Annaleise and the Aunties will all have to eat humble pie. I thought that guy was Brian.

I offered to clean out my savings to buy Brian a ticket to fly to Australia. Just one Christmas – was it really that much to ask? You can justify in any number of ways, sex with your ex, even after adding a new girlfriend to the equation, but Christmas … Brian drew the line at that.

Then two days ago a tiny parcel, badly wrapped in Christmas paper arrived in the post from Brian. I surmised that his conscience finally got him. I wanted to believe Brian capable of feeling guilty for the litany of love crimes he’d perpetrated in our three year relationship. That he wanted to make it up to me.

So I dream it is an engagement ring and he will fly in to propose to me on Christmas Eve. The accompanying note had said: Open at home midnight Christmas Eve – Brian
It’s definite - I’m deluding myself.

But why the hell I’d want to get engaged to Brian at this point or any other point in the future is beyond me in the rational moments. I blame it on Christmas. The pressure of family expectations and the repeated screenings of Love Actually have made me want to believe in Christmas miracles – even if in reality they would suck.

It’s half an hour shy of midnight. I take a huge swig of rum and coke then refrigerate the rum balls. The MacAveny clan will be piling into their Holden Commodore station wagons and sedans to make the pilgrimage to St Patricks.

The credits for Carols by Candlelight roll when I flick on the TV. I settle into a hand-me-down easy chair that smells of cat pee and mildew, congratulating myself on finally saying NO to my family and midnight mass! It’s fifteen minutes into Love Actually, fourteen minutes short of midnight when the knock comes. I hit the pause button, struck by the impossibility of the situation.

If I call out and it is a minion sent by my mother to collect me for Mass I won’t be able to pretend that I’m not home. But if I stay silent Brian won’t know that I’m home. And the front door doesn’t have one of those useful peep holes.

Finally, after a second round of thumping I go to the door. It’s not family - MacAveny’s don’t thump.
“Hello?” It’s a male voice and my heart skips a beat.
Brian - I forgive you for being a love rat!
But the voice isn’t Brian’s. I open the door a fraction and peer out.
“Rebecca MacAveny?”
“Merry Christmas.”
“Merry, ummm, Christmas to you too.”

There’s an extended period of time, which might actually be shorter than I perceive it to be, where we just stare at each other. I ponder the possibility that Brian’s sent me a Santa Stripper for Christmas. He has the red hat on his head, a silly grin on his face. Brian wouldn’t! Then I correct myself – he would!

Then I see the huge backpack at Santa’s feet.

“You got Brian’s note didn’t you?” His Irish accent registers for the first time.

Irish Santa looks down at his watch and a stream of Gallic expletives I’ve never heard fly. I catch something about daylight savings, then he finally mutters, “immaculate timing Grogan!”

“You’re not Brian, and I’m guessing you’re not Santa … or a stripper?”
He pulls the hat off his head. “Sorry.”

I’m totally confused and wonder if I’ve inhaled too many rum vapours while cooking. “I think I’m … missing something here?”
“Of course … sorry. You haven’t opened up the parcel yet. I’m Hamish Grogan.” He reaches out a massive hand and crushes mine. “Brian sent me as your Christmas present.”
“Brian sent you, to me, for Christmas?”

Hamish nods like one of those stupid knickknack with their head impaled on a spring.
“Brian paid for you to travel to Australia to have Christmas with me.”
“He said it was actually more to do with your family. And he asked it as a favour – I was coming here anyway.”
“Of course you were.” And I weep tears of relief.

“Rum ball love?” Gran and I are prone on an ancient banana lounges watching a boyish bloke being chased by an over-enthusiastic group of small children, fuelled by more sugar than their small bodies can cope with.

“They’re good,” she says offering me the plate. I know and she should ease up on them, but I don’t know how to tell her. She’ll be intoxicated if she eats any more and then I’ll be accused by Mum, Annaleise and the Aunties for conspiring to get Gran drunk.

“It’s sort of like second prize in a chook raffle - when you’re a vegetarian,” and she laughs at her own joke and pops another ball in her mouth. “And if Hamish said that Brian said he owed you, I’d consider it a debt well paid.” She passes the plate to me.

“I like him.” Of course she does – Hamish is Irish. “But tell me - what shall we call him tomorrow?”

Tomorrow? I’m struggling with today!

Hamish is standing at the esky with his trademark grin and blows me a kiss. I see Annaleise miming a vomit.
“That looked genuine.”
“The vomit or the kiss?” and I take a rum ball, pause, admire my handiwork then Hamish’s butt thrust in the air as he bends down for another beer. “I think we’ll call him Hamish tomorrow.”
“Fine idea,” agrees Gran.

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