HE LEFT the office buzzing. He’d given all his workers a bonus AND Christmas presents and they’d all said how much they’d enjoyed the office Christmas party – well almost all. The young girl from the filing department, who had hovered hopefully by the mistletoe and drooled each time the accounts clerk came near, was sadly still destined to go home alone – and the cleaner would certainly not be impressed at having to remove the vomit stain from the boardroom carpet! But Hey-Ho! Christmas was meant to be fun!
This was Matthew’s first Christmas since taking over from his deceased father, and he had been determined to make it a success, and to make a good impression on his staff. The firm ‘Jacob R Lee Money Lenders’ had been in the family for several generations and Matthew was proud to be next in line to carry on the family’s good name.
Matthew loved Christmas. He thought it to be the one time in the year when you could socialise alongside your fellow man, regardless of class. Well, he’d done all he could to make them happy at work, now it was time for him to go home and to spoil his family.
The children’s Christmas present lists had been long – and expensive – but it was Christmas after all and Matthew wanted it to be one they would always remember. He was looking forward to getting home, kicking off his shoes and opening a well-earned bottle of Merlot.
He was humming a Christmas tune to himself as he drove into Beach Tree Avenue and turned his car into the tree-lined driveway of number 77. As he parked his car he noticed the first few flakes of snow beginning to drift slowly down. Perfect, it was going to be a magical white Christmas!
With a feeling of excitement gradually building inside him, he walked up the path and unlocked the front door – to be greeted by a dishevelled looking wife, whining children and a house that looked as if a bomb had just exploded! Through the open doors in the hallway he could see Christmas decorations and wrapping paper littered over every inch of the thick pile carpet in the lounge. The dining table was groaning with presents waiting to be wrapped. The kitchen sink was piled high with dirty washing up waiting to be done and the kitchen floor was covered with mud that the dog had brought in. Drying clothes hung over every radiator that he could see, as well as from the banisters going up the stairs.
‘The lights have gone out on the Christmas tree again!’ were the first welcoming words Matthew heard issuing from his wife Amanda as she came down the stairs, in a tone implying it was his fault, and he had meant this to happen just to annoy her.
‘O.K, I’ll sort them. Don’t worry, it won’t take long.’
‘And the kids need feeding. I haven’t had time!’ she continued, obviously close to tears.
‘O.K, I’ll do that as well! Come on kids. Let’s see what we can find,’ he offered cheerily.
‘And your mother’s rung to say she’s arriving early!’ she spat out, providing yet another situation for which he was obviously to blame, and causing her to finally lose control and to break down.
‘O.K, just take a deep breath and calm down!’
‘Calm down! Calm down after the day I’ve had!’ screamed Amanda hysterically.
So much for his well-earned bottle of Merlot! The only wine he was likely to get tonight was from his whining wife and kids!
Well, this is Christmas! Keep smiling, it will be fun! Everyone will enjoy it – eventually!
After mending the Christmas tree lights, feeding the children, washing up the dishes, walking the dog and folding up the now dry clothes, he finally dropped into bed, exhausted, just after midnight. Amanda wasn’t talking to him, making this quite obvious by turning abruptly away from him as he got into bed. The kids were unwashed and too excited to sleep and they were all still whining! However, after reading the riot act one more time, they eventually settled down and Matthew was allowed to rest at last.
He slept fitfully, his mind still whirling and while he slept he began to dream.
Into his view came a hazy image of Jacob R Lee, his great great-grandfather, who he recognised from the huge portrait hanging above his office desk. The old man appeared to be being choked by gold Christmas paper chains!
‘Life put this chain around my neck! I tried to give them everything they wanted and what good did it do me? The workers were never satisfied with their Christmas bonuses or their gifts – they wanted more. More, more, more! You could tell by the disappointed expressions on their faces. Don’t let this happen to you my boy, or you will also be going to an early grave!’ he warned. ‘I quite like it here though. There’s no one here to get at you!’ he laughed and with that the vision disappeared in a puff of blue smoke.
Then another vision gradually came into his view, of a young boy – a bit like his own young lad. Did he recognise him? YES! Of course! It was a vision of him when he was young. He even remembered the red jumper he was wearing. He was opening his Christmas sack and tearing the paper off one present after the next, hardly allowing him time to see what was inside.
‘Well, look at your presents Son!’ exclaimed his father.
‘Seen them!’ replied Matthew.
‘Well you should be a bit more grateful then! They cost a lot of money and a lot of thought went into buying them.’
‘Didn’t want them anyway,’ he replied, ‘wanted a helicopter.’
The scene then misted over and changed once more as Matthew recognised his family seated around their dining table.
‘Oh look!’ exclaimed his mother, clapping her hands in glee, as his father carried in the silver platter containing an enormous turkey.
‘I don’t like turkey. I don’t want any!’ said Matthew, glowering at the bird.
‘Come on now boy, it took ages for your mother to cook it for you. Some children are starving you know.’
‘Well post it to them then! I don’t want any!’ he replied rudely.
The picture then dissolved and Matthew woke feeling rather upset but he couldn’t explain why. ‘I must just be overtired,’ he thought, as he drifted back off to sleep once more.
It wasn’t long before he was tossing and turning again. Although this time he was in the present, dreaming of yet another charity envelope falling onto his doormat, containing a pen, Christmas cards and a picture of desperately thin, wide eyed, little children. He heard his own children telling him they didn’t like the expensive presents he had bought for them – and he saw his mother’s sour face because of the late hour Christmas dinner was being served.
He watched as she sat, arms folded, rocking back and forth, her nose turned up as if she had a nasty smell under it. She pointed out that, ‘Turkeys aren’t what they used to be. There’s no flavour in them anymore!’ She continued her rant with, ‘Where are the sprouts? It isn’t Christmas without sprouts!’ No one liked sprouts or ever ate them when they were offered – and he prayed his wife would bite her tongue for once, as hostilities boiled up around the dining table.
He held his breath as Amanda brought in the ‘Not flaming’ Christmas pudding’, with the omission of the ‘not PC’ coins, for fear someone may choke on them. Matthew heard the familiar, ‘No one ever choked on the coins in my Christmas puddings,’ cry once more. Oh how he wished his mother would choke on one right now!
Just as Amanda slammed down the ‘not flaming Christmas pudding’ onto the table Matthew woke with a start. What was the matter with him? Why all these dreams? It must be the mince pies the kids had put out for Santa (the ones Amanda had force fed to him) that were keeping him awake all night and making him dream.
However, his next dream was the strangest dream of all.
He was at a funeral. HIS funeral!
As he hovered weightlessly above the heads of the congregation, he wondered why no one was looking particularly upset.
He drifted over to listen to his children, who were now grown up and huddled together, whispering.
‘I wonder how much he’s left us in his Will. My kitchen needs a face lift. I hope he’s left enough for that!’ said his son greedily.
‘Don’t count your chickens. He was never one to give too much away was he? Remember those awful Christmas presents we used to get? So uninspired!’ mocked his daughter, ‘Still I hope he’s left enough for a skiing holiday.’
Matthew, enraged, glided across to his wife. She was dripping in black and speaking very quietly to the distinguished looking man sitting by her side.
‘I thought he’d never go Gerald! At last we can be together! After all those years trying to pretend I liked him! I suppose I better keep the old girl happy for a bit longer though, just until I get what’s due to me.’
Shocked by this admission, Matthew floated over to his mother, who was talking to her daughter. Surely, she would have something nice to say about him.
‘He didn’t have a business head, not like his father. His father could turn his hand to anything. He would have turned in his grave if he’d seen how the company was being run. Every Christmas – EVERY Christmas I was expected to go there! I didn’t want to stay there! Kids spoilt rotten and HER, ugh! Lady Muck! I was glad to get back to the nursing home I can tell you!’
Matthew woke up sweating and he looked across at his sleeping wife, in her black nightdress.
Amanda and Gerald! How could she? Why hadn’t he noticed it before?
Gathering his wits about him, he quietly got out of bed, went over to the window, opened it and took a long, deep breath of fresh air to clear his head.
Things were about to change!
It was early Christmas morning. He dressed very quickly, finally throwing on a red jumper, then he crept down the stairs.
He gathered together all the Christmas presents from around the tree and put them into three large sacks, which he carried outside and placed in the boot of his car.
He then drove to the homeless shelter on the other side of town, where he found children, queuing up for their breakfast, delighted to see this funny ‘Surprise Santa’, dressed in a red jumper – and bound like a mummy with yards and yards of golden Christmas paper chains. He unwound them symbolically in front of them and placed them amongst their sparse decorations and wrapped them around their tiny Christmas tree. He smiled as he looked at their appreciative faces, their eyes full of wonder.
When his family awoke later that morning, the first thing they noticed, after they’d rushed down the stairs to see what presents had been left for them, was the bare Christmas tree standing in their hallway – with not a single decoration left upon it. They then noticed all the beautifully wrapped presents that had been left around the tree had gone! Finally, they realised Matthew was nowhere to be found.
Hysterical once more, his sobbing wife called the police.
‘Help us! We’ve been burgled! Everything has been taken! All the presents that were around the Christmas tree have gone! My children are heart-broken; they’ll have no presents to open now! What are we going to do?’ She then added as an afterthought, ‘Oh, and by the way, my husband seems to be missing too.’
Matthew was never found – but on New Year’s Eve a postcard dropped onto the mat at 77 Beach Tree Avenue. On the front was a picture of palm trees, with a shimmering blue sea and beautiful golden sand and the words ‘‘A message from the Seychelles’’. On the back were just two words:-