A Christmas calamity!

by Patrick O'Connor

Christmas House

DON smiled. Chris Rea's 'Driving Home for Christmas' was playing on the car radio and he was ready, very ready for Christmas.

Just the two of them, Don and his wife Jan, cocooned inside their smart, four bedroomed detached house.

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No distractions, just a quiet, relaxing time at home. It was Christmas Eve  and as Don turned his Mercedes into the tree-lined avenue where he lived, he could feel all the pressures of work flowing away.

Everything was dropping into place. There had been a smattering of snow, nothing too dramatic, but enough to help create the right sort of atmosphere.  The snow glistened on the ground and many of the houses in the avenue had Christmas lights adorning their exteriors. Nothing too flash but as they say in the carol, everything was crisp and even.

He had it all planned out for the night, a large glass of wine in front of the fire, the TV magazine already marked - red for his selections, blue for Jan's, DVD recorder at the ready for when there was a clash.

Dan and his wife were not particularly religious but they usually rounded off the day by tuning into the Midnight Mass on the radio or TV. It all contributed to the feel-good vibe that Christmas evoked.

Christmas Day would involve a leisurely mid-morning walk, followed by a traditional lunch, followed by a return to the TV schedules and then the two of them would slowly sink into a warm and comforting slumber.

As he entered the house, warmth enveloped him immediately and the mouth-watering aroma of the turkey being cooked in the oven filled him with a glow of anticipation.

He was so tired, aching to chill-out.

"There's been a change of plan darling, " said Jan as she greeted him in the cavernous kitchen, wearing The Simpsons oven gloves Don had bought her the year before.

The look of a worn-out, stressed executive which had just about been discarded, returned with a vengeance.

"What?" screeched Don.

"It's Phillip, he's coming."

"What?" screeched Don.

Phillip was Jan's brother but these were no cosy siblings.They hadn't spoken to each other for two years, not since there was a big fall-out following their father's death and a rather contentious will.

"Why's he coming here, you two aren't speaking are you?" asked Don.

"It's Pam, they've had a row. She's kicked him out," she replied.

"So? What's that got to do with us?"

Jan frowned, the way she always frowned when she wanted to admonish her husband. "Don, he's my brother, my only brother. I know we've had our bad times but he really is in a terrible state."

"Why? What happened? " said Don.

"He's had an affair."

That cheered Don up. "What Phillip, strait-laced, boring as hell Phillip? Who'd want to have an affair with him?  Dirty old dog," he chuckled.

"I don't know. He's not saying much, just that he's been very silly. Pam's found out and kicked him out of the house. It's Christmas Eve Don, we can't turn him away."

"What, he's coming to stay?"

"Yes, just for a few days."

Don loosened his tie, turned away in a sulk and went into the lounge. But no sooner had he sat down then Jan, a neat and tidy woman with a pleasing oval face and short brown hair, followed him in and said: "Do me a favour, love, we haven't got anything to give him as a Christmas present."

"Jan, it's gone seven, nowhere will be open now," said Don with despair written all over his face.

"Yes, they will, the store at the precinct, that's always open. Pop down there and get him something, I don't know, a bottle of malt whisky, the best they've got. I think I've still got some wrapping paper around somewhere."

A few moments later, much to his dismay, Don was venturing out again into the cold, frosty air. As Jan had predicted, the shop was still open. It took only a moment to buy a bottle of Glenfiddich and as he left the premises, Don heard the shopkeeper locking the door behind him.

Don walked around the back of his car to get to the driver's door and came across a teenage girl slumped by its side. Although she was smartly dressed in a casual sort of way and quite attractive, he was immediately overwhelmed by the stench of booze.

"Hmm, excuse me, can you get up please, I need to get into my car," he said.

The girl barely moved, her eyelids flickering upwards for a moment, before slumping down again.

"I need to get into my car, I've got to get home, " said Don, this time adopting a more forthright tone.

The girl slowly looked up at him and then emitted a tearful, lingering whimper. Don couldn't work out any clear words but there were no signs of any obvious injuries so he presumed she was in a state of emotional distress.

He attempted to lift her off the ground.

"Noooooooo" she moaned. "Noooooooo".

"What's the matter? Are you hurt?"

"Leave me alone. I want to die," she sobbed.

Don looked around to see if he could get any assistance, or at least pass the burden on to somebody else.

But the precinct was completely empty and devoid of people. There were no longer any lights on in the shop and when he banged on the door no-one answered. He returned to the girl and thought about ringing for an ambulance but then realised that he had left his mobile at home.

It was decision time.