Christmas Song

By Lucy Harbron - 16:36

On the train home, he hopes the tinsel will at least be burgundy. In the flat it was gold and falling apart already, becoming a handy prop to his act, kicking strands to the side as he huffed his hatred for the occasion again but drank mulled wine out of a takeout cup all the same. But something told him it would be red, and seem brighter than ever somehow, like the 19 years of aging couldn’t touch the cheeriness of the foil, protected by the thing that everyone else seems to feel. The thing that made people smile as they counted down days, open little doors to little chocolates, wear Christmas jumpers with cartoon animals; wondered why they bothered, sort of wished he could care too.

But he doesn’t know what to do with it, think they call it joy. Never seen mommy kissing anyone, never heard dad say thank you, but now mistletoe stares down and forces it, while Jackson 5 sing about a home so full of love you assume it must be adulterous, too much to go round that they must have got his share. They attempt to ration it back out from the small speaker in the corner that will be turned down five times in one day till the festivities match the feeling; nothing but a whisper that you only have out of duty.

And the 50th photo of the weekend will be taken, snaps him out of that mood and into a worse one. In every picture he looks like he’s been caught in an act. Eyes scream of falsity, guilt over something as if by living and smiling he’s touched something he shouldn’t have. He waits for a hand to hit his away, hates himself for that thought. He’s 19, should be able to smile convincingly without the feeling of his mouth curling making him shiver into a grimace, but for the past couple years every move his bones make feels wrong. Each finger twitch is cringe-worthy, like his body laughing at a joke that’s on him and anyone that catches a glimpse hears it too. Same sound that screams when he accidentally walks in time to the music in his headphones and the pavement points at him and cackles, or when he catches himself smiling at his reflection and the mirror shouts for everyone to come look and laugh too.

It gets louder when the crackers come out. Putting in the effort to rip cardboard from itself, feeling the muscles in his arms tense up, straining for an act of nothingness that tradition demands, the lack of dignity in a paper crown, and mum wants another photo. He feels his face wrinkle, he forgets to unclench his fist.

With every refill of wine, he wonders if everyone is worried about him. Zoning out, he wraps the sound of the room around him like a blanket and hope no one says his name. His sister thanks Santa for the presents their dad worked for, Grandad snores loudly and everyone respects him enough to leave him be. He has no thoughts on the monarchy, but everyone back at the flat hates them, so he decides to speak up, groans at the tv switches from something he wasn’t watching to the Queen’s speech, storms off for something to do, wonders if everyone is worried about him, again. Hopes they are in a way.

But it’s not depression, nothing sinister, just the inability to drop his guard enough to not see sparkly paper and songs with obnoxious rhyming as an attack on something like a manhood. His life is a bridge between states and Noddy Holder yelling ‘it’s Christmas’ is a brick, the rapid flash setting on the tree lights hit like bullets and he resents every piece of light that gets through, the colours that stretch themselves from one to the next that curl under the crack between his bedroom door and its frame. Any small thing out of place makes his knuckles whiten, and he bites his tongue on the five things he wants to say but can’t cause mum will cry that the place he calls home has swapped.

There’s no Christmas song about reluctantly getting a train from your student flat to your hometown, about going through the motions of family photos and gift wrap paper cuts when you’re not a family like that, no jokes to be had as he over-analyses the things his Dad laughs at, always wondering what Mum sees, not knowing a thing about his Sister, wondering when is acceptable to say his thank yous and his goodnights, go to bed, and get a train back.

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