The Good Humbug’s Guide presents ‘Last Christmas’ by Andrew Leach

A previously unknown allergy, heralded by a tingling that is anything but Christmassy, swiftly takes hold and is followed by a ballooning tongue and a set of convulsions.

It’s Christmas night 2016 and my daughter nearly dies.

It had been a frenetic, awkward lunch, lasting longer than lunches have any right to do and still retain the name. There were, perhaps, twenty of us. Our hostess’s-sister’s-partner (for such extenuated relationships become commonplace around tables elongated by makeshift trestles and festooned in seasonal linen and sparkling stars) had drowned his turkey in the entire jug of gravy, as if the butcher’s knife and six hours at a hundred and seventy degrees hadn’t been enough to truly see off the Yorkshire Bronze (like it was some kind of Die Hard turkey, another touchy Christmas touchpoint, back from the brink for another round of festive Armageddon), before pointedly asking a young man whose origins were rooted in Mongolia where he was from. To his credit, the young man had replied ‘Brixton’ and when asked for further clarification had simply added, ‘in London’.

And now we’re reclined like extras from Saving Private Ryan, debating the merits of watching a Christmas film on the TV against the can’t-be-arsed-but-it’s-tradition of a board game that no one really knows the rules of.

A few minutes earlier, hostess’s-sister’s-partner had been roundly chastised for throwing a small dog onto a figure snoozing replete and languid across a sofa and had beaten a plum-faced retreat, potentially to the sanctity of a basket (the partner, not the small dog). A fire begins to crackle and smoke in the grate. Belts are loosened, wind is unceremoniously and secretly broken.

The would-be murder weapon’s accomplice is a set of stainless steel nutcrackers, employed against a Brazil, the potential assassin. No game of Cluedo ever ended with the words ‘…with the ericales in the TV lounge’, but this event threatens to disrupt the genre.

A previously unknown allergy, heralded by a tingling that is anything but Christmassy, swiftly takes hold and is followed by a ballooning tongue and a set of convulsions.

*

An ambulance makes a poor substitute for a sleigh.

It carries with it the ghosts of occupants past that perhaps haven’t been fortunate enough to ingest several antihistamine tablets as a precaution against likely sneezing brought on by the proximity of four dogs. On arrival at the nearest hospital, some twenty miles to the south, it will transpire that these small pills have adopted a talismanic status, preventing the total closure of airways. Speed bumps make the equipment shudder. It sounds like Marley’s clanking chain.

*

Around midnight we order a taxi and while waiting for its arrival I take a short walk, just a few yards to clear my head but enough to wish I still smoked.

I absent-mindedly scroll through a news feed on my phone and see that George Michael has died. The words to Last Christmas try to echo into the soft, snowblanketed night but get no further than the almost prescient title.

I stand and watch traditions be released into the wild and rise like Chinese lanterns to greet the moon. Last year we picnicked on a forest floor of Axminster. This year we’re having kebabs.

Andrew Leach writes novels, short stories and the occasional poem and has been published in places including Magma, STORGY, Ellipsis Zine and two anthologies for charity Shelter, Stories for Homes Volumes One and Two. His first novel, Blow Your Kiss Hello, appeared in 2012 and a second nears completion.

Author: Carmen Marcus

As the daughter of a Yorkshire Fisherman and Irish Mother, my writing brings together the visceral and the magical. My debut novel #How Saints Die was published with Harvill Secker in 2017. It won New Writing North's Northern Promise Award as a work in progress and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2018. My poetry has been commissioned by BBC Radio, The Royal Festival Hall and Durham Book Festival. As a child of an 80s council estate I am an advocate for working class writers and stories. I’m currently working on my first poetry collection The Book of Godless Verse and my next novel. I try to live up to the words of my first critic and primary school teacher ‘weird minus one house point.’

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