Wednesday, 7 September 2016

An Unwelcome Christmas Present.

I attended the YA Speakeasy at Drink Shop Do recently. It was a magical night of creative energy, cute giggling and cocktails (yes, that was the night this happened, yes).
After the mesmerising readings from each of the authors it was suddenly up to us, the excitable audience, to decide on a theme for the story the authors and publicists would write in 20 minutes and then read to us. There were a few ambiguous ideas, a few weirdly specific ideas, and then somehow (tipsily, that's how) I suggested a theme: a Christmas present you really didn't want.
The stories that followed this idea were very satisfactory on the night. However, nothing is quite like the little yet epic tale 'The Worst Christmas Present' that my lovely friend Darran was inspired to write on his blog...I don't think anything could have prepared me for it. Be warned, friends, it'll hurt. It'll hurt you so good.
Naturally, after hearing these stories, I decided to tackle the theme myself. I find Drunk Me can be very inspiring. Here is my take on An Unwelcome Christmas Present...

[This story is fictitious. I totally made it up. It is not me. Nor is it my family. Got that? Cool. Sorry, I just worry...]



   'Oh, wow,' I say, pulling the thick, deep black velvet out of the shining wrapping paper. 'It's...they're robes!' I deliberately perk up the end of my sentence, pitch it high, so it's not quite a question but it's polite and surprised. Surprising.
   'Yes they are, my dear,' my grandpa says, rocking forward excitedly on the sofa, hands tightly clasped together in his lap. 'We thought we'd indulge your new book love! What is it? Harry Pots?'
   'Yeah,' I mutter absent-mindedly, busy running my hands over the endless fabric that's really more spongy than soft.
   'Harry Potter, dad,' Mum rolls her eyes and shakes her head, smiling. She turns the smile on me, encouraging my compliance as best she can. Smile, Issy. Be excited for grandpa. Please.
   I obey. 'I love them. Thank you, grandpa and nan,' I look at nan now, next to grandpa, quite unaware of what's happening but nonetheless delighted to have me smiling at her. She's not all there, these days. I like the idea that she has the basic capacity to appreciate a smile, though. Regardless of why, how. It's happy. It makes her happy.
   Now grandpa squeezes his wife's knee and she turns her face to him. Her face that's empty of knowledge but full of meaning. 'We did good,' grandpa says to her, slowly, clearly. He nods at me, still holding the robes but now averting my eyes, unable to stand so much heartache in his every word. It's buried under the optimism, has been for a while, but it's there. 

   Things finally move along to the next person in our Christmas present circle, my brother, who sits beside me on the living room floor while all the proper grown ups sit in armchairs and on sofas. He receives a ball – one of those ones that's long and thin but fat in the middle, stitched leather, with pointed ends. He doesn't play football. Maybe this is grandpa's not-so-subtle way of encouraging him to get a little more sporty. Maybe it's a window, it's something he and grandpa can now do. It's a father-son activity, really. I see the various meanings loaded in this present hit my younger brother: your grandpa is trying to connect with you BANG, your dad isn't around these days so have him instead BANG, get out of your bedroom and be more manly BANG. I'm glad I got my brother something he'll love: a couple of his favourite fantasy novels and a funny foreign language remote control that the bookshop assistant swore to me wasn't a joke gift, it really works. He can take all my presents on his travels next year.
   'Thanks, grandpa. Maybe we can go out to the field and throw later?' Oh, bless my brother. He plays his part better than I do. 
   Grandpa swells with pride and his eyes glisten with excitement. I look back down at my gifts. I always get photo frames, really sweet ones that seem fancy and ornate but were actually £1 for three in that bargain shop down the road. A bouncy toy on a rope attached to a stick, for playing with the cat. A 2017 diary. Gel pens. I am aware that these special branded Harry Potter wizarding robes are most definitely the most expensive gift I'm getting today. They're from the shop in London. At King's Cross. Or maybe grandpa ordered them through mum, as he isn't going out much these days. I stroke the thick gold and burning red embroidery on the lapel of the robes – Gryffindor. I'm not a Gryffindor. I'm Hufflepuff. Like Cedric Diggory. Like Tonks. Like Newt Scamander. Like JK Rowling. Obviously my grandparents aren't to know this. Obviously. I'm not that loud in my love for these books. I don't advertise the intense identifying I feel within the wizarding world – my slight obsession with it. I guess they saw these robes, with this logo, online or in the store and they thought 'how nice, let's get her those'. I appreciate that thought, I really do.

   My issue isn't with the house on these robes. Or the fact that I won't really have anywhere to wear them – I guess I could use them as a dressing gown, but that feels wasteful somehow...
   My issue is that this present was expensive, and I hate having money spent on me. I know things are tight in this household. I know we don't have much of an income, and whatever we do bring in is spent on the grandparents – on nan, her special treatments and therapies, on grandpa and his operations on his back. I know they're probably going to have to move in with us soon and that'll be tough, because it's more people, more live-ins, to support with next to nothing. So it upsets me, even angers me ever so slightly, that of all things to spend money on these days my family chose to shell out on this. Now I'm worried I'm being ungrateful...
   There's another problem, too. I actually don't need these robes. Because my mum, my superhero, my idol, she made me some a couple of years ago for World Book Day at school. She stayed up late and hand-stitched the fabric – she even sewed in a long thin pocket hidden in one side for my chopstick wand. I remember this was when things were only just starting to get properly bad with her job, her marriage, her mum, all at once, and yet she still was able to prioritise her kids and do everything in her power to make them happy. 
   I don't need these fancy mass-produced witch's robes. I have my own – made by my own magical heroine. 

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