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Christmas Comes But Once a Year Is Enough Print
He opens the front door. She is waiting at the end of the hall, her expression as cold and frosty as the night outside. Her folded arms are raised across her chest like a barricade.

"You're late," she tells him. "Fifty-seven minutes late, to be precise.
You haven't been home on time once in the past four weeks."

“Santa’s sleigh jack-knifed on the motorway,” he says. “Huge tailbacks. Reindeer everywhere.”

There was a time, he remembers, when he loved her even more when she was angry - but that was a long time ago, before she became an expert.

He realises he is standing beneath the mistletoe. He looks at her and smiles.

“In your dreams,” she hisses.

"I’m sorry,” he explains, oozing meekness and mildness. “The Project Steering Committee meeting ran on longer than planned.”

“A bit like the rest of the project then.”

“It was important. We were agreeing contingencies for any further slippage.”

“And what’s a contingency when it’s at home?” She asks.

“A contingency is what you do if something you expect to happen, doesn’t.”

“You must get through a lot of those, then,” she scoffs. “I’d better buy you some more for Christmas.”

“Anyway, I'm not as late as I was last night."

"We were supposed to be going out at seven," she says.

"Were we?" He asks, taking off his coat. “What for?”

"To fetch the wallpaper for the spare room."

"Wallpaper? Oh, yes. There's still time, isn’t there?"

"They close at eight."

"Ah," he says, wincing. "We'll do it tomorrow then."

"I can't. You know I go to the gym on Wednesday with Michelle."

"Then go to the gym on Thursday."

"I don't want to go to the gym on Thursday."

"Why not?"

"I have other plans for Thursday, though I wonder sometimes why I bother trying to plan anything. We made plans for this evening and look what happened."

“I know the feeling,” he thinks.

She is guarding the door to the kitchen. His hunger is a wild, howling beast rampaging through the barren wilderness of his stomach. In fact, he is so hungry he could probably eat a roll of wallpaper. There is, however, no smell of food in the house at all.

"We started decorating that room nine months ago and it's still not finished," she says. "There's no wallpaper on the walls, no light fittings and the skirting boards haven't even been painted yet. You promised me it would be finished by Christmas.”

“That was my plan.”

"Your plan? Don’t make me laugh. You’re hopeless. If you were organising Christmas, we’d be lucky to get it before Easter. I've a good mind to get that nice man Darren in, that did Michelle’s kitchen.”

"I’ve heard he’s expensive."

"At least he would get it done. You admit yourself you haven't got enough time."

"Yes, but I could try and maybe switch a few things round and perhaps make some time."

“In that case, you can go and get the wallpaper tomorrow morning and put it up in the afternoon.”

“Tomorrow? I can’t. I have an issues review meeting tomorrow.”

“Really. Well, here’s another issue for you. My mother arrives on Friday.”

“Surely not,” he exclaims.

“She’s decided to spend Christmas with us this year. And I’m not having her sleeping in that room in the state it’s in.”

Midwinter was never this bleak before.

“Tell her there’s no room at the inn,” he mutters miserably to himself. “Plenty of stables around though.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing, darling. I was just thinking that if I fetch the wallpaper tomorrow night that still only gives me Thursday to do it and I do have an important training strategy meeting in the morning. I just can’t see how I can fit it in.”

"You’re right,” she said. “You can’t. Which is why I’ve arranged for Darren to come in on Thursday and do it. I believe you’d call Darren a contingency, wouldn’t you?"

She unfolds her arms and steps aside so he can get through to the kitchen. He trudges past her, feeling her displeasure like the prickliness of holly.

"We need to sit down and discuss it first,” he argues.

“No we don’t. I don’t need a meeting to make decisions.”

“I’m not happy about it.” He searches in the fridge, the oven and the microwave for anything resembling a meal. “What’s for dinner by the way?”

“Nothing.”

“What do you mean, nothing?”

“I mean nothing in the traditional sense of nothing,” she says. “Why don’t you grill some of those issues you’re always talking about and have them on toast with a few contingencies on the side?”

“Merry Christmas,” he sighs, reaching sadly for the bread and cheese.

 

Peter Andrew (c) 2000

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