“Ho! Ho! Ho!” the menacing voice growled again, each Ho! punctuated with a forceful bang against my door.
My mind raced. I mentally ran through my checklist. My tree was up, a regulation six-footer, and had been decorated in sanctioned golds, reds and silvers well before the December 12th deadline. I had sent cards to colleagues I ignored all year and people I have deliberately lost touch with since university. My small apartment was right this second being filled with nasally voices of a children’s choir tunelessly bleating another verse of Jingle Bells. I could not for the life of me think of anything that would have merited a visit from The Consantabulary – and on Christmas Eve too.
My confidence in my own innocence did little to calm my nerves. The Consantabulary did not make house calls lightly and when they did it was rarely a mere misunderstanding.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” the hammering on the door was so loud I thought it was about to burst from its hinges. I grabbed my Santa hat and opened up. It would not be wise to make The Consantabulary knock a fourth time.
In the hallway stood two officers, wearing the red uniforms that struck fear into even the most consumerist of citizens. One was young, his beard wispy and pathetic but the other was the archetypal Consantabulary officer. His eyes were coal black, his beard thick and white and his fat gut big enough to balance a Christmas pudding on.
“Silent night, sir?” he growled.
“Holy night, officer,” I replied in the customary call and response. “How are you this Christmas Eve?”
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year, sir.” His answer was perfunctory and mechanical. “Mind if we come in!” It wasn’t a question and I stepped aside so he didn’t have to plough straight through me.
He surveyed my tiny apartment with the expression of a man whose just walked into an overflowing toilet cubicle. He inspected my tree and then started reading the labels on my presents. I was fairly sure everything was in order but that didn’t stop my heart trying to make a quick getaway through my mouth. I hurried off into the kitchen to fetch them some brandy and mince pies.
When I returned, I found the older officer standing on a chair sniffing the mistletoe.
“I’m sorry officer. Afraid you’re not really my type.”
It was a stupid thing to say. Foolishly stupid. A sense of humour and The Consantabulary go together like partridges and pear trees. Which is to say they don’t. Don’t tell me you bought all that 12 days of Christmas propaganda? The partridge is and always has been a ground dwelling bird. But I digress.
He ignored my inane joke which was the best outcome I could have hoped for. “It’s not very fresh,” he said nodding towards my mistletoe, “but at least its real. We seized a huge shipment of artificial stuff a day or two ago. Street value of over 20 million.”
He got down from the chair and took the brandy without a thank you. The younger one began to reach for the second glass but a look from his partner stayed his hand and he went back to sitting quietly on the sofa.
“Do you consider yourself a festive man, sir?”
“Very much so,” I replied. “I only wish it could be Christmas every day”.
He let out an unconvinced hmph and continued with his questioning.
“You seem awfully sober for Christmas Eve?”
This was true but while my condition was certainly frowned upon, drunkenness over Christmas was not yet compulsory. The officer himself was not exactly sozzled so this could not be the reason for their visit. Why the hell were they here?
“What did you think of this year’s John Lewis advert?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see it-.” I knew my mistake before the words were out of my mouth.
The officer shook his head sadly. “No you didn’t, did you?”
The young officer seized my arm and bound my hands with tinsel. “Please,” I cried. “I’ll watch it now. I’ll watch it now.”
“It’s too late for that, son” the older officer said. “What’s the use of watching a Christmas advert 10pm on Christmas Eve? Shops are already closed.”
I changed tact, desperate now. “But why do I need to watch it anyway. I’ve never even been in a John Lewis’s. I don’t think anyone has. Why am I supposed to care about their stupid advert?”
I heard the young officer gasp behind me.
“Keep it shut, son. You’re only making it worse,” the older man growled.
They bundled me out of my apartment and into the back of their Ford Reindeer.
“Where are you taking me?” I cried. I screamed it over and over but I already knew. There was only one fate deemed terrible enough for a festive pariah like me.
One year later
The nasally children burst into another cacophonous chorus of jingle bells. The 152nd rendition of the day. Or maybe it’s the 153rd.
A family approach me. The father is wearing a Christmas jumper that even I’d be embarrassed to wear and I am currently dressed from head to toe in green felt. The mother looks like she’s sucking on a wasps nest. Swinging between their arms is a category 1 horrible little brat.
“Hello,” I say. “And welcome to John Lewis. I’ll be your elf today.” The father smiles apologetically. The mother’s face distorts. I think one of the wasps just stung her. The little brat kicks me in the shins.
Merry Christmas I think. Merry Fucking Christmas.