A quiet Christmas
The Lettermans were a traditional family. Christmas had been celebrated in the same way since their four sons were small. The family gathered on Christmas eve in the family home; an impressive six bedroom house with extensive gardens, and they all dressed in formal wear for a traditional Christmas dinner. Christmas day was normally one long party with many of their children’s friends arriving for games and singing, some of their friends brought musical instruments and they all laughed their way through the day with luch as a cold buffet. But this year was going to be different. Mary had spent October in hospital having gastric surgery and she wasn’t feeling up to the usual party. “Let’s have a quiet Christmas this year” she said, “we can still have the boys and their wives around for Christmas eve dinner, but no party on Christmas day I don’t think I could cope.”
Their eldest son Andrew was the first to arrive with his wife, Evelyn. Beyond the porch the front door opened onto an enormous hall with a gallery staircase and a double height ceiling. In the centre of the gallery stood a four metre high Christmas tree covered in tinsel, baubles and all manner of decorations. The fairy on the top was roughly at eye level with someone standing on the upstairs gallery. The roots of the tree were planted in a plastic dustbin covered in wrapping paper, and coloured lights twinkled all over it. Mary greeted them with a hug, “It’s been too long since we saw you last,” she said.
“I’m sorry ma, but I’ve been designing houses in France and we just haven’t had time to come over to see anyone,” Andrew explained.
They moved through the door to the left of the hall, into the lounge where a log fire crackled fiercely in the hearth. Evelyn strode across to baby grand at the far end of the lounge. The top was open on its prop and the lid was open exposing the keys. “If I change quickly can I play for a while?” she asked,
“Of course dear make yourself at home,” George replied.
As Andrew and Evelyn disappeared upstairs to change the doorbell rang and this time it was Ben and his wife Fiona with Prince their eighteen month old labrador straining at the leash.
“I hope you’re going to keep that dog away from Robinson, he’s too old and tired to be chased around,” George said as he shook Ben’s hand.
“That old cat will be fine, he’s quite capable of looking after himself,” Ben replied.
By the time Chris arrived with his very pregnant wife Georgina, along with David and his wife Helen, Evelyn, in a blue silk ball gown, was sat at the piano playing Motzart, with the upper part of her body swaying like a professional concert pianist. Andrew, in a white bow tie and wing collar, had walked through from the lounge to the dinning room past the table, immaculately laid for a party of ten, complete with two candelabra and crackers. The house was laid out so that the rooms ran around the hall and you could walk from the lounge through the dining room to the kitchen and then through the kitchen back to the hall. Andrew arrived in the kitchen as Ben arrived shoeless and without his bow tie. “How’s dinner progressing Ma?” he asked.
“I’m just going to give the turkey another half an hour and then it can rest for half an hour so it will be ready on the dot for seven o’clock.
“I just thought I’d nip down and crack open a bottle of champagne before I finish dressing.” He explained.
“I’ll open the champagne,” Andrew said.
“You always open it,” Ben complained, “and it’s always so boring. You never let the cork fly, there’s no formula one pazzaz about it.” He grabed one of the six bottles of Veuve Cliquot vintage 76, from the ice bucket beneath the table, and began tearing at the foil.
“Don’t shake it so much, it’s seventy five quid a bottle,” Andrew protested.
“Watch where you’re pointing it” Mary said.
The bottle waved around erraticaly as Ben removed the wire and that was when everything began to disintegrate. With a loud pop! The cork left the bottle and hit Mary just below the eye. Instantly her eye turne black and closed up. The ricocheting cork crossed the kitchen with just enough force to knock over the first glass in a line of flutes waiting on the kitchen table to be filled. The glass fell, knocking over the second one and the domino effect ran through the entire ten glasses. The last glass fell to the floor smashing on the quarry tiles next to Robinson the sleeping marmalade tom.
The crash woke him and he let out a frantic miaow, lept across the broken glass and headed for the hall. The miaow woke prince the labrador and he opened his eyes to see the cat disappearing. His first thought was ‘Game on!’ he raced after the cat shoulder barging Ben in the back of the knees. Ben’s legs crumpled and he stepped forward to steady himself, straight onto the broken glass with a sock clad foot. Blood flooded from it dripping all over the floor. But dog and cat raced on into the hall. Robinson thought he’d make for the stairs but his way was blocked by Charles and Giorgina. He swerved across the polished parquet flooring disappearing beneath the Christmas tree and re-emerging by the lounge wall. He hopped neatly between the wall and the thin electric cable, that powered the tree lights, then dashed through the lounge door as David opened it. Prince followed, convinced he was gaining on the cat and that anything the cat could do he could match. He crashed into the presents piled up beneath the tree slamming them into the bin that held the tree roots and making the whole thing sway. His feet scrabbled for grip on the shiny floor and he leapt through the gap between wall and wires but he was too big. The wires wrappped around his leg and pulled tight but he wasn’t going to let a wire stand between him and catching the cat so he bounded on.
The tree tilted but stopped as the thin top branches caught on the gallery, but with princes second bound he pulled the tree and it bent past the upper floor and fell. Fine glass baubles sailed and smashed, silk covered baubles bounced and spun, tinsel and silver angel hair floated down. It knocked David over and smashed through the fifteen pane lounge door pinning him to the floor in the doorway. As the lower branches hit the ground the base of the tree lifted up. The roots broke free from the bin and sent it spinning in the air, showering Charles and Georgina in mud. Georgina put her had to her face and turned away from the tree. She lost her footing and landed hard on her backside on the stairs jolting the baby inside her.
Prince freed himself from the wire and charged on after the cat. Evelyn had stopped playing when she heard the crash. She caught Robinson streaking past her in the corner of her eye. Realising he was losing out to the long legged hound he scrambled up the drape and hung on by his claws. Prince made an almighty leap for the tantalising, twitching, tail that hung down the curtain. At the highest point of his jump he bit hard, but the tail flicked away at the last moment. His jaws clamped firmly on a couple of big folds of the curtain. Gravity took over and he began to fall. Still gripping the curtain, he tore the curtain pole from the wall. The far end of the pole seemed to leap from the wall and crashed down onto the top of the grand piano. The vibration caused the lid to slam on Evelyn’s fingers the lid slammed shut and the pole bounced on flicking the drape into the fire. The dry fabric burst into flames.
It had been less than thirty seconds since the first pop of the cork and Andrew’s initial concern had been for his mother, but now he could hear crashing from all around him. He made his way through the dining room to the lounge where he was astonished to find the room on fire. He returned to the kitchen followed by Evelyn, frantically thinking what could he use to put the fire out. He grabbed two of the bottles of champagne and returned to the fire. He used Ben’s technique for opening them and sprayed the flames with the precious liquid. Evelyn Arrived behind him with the ice bucket and doused the flames and Andrew in the process.
Robinson and Prince had been buried beneath one of the drapes but the cat saw a glimmer of light and made his way out. Prince quickly followed and resumed his chase. Robinson dashed into the dining room and up onto the table. Prince launched himself after him.
An antique Georgian pedestal table is a finely balanced piece of furniture particularly when it is fully open and laid with silver cutlery and fine china plates. When a seventy pound dog lands on the edge of it even only from a few feet, it is going to colapse. The table tilted sharply flinging the candelabra through the window and launching plates and cutlery into the air. The table fell sideways knocking over the four chairs on that side of it. Two of the chairs fell back and caught the radiator below the window. It broke free of its brackets and parted from the wall. Both pipes broke off spraying black oily water across the dining room floor.
Robinson escaped into the kitchen and out of an open window leaving Prince moaning with disappointment by the door.
George had been upstairs when he heard the commotion. He came out onto the gallery to see David disappear beneath the tree and Georgina going into labour on the bottom of the stairs. He heard Andrew shouting fire at the same time as smoke began billowing out of the lounge doorway. He dialled nine-nine-nine.
“Which service do you require?”
“fire-brigade and ambulance please,” he said
“Name and address please,” the voice replied.
“George Letterman, Brook Barn house.”
“What is the nature of your problem?” the voice asked calmly.
“My house is on fire, my son has been hit by a falling Christmas tree and my daughter-in-law has gone into labour five weeks early.”
In less than ten minutes two ambulances, two fire engines and a police car were parked outside the front door. When they arrived the door was open and they were met by Mary hold her closed and blackened eye, Ben holding a towel around his lacerated foot Georgina sitting moaning in labour on the doorstep and Andrew with mildly burnt hands.
“My son is still in there,” George explained to the fireman, “he’s under the tree in the hall.”
Hours later the wounded began to join the unscathed in the corridor outside the maternity ward. Mary walked in clutching the dressing on her face, George close behind her. Then Ben hopped in on crutches, finally Andrew appeared with his hands in bandage.
“So what’s the damage?” Fiona asked.
“It was a haematoma, they’ve stitched the artery and I have six stitches in the surface. It will be three weeks to a month before I look normal,” Mary Explained.
“Ten stitches inside and seventeen external, three weeks before I can walk without a stick,” Ben boasted proudly.
“Just superficial burns, I’ll be fine in a few days.” Andrew said quietly. “I looked in on David, he has concussion so they’re keeping him in, but he looks okay.”
“The piano’s roasted,” Evelyn said sadly.
“Christmas tree’s in bits,” George added, “The firemen cut it up to get David out,”
A worried expression crossed Mary’s face, “Blast!” she shouted, “The turkey is still in the oven and the oven is still on. We were meant to be eating it five hours ago. If it hasn’t burnt the house down it will be done to a crisp.”
“I’m not that fond of turkey anyway,” George said.
Charles appeared through the maternity room door, “She’s had a boy, and he’s fine. He’s in an incubator but they say he’s perfect. You’re a grandma, ma, and he was born on Christmas day.
“Oh yes,” she replied, “It’s Christmas day, and I’m a grandma, that makes it the best Christmas ever! Merry Christmas everyone.”