Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Twelve Days of Christmas

I chose this story, even though it is longer than we generally accept, because it has a remarkable thing, so often lacking in short stories – humour. And I think it captures something of Christmas, in a traditional, yet far from, conventional way! So very well done to Jo for being our grand finale in the CafeLit Advent Calendar of Stories! And thanks to everyone for their wonderful contributions.

The café will be closed now until January 5th. So please start sending in your wintery stories for January, something to brighten the dark days as we wait for Spring!

Happy Christmas from us all at CafeLit!

An Advent Calendar of Stories

December 24
Part 2 2014

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Jo Fino

Large glass of red (vegan)

On the first day of Christmas:
My true love sent to me: A Partridge in a Pear Tree

What? What on earth am I going to do with a partridge? I’m a vegan for chrissakes. A vegan with three cats. As for the pear tree: well I don’t think it’s really going to fit in my window box.

On the second day of Christmas:
My true love sent to me: Two Turtle Doves

Where’s the number for Yodel? That partridge has got to go; it’s crapped all over my parquet flooring and now it’s perched on top of my black artificial tree, shaking , and the cats have settled in to siege mode at the bottom, well except for Charlie. I found him clinging to the middle of the tree with my best purple tinsel wrapped round his neck and it was only when I got him down that I  realised  he’d swallowed one of my LED candle  lights with multiple settings. Now he’s sitting on the window sill glaring at the partridge and every time he hiccups he glows.

So I got through to Yodel finally after half an hour of back to back Sir Cliff’s ‘Mistletoe and Wine’… Come on guys, even Costa Coffee have banned it in all their branches on account of adverse customer reaction to Christmas tunes. But then as my old Auntie Edna used to say there’s no smoke without Punch…Whatever that means… I think she was a bit ‘confused’… so am I … it’s no wonder she got fifteen years for burning down the convent.

The guy from Yodel turns up and says he can’t take the pear tree back because he’s got an allergy and I should have filled out an allergen awareness form before I asked for a pick up. Then, after forty-five minutes of trying to catch the partridge and a lot of bad language (honestly, being a vegan I’ve done a lot of swearing, mainly in restaurants and outside cosmetics companies but the Yodel man was a revelation) he departed with the best combination of expletives ever when the partridge crapped in his eye; it was like listening to every banned rap song I secretly hid under my bed on account of my mum being a rampant Catholic. Well she can’t have been that rampant: I’m an only child.
I settled down with a nice glass of wine (vegan) and I heard this noise, like a sort of cooing and I realised the Yodel man has left another box… I knock back the wine for a bit of Dutch (why are people from Holland so hard-core?) and I open the box.
So now the two turtle doves are on top of the black Christmas tree with the partridge, Charlie’s emitting alarming flashes in the window every five minutes like a fur covered lighthouse and Bonnie and Clyde are yowling as they continuously circle the tree.

On the third day of Christmas:
My true love… you get the picture now… it’s more birds…

The partridge and the turtle doves have joined forces and are taking it in turns to bait Bonnie and Clyde with kamikaze swoops across the living room. It would be quite beautiful to watch if Bonnie and Clyde would stop the yowling soundtrack for five seconds and Charlie wasn’t on distracting chaser flash mode. I spent  an hour on Google trying to find out if it was possible for doves and partridges to interbreed , and two hours on the phone to ‘you’re through to Darren, at Yodel how may I help you?’ who clearly had a limited grasp of the English language and kept calling me mam (not sure if he was  a Geordie and hoping I would adopt him or he was sat in an office in Mumbai being extra polite but I elected not to confuse him further by trying to explain that I’m a Ms). When ‘you’re through to Darren’ finally got his head round the fact that I was trying to arrange a pick up for three birds and a pear tree and not a plastic ninja turtle, a packet of Dove soap, and a Partridge family CD he advised me that the only driver in the area that morning had put my name on his blacklist for not filling out an allergen awareness form (cheek of it) so he would have to send someone from the southern district. So I said fine, as long as they don’t have an MA in Expletive Deletives (which went way over ‘you’re through to Darren’s head’), slammed the phone down, forgot the pear tree was still in the hall, walked into a branch and ended up in casualty for three hours.
When I got back it was quite heart-warming to see the welcoming glow of Charlie, peering at me through the window; he was on the purple light cycle – my favourite – I wonder how long the battery in that LED light lasts? The southern district Yodeller had pushed a note through the door advising me that ‘your parcel is round the back’. At least he didn’t pin it to the front door like my next door neighbour did once, screaming out to all the local ne’er do wells ‘empty house up for robbing’. He had called round to request that I keep the noise down in the bedroom after 10pm on account of his wife’s nerves… I expect he’ll be round again soon; I could hear Bonnie and Clyde yowling at full pitch before I even opened the front door. I edged my way past the pear tree, patting the surgical eye-patch for reassurance, reached my  bijou kitchen and went to open the back door to retrieve the parcel, desperately hoping it was the boxed set of Mad Men I’d put on the top of my list to Santa; I may be vegan but I still believe. I heard the squawking  before I even got the door halfway open and before I knew what was happening Bonnie and Clyde shot past me and  my ergonomically minimal patio was transformed into Fight Club as the cats went into battle with three ugly looking hens clucking, ‘Mais Oui, Ah Non, Mais Oui, Ah Non.…’
 My they were big mothers…

On the fourth day of Christmas:
Four more birds and I’m beginning to feel like Tippi Hedren (Google it…)

My black Christmas tree is gradually turning white on account of the accumulation of bird crap, Charlie’s on the flash/fade cycle and Bonnie and Clyde are staying at the vets overnight for observation as their yowling was beginning to scarily resemble an X Factor Live Audition Show. I rang the RSPB about the three hens but apparently they don’t ‘do farm birds’, not even ones that can cluck in French. Being a vegan I really couldn’t in all conscience ring Farmer Bryn Jones to collect them, not least as last time I saw him I was leading a picket line outside his farm, protesting about his farming methods and he got arrested for threatening me with a shot gun. I chucked some toast crumbs to Coco, Chanel and Piaf – the hens – and spent an hour scrubbing the bird crap off the parquet in the living room, ignoring my neighbour hammering on the front door. I think he must be related to the Yodel man with the pear allergy, I’ve never heard him swear so much before.
After another half an hour on the phone to ‘you’re through to Marcia, your Yodel  Call Centre Operative of the Week’, who could at least form a sentence made up of words containing more than one syllable, she put me on hold and I endured twenty minutes of ‘Mary’s Boy Child’. So they bumped Sir Cliff in favour of Boney M ; come on guys, the clue is in the name and the dude in the white spray on trousers and fake fur shrug, writhing, is well, so not festive in the true spirit of the word if you ask me. Marcia finally came back to me as I was beginning to slip into a coma and informed me that she was able to lodge a formal complaint on my behalf about the unsigned for dumping of livestock by Yodel drivers but the investigation would take six working weeks, during which time I would be removed from their delivery and collection schedules… what! What about the birds, the pear tree and my boxed set of Mad Men? Marcia advised me that a driver was due in the area that afternoon and she would see what she could do, if I just wouldn’t mind completing a quick customer satisfaction survey. An hour later I put down the phone with a numb ear, having given Marcia ten out of ten on everything from her impressive explanation of the theory of relativity to her ability to say ‘hello, how may I help you’ in fifteen different languages… she really can… I went to make a cup of tea, briefly flirting with the notion of a well-deserved glass of vegan red,  and when I edged back past the pear tree (I swear it’s sprouted another branch overnight) I saw the Yodel delivery note on the door mat. I mustn’t have heard the doorbell on account of my one numb ear and the bandage from the eye patch muffling my other ear. Cursing like only Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre know how I read the note and opened the door a fraction, hoping my next door neighbour wasn’t lying in wait.
I should have known when I saw the air holes on the box…Why oh why did I open it in the hall? It was like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds; two of them flew straight at my face, a third one lodged in my hair (I’ve been so distracted I can’t remember when I last de-tangled and I’ve run out of ethically produced tea tree conditioner) and the fourth one swooped up the stairs where it sought sanctuary on top of the toilet cistern.

On the fifth day of Christmas:
Five gold rings: it’s the deal breaker…

I was so hung over after downing two bottles of vegan red with my next door neighbour’s wife (turns out he’s the nervy one) after I called round to apologise for the noise (well really to escape The Birds and Charlie’s flicker cycle which seemed to  rather over excite the turtle doves and the partridge) that I totally forgot about the  fourth calling bird on the Victorian style toilet cistern, until I went for a wee and it crapped on my head whilst tweeting what sounded like the chorus to the Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby.’

I stumbled downstairs to a dawn chorus from the other three calling birds now resident in the pear tree: ‘Happy Christmas, War is Over’ hey? Nice try chicks but you really are going to have to go; I may be vegan but I’m no pushover. My eye is still half closed from the pear tree encounter, my ear’s bright red from all the Yodel calls and my head hurts. I slumped down at the kitchen table just as Coco jumped on to the window sill and starting pecking at the glass. Shit I forgot to feed the hens. Two paracetamol, a gallon of tea and a vegan bacon buttie later – yes there is such a thing and no, it is no substitute I admit – I heard the door bell and peered past Charlie (green glow mode) to see a Yodel van parked outside and I haven’t even called them this morning. It must be my lucky day, although I doubt one driver will be able to round up ten birds by himself without David Attenborough on hand. I open the door and it’s Mr Expletive Deletive; his face is covered in angry looking hives and he glares past me at the pear tree as he thrusts a small package in my hand and legs it.
Yes! Finally it’s the Mad Men box set… I am saved… he does truly love me. Ten seconds later the four calling birds strike up a chorus of ‘All I want for Christmas is You’ as I try to work out why anyone who has shared a bed with me would send me a packet of  five tacky looking gold napkin rings.

On the sixth day of Christmas:
Goosey, goosey gander… it sounds cute but I hear they have violent tendencies

Thank God I decided to keep the Jacuzzi bath instead of installing a double walk in rain shower with massage jets like they have in the ten best bathroom love scenes on DVD. It was just big enough to fit the six geese into, but it was a tussle of Herculean proportions to get them up the stairs I tell you. I peeked into the lounge and my black Christmas tree is almost completely white now, the partridge was perched on Charlie’s head (he’s on alternate red and green mode) and the turtle doves have built a nest out of my purple tinsel which can only mean one thing… more goddamn birds.

I rang the vets and asked them to keep Bonnie and Clyde for another night, Googled chicken feed suppliers, and emailed a dude in Tal- y -Bont who’s free-cycling a chicken coop, then I picked up the phone and speed dialled Yodel, as the four calling birds struck up a chorus of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.’

On the seventh day of Christmas:

When I read Seven Swans on the delivery note I desperately hoped it was a voucher for that new retro pub on the High St; then I saw the size of the box on the hydraulic platform…

It was a challenge but fortunately two of the swans are not yet fully grown so I managed to squeeze five of them into the bath with the indignant geese and the other two into my reclaimed Victorian sink. I thought I’d mislaid the fourth calling bird that was living on the toilet cistern; either that or the geese had got peckish overnight. Turns out it must have sneaked in to my room in the middle of the night and taken refuge in my hair; well it is beginning to resemble an Amy Winehouse convention. It’s no wonder I was confused when I woke up and heard ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ from somewhere, as I thought, deep inside my head…
Charlie (fade in fade out mode: that must be the best LED battery ever) and the partridge seem to have reached a form of entente cordiale – Obama, Putin take note – and the turtle doves are well loved up. So all is well in the living room and I’ve given up on scrubbing the parquet. I have no idea what I did with the cheap gold napkin rings, which I now realise may come in handy on Christmas Day as a welcome distraction from the lack of a turkey centrepiece. I can hear my mother now: ‘Well, napkin rings, you, with napkin rings, who would have thought it. Sister Mary Claire would be so proud, dear.’
The pears are starting to ripen nicely and I’m suddenly thinking Mmmm pear cider, I sense a cottage industry (okay a boxy two up two down industry) developing. The calling birds are working their way through  the full Three Degrees back catalogue – they did a particularly good version of ‘Dirty Ol’ Man’ – and the  free-cycler finally got back to me and has offered to drop off the chicken coop. Result.

On the eighth day of Christmas:
The arrival of eight statuesque blondes in a Yodel-badged minibus sets the voiles all of a flutter next door…

‘I’m sorry I have no idea what you’re on about… I do not have any cows… I don’t even have any grass for chrissakes… oh just hang on… no just stay there … there’s no room… the pear tree seems to have developed beanstalk tendencies ‘
I left the group of blonde Amazonians, clad in aprons and not much else, babbling in some strange language on my front path, speed dialled Yodel and begged to speak to Marcia. Turns out they’re Dutch, one of Marcia’s fifteen languages – thank God (no wonder they weren’t freezing their bits off in those skimpy outfits then… hard-core the Dutch…) and they seem to be labouring under the delusion that I have a field full of cows. I dialled directory enquiries, and after several false starts with numerous Bryn Jones’s who would no doubt have been delighted to entertain eight six foot blondes, I finally got through to Farmer Bryn Jones, and informed him in my best dodgy Eastern European accent that I could supply him with a group of hard working wenches with a penchant for milking for a very good price.
The calling birds launched into a chorus of ‘Old MacDonald’ as soon as he arrived in the wagon he uses to take the lambs to market (classy) and I desperately hoped no one from the Bangor Vegan Activists happened to be passing by my house. I took a risk but old Jonesy didn’t recognise me on account of the eye patch and overgrown bee hive, not to mention the Eastern European accent… I may keep it up… apply for a job at Yodel even.
‘Nice cat, who’s your taxidermist?’ leered Jonesy, indicating Charlie who was sleeping in the window emitting a fetching shade of blue. I shut the door on Farmer Bryn Jones’s foot, £150 richer and just in time; sensing the presence of a battery farmer the hens had gone into a major ‘Zut alors’ frenzy and the geese and swans appeared to have found out how to work the Jacuzzi jets in the bath. The squawking was positively orgasmic and I had a feeling another note from my neighbour would be winging its way through my letterbox… ‘winging’…geddit… I checked the living room and was treated to a fly past by the partridge and one of the turtle doves. The other, nesting complacently made me feel rather envious… and a little broody…

On the twelfth day of Christmas:

Over the last three days I have had to work out ways of dealing with twenty extra people of various occupational leanings, or in some cases ‘leapings’ in my impossibly small two up down box, while the pear tree just keeps on growing… Just when I thought I had got them all safely despatched, I heard the sound of distant drums… and yes, there were twelve more of them…

So when the nine spray tanned  women with suspiciously set faces and eyelashes you could launch Eddie the Eagle off  turned up on the ninth day, wearing a selection of fringed, slashed to the thigh and sequinned dresses (she sewed all 9,000 of them on herself) I let them stay on two conditions:

Number One: No one was to strike a match within a mile of their hair – I shuddered to think how many bunnies suffered to produce that amount of industrial strength hair spray.

Number Two: I’ve always wanted to learn the Argentine Tango.

Anyway they were so thin I had no concern about their ability to fit on the roll away in the spare bedroom, and they were a welcome diversion from ‘The Birds’, the fact that the pear tree had now burst through the ceiling into my bedroom, and the leaking chicken coop, not to mention the phone calls from the vet informing me that my bill of £400 for b and b for Bonnie and Clyde needed paying and until then they were holding them to ransom. I think they need to reconsider this strategy but I decided to look for the gold napkin rings just in case: they could turn out to be the real deal.

On the tenth day I tangoed down the stairs, beside myself in a daringly slashed spangled concoction, sporting a new set of lashes – well one new lash on account of the renewed need to don the eye-patch after an unfortunate lapse of concentration with the eyelash glue. When the doorbell rang I wasn’t even fazed by the sight of ten Anton du Beke look-alikes performing a complicated salsa routine on the pavement outside my house. Charlie the cat had gone into disco ball mode and the partridge and turtle doves rocked a newly-hatched chick each as the calling birds belted out ‘Everybody Salsa’. I phoned the local old people’s centre, or rather Seniors Select, as it had been recently renamed after a members' secret ballot, and the minibus was despatched to take the dancers (all 19 of them) to the annual Christmas Party, before you could say Equity Release Plan. The minibus  arrived at the same time as the lorry load of chicken feed, which caused a degree of confusion, when three of the Antons mistook the driver for ‘It’s A Ten from Len’ off the Strictly Come Dancing panel, threw themselves at his feet and begged him for a job. I can still see the poor driver now, sack of chicken feed over his shoulder, muttering about his delivery time slots, dragging the three Antons up the path as they clung to his leg.

On the eleventh day I spent twenty minutes on the phone reassuring the plumber that he won’t catch avian bird flu when he comes to repair the Jacuzzi bath. I had felt it only fair to warn him that my bathroom had turned into a lurid pastiche of Swan Lake and Mother Goose  especially after the ‘allergen awareness’ incident with Mr Expletive Deletive from Yodel. I eventually managed to persuade him with the offer of a month’s free trial of the eleven pipers who had just piled off a Yodel transporter and onto my path, when he mentioned how overworked he was on account of the lack of skilled tradesmen in the area. Well I didn’t know they were musicians… Did I?

So it’s day twelve, and the birds , all twenty-six of them including the three adorable new additions passed a relatively peaceful night, after the chicken feed man very kindly fixed the leaking roof on the chicken coop (he was so grateful to me for shouting to the three Antons that I had just heard  Bruno and Craig were doing a guest appearance American Smooth at the Senior  Select Christmas Party), the plumber restored full power and ‘then some’ to the Jacuzzi bath (I’ve never seen such ecstasy on a swan’s face) and the calling birds sang them all to sleep with ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ – the  Johnny Mathis version, not a writhing white trouser in sight.

I salsa’d my way out in to the back yard (I’d paid close attention to the Antons’ display), shouted ‘Bonjour mes petites jolies, ca va bien?’ to Coco, Chanel and Piaf, receiving a clucking chorus of ‘Mais oui, eh bien sur’ in return and fetched the step ladders, ready to start harvesting the pears (I found a fab home brew cider recipe on Google).
Then I heard it: the rumble. I lifted the bandage securing the eye patch off my ear and it was even louder; it was getting closer, and closer. Surely not? Armageddon? It’s nearly Christmas, and after everything I’ve just been through? Plus I still didn’t have my Mad Men box set.

I threw down the step ladders, rushed through the house, avoiding the pear tree with the practised ease of a highly trained commando and flung the front door open. I may as well face it head on. The noise was deafening. My street was a blur of colour, people out of their houses in various states of undress, swayed on the pavement: people I had never seen before in my life, and I’ve lived here five years. My next door neighbour and his wife appeared, together for the first time in public since their wedding day, and as I stared at them twitching in their postage stamp patch of a front garden I realised that what I had taken for a panic stricken frenzy was actually interpretative dance movement. I ripped off my eye-patch, the false eyelash hanging on to it by the last shred of glue like a dismembered spider and focussed, and as I did so I felt my newly Latin Americanised body begin to jerk. This wasn’t Armageddon, it was ‘Batucada Brasileira’ and there was a full blown Brazilian Samba Drumming Troupe holding up the traffic in my street. Behind me the calling birds were shrieking ‘Samba, samba, samba de janeiro’ and when I glanced at my front window Charlie was flashing green and yellow in time to the beat.

The party went on all day and I learnt several useful Brazilian Portuguese phrases, exchanged email addresses with a particularly well-muscled drummer called Joao who offered to send me a meat free feijoada recipe and  got invited to dinner by a couple of the neighbours. Turns out I ain’t the only vegan in the village. I had such a great time that  I did toy with the idea of letting the twelve drummers stay, but as the pear tree had now taken over the spare bedroom, my living room had turned into an avian breeding sanctuary and my bathroom was overflowing with swooning swans and over ecstatic geese, I didn’t really see where they were going to go, short of a sixty minute makeover team appearing in a puff of diesel smoke and performing  a loft conversion; except I don’t have a loft and if I did the pear tree would have already made itself at home there. When I came across the leaflet advertising for the local heat of Britain’s Got Talent on the 13th December (that’s tomorrow!) while I was searching for a Mexican take away menu (it was the closest South American cuisine I could think of) it seemed so much like karma that I just had to let the boys know and they set off down to the local theatre to camp out overnight in the queue before I could say ‘Boa noite.’

The gold napkin rings were a diverting surprise result of the take away menu hunt; I think I will get them valued, just in case the email recipe exchange with Joao develops and I get invited to Rio for the carnival, plus I really am starting to miss Bonnie and Clyde. But first I need to get back on the phone to Yodel and lodge another complaint about Mr Expletive Deletive with the pear tree allergy and angry hives. In between the ‘Batucada’ and an impromptu acapella rendition of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ by my next door neighbour (who knew he could sing?) I spotted Mr Ex. D , complete with bird poop spattered Yodel cap  lurking in the bushes with a long lens camera trained on the upstairs window at number 33; that’s where Lola practises her pole dance routines, in between training to be a dental technician. I’ll get him this time, for sure. Oh yes and then I’m phoning my boyfriend and dumping him. Twelve days he’s had and he still totally forgot to get me the Mad Men Box set. True Love – who needs it?

As I walk up the garden path after waving farewell to the retreating samba beat, I see Charlie, sleeping peacefully in the window; the partridge snuggled next to him. He really is a rather gorgeous shade of grey: his natural colour. I wander into the house, past the pear tree, inhaling the scent of the heavy fruit and as the four calling birds settle on my shoulder and my head and launch into a chorus of ‘So Here It Is Merry Christmas’ I pour myself a large glass of red and listen to Coco, Chanel and Piaf clucking amicably in the yard, ‘Ah oui, mais non, zut alors… tais toi… espece d ‘imbecile…’

Only twelve more days to go…

About the Author

Jo Fino says she is a dreamer, an optimist, a worrier too. She started writing again to deal with a stressful situation and gradually rediscovered her passion. She now chairs a successful North Wales Writing Group. She has been published on the CafeLit site and in The Best of CafeLit 3. She was also shortlisted by Honno in their call for ghost stories and her short story Cruel Summer won the Writers’ Forum monthly competition and was published in issue 146.


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