Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Day 8 - A Childhood Memory

Christmas was always special when I was a child.

The tree would go up in the week before Christmas, decorated with strands of tinsel and all manner of homemade decorations that had been fashioned out of cardboard and glitter. As the week wore on, the presents would start to pile up around its base as they arrived in parcels from our many relatives (there were certainly advantages to having aunties and uncles in double figures – although my parents would probably have disagreed considering the huge number of cousins they needed to buy for in turn). And so, beneath the tree, a plethora of different styles of wrapping paper, and all sorts of shapes and sizes of presents; but you weren’t allowed to touch and you certainly weren’t allowed to peek at the label to see who a present was destined for.

The open fireplace would be cleaned out and we’d have some logs or coal, the fire blazing away on the evenings; the Christmas cards we’d received would start filling the walls and paper garlands we’d made at school would be hung along the ceiling. Christmas was the only week of the year that we’d buy the Radio Times, containing the list of all the TV programmes over the Christmas period, and my sister and I would take turns to go through it and circle all the films that we wanted to watch. It was a different era; before streaming and before our family could afford a video recorder, so this would be our first chance to see many of the movies listed. And, if we were really lucky, my dad was able to borrow a colour TV from work for the Christmas holidays and we’d have a chance to watch things in glorious technicolour.

By Christmas Eve it was time to write our lists for Father Christmas and I’d always be wildly optimistic and ask for whatever cool toys I had seen in the catalogues. At the time, I genuinely believed I was writing to Father Christmas and that he would bring me what I asked (although my mum would tell us that what we ask for is just a guide, and Father Christmas knows best what to give us). We’d hang our stockings (actually, usually football socks) and we’d leave a mince pie and a glass of sherry or brandy on the fireplace for when Father Christmas visited. We even thought of Rudolph and left a carrot for him as well.

Then it was time for bed and the agonising difficulty of getting to sleep. You wanted to sleep, you needed to sleep (because Father Christmas only comes when you are asleep!) but it was so difficult and so I’d huddle beneath the quilt and try to look asleep just in case. Sometimes I’d wake up an hour or two after I’d gone to bed and check the sock on the end of my bed – still empty – and then have to go through the whole tortuous process of getting to sleep again. My imagination, ever fertile, would occasional think it heard scraping sounds on the roof or the jingling of sleigh bells. But, eventually, my body would give in and I’d fall into a deep sleep….

…only to wake at a ridiculously early hour in the morning and, fumbling in the dark, realise that the football sock on the bed was bulging with presents and would quickly jump out of bed and turn the light on. When I was very young, I shared a room with my sister and we’d both clamber out of bed and drag the present sacks that had been left for us onto the bed and begin the process of opening.

There was a clear and defined order. First, the socks had to be emptied. They would be filled with tiny presents (a pack of cards, a bouncy ball) as well as a satsuma, and a little plastic mesh bag containing nuts and raisins. Then, with the content of the socks strewn over our bed covers, we’d take it in turn to pull out presents from the sacks. That they rarely matched what we’d asked Father Christmas for didn’t matter; they were always amazing – books, board games, sometimes even a totally unexpected present like a remote controlled car. It was always this joyous adventure, just seeing what you would get next. And, once all the presents had been unpacked, it was time to run into our parents’ room and wake them to tell them that Father Christmas had been!

Looking back, I don’t know how they managed to do it. We weren’t a rich family by any means, quite the opposite in fact, but we always had so many presents from Father Christmas. So many that I was one of the last children to lose belief in Father Christmas – after all, wasn’t Father Christmas so much more believable than the idea that my parents managed to scrape and save enough money together to buy all of these presents for us? You can only appreciate those kinds of sacrifices in retrospect. In the moment, I was just so glad that Father Christmas had decided I’d been a good boy (after all, if I hadn’t, he’d have just left me a piece of coal!).

At this point, it was 5 or 6am and our parents would tell us to calm down and go back to sleep. Which, of course was utterly impossible. But we’d pretend to – and quietly play with our toys or read our books – and they’d pretend not to know we had stayed up before we finally all met for breakfast a little later in the morning.

Bacon and eggs. One of the few times in the year we would have it, my mouth still waters at the thought of it because it was a true luxury breakfast. We’d eat bacon and eggs, and talk about the presents that we had got, and then we would go and spend the morning and early afternoon playing with our toys and occasionally watching something on TV (although my mum was never keen on us watching TV until after dinner on Christmas Day).

But what about the wrapped presents beneath the tree? Well, they still stayed there like that until after dinner. It was tradition; only after Christmas dinner had been eaten could the presents be opened. Some years it was harder than others, but usually the distraction of the presents from Father Christmas was enough to get us through the day; and, besides, I always looked forward to Christmas Dinner.

Roast turkey. Roast potatoes. Carrots. Sprouts. Stuffing balls. Little sausages wrapped in bacon. All smothered in gravy. It was the best meal of the year, by far. We’d pull the turkey’s wishbone and make a wish. We’d pull crackers, read out the bad jokes inside them, and wear paper party hats. And, after dinner, we’d eat Christmas pudding with custard and see who found the foil wrapped coin hidden inside their portion that was meant to bring us luck.

Finally, utterly sated, we’ve move/waddle from the dining room to the living room and the tree. Someone would be in charge of handing out presents (in the early years my dad, and my mum after he left) and it was conducted in a methodical fashion – one present given to someone, unwrapped and looked at, then another present to someone else. On some afternoons it would take over an hour to get through all the presents, with the biggest present of all always being left to the very last.

Then, after a few hours of playing with a new batch of toys, it was time for tea – cold turkey sandwiches, homemade sausage rolls, and thick slabs of rich fruit Christmas cake (covered in white icing that was rock hard). Maybe a Christmas movie on in the background, the fire crackling away merrily in the corner.

It was always the most perfect of times, always special. I smile inside every time that I think back to it.

* * *

The man stirs lightly in his sleep, but doesn’t wake. My glamour binds him to the world of dreams, whether he likes it or not, and he will only wake when I wish it.

I rest my hand lightly on his chest, my long black nails trailing against his delicate skin. He has provided me with such nourishment these last few weeks but these childish memories are the sweetest of all; I devour them like scooping marrow from the bone. His joy a brief light inside me until it is swallowed up by my infernal darkness.

He is nearly spent now; little more than a withered fruit on the vine. Oh, outwardly he might look fine, but inside he is now grey and hollow. I have slowly savoured each happy moment, night after night, stealing away the light inside of him in order to briefly sate my hunger, but he will soon be of no use to me.

Maybe those around him have noticed the change in his demeanour; the way that he no longer is quick to laugh or smile; the way he keeps his eyes down and trudges his way through life. Some go on like that forever after I am done with them, an endless empty march to the grave. Others sense all that I have taken from them, even if they can’t quite grasp it on anything but the most abstract of levels; they often end it themselves in order to escape the torment of their existence. What will happen to this one, I neither know nor care.

I saved the childish memories until the very end, determined to preserve the sweetest of treats for as long as possible. I remove my hand from him, drawing the last morsels of the memory into myself before slinking, an inky shadow, away into the walls to savour the taste.

After all, childhood memories are the most special of all.

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