Monday, 24 December 2012

The Wasted Present

There’s the big present. He can see it, leaning against the far side of the sofa, looking decidedly streamlined and sledge-like in shape.

But he contains himself. Positions himself at a deliberate distance from it, and sits down to unwrap smaller gifts instead. Socks. Shower gel – both from lesser-seen relatives. Some action figures, and a racing car, both of which he’d have been thrilled to receive, probably, on any other day, but which right now can’t keep his attention. The car’s a Dodge Viper as well, his favourite. Candy apple red and with two white racing stripes down the centre.

Wonders what his sledge will look like.

Edges closer to it.

Restrains himself.

Opens another present. A board game. One he’s played before, but a decent one, nonetheless. Might play it in a few days, he supposes, if someone wants to.

Opens some big, extra-padded gloves next. And a scarf. From two separate but sellotaped-together packages.

Each successive bundle leading him closer to that far side of the sofa. Like Christmas cake crumbs. Like the thread of a Christmas stocking unravelled.

The next parcel holds another car – an AC Cobra, his second favourite. It’s even bigger than the Dodge, bigger even than his feet, and he won’t play with that so much, but it’ll look good on his bedside table, when he can be bothered to take it up.

Moving on quickly, he lifts the present placed just before the sofa’s furthest reaches. He squeezes the paper before ripping it open, and guesses before he sees it that it’s the item he put just beneath the sledge on his list. Some old-style fighter pilot goggles – synthetic, not leather – that will keep out the cold of the snow.

His parents are watching him nervously, which he might have noticed, had he been able to pull his eyes away from the big present, had he been able to keep his hands from tearing it open. Standing, gleeful, he sets, dervish-like, to the task. Scraps and ribbons of star-spangled wrapping paper cascade out as confetti around him. Redecorates a sizeable chunk of the room.

And, when it’s settled, he can see the big present more clearly, seeming bigger and better even than he’s imagined it, now that it’s open to the air in all its glory. Sky-blue and with a red stripe down each side.

Looks fast.

Looks aerodynamic – his new favourite word.

Looks racing class all over and all the way through.

He sets it out flat on the carpet and sits in it and takes hold of the thin rope that’s attached to the front lip like reins. Leans and masks his face in sporting concentration and makes noises like he thinks sledges should make upon thick, crispy snow.

His parents seem keen for him to play with some of his other new toys as well, though, and he makes a concessionary effort. Zooms the Viper on a few laps of the living room rug.

Already has his gloves on, whilst he does so. And his scarf, with both ends of it thrown back over his shoulder, the way he knows a racing man should.

The car in his hand begins to feel insubstantial, and, for the first time he can remember, his imagination cannot sustain the charade. He jumps up, suddenly, and takes his goggles from the sofa, and pulls the sledge behind him onto the cold linoleum of the kitchen floor.

His parents don’t react fast enough, and he finds the key, and turns it, and opens the door.

To find only wet paving stones and wet grass, and the dampness of late December fog.

And so, all afternoon, he sulks.

And barely touches the turkey that’s been carefully piled on his plate.

And pushes his sprouts into some cranberry sauce. Refuses to eat them on the grounds that cranberry sauce is Manky.

Why’d you put it on your plate, then?

His mum says.

He shrugs. Forks holes in his carrots, and slices florets of cauliflower into rough quarters. But doesn’t eat them.

His dad tries to get him to play the board game, and, for a few minutes, he acquiesces. Then knocks the pieces across the table, as soon as it seems likely he’ll lose.

After he’s made his way to bed – still sulking – his parents sit down – tired out – on the sofa. His dad rests against the chair arm. Begins to drum his fingers on it – slowly at first and then faster and louder.

Stop that. Please.

His mum says.


Says his dad.

They sit in silence, each resting more weight on the back of the sofa than they do on each other.

You know,

his mum says.


Says his dad.

I was just thinking – perhaps we should get him a new games console next year.

Yeah, perhaps that would be best. 

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