Nothing Prepares you For the End Quite Like Christmas Dinner
As we reflect on our seasonally ovresize stomachs, here is a wonderful monologue for male voice from Stuart Estell
Nothing prepares you for the end quite like Christmas dinner.
If I had been at my folks’ I might have made a snippy comment about the quality of the gravy, or the fact that the carrots were already cold by the time I got them.
Not to mention the bread sauce. The bread sauce seemed to be just that – pulverised bread and water. No milk. Certainly no onions.
Stuffing? No. Stuffing’s too good for the likes of me. But they did think to provide cranberry jelly. Pity I can’t stand the stuff.
The sprouts were just about edible. I’m not sure they’d allowed the frost to get to them, but at least they weren’t the sort of bitter frozen inedible horrors that the supermarkets sell.
My stomach isn’t exactly feeling very settled this afternoon. Frozen sprouts may not have stayed down.
Anyway, the gravy reminded me of the time I ruined Christmas dinner in my teens. I can’t quite recall the details, and it certainly doesn’t matter now whether I burned the gravy, dropped the saucepan, or tipped away the juices that were meant to make it – and I think, now, that it might have been the latter – but we ended up with gravy made from cheap granules that were kept in the kitchen cupboard for absolute emergencies.
I learned that day that turkey and instant beef stock don’t go together very well. I also learned how well raised voices echoed in our kitchen.
I was good at ruining Christmas for other people.
One year I was bought an electronics kit. It was educational, certainly not cheap, and in hindsight the perfect present for a young lad. But not a young lad who wanted glamorous toy robots that turned into cars and dinosaurs.
Usually I could fake being grateful but that year the mask slipped.
I was mortally disappointed.
My heart sank as I realised that the electronics kit was the Main Present.
The crack in my voice as I said “thank you” gave it away.
What made it worse was that when I started to assemble it I put the metal contacts into the plastic board the wrong way round. They wouldn’t work that way, and nothing on God’s green earth was going to get them back out again. The kit was ruined. So was Christmas Day. Not as badly ruined as last Christmas, but that’s why I’m here.
Still, there have been good times at Christmas. Good times, wild times, drunk times, and sober times – the sober ones only because I drank my way into having an ulcer.
And then times so painful that the discomfort of the strap and the all-too-familiar horror of the dropper filling with blood don’t even register before the brown drips in and radiates out to warm all the edges and then smooth them down in a soothing narcotic bath.
Times so painful that you have to remind yourself that you have emotions other than pain. Or hatred. That you were once in love with her. That you once loved them both.
Times so dark that walking through dank, filthy streets in search of the pharmacist is the only way of focusing on a goal of any kind, whether or not you have the money you owe.
I gave them the blade as soon as they asked for it. There didn’t seem any point in trying to hide anything any more, really. They were gentle with me, to be honest, considering the circumstances.
Probably because I went quietly.
Parsnips seem to be a tricky root to cook properly. They’re either not cooked through or burned round the edges. I never understand why people don’t cut them sideways like carrots instead of in these long thin strips. It stands to sense that they’re just going to burn.
I was forever slicing the ends of my fingers. By accident of course – I may have had a habit but I never did any of that.
No, I was just clumsy. Very prone to distraction, especially when chopping veg with a fiercely sharp kitchen knife.
I’d watched them all on the telly. Copied the way they rocked the knife backwards and forwards to chop things finely. I could have a carrot in neat little pieces in a matter of seconds, and when a recipe needed “finely chopped herbs” – well, you should have seen them.
From time to time, though, I missed. Particularly towards the end of it, when I could barely keep my mind on anything other than the two of them sloping off to some seedy motel room somewhere.
Come to think of it, it was once when I was chopping parsnips that I managed to cut through the side of my index finger with such force that it went through the side of the nail as well. It should have hurt. A lot. But I found myself unaware of any physical soreness and stared at it in mute fascination as it bled. I bandaged it up, and carried on chopping mechanically.
I never meant to –
I was going to say that “I never meant to hurt anyone.” But I can’t say for sure whether that’s really true. I dreamed, both asleep and awake, of hurting them very, very badly, but not for real. Only in my head.
But last Christmas Eve I was at home, preparing what I was convinced would be our final Christmas meal together. I was home some hours before I had intended to be.
The front door opened. I turned, knife in hand, to look down the hallway to see the two of them, smiling and laughing.
He pulled out a sprig of mistletoe. They kissed. I ran at them.
Three hours from now, I believe, it all ends. There’s no reprieve. A priest is supposed to come and read me some nonsense about repentance before they fry me in the chair. I’m having none of it.
You’ll excuse me, then, if I tuck in to what’s left of my roast potatoes before they get cold. The warder just said that I’m the first Death Row inmate he’s ever seen eat his final meal.
I told him that nothing prepares you for Christmas dinner quite like the end.