The worst Christmas ever by Tess M Garfield
Day 4 Advent 2017
Gazing through the living room window, Jessica lacks the excitement of every other seven-year-old girl she knows. It’s Christmas Eve, and instead of getting into her pyjamas ready for an early night, she has to travel to a cottage in the middle of who knows where—Mum’s idea of the perfect family Christmas.
It’s Jessica’s idea of the worst Christmas ever.
Outside, Mum and Dad rush backwards and forwards, loading the car. Around them, snowflakes drift in all directions before dropping to the ground to form a light dusting of white.
It’s cold. What if the car breaks down? What if Santa uses sat-nav and gets lost on his way to the middle of who knows where?
Hurried footsteps scuttle down the stairs, accompanied by the argumentative tones of the teenage twins; Cassie and George. They burst into the living room and Cassie climbs to stand on the back of the sofa, holding her hand in the air.
“Give me my phone back now.” George scrambles up beside her, trying to snatch, knocking her to the ground.
Cassie doesn’t give up, reading the screen. “Oh Georgie-poos, huggies and kissies, how will I live without you for a whole week?”
“Stop it.” He launches himself at her, grabbing at the phone again. “I don’t read your private messages.”
“I’ll take that.” Mum walks in, snatches the phone from Cassie, and leaves the room.
George follows, shouting. “That’s so unfair.”
Mum’s voice is calm as she moves through to the kitchen. “We’re going away for Christmas to enjoy the holiday as a family. All phones and tablets are staying right here.”
The twins unite in their complaint. “No! That’s so unfair.”
Jessica doesn’t care because she doesn’t even have a phone. Her only concern is leaving behind her cosy bed, Mr and Mrs Pink, Patch, Floppy, Snuffles the elephant and all her other teddies. It won’t be a family Christmas without them.
Dad stamps his feet at the front door, scattering snow on the mat. “Everyone ready?”
“Yes.” Mum returns from the kitchen, glancing back at the other two. “One week, that’s all we ask.”
Driving away, Jessica cuddles Mr Fang the tiger and watches the house grow smaller and smaller, the only one without Christmas lights, vanishing completely when they turn the corner.
There’s silence in the car until Dad puts music on, but as they pass rows and rows of brightly decorated houses, Jessica tries to imagine where they’re going. She’d never been to a cottage before.
“Will the cottage have Christmas lights, Mummy?” She asks, making her siblings glare at her.
Mum shakes her head. “Not unless we put them up.”
A glimmer of hope edges Jessica’s words with excitement. “Can we?”
Dad looks at her in the mirror. “We didn’t have enough space to pack any.”
Her heart sinks and all she can imagine is the worst Christmas ever, stuck in the middle of nowhere with no twinkling lights, no tree, no Santa. She glances at Cassie and George at her side, nudging each other, and another thought comes to her—no internet or devices means everyone falling out with everyone else. Definitely the worst Christmas ever.
Further up the road, Dad changes the radio channel and Christmas music plays. Mum, Dad and Cassie start singing. Right beside Jessica, George makes howling sounds, forcing the others to sing louder.
And so it begins. Jessica holds her hands over ears and closes her eyes, but it’s not enough to blank out the noise.
Within minutes, everyone in the car is shouting, but Dad shouts loudest. “One more sound and I’m turning the car around to go… what?”
Mum mutters something to him.
George shouts again. “Yes, turn back, let’s go home.”
Without saying a word, for the very first time in her life, Jessica agrees with her brother. If shouting was her thing, she’d say so too.
Dad turns the music off. “Just keep it down. We’re almost there.”
“How almost is almost?” Cassie asks, folding her arms and huffing. “Because last time you said we were almost somewhere, we were two hours away.”
“About two hours.” Mum glances back and sighs. “It’ll go quicker if you don’t keep asking.”
“But that’s the first—”
“Seriously, stop it.” Dad turns the radio back on, louder than before.
If Jessica had one Christmas wish, it would be for a family who didn’t fight all the time. She cuddles Mr Fang again and closes her eyes, hoping it will make the time go as quickly as night time.
When she opens her eyes, it’s much darker than before, and she realises she needs to use the bathroom. “Mummy, I really need to wee.”
“Can you hold it for ten minutes?”
Jessica crosses her legs and nods. “Yes, but only for ten minutes.”
“OK, we’re very, very, nearly there.” Mum’s words remind her that they’re on their way to the worst Christmas ever.
Hoping to last the whole ten minutes, she closes her eyes and says the alphabet in her head over and over, trying not to think about needing a wee.
The car jerks to a halt.
“We’re here.” Mum leaps out, unclips Jessica’s seatbelt and rushes her through the door that Dad opens, just in time.
The first door they try, on the right, is the bathroom, and Jessica has never been so relieved. But voices outside, the usual argumentative shouting as always, echo through the door.
She washes her hands very slowly, trying to avoid going back out to join the others, desperate to avoid the worst Christmas ever, but a loud knock on the door hurries her.
When she unlocks, Cassie shoves past her and pushes her out. She walks along an L-shaped hallway and opens a door. It takes her into a large sitting room with a low ceiling, an unlit open fire, and the prettiest Christmas tree she’s ever seen, all decorated in red and silver.
Stood in the middle of the room, smiling at the tree, a hand lands on her shoulder from behind, making her leap out of her skin,
“Sorry, Sweetie.” Mum crouches beside her. “Come outside, you have to see this.”
Jessica follows her mum to the car, then turns to look back at the stone cottage. Multicoloured icicle lights hang down from the guttering, and on the roof, right beside the chimney, there’s a brightly-lit outline of Santa carrying a sack almost twice his size.
She smiles for a moment, but when she looks around at the rolling fields, she remembers, that’s the only Santa going near that chimney because the real one still won’t have any idea where they are.
Well past bedtime, the three children go to bed while Mum and Dad start preparing food ready to cook on Christmas Day.
Jessica still wishes she could be at home, but the bonus of the cottage is four bedrooms—no need to share with her sister. Without the usual moaning and snoring, she’s soon fast asleep.
Waking on Christmas morning, Jessica is a little disorientated until she remembers she’s at the cottage. She looks around her room to see if Santa came, but no, just as she thought, no sack. Her presents would be at home, guarded by the mighty Mr and Mrs Pink. With nothing to get excited over, she goes back to sleep until her mum wakes her.
“I’ve lit the fire and we’ve got pancakes for breakfast.” Mum leads her to the sitting room.
The flickering flames of the fire make the place look so cosy, and that pretty tree, she blinks, is surrounded by piles of presents. There are so many, there’s no way they fitted in the car, so there’s only one explanation—Santa brought them, he didn’t get lost after all.
Unlike recent years, the whole family sits around the tree, opening gifts, no fighting, no mobile phone distractions. The smell of roast turkey drifting in from the kitchen gets stronger, and when Jessica looks around, she realises she’d been wrong all along. It’s the very best Christmas ever.
Tess Garfield is a fiction writer based in England, she mostly writes romance and blogs at https://tessmgarfield.wordpress.com. You can follow her on twitter @TessMGarfield.