December 17th 2015 – East Belfast
We are standing in line for the midnight screening of the new Star Wars. You are wearing a hat with flaps which covers your ears and most of your face so your nose is your only discernible feature. I do not think I could love you more.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” I say. “I’ve never had a girlfriend who loves Star Wars as much as me before.”
You smile softly. Now you are mouth as well as nose. I expect your eyes are still in there somewhere, hiding under that hat. I take your hand in mine. It is small and slides around inside its glove.
“I wouldn’t say I LOVE Star Wars,” you admit, “I did enjoy the movies though, and the TV programmes. Actually, I think I liked the programmes better.”
I feel my stomach drop.
“What programmes?” I ask.
“You know the one with the man whose ears are all pointy? Beam me up Scotty, and all that,” you reply.
“That’s Star Trek,” I say, and when you laugh and ask, “what’s the difference? Sure, there all space and robots aren’t they?” I try to let go of your hand, but you are holding mine in both of yours and won’t let go. I can’t remember what your face looks like under that hat, pretty much the same as my last girlfriend, I suspect.
December 18th 2015 – Bedford Street, Belfast
There were fifteen different cakes –a cake for each person attending the party. This had not been planned. Neither had it been planned against. The invite said, “bring a snack to share,” and everyone brought cake. There was chocolate, double chocolate, coconut cream and cherry, coffee vanilla, fudge with sprinkles and something which looked like a cake but tastes of banana sandwiches. This one was not popular with older attendees.
The carrot cake went first. Most people returned for a second slice and some even chanced a third. They could not have explained with words why they’d plumped for carrot cake over other more exotic cakes on offer but when they were eating the carrot cake there was a taste in their mouth like the memory of a childhood birthday. This was something worth holding on to and so they bypassed chocolate and Victoria sponge for another slice of carrot cake and smiled, and smiled like the future was stuck in their teeth.
“I was laughing when I made that cake,” said the woman who’d baked the carrot cake, “I think I mixed some of the laughter in.”
This made sense to everyone at the party. They could taste it.
December 19th 2015 – Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast
Anne Marie and Donal Ryan
When your Grandmother grew too old to knit or distinguish between her female grandchildren she checked herself out of the nursing home and moved into the shed at the bottom of our garden.
“I’m dying,” she said. This was probably true. We could see it in her cheekbones and the way her skin had grown thin and crinkled like a brown, paper bag hanging from her bones.
“I want to go backwards,” she said. This was my grandmother’s way of saying she wished to be in the end as she had been in the beginning, which is to say, empty of all those experiences to come.
My grandmother forced herself to forget the world outside her shed: the wars and weather and interior designs which had complicated her adult life. She read no books. She watched no television and only drank milk from a beaker which my sister carried from the house three times daily. She did not speak to my sister and my sister knew not to speak to her.
My grandmother passed six weeks in this quiet state before dying. She slept and smiled in her sleep and dreamt of empty spaces waiting to be filled.
December 20th 2015 – Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
Last winter it didn’t snow. It always snowed for at least two months before Christmas and a month afterwards. Most people blamed global warming for the lack of snow while those who still did not believe in climate change though it was simply a preternaturally mild winter.
By mid-November the Tourist Board had begun to panic. Most visitors came particularly for the snow. It was all the area was famous for. These tourists would not be amused by green ski slopes and Alpine lodges with their roof tiles still visible. Next year they might winter in America or somewhere more reliably cold.
The Tourist Board took action. They pooled their remaining resources and purchased twenty kilometres squared of synthetic snow. “No one will be able to tell the difference,” they said.
This was not true. The fake snow stuck to the tourists’ sweaters and collected in their hair like fine, whispering flakes of dandruff. They did not, for a moment, believe it was the real thing but could not have cared less what it was made of so long as it looked white and fluffy in their holiday photographs; so long as they looked like they we re having a fabulous, wintery time; so long as they made their friends and colleagues jealous.
December 21st 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
It is impossible to predict a food fight. One minute the elderly ladies are passing the trays of sandwiches round the table, hand to hand like the Sunday morning collection plate, next thing Mary is lifting the apple cream which Maureen had had her eye on since the moment she first sat down at the table, and before you can say, “pass the milk jug,” they’re calling each other all the farmyard names of the day, words which you would not expect to hear coming from the mouths of well-dressed ladies, words such as, “thieving bitch,” and, “auld hag,” and worse things with spit. Next thing the scones are flying. Jammed and creamed, they go gallumping across the table, skimming the edge of Maureen’s new perm, landing crump, splut in Mary’s lap, leaving stains, drawing all the other elderly ladies in until it’s a regular bun worry and even the sandwiches are flying and it’s hard to remember that these flinging hands were only moments earlier, reaching daintily across the doilies and sugar bowls for an apple cream, or a fondant fancy, or a tiny, German biscuit.
December 22nd 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
Kyle and Margaret McAdam
This Christmas, for money, I am being an Elf in a department store, Santa’s Grotto. I make minimum wage plus all the mince pies I can eat. Santa makes almost double this. I do not think this is entirely fair but most competitive careers are biased in favour of male employees.
As an Elf I wear a green and red tabard, striped socks and a hat with a bell on top. I should wear pointy, Elf shoes but last year’s Elf neglected to hand her shoes in at the end of the Christmas season so I am making do with brogues.
I greet the children at the door, usher them towards Santa’s chair, (attempting to calm those children who go poker straight, hysterical at the very sight of the man himself). Afterwards, I hand out the presents. This is the best part of my job, except when the children are spoilt and do not say thank you for their presents. Then I am a bad Elf. I lean in, real close to their ears and whisper, “Santa just told me he won’t have time to visit your house this year.” Actually this is the best part of being an Elf.
When dressed as an Elf I wear two dots of red face paint on my cheeks. The stain lingers well into the New Year like a blush which simply will not fade.
December 23rd 2015 – Waterfront Hall, Belfast
You can hire a badge making machine from the Play Resource Warehouse at the cost of five pounds per day. This low cost is meant to ensure the service is affordable to community groups and children’s organisations but you have always wanted to make badges and so I hired the machine for your birthday. You were thirty five this year.
The badge machine came with one hundred badges. We made badges of our names, the bands we’d liked in High School, your favourite football team, my favourite rude word in German, Star Wars, cats and the yellow, smiley face man from the early 90s. We still had many, many badges left so we made badges of everything in the flat: ‘sofa,’ ‘chairs,’ ‘cushion,’ ‘curtains,’ ‘rug,’ pinning each one to the appropriate item. You’d long since run out of enthusiasm for the badge machine and the palms of your hand were beginning to blister from operating the lever, but you would not stop until all the badges had been made. You did not want to seem ungrateful. You have always been kind like this, and driven to excess.
The next day I returned the badge machine and unpinned all the badges. There were tiny, puncture wounds like vampire bites in all our soft furnishing, so we’d keep remembering your birthday long after the event ended.