It's become a tradition in recent years, that I'll write a new Christmas story and post it here on my blog. This year's no exception, and I hope you'll enjoy...
Klacky the Christmas Dragon
That Christmas dragon was useless because a) it was made out of cheap stuff, you could tell, and it only had two legs and b) dragons had very little to do with the Christmas spirit anyway. From the weird hurdy-gurdy of the music you could tell those two guys were Eastern European or whatever, plus the way they were dancing (which Jeff said was a bit gay, too, laughing at them) so maybe they didn’t know our customs, Mandy wondered? Anyhow, they’d got them all wrong.
Plus, she was being forced to watch them, stood out in the freezing drizzle while her mother dithered about inside the store, supposedly buying some kind of fancy biscuits that her friend in the Sheltered Housing Veronica liked. In a minute Mandy would tell Jeff to go in and fetch her (what were they even thinking of, letting Mum go drifting by herself?) but Jeff was in thrall to the Christmas dragon now, clapping his hands with the rest of the crowd gathering by the festive windows. The dragon was drawing a crowd, rubbish as he was. Mandy sighed.
She’d definitely missed her works lunch by now. Here she was all togged up in the middle of the day. Her dress with the black and silver glitter (she had bauble-type earrings in her bag – she wouldn’t be putting them on today.) The whole day had gone very awry and she was trying not to be furious.
‘They’re good, actually, aren’t they?’ Jeff was laughing and turning to her. First smile on him she’d seen all week. Now the dragon – really just some bloke in a red velveteen cape with ropes of tinsel flaring out from his neck – was twirling around and hopping about on one leg. Mandy urged him to slip and fall and break something. Let’s see them all clapping along then, she thought. Clack, clack, clack went his snakelike jaws. What were they made out of? It sounded like wood, as they clacked along with that disturbing music. And, under his tinsel antlers and his strange hat you couldn’t even see his eyes. She shuddered. She hated the thing. And she hated his little gay mate, dancing alongside him with the fez full of money they’d collected and the ghetto blaster. Did people still have ghetto blasters these days, or was it just beggars in the street? Come on Mum, she seethed, find those flipping biscuits.
It had been a long morning in the X-Ray department. Mum wasn’t in pain anymore, or she didn’t seem to be. In fact, it was like she was quite glad of all the attention as they sat there in those grey waiting rooms, one after the next, deeper and deeper in the hospital building, with nurses calling out her name every now and then and her perking up, ‘Here!’ and hurrying off with them to have her arm looked at and be generally fussed over. Yes, she seemed to be quite full of herself today, did Mum, perched there in the natty white cardigan she’d been knitting herself (finishing it just in time for coming out today), The People’s Friend splayed open on her lap and her ear cocked waiting to be called. All morning Mandy had felt like slapping her. How dare she go clambering about in the attic while they were all out? How dare she go poking about through their things? She was a liability, is what she was. (She’d been living with her daughter and easy-going Jeff since August and it was a wonder she hadn’t killed herself on the unfamiliar gadgets she liked to have a go on or with all her poking around where she shouldn’t even be.)
And now, with her broken arm, she was mucking up Mandy’s Christmas lunch with the girls from work. All the arrangements had gone to pot. Had the appointment taken only the half hour Mum’s letter suggested, everything would have been fine. But it wasn’t turning out like that and, as time swirled on, Mandy realized that the likelihood of her making it to Sauce in time had reduced to almost nothing. At least she was already in her party dress and her hair and make-up were done.
She kept looking at her watch, which had been last year’s present from Jeff. Not bad, actually. He must have had some advice. From a woman, probably. He wouldn’t have picked this out by himself. It was too stylish and slinky to have caught his eye. She watched him going through the Daily Mirror as they waited for her mum. What woman would have advised him about a watch? What women did he know? There was Cheryl on the phone at the garage, but that was about it. Mum didn’t count, she had no taste for things.
Now Jeff was reading the problem page. Mandy saw the headline: ‘He Prefers Porn to Bed Romps with Me.’ What the devil was he reading that for? She coughed and spoke in that tight-lipped way she thought was appropriate for a waiting room like this, where you didn’t want everyone knowing your business. ‘I reckon she’s got it wrong, you know, Jeff. You know what she’s like.’
‘Huh?’ he emerged blinking from Dear Deirdre. Mandy wished he’d taken his anorak off before sitting down. He looked so hunched up.
‘What she said before the nurse took her away. About that other doctor wanting to see her before she goes away today.’ Mandy picked up her mother’s magazine and started flicking through. ‘She never gets anything straight. I’m sure they meant that she should see her doctor next time, not straight away. Later on, when it’s settled down. What would be the point of seeing her twice in a day? Doesn’t make sense.’
He shrugged. ‘It’s what she said.’
‘She gets things wrong,’ hissed Mandy, noticing a grumpy woman in a hajib paying close attention to their conversation. Mandy turned slightly to block her view and lowered her voice. ‘She won’t have understood what they were telling her.’
‘We can check with the nurse at that window,’ muttered Jeff.
‘And,’ Mandy went on. ‘She’s on about us taking her to Veronica’s after she’s done here. And picking up something from town beforehand. Biscuits or something. Our morning’s gone.’
‘Probaby,’ Jeff said.
‘She gets it all upside down. What was she even looking in our attic for, anyway?’
‘Your old decorations,’ said Jeff. ‘From when you were little.’
‘She told you that?’ Mandy snorted, picking at the glitter on her dress. ‘They’re long gone. Why would she even think they were up there? She gets it all wrong. Everything’s upside down. She confuses everyone with her going on. It’s like these people here today. She’s gone for her X-Ray now, and what’s the point of that after they’ve already put the plaster on her? It’s all the wrong way round and it’s bound to be her fault. And it isn’t because she’s old. She was always like that. Watch out, here she comes.’
The old woman returned, smiling, fresh from her X-Ray. Her new white cardigan was really getting on Mandy’s nerves. The way one sleeve was rolled to the elbow to accommodate the new pot on her wrist seemed to be deliberately drawing attention to the injury she had suffered in Mandy’s house. Next thing there’d be social services banging on their door, claiming she was being maltreated.
Her smile was so brave and gentle Mandy felt herself growing incensed. She glanced at her watch with the elegant chain.
‘I am to see the doctor again,’ Mum announced. ‘I didn’t get it wrong, Mandy. He wants to look at me before we leave.’
‘Never mind,’ Jeff said, rolling his paper. ‘Do we need to go back to the first waiting room?’
Mum nodded, wincing at the weight of the plaster.
‘I don’t understand why he needs to see you again,’ Mandy said, as they shuffled out.
‘He just does,’ said Mum.
Jeff winked at Mandy. ‘I think you can whistle for your works lunch, love.’
‘Works lunch’ sounded so common. They’d booked a table at Sauce, for heaven’s sake.
Now it was way too late. She had passed the point of being hungry and her mood was ruined by all her mum’s carry on. Also, she had freezing drizzle in her hair and she could feel rain dripping down the back of her Christmas frock.
And Jeff was clapping even more heartily at the antics of that ludicrous dragon. They all were. Egging him on. Cheering and hooting.
Even more ridiculous, one of the store managers had emerged with a tablet he was holding up, video recording the proceedings. He was standing quite close to Mandy, fiddling with the buttons of his machine, shaking with laughter at the clacking dragon.
It wasn’t that funny, was it?
The tinsel and baubles on the dragon’s outfit were cheap ones like she remembered from being a kid. Nasty, sharp, old-fashioned things. Now she could see his eyes, after all. Revolving, spiral eyes, just like a snake’s.
There was a new volley of cheers and laughter then, as the gathered crowd noticed something Mandy hadn’t yet. Jeff was nudging her and going, ‘Look! Look!’
It still wasn’t hilarious, she thought. Even when she saw that the window display behind Klacky and his friend was filling up with shop workers. At first she thought they were fiddling with the window display – the fake emerald trees and the angular shop dummies – but they weren’t. The staff members were wearing party hats and they were walking along jerkily. Mandy realized they were dancing. They were doing the same dancing as Klacky and his friend.
‘Hahahahaha!’ went the manager from the shop, trying to hold his tablet computer straight.
Jeff was laughing just as loudly. ‘Look at them! They’re joining in! Hahahahaha!’
Mandy still didn’t see what was so hilarious.
‘It’s great, isn’t it?’ the manager called across to Jeff. ‘That dragon thing has been there since the start of Christmas. Klacky, they call him. This is our tribute to him and his mate.’
More staff members were climbing into the window display and copying the dragon’s dance moves. A great roar of approval went up from the crowd of shoppers, who stood watching, grinning in the rain.
Mandy thought it might offend Klacky, actually, and his mate. Really, they were taking the mick, weren’t they? They were mocking the gay way those two were dancing and making it look stupid. It was probably their traditional dancing, from the land of wherever Christmas dragons belong…
Just at that moment she saw the dragon’s snakelike head and his whole body freeze on the spot and do a sudden double-take. The man inside the outfit stopped prancing and flouncing for a moment or two, and so did his chum.
They were riveted by the sight of the shop display.
At least twenty staff members were crammed inside there, doing the Klacky dance and beaming, being filmed by their manager. There were even some customers in there too, joining in.
Klacky gave a little hop, and then a hoot of pleasure (Yes, definitely foreign, Mandy thought.) Then he started dancing even faster, more ferociously, whirling around, flaring his cape with extra vigour. His friend did likewise.
It was clear they were over the moon at the tribute from the department store staff.
‘Hahahahaha!’ went Jeff.
Mandy thought they all looked insane, those shop people: wearing party hats and strings of tinsel round their necks; dancing like Klacky the dragon. Worst of all were the customers in their heavy coats, still clutching their bags of shopping, thinking they were having a good time and being amusing.
It was at this precise moment that Mandy saw her mother. There was no mistaking her. She was right in the middle of the window in her white cardigan, one sleeve bunched over the end of her plaster cast. She was kicking up her legs along with everybody else and waving her good arm in the air.
Mandy’s mouth hung open like the mechanism inside her had snapped.
Soon enough the moment was over and the staff left the window and went back to work. Their boss filmed the chuckling crowd filling Klacky’s fez with coins, and then he too returned to the store.
Jeff turned to Mandy. Her voice came out, when it did, quite high-pitched, ‘Did you see that..?’
He shrugged and smiled and glanced at his watch. ‘If we hurry maybe you can make it to Sauce in time for the sweet course?’
Mandy’s mum came flying out of the store, breathless and brandishing a box of fancy biscuits. ‘Got them! We can go! Come on you, too. Stop dawdling! We need to get a shift on!’
Behind them the jaunty music came back on, even louder, and Klacky started dancing all over again.