The Gift (Day Four)

When the mother and father came back inside, their search yielding no results, the mother got back to the task of making the pudding. She looked at the mixture; it was all ready, except for one more ingredient. There was a small bottle in the pantry that had no label on it. The bottle was only ever used once a year, to make the Christmas pudding. Did she have enough left to make all the puddings this year? She hoped she would; a very small amount was usually enough, but this year she would need more than usual. Even if she had enough for this year, the bottle would run out soon enough and the liquid in the bottle was very hard to get…This, she feared, might be the last year she could make the pudding, and if she could not make it again next year perhaps her children would not come to visit…

She took the bottle and tipped in an amount the depth of a little fingernail; almost half of what remained in the bottle. Would it be enough? She did not know; but she was too afraid to use any more.

When Christmas came, she distributed the puddings to the neighbouring families on neighbouring hills. They all gave her presents to thank her, but none of the presents would be enough to buy her another bottle of that secret liquid. Though her heart was heavy with that knowledge, it gave her happiness to see that her puddings were soon to be shared.

And soon enough her whole family had converged on the old family home – Frank from his shoe box on the hill; Tiffany from the doll’s house with her husband Bill and their little girl Suzy; Sam and Wendy, with their child on the way; and Sasha and Hector, from their home inside the car.

(“Why did you leave them until last?” asks Alana. “Because they are the most important,” says Peter. A pause. “Are you sleepy yet?” he asks. “A little,” says Alana. “How much is there left in the story?” “A bit,” says Peter. “It has to get better before it’s over, and it has to get worse before it gets better.” Silence. He keeps going.)

The mother was happy to see all her children together, and so was the father, but he showed it by telling his oldest son that he needed to get out of that shoe box and she showed it by telling Sasha that that old car would be no good when they had children. Secretly, they accepted their children just as they found them, but they could never let it show.

(“Peter,” says Alana. “Yes?” he replies, then waits because she is silent again. “Nothing,” she says, after a time. “Keep telling the story.”)

By the time the food was ready to be served, the children had already found their old places at the table, and their old places in the family too. Frank had told Sam that his house was a bad investment; Sam had told Frank that he knew nothing about investments; Tiffany had told Wendy all that she knew about pregnancy and Sasha had begun to roll her eyes at Tiffany; all the while, the poisoned pudding sat in the kitchen, waiting to be eaten, waiting to take the family gathering further and further along the path it was already starting to tread. And lurking somewhere outside, from a spot in the garden where he could see it all, crouched the goblin, licking his metallic lips with excitement.

The mother watched patiently as the children, now grown-ups, slipped back into their old roles and the partners watched too, sometimes calmly, sometimes with frustration, sometimes weighing in. The mother was less distressed, because she knew that the lunch could never grow so hostile that the pudding could not fix it. Only, the pudding always had to come last; the lunch always had to be endured before the pudding could emerge and right all wrongs.

Go to Day Five

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