Last year I decided to write a Christmas story which I would post each day on my blog through all of Advent. The result was the story “The Gift”, which you can still read in instalments here if you care to look for it (just search for “The Gift” and it should come up easily enough). This year I have been slightly less ambitious and, admittedly, less organised, but I have inspired nonetheless to post a new story, in the ten days between now and Christmas. The story concerns a nameless country town, somewhere in regional Victoria, where an ill-fated Christmas pageant takes place. I know only a little more than you of where the story is going, as I am writing it only a few days ahead of posting it. But I hope you enjoy it and that it can help put you in the mood for Christmas, especially those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, for whom Christmas is a time of heat-waves and unexpected downpours, high fire danger and families coming together awkwardly at the end of an exhausted year.
Pageant: An Advent Story
In the years to come, opinions would vary wildly as to how it came about that Braydon broke his arm, Tayla ended up buried beneath several sheep and Kassie came to be sitting in the corner of the stage crying. Kim and Craig, both backstage until the last moment, observing it all, had their own ideas, but the cast and the audience – some hundred or so parents, grandparents, siblings and assorted other local well-wishers – also represented a wide spectrum of alternative views on the subject. Some – in particular Kassie – argued that it had been a mistake to ever let Braydon play the part of the star, while Braydon’s mother on the other hand insisted that it was in no way her son’s fault, a position made increasingly hard for her to maintain because her daughter and her recently reconciled husband took the opposing view. While she initially doted on her injured son as though he were a kind of wounded hero, the father took the more straightforward approach of saying, “Braydon, you were a dickhead,” a view which, in the end, even Braydon found himself compelled to accept.
There were, of course, those – you know the sort – who blamed every other circumstance or person possible and took what was, relative to the rest of the universe, only a small occurrence as an opportunity to cast allegations against everyone with whom they had experienced any degree of animosity. They could be heard, in the post-office or in the aisles of the IGA, saying, “Are you incinerating that I…” or, “Well, who was it then who put the frogs out? You tell me that?” And those with good sense tended to give such discussions a suitably wide berth, lest they too be drawn into decades of exponentially exaggerated local grievances.
On the whole, most people agreed that the pageant had brought the town together that year more than it had ever done before, and, once the differences of opinion about Braydon’s complicity had become, if not resolved, at least somewhat domesticated, his parents’ reconciliation stood as a living reminder to the town of the good which the pageant had done. Yet there were still those who insisted that the father’s return to town in mid-December had been the beginning of all the problems that had followed, and, though small, they were a vocal group – vocal enough that it seems worthwhile now to tell the story again from the beginning.
It is always hard to know where to begin such a story, intertwined as it is with so many generational disputes, shifting boundaries, properties changing hands, cattle grazing in the wrong paddock and general communal ambiguities blowing about in the municipal wind. Yet, since the accusation stands that it was Braydon’s father’s fault and that he should have left his whacko ideas in the city where he’d taken them all those years ago, it seems best to begin with the sound of his car driving down the main street, for the first time since 2008, Christmas carols blasting through the driver’s window, and a general sense of no-good-likely-to-come-from-this on every street corner that he passed.