I left the pub and walked home past the houses with their Christmas lights blazing. Tomorrow was twelfth night. They’d take their decorations down and then Christmas would be over. It couldn’t come soon enough for me.
It was a warm evening, with the moon shining through the clouds. I was gob-smacked by a vision of Santa and his reindeer racing across the sky. There were people in his sleigh.
“Get a hold of yerself there, boy!” I counselled. “It’s just clouds.” I looked again. It still looked like old Ho Ho himself with a strange collection of people. Maybe they’re dead relatives looking down on me. All the living relatives do. Maybe they’re right and I am just a lousy drunk. If I’d been a better bloke, I might have had a warm family Christmas, instead of a charity meal in the local hall, for which, of course, I am eternally grateful.
Christmas was never a happy time, even as a kid. Mum said we’d no money for stuff like that because my no-good father had left us.
“It’s all I can do to keep shoes on your feet. You should be thankful.”
Thankful for what? Anyway, I didn’t care. I didn’t believe in Christmas anyway.
Except once. Tom, the old fellow who lived next door sometimes gave me money for cutting his lawn. One year he asked me to help him fix up his old bike. Well why not? He was always good to me. I painted up that bike and it was really something.
Next day, Tom called me over. It was the sixth of January; exactly twelve days after Christmas. Tom called it ‘Little Christmas.’
“If things go wrong on the real day, boy, you get another chance on twelfth night,” he told me. “Now, about that bike. I’m too old to ride it. Would you take it off my hands?”
Would I ever? I was so proud of that bike. I rode it everywhere.
Old Tom died a few months later. People soon forgot about him, but every twelfth night, I remember his big smile as he gave me the bike. Well, no use getting maudlin’. I turned into my street. It was dark as I neared the boarding house where I had a dingy room. There was commotion two doors up.
“You’re no good, Jack. Just like your father,” a woman yelled as a skinny boy slammed the door. He bumped into me as he tore out the front gate. I’d seen him around. “Whoa”, I called out as I grabbed him.
He kicked me in the shins.
“Let me go,” he yelled. “I hate Christmas.”
“Me too,”’ I said, holding on to his wriggling frame. “Tell me about it.”
“What would you know, you old drunk? Mum’s always cranky and everybody hates everybody and I never get anything, anyway.”
“Life’s like that, son. Mum probably didn’t get what she wanted, either.” I found a couple of dollars in my pocket.
“Here. Buy yerself a coke, then go home. Yer Mum will be worried.”
He grabbed it and scampered off.
Next morning I headed for the local. I’d celebrate ‘little Christmas’ myself. The pub was just past the bike shop. There was a shiny blue bike in the window. I went in on a whim.
“How much is the bike?” I asked for curiosity.
I nearly choked when he told me. I hadn’t seen that much money for years. I headed into the pub. I felt shivery. Maybe I was comin’ down with something. I grabbed a slab to take home.
A man gets lonely when he’s not feeling too good. I found my ‘bits and pieces’ I keep at the back of the drawer. There’s a picture of me and mum, my first communion medal and a ribbon I won running in the school sports. I came first. They said I had promise.
I don’t know why I hide them. They’re not worth stealing. Except for Grandad’s old fob watch. That should be worth something. Mum said Grandad was a proper gentleman. No matter how bad things were, I never parted with it.
I felt the watch in my hand. I could see mum when she gave it to me. It was just after I won the race.
“Your grandad gave me this for you when you were born. Look after it, son,” she said. “A man’s somebody with a watch like that.”
Mum’s eyes looked soft. It was like she had dreams for me. Life must have knocked out the dreams – but she did her best. I thought of Jack’s mother. Maybe she had dreams once.
I was feeling better. Maybe I’d go back down the pub for a bit of company.
I walked by the pawn shop, fingering the fob watch in my pocket. What did a man want with an old watch? I’m not exactly ‘somebody.’ May as well have the money.
I went passed the bike shop. The bike was still there.
“How much did you say it was?”
I pulled the money out of my wallet and placed it on the counter. I was $30 dollars short. I tried my pockets. Nothing. I picked up the money and turned to go.
“Hey,” said the bike man. “I made a mistake.”
“Yeah,” I thought. “I nearly made one too.”
“There’s a $30 discount on everything. It’s yours if you want it.”
I felt confused. Then the penny dropped. I turned back.
“It’s a deal.”
He got the bike down. It was an amazing looking machine. “Deliver it to Jack.” I gave him the address. “Tell him it’s from old Fred Murphy.”
I was suddenly tired… I didn’t feel like a drink after all. I turned for home.
The funeral was held a few days later. Only the priest and a worker from the Mission attended – watched by a small boy standing silently beside his brand new bike.