Today is the last day of Christmas with Orenda Books, and I have two special posts to end the series. Check back for the second one in a couple of hours, but first of all, I’m so excited I have been wanting to share this extra special post for ages. Are you ready? The one and only, super talented, (and one of my favourite authors) Michael J Malone has only gone a wrote an exclusive short story for this feature, how amazing is that?
So Snuggle up in front of a roaring fire with a hot chocolate, and forget your stresses and read this exclusive Christmas story.
The Xmas Tree and the Queen of Chaos
It’s that time of year, when, with a sigh, I think about having to drag down my Xmas tree from the attic. And while I consider what a struggle that’s going to be, I think about the evening I “acquired” the bloody thing.
The phone rang one late November evening. It was my twin sister, aka the Queen of Chaos (QC). She’s a lovely lady; four feet eleven inches, a size six, and thinks tact is something you stick your posters on the wall with.
‘I’ve been offered a Xmas tree for nothing,’ she said breathlessly. ‘Second hand. It’s quite tall and cost £190 new just 2 years ago. It’s bound to be a cracker. Only thing is I don’t have a car …’ like this is news. ‘How am I going to get the tree home to my flat? In Troon?’ Like I’ve forgotten where she stays.
My son is with me that night so I bundle him in the car and drive over to hers. She has a piece of paper in her hand with directions to the home of the tree which is fairly near where I live. The directions to the home of said tree were lousy – we got lost in a housing estate with one road in and one road out.
Several phone calls later, with instructions from my backseat sister, me snapping at her and the wee fella giving me a row for being “bossy with my twin”, we make it.
We finally arrive to see an old lady standing by the door of her flat on the third floor wearing a look of relief. The look of someone who has just been told; yes it piles but we have a cream for that. She directed us to a cupboard in the communal hall and opened a large door. The only thing I saw was a huge white box. You know those containers you see on the back of ships? Roughly the size of one of those.
‘That’s your tree,’ says nice lady and runs back indoors before we can say anything else.
I couldn’t lift the box off the ground, never mind lifting it out to the car, but with the wee fella pushing and me dragging and QC carrying a free box of 30,000 lights the tree owner no longer needed, we made it. By which time my shirt was sticking to my back, my jacket was torn in three places, and I was wishing I only had brothers.
Outside, in the dimly lit car-park I looked at the box. I looked at the boot. Not going to happen. I open up the boot. Look at the box. Not a chance.
Taking a breather from the tree struggle I noticed QC was standing to the side wearing an expression of mild panic. ‘It’s going to be too big,’ she says. ‘I don’t have big enough corners in my wee flat,’ she says. ‘You have it and I’ll take yours. It’ll be lovely for you and the wee man to have a nice big tree,’ She squeezes out a smile trying to sell me the idea.
‘Can we get it in the feckin’ car first,’ says I.
‘Dad!’ the wee fella gives me a look.
Eventually I worked out that if I moved the front seats forward and declined the backseats that there might be enough room. With more sweat, more pushing and some muttered curses, we made it. And we even managed to close the car doors.
Of course, we now didn’t have enough room for three people. So the wee fella (who’s nearly as tall as his aunt) sits on her lap and I drive to my house – but I have to go the long way as the short way goes past the police station.
We get home safely – no blue flashing lights – and I realise that I can’t possibly drive to QC’s like this. I can’t leave the wee man at home on his own while I take the tree to hers. Besides, I can’t face the thought of lifting this humongous box up another three flights of stairs to QC’s flat. I face the realisation that I’m going to have to accept this bloody tree.
The next trick is to get the box out of my car. We all adopt the same activities as before – the wee fella pushes, I pull and QC stands wearing an expression of alarm. Eventually – presumably in the same time it takes a crane to lift a container from the ship on to the wharf, something gives – the car door handle- and the box is out of the car and with more pushing, pulling, and sweat, is in my front room.
While my son and I catch our breath, QC tears the industrial tape from the box – you know the silver duct tape kind that serial killers use in all the movies – just to see how big this tree is.
Think Norway’s annual gift to the British nation.
‘It’ll be lovely with lights on it,’ says QC with more than a hint of desperation, prompted by the fact that the room is so dark because the tree is blocking out all the light from the window. The expression of alarm on her face has deepened.
She paused, ‘Where are the lights? Did you leave the lights behind,’ she asks me?
‘I was kinda busy with a big feckin’ box, sis,’ says I.
‘Dad!’ says the wee man.
QC’s last memory of the lights was while standing watching me wrestle the tree container into the car. She must have put them down somewhere, she surmises. On the pavement? So we all jump back in the car and go back to the tree lady’s building …and there in a dark corner of the car park was our box of 30,000 lights. Hurrah. Nobody had stolen them. No doubt any prospective thief had been put off by the thought of the increase to their electricity bill once they were switched on.
An old guy was walking his dog past the scene as we screeched to a halt. QC jumped out of the car before I could pull on the handbrake.
‘Forgot my lights,’ she explained to the man as if it made perfect sense, as she swooped for the box.
By this time we had all worked up an appetite so we decided to go to Pizza Hut. Relieved the worst of it was over, we had a wee laugh about our adventures on the way to the restaurant. But, dear reader, it was to be an illusory moment of calm, for when we eventually got a seat, and put in an order QC realised she didn’t have her handbag. I reasoned that it must be in my house and besides I was NOT driving another inch without throwing something down my throat.
But of course, by the time our food arrived, QC had worked herself into a frenzy of worry. Her house keys. Her mobile phone. Her purse.
‘Oh my fucking god,’ she screeched so loud a waiter walking past at that moment got such a fright he dropped the tray of drinks he was carrying. ‘My handbag can’t be in the house,’ QC asserted, face white. ‘It was on the backseat of the car while I was pushing the tree-box in. It must have got pushed out the other end? Either its in the same car park as the box of lights. Or maybe …’ her mouth fell open. ‘…the tree lady found it on her landing and maybe she’s emptied my purse, gone shopping on-line with MY credit cards and is now phoning a porn phone line in Chile using MY phone.’
While QC borrowed my mobile and phoned all of her friends to try and find out the tree lady’s number, the wee fella gave me another row.
‘You’re different with your sister,’ he said. ‘Way more bossy.’
Nobody had tree lady’s number. Cue more worry and more doomsday scenarios.
‘My house keys were in my handbag. You’ll have to kick in my front door. No, don’t. My neighbours are mental and while I’m sleeping tonight they’ll ransack the flat. And, I’ll have to stay awake all night. I’m a monster if I don’t get my sleep. Can you even get a locksmith on a Saturday night? Shame I fell out with my other neighbour – the witch – cos she used to keep a spare key for me.’
‘Let’s check my house first,’ I said. ‘Bet it’s there.’ If it wasn’t I’d need to change into my boots to help out in the door-kicking-in moment.
The food arrived and was eaten in Guinness Book of Records time, and there was a collective holding of breath all the way from Pizza Hut to my house. The wee fella worried that QC was going to have a rubbish Xmas. I worried that I was going to have a mad woman on my couch for the rest of the weekend and QC just worried. I pulled up in front of my house and we all took a deep breath and paused in prayer before we get out of the car.
I unlocked the front door to my house and QC almost knocked me into next door’s garden in her rush to get past. The wee man and I looked at each other and waited at the door, afraid to look.
We heard a squeal.
She’d found it. Care to guess where?
Under the tree.
About Michael Malone
Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call; A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage; The Bad Samaritan and Dog Fight. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number-one bestseller, and the critically acclaimed House of Spines and After He Died soon followed suit. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Michael lives in Ayr.
Books published by Orenda Books
My thanks to Michael J Malone for writing this fabulous story for the book review café.