Most of my relatives live interstate or in France and the Sydney ones don’t like us, so my family usually spends Christmas day getting drunk in our living room and letting out all the pent-up rage that has accumulated over the year.
“Why should you get to park in the driveway while my car sits out on the street like a whore?” I snap at my brother, tearing open a carefully wrapped gift from my mother. “Oh look, more Bryce Fucking Courtenay. You know he hasn’t written anything good since Four Fires. Buy me some Tim Winton or something. Goddamn it.”
“I’m the oldest,” my brother says, slurring slightly, “I get to park where ever the hell I want.”
“You’re the ugliest,” I retort. “Besides, you sell cleaning products, you’re going nowhere in life. At least I went to uni. I tried to make something of myself.”
“Yeah, tried being the operative word. Unlucky for you, there isn’t much demand for ice-queen bitch accountants with half a degree under their belt and a drinking problem. Face it, Neek, you’re a fucking failure. You have no career prospects, and no man will ever marry you because you have terrible genes. No offence, Mum.”
“You cunt, I’ll kill you,” I say, smacking his beer off the coffee table and reaching for his eyes, which were recently operated on and cost him $9,000 in medical bills.
At this point, my father rises from his cane chair and sighs. He walks over to his new electric piano and plugs in his headphones. Then he sits and plays Gershwin for three hours, until we have all passed out or gone to our bedrooms. The piano is my father’s happy place. He is an amazing musician, and people often go to my parents’ church just to hear my dad play. But at home, he plays to himself through headphones while the rest of us sit on the couch and watch television. Eventually, my mother falls asleep on the lounge and my brother goes to the garage to work on his motorbike. I walk down the road to the park with play equipment and sit at the top of the slippery-dip. I smoke cigarettes and ash onto the slide, thinking about all the local children who will now go home to their mothers with ashy, smelly pants. I think about how much I hate my family. I think about how much I hate Christmas. I think about the arbitrary cruelty of having a designated day of the year where I am forced to spend 24 hours with my family, regardless of whether I am in a good mood or have a sufficient supply of valium to see me through the holiday.
It wasn’t always like this. We used to have guests over for Christmas. Not traditional guests (ie friends and family) but random people my mother had met throughout the year who didn’t have anything better to do on Christmas day, because they were so scummy that they had failed to achieve basic relationships in life and had nobody to hang out with on the most important holiday of the year.
First there was Warwick, a thirty-something IT professional who lurked around my parents’ church and rode his bicycle everywhere. He came over for Christmas each year, and I hated him passionately.
“I think he’s a pedophile,” I told my mother as we stood at the kitchen window, looking out at Warwick in the backyard. He was sitting by the pool, supervising the neighbour’s children as they swam.
“Do any of you kids know what skinny dipping means?” he asked them, trailing his big toe through the water. “I like to skinny dip.”
Then there were the pregnant bikie trashbags. They only came once – the last year we had guests. My mum had invited Gail, a crusty woman she met at TAFE, and her daughters. They showed up for lunch at 4pm and were all wearing leather jackets.
“Sorry we’re so late,” Gail said, picking something out of her teeth. “Young Natalie here had to stop every five minutes to take a piss.”
“I’m pregnant,” Natalie explained.
“Cool,” I said, draining my wine glass.
“Not cool!” Gail shouted. “Do you know how many times I’ve driven her to the abortion clinic? She pussies out at the last minute every time and decides to ruin her life instead.”
“How old were you when you had Natalie?” I asked pleasantly.
“She was sixteen,” Natalie replied, “Just a year older than me now.”
“What a charming family tradition,” I smiled, pouring myself a gin and tonic. “I recently turned sixteen myself.”
“If that’s the case,” Gail interrupted, “Should you really be drinking, young lady?”
“Well I’m not pregnant,” I replied.
Just then Warwick entered the house, holding a dripping child under each arm. “Did somebody say something about babies?” he gasped.
“Yeah,” I said, “This is Natalie. She’s pregnant, but she’s still trying to work up the guts to have an abortion.”
“I beg your pardon!” Gail spluttered.
“I like babies,” Warwick said.
“Oh my god, we’re out of wine,” Mum whispered to me.
“I’ll get some more,” I offered. I caught a bus to the local shopping centre and smoked a joint on the loading dock. Then I watched The Ring three times because nothing short of the apocalypse would cause Greater Union to close their doors. By the time I got home, Mum was asleep on the lounge, Dad was playing the piano, and my brother had disappeared to the garage.