Study #1

O little town of Bethlehem. Max is five. He sits on the floor, near the Christmas tree. Grampy is enthroned in his floral armchair and Max can hear the old man’s wheezing above the music. Grampy has thin nostrils with hairs sprouting from them and breathes through his mouth in slow gasps. He looks like a horrible old bird. While mortals sleep, the angels keep. Go on, Max. Aren’t you going to open it? Max looks at the unopened present in his lap. His mother has wrapped it beautifully in shiny silver paper and written on the gift tag. To my special grandson. Merry Xmas. Lots of love, Grampy xx. He looks for a way to open it and catches sight of the boy in the sheen of the silver paper. He looks thin and unhappy. Maybe when he’s finished admiring his reflection he’ll open the present! Flustered, Max tears at a small tab of paper. How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. The present is a wooden train set. Now come and say thank you to Grampy. Max looks up and says, Thank you. Thank him properly, Max. O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Max gets to his feet and walks across the room to the rasping bird. A hand rises suddenly from its habitual place on the armrest and grabs at Max’s arm and the dead dead eyes widen. Mummy’s waiting, smiling, anxious. Thank you very much for my present. The hand jerks Max nearer and the dreaded moment comes when he has to kiss the proffered cheek. O come to us, abide with us. Cold skin on young lips. Grampy smells of vinegar. Max feels as if he’s kissing a corpse.

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