I got in a cab the other day and was surprised to find it being driven by an old acquaintance of Alfie’s. JD had been a real mover and shaker in the music industry, signing up successful acts, starting his own label. Seems he had the gift of prophecy when it came to assessing the impact iPods and music downloads had on jobs in the record industry however, because he bailed out five years ago, avoiding the massive job cuts that came a few years later.
JD went into the finance industry, earning more money than he had ever dreamed of. He was sitting pretty until the fallout from the US sub-prime mortgage fiasco began to affect Australian companies. Seems the company he works for has got itself into a bit of trouble and is filing for liquidation. JD was offered a handsome redundancy package. Then the company went into liquidation. Now he’ll be lucky to get 10c in the dollar. He is driving cabs to make ends meet but he has a six hundred thousand dollar mortgage and doesn’t know how to tell his wife he has lost his job this close to Christmas. Sometimes he pulls the cab over to the side of the road and just weeps.
My friend, Evie, works for the local K-Mart. This week alone ten people have been caught shoplifting. One woman had two hundred dollars worth of make-up stuffed in her underwear (I hope she doesn’t let her friends borrow her lipstick,) while another had twenty DVDs in a backpack that she claimed were from the video store. (Strange that the DVDs were sealed, with K-Mart price tags on them.) Neither of these women had criminal records, neither were unemployed. However, both admitted to having maxed-out credit cards and no spare cash for Christmas.
My parents are in North Carolina. They will be celebrating Christmas with my sister. I have been entrusted with ensuring my other sister receives her share of Yuletide cheer. My other sister got married in October. Two weeks ago she and her brand new husband split up. He is an alcoholic and threw a pot of boiling water on her in an attempt to disfigure her. I couldn’t tell my parents when they called from America – they were having so much fun. I didn’t want to spoil their Christmas. My sister has spoiled it for them many times before. I wanted them to have at least one happy Christmas to remember.
My sister is manic depressive. She doesn’t take her medication. Right now she is in a manic state. She has bought one hundred Christmas cards and has written every one to her estranged husband, addressing each envelope to The Man Of My Dreams, on the Street Of Love. She wants me to post them, telling me she still loves him. I am wondering if I should show them to her psychiatrist.
She has friends staying with her who are helping me keep an eye on her. They are pale with the effort. They run to me like little children missing their mother when I arrive, shocked by the lack of calm in my sister’s head.
I have made mince pies and mulled wine – my sister’s favourites. I tell her friends they are only for my sister. I have crushed her pills, putting them in the fruit mince. It is the only way to stop the mania from consuming her.
When she sleeps I will wash her tablecloth stained with the ink from a hundred cards and tidy her house. I will roster more friends to watch over her so I can watch over my own family. I will pray the mania has passed, dissolving in the air like dust.
* It is four hours later and I am home again. My sister sleeps. Her friends feel better. I take a calming cup of tea out to the garden full of indigo light. Lightning pokes the sky like an angel’s sword. It has been raining. I count eight drops of water on one blade of grass.
A little bird alights on the outdoor table. His beak is Christmas red. I imagine he is a messenger from the spirit of Christmas, spreading cheer to those in need. I try to compose a Christmas ditty full of words that rhyme with candy canes and stockings; try to whistle like Snow White so the bird will fly around the garden, decking it with red and green tinsel. I desperately need a Walt Disney moment. The bird regards me, fluffing his wings. His little beak is the colour of a holly berry. He turns off and flies like an arrow through the darkness.
I can see my neighbour’s nativity scene through the window. There is real hay in the manger. The star is glass and gilded gold. She is singing ‘O Holy Night’ along with a record, half in English, half in Greek. When she gets to the ‘fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices’ bit it touches me more than any Christmas carol I have ever heard. Her feet tap loudly on her wooden floors as if she is dancing. The sound gives me a ‘thrill of hope’ that there is still Christmas cheer out there waiting to be found.