Read by Josie Charles (Full podcast here)
‘I wouldn’t like to mention this,’ Mrs Henderson from next door said to my mom, ‘but your Christmas decorations are a bit too…non-standard this year. I’m not sure the neighbourhood appreciates it.’ It was clear the nosy busy-body did like mentioning it, couldn’t wait, in fact, and had most likely been sitting at the window for some time, twitching the curtains back and forth in anticipation of Mom’s arrival. She hadn’t even reached the house when Mrs Henderson pounced.
‘Non-standard?’ Mom said and looked around the yard. There was a lot going on: six Santas, several sets of reindeer, rows of candy canes, armies of elves, circles of snowmen, plus two full-sized inflatable snow globes containing waddling penguins. There was even a nativity set complete with wise men and camels, though we weren’t particularly religious. ‘It’s what Jesus would do,’ my brother Kenny said.
As soon as we finished our Thanksgiving meal, Kenny would be out in the garage hauling boxes out. Everything was labelled and carefully stored. He’d grown his collection in a novel way since mom refused to give him a lighting budget—said it was costing her enough already in electricity. So he’d go around the neighbourhood asking if people had decorations they didn’t want or lights that didn’t work. The broken things he fixed and the unwanted things he gave a home. I think he thought if there were enough lights, Dad would find his way back to us. Kenny was special like that. Most adults called him simple. Kids called him worse. So what if he’d always live with mom, they’d take care of each other.
‘Yes,’ Mrs. Henderson said. ‘Your Christmas decorations are extremely non-standard if you catch my drift,’ pointing at the Santa next to the chimney. It was a little after 4pm. Our Christmas lights weren’t on yet, but they would be. Soon. From my upstairs window I could see them both, my mom and Mrs Henderson. I’d opened the window a crack to better hear what they were saying. But I sorta already knew. I’d seen Kenny’s lights. Mom sighed. She’d probably hoped to have a few minutes of peace before starting her evening cashier job at the gas station. She’d already been on her feet all day working her Wal-Mart job. And now she had Mrs Henderson in front of her.
‘No,’ mom said. ‘I don’t catch your drift.’
‘Maybe Kenny didn’t…’understand’ when he was putting up the lights,’ Mrs Henderson said, stressing ‘understand’ a little too much, ‘But other people do. Including children. My grandkids were the ones who told me--’
‘Told you what?’ Mom said.
‘The Santa standing on the roof with a trail of lights dangling down in front of him…?’
‘When the lights are on, it looks like he’s relieving himself on the nativity scene below.’
Mom gave a short, sharp snort of surprise and shook her head. She looked closer and followed the trail of lights. ‘There’s a plug in the side of the house, just behind the bushes. You can’t see that from here,’ Mom snapped. ‘This is just one of those…unfortunate coincidences….that only certain people and grandkids would notice…’ But she narrowed her eyes and wouldn’t look at Mrs Henderson when she said it. Mom was hardly ever unpleasant to people, but with Mrs Henderson and her grandkids she made an exception.
‘What about the other Santa and the angel?’ Mrs Henderson asked.
‘What about it?’ Mom asked in a tight voice. ‘It’s not a crime to have two Santas on one roof.’
‘You’re right. It isn’t,’ Mrs Henderson said in a fake show of pleasant agreement. ‘But take a look at the angel. If you stand at a certain angle it looks like the angel is … well …’
‘Interacting with Santa.’
'Yes, with Santa’s … lower area …'
There was a pause. I wondered if Mrs Henderson would actually say it.
‘Mrs Henderson, I’m in a bit of a hurry. If you have something to say -’
‘When the lights are switched on, it looks like the angel is performing a sex act on Santa.’
There was silence while mom took this in. Then she recovered herself and said, ‘Really Mrs Henderson, I don’t think -’
But just then the lights came on and mom didn’t have to think. She could see. The lights were on a timer and mom had been too preoccupied and frazzled to notice Kenny’s display. Until now.
‘Stand here…’ Mrs Henderson said. With the lights on, the angel’s head moved back and forth simulating the blowing of the trumpet. The trumpet’s horn, in turn, moved back and forth making it appear that Santa was receiving a blow job. It seemed to be a good blow job because instead of saying ‘Ho Ho Ho!’ Santa was saying ‘Oh, oh, oh!’
‘I see,’ Mom said, closing her eyes. She gathered herself and stomped into the house leaving Mrs Henderson on our front yard.
Kenny got into loads of trouble: though he said he didn’t know what mom was talking about, it seemed a bit like he did. It was hard to tell sometimes how much Kenny took in. Mom said he had a choice: he could put up standard Christmas displays or he could take everything down. If anything else ‘non-standard’ appeared, he’d have to get rid of everything. And not just put it back in boxes. She asked if he understood. Kenny said he did. She stood on tip-toe to kiss his forehead. ‘Good,’ she said. ‘Now, I’ve got to go.’
As I watched mom leave, I saw Mrs Henderson’s grandkids on the porch. They were giggling and poking each other. These identical twin boys had been menacing the town on visits ever since they’d been able to walk. They looked like angels with their blonde curls and cherub faces; no doubt Mrs Henderson thought they shat halos, but they were annoying as tots and headed for serious trouble as they reached their teens. Family pets in the neighbourhood went missing when they visited. Mr Burns who ran the five and dime, banned them from his shop. ‘Those twins are evil,’ he said. Somebody dubbed them ‘The Twevils’ and the name stuck. No one could prove who’d dropped bricks off the bridge onto the highway, but somebody pointed out the Twevils were in town when it happened. Everybody had something bad to say about the Twevils except Kenny. He had somehow befriended them and I’d occasionally see them together. I couldn’t help thinking the Twevils enjoyed having someone older at their service, while Kenny liked having kids as friends. It bothered me, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Even though I was Kenny’s younger sister, I was very protective of him.
After mom left, Kenny got the ladder out of the garage. He was muttering to himself when I checked on him. ‘It’s not fair,’ he said when he saw me. ‘Yeah, I know, Kenny,’ I said. ‘It’s not fair, but it was funny.’ Then I winked. A small smile came across his face. We had a little laugh together. ‘Kenny,’ I said, ‘the Twevils thought it was funny too. But you need to be careful. They won’t get into trouble with mom about your lights. But you will.’ Kenny nodded, but wouldn’t look at me. I decided to keep a closer eye on all three of them and asked a few friends to as well.
Kenny’s displays went back to standard and the Twevils went back to their town. I hoped they’d visit their other grandma for Christmas.
The first day of the school break, I planned a long lie-in. When our phone started ringing at 8am, I ignored it. But Mom had already left for work and Kenny didn’t answer phones. When it kept ringing at 5 minute intervals, I picked up.
‘This better be good,’ I said.
It was Karen, my best friend. ‘It’s Kenny’s nativity scene,’ she said. ‘It’s gone very non-standard.’
‘How bad?’ I asked.
‘I didn’t see it, but my mom says it looks like Joseph & Mary found a babysitter for the night…Mary’s not a Virgin any more….
‘Oh god,’ I groaned.
‘I think that’s what she said.’
I thanked Karen, hung up and looked at the clock. People would be heading to work, but if anybody told mom, we’d deny it. I knew there was really only one person to keep from seeing it. All was quiet at the Henderson’s. I couldn’t see any lights on. Old people slept late I told myself, though I thought I saw movement at the curtains in one of the upstairs windows.
When I got to the nativity scene, it was pretty much as Karen had said, though she hadn’t mentioned everything. This was a life-size nativity set, with each character made of moulded plastic. Everyone was fully dressed, but it was pretty clear what was going on: Mary was being ravished by Joseph, the wise men were enjoying a threesome and the camels were getting into the spirit as well. I moved it all back, but had a bad feeling. I couldn’t find the baby Jesus. I saw Kenny watching me from the door. I tried to talk to him, but he’d locked himself in his room and wouldn’t come out. When mom came back, not a word was said. I was grateful she was always in a rush.
While it’s customary to rise early on Christmas morning, nobody expected to be wakened by screaming Twevils at 4am. It was a double whammy of piercing yelps that brought us and neighbours from up and down the street over to find out the cause of the commotion. Mrs Henderson was one of the first on the scene to discover what the Twevils were up to.
One had been plugging in the lights while the other moved the last of the plastic snowmen into place. They’d rearranged the circle, adjusting the snowmen’s hands to reach their neighbour’s carrot which they’d moved much lower down. The arranger must have signalled all was in place while still making a final adjustment to a snowmen. The timing was perfect--both were zapped when one switched on the lights to see the effects of their work.
I knew I should have felt bad, but it was a real treat to see those Twevils with their surprised faces and singed fingers, caught red-handed at the scene of the crime. Their hair stood on end just like in cartoons. They were blinking and dazed, not seriously hurt, just stung and confused.
‘Take your two non-standard angels home now.’ Mom said, pulling her bathrobe tight around her. ‘And don’t let them come back.’ Mrs Henderson slunk off with the Twevils, wrapping one arm around each of them as she guided them sniffling and snivelling back to her house. I looked at Kenny. He looked at me and winked. I gave the tiniest nod of acknowledgment and smiled. Sometimes Kenny was as bright as his lights.
In the distance, movement caught my eye. It was too dark to see clearly. It passed under a streetlight. In its mouth, a dog was carrying the plastic baby Jesus. Then it was whisked out of the light, never to be seen again.
(c) Sherry Morris, 2016
Sherry Morris is from a small Missouri town, but has lived in London since 2000. She’s a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society and grows elephant garlic at her allotment. Her stories have appeared with Gemini, Molotov Cocktail and Liars’ League London. Visit her website: www.uksherka.com or follow her @Uksherka
Josie Charles recently graduated from a BA in English at UCL. She’s a member of the National Youth Theatre, and played Greta (Gonzalo) in NYT's production of The Tempest this summer. She also played Steph in Hairpin Production’s critically acclaimed Edinburgh show, Save + Quit, which comes to the Vaults in February.