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A Christmas Keith

By Norman Turrell

A Christmas Keith

For thirty years Keith had lived in this cottage on the Cornish coast watching the sea. He looked at the unopened letter on the kitchen table and decided it was time walk the dog. The Sun was low on the hill when he got in from the brisk winter air. He made a fire from paper and kindling in the hearth, a job he always enjoyed for the method and as much as the result. He sat down in his armchair in front of the orange warmth with Blackie curled at his feet, the letter finally in his hand. It was a small white envelope with a hand written address, obviously written with a fountain pen. He sighed as he opened it and read.

'Dear Brother,

It's that time of year again, doesn't it come round so fast! Mitch, me and the kids won't be able to make it until the Eve, but plenty of time to get your house into the festive spirit. We've hired a big RV for the visit, like the ones we have here in the good ol' US of A. I just hope we can get it up that quaint little country drive of yours. Now, I know things didn't end too well last year but Mitch's black eye didn't take long to heal and we've had a talk. A little squabble won't get in the way of our new Christmas tradition! I'll look forward to you two shaking hands when we arrive.

                                                    See You then!


Keith looked around his home and remembered the gaudy decorations hung everywhere, the children running around, screeching like devils, His sister's incessant talking. The thought of Mitch knocked out cold on the couch brought a little smile, but it wasn't enough to counter the absolute misery of the event. It must be stopped!


'EEEEEEeeeeeeeAAAAAAEEEEEEEEE!' Two three foot high whirlwinds span round Keith's legs and shot out of the door.

'... so you wouldn't believe how difficult a journey it was. I don't know who would have wanted to take down the sign to your house but we soon spotted we had gone too far on the SatNav and fortunate that big old farmer was able to pull the logs and rocks off the road.'

'I'll have a word with John... Thank him,' Keith muttered.

Mitch came in carrying a huge box. The men locked gazes like boxers waiting for round one's bell.

'Put that over there and we'll have room for the other two in the corner. Your house is so small Keith, I don't know how you manage. Good job we've got our home outside, you certainly couldn't put us up. We have a big house back in Texas...'

Her voice just continued, punctuated by the insane noise machines she called Brad and Leo, as Keith took to his chair. Blackie was curled up underneath and Keith wished he could join him. He let them get about their business transforming his home into a bad copy of a department store Grotto. As the Country and Western Christmas CD Collection started he realised he needed to get out before he lost it.

'I'm going to walk Blackie.'

'We'll all come, see your marvellous countryside. Come on Mitch. Boys!"

Keith considered running, but there was the possibility he could lead round some of the more treacherous cliff-side paths. Probably slippy this time of year as well he thought and gave in to a small grin.

Two hours later they all returned intact, but the boys had changed their chorus to an incessant whining which meant they were tired and hungry. Avril flitted, pottered, preparing them all a 'snack' which would leave little room for the Christmas day meal the next day. Keith joined them reluctantly around the kitchen table, he was hungry too. There was a pause. Keith looked at his guests, heads bowed in prayer. If only he could capture this moment and stretch it until they left. It was over. There was a frenzy of grabbing, shouting and stuffing of faces as the hyenas became truly thankful for what they had received. Keith was sharp enough to deflect enough of the flying hands to get a fair share.

'I'm going to bed, leave you to have some family time,' said Keith after he had eaten. 

There seemed to be some sort of debate going on which required lots of shouting from all parties and his comment wasn't noticed. He nodded to Blackie and they left up the stairs to bed. At least it was just for one more day. They would be off to invade some other part of the country by Boxing Day. He put in his earplugs and settled down to read before going to sleep, hoping not to have nightmares to add to yuletide cheer.


The next morning, as Keith came down the stairs, everything seemed strangely subdued. The boys weren't to be seen and Avril was in the kitchen. She greeted him pleasantly, but then went back to her cooking. Keith took his place in his chair. The fire had already been made. Quite a good job of it too he noticed. Mitch came in and sat opposite him. Keith thought he might have had heard Avril's order for him to do so. Contrary to the spirit of his instruction, he had collected a book from his bag on the way and began to read. Keith could see the cover, 'A History of Steam.'

Keith went to the bookshelves. Pushing the tinsel streamers to one side, he found what he was looking for. Being prodded in the arm by the book Keith brought for him made Mitch scowl, until he noticed the title, 'British Steam : A Heritage'. Keith turned the book around. On the back, much younger but still recognisable, was a picture of the author.

'You?' said Mitch.

Keith nodded and smiled as he sat back down. Mitch began to read and soon they were in conversation, sharing information about their joint interest.

The boys erupted through the door sending a blast of cold air through the house. Avril gave two claps and their noise stopped. They closed the door carefully. The Christmas Tree blinked and flashed its electric cheer to the room. The boys picked up a brightly wrapped present each. Bringing them forward, they knelt by Keith's chair. Unwrapping them, the gifts were revealed to be a dog's chew bone and a bright red collar. Blackie came out from his shelter and the boys fussed over him in an uncharacteristically careful manner. Blackie began to wag his tail as the boys replaced his worn out collar with the new one.

Avril came in.

'Dinner will be ready soon, but I have something for you first Brother,' she said as she went to the tree and picked up a plain red parcel.

Keith took it from her as she offered it, a book sized gift. It was a photo album. Pictures of when he and Avril were children and lived in Polperro, before their parents had split up, Avril going with their Dad to the States and Keith remaining with his Mother in England. He had forgotten how close they were in those days. Avril sat on the arm of his chair, her hand on his shoulder as he turned the pages on the memories of another time.

Dinner couldn't have been more different than the day before. There were smiles and chat. Avril had prepared a feast. Mitch and Keith pulled a cracker between them as the boys fed treats of meat to the grateful and attentive dog at their feet. As soon as the meal was over, the boys were off running, Blackie barking happily as he chased them. Their shill tones seemed different to Keith now and he found himself smiling at their energy and excitement. After another country walk that afternoon, the adults sat around the fire and the children played with Blackie on the floor. Keith listened to his Sister and her husband. He learnt all about how her art was doing well in the galleries in their home town and Mitch's engineering career.

When he woke the house was empty and the fire lay in low red embers. He must have nodded off. He woke Blackie, curled at his feet, and they went up to his bed.


A crash from downstairs woke him bolt upright. He dressed quickly and went to see what the trouble was. The tree lay on the floor, baubles scattered around. The boys argued, pushing each other in turn. Blackie made for his safe place as soon as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

'Merry Christmas Brother! Boys! Stop that now!' Avril was cooking the Christmas meal and the kitchen looked like a disaster area.

Mitch sat sullenly in a chair reading. It was Christmas Day and nothing had changed. Keith hugged his Sister and left her staring at him as he went over to sit with Mitch.

'What you reading there?' he asked.

Things might be different this year.


This page was added on 06/04/2012


To me my perception liked the perception that feeling loved can change a persons perception of the same reality. Reality is what he allowed his mind to see for if he had seen his illusion he would have changed hid perception to his reality and found joy. Clever I thoroughly enjoyed that little noel.

From Julie Lambert
03.05.2013 20:56:38
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