The old dear is drinking a Baileys with her dental plate out and I don’t think I’ll ever have another amorous thought in my life. The old man raises his brandy glass to me and goes, “Merry Christmas, Ross.”
And I’m just like, “Yeah, whatever,” wondering when I’m going to get my cheque and – more importantly? – how much it’s going to be for this year. I don’t want them to think that’s the only reason I invited them over to the gaff tonight, but then I think, fock it, they’ve been here nearly an hour and I’ve tried to steer the subject around to it at least twice. So I go, “When am I getting my cheque and how much is it going to be for this year?”
He doesn’t get a chance to answer because Sorcha bursts into the livingroom, going, “Oh my God, Ross, I can’t believe you did it again! You’re an animal!”
I’m there, “We were on a break, Sorcha,” because it’s kind of a reflex action at this stage? “Er, what are you even talking about?”
Dyslexia: ‘Quiet, well-behaved girls can go undiagnosed and slip under the radar in a busy classroom’
She goes, “You put the focking Quality Street, the focking Roses and the focking Celebrations in the same bowl! Every focking year I tell you not to mix them together – or to put empty wrappers back in the bowl – but you carry on focking doing it!”
‘Fionnuala,’ the old man goes, ‘please don’t tell this story. It’s terribly sad’
The old pair are looking at Sorcha like she’s lost it. She has lost it.
“Of course,” the old man goes, “Christmas can be a very stressful time.”
I’m there, “Never mind that. When am I getting my cheque and how much is it going to be for this year?”
Honor steps into the room then, carrying two enormous Santa sacks. She hangs them on either side of the fireplace. The old man chuckles. He goes, “Someone’s expecting a lot of presents.”
She’s there, “Those aren’t for Santa, Granddad. The sack on the left is for the presents I’m keeping and the one on the right is for the presents I’m returning,” and then she glowers at her old dear. “Provided Santa remembers to keep the focking gift receipt this year.”
Sorcha – a classic deflector – goes, “Honor, your father has put the Quality Street, the Roses and the Celebrations in the same bowl again.”
Honor’s like, “What kind of a focking animal are you?” pinning me with a look. “Please tell me you haven’t been putting empty wrappers back into the bowl as well.”
At that exact moment, Brian, Johnny and Leo walk in, shouting, “We want our presents now! We want our focking presents now!”
The old dear looks at them with, like, total disinterest – they might as well be three floor staff who’ve come to pick up the pieces of her dropped Mortini glass.
“When I was a little girl,” she goes, “not much older than those boys of yours, I wanted a dolls house for Christmas.”
“Fionnuala,” the old man goes, “please don’t tell this story. It’s terribly sad.”
She’s there, “It was like one of those houses in Fitzwilliam Square – three storeys over basement. And the furnishings! Oh, it was a work of ort. And, oh, how I pestered my mother and father for it – for months and months leading up to Christmas.
“They told me straight out. They couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t understand what they meant by that. They could ask Santa to bring it. They said Santa still had to be paid. I thought if I sulked enough and was generally horrible to them, they’d weaken and get it for me. And then one day, about three weeks before Christmas, my father got hit by a car on the Glenageary Road.”
“Oh! My God!” Sorcha goes. “Oh! My literally? God!”
“Suffered severe trauma to the head. Arms and legs broken. And do you know, the only thing I could think, as I sat at the end of his bed, watching him breathe through a tube, was there’ll be no dolls house now.”
I’m like, “Fock.”
“But it turned out I was wrong,” she goes. “Because the neighbours thought that if that poor little girl is about to lose her father, then she should have the best Christmas ever. So they had – I think it’s called – a whip-around. And they bought me the dolls house. I found it in my mother’s wardrobe.
“And every day, while she was at the hospital, I played with that dolls house and I felt like the luckiest girl in the whole world. I even storted drawing up decorating plans for all the rooms.
“Then three days before Christmas, my mother said I was needed at the hospital because my father had taken a turn for the worse. The ward was full of doctors and nurses and there was a priest there who looked sad and told me that I should say goodbye to my daddy. Which I did.”
I look at Sorcha and Honor and they’re in, like, floods of tears.
“When I got home that night,” the old dear goes, “I couldn’t even look at that dolls house. It filled me with shame. I took it, walked to Sandycove with it and I threw it into the sea. I remember watching it splinter on the rocks. The roof broke off, then the thing filled with water and sank.”
Jesus, even Brian, Johnny and Leo are crying. That’s a definite first. The old man goes, “Oh, tell them the happy ending, Fionnuala!”
The old dear’s like, “Fortunately, my father didn’t die. On Christmas Eve, he rallied and, well, he eventually made a full recovery. But my mother never mentioned the dolls house or even asked where it had gone. On Christmas morning, I got an orange, a little bag of Brazil nuts and a skipping rope. But I didn’t care. Because I still had my father and I still had my mother and I knew that was all that really mattered.”
Honor throws her orms around her grandmother. She’s like, “Oh, Fionnuala!”
Then Sorcha – believe it or not – throws her orms around me. She goes, “Ross, put the Quality Street, the Roses and the Celebrations in the same bowl if you want.”
And I look at my old man, the two of us with tears spilling down our faces, and I go, “Merry Christmas, Dad,” and I make a silent promise not to ask him when am I getting my cheque and how much is it going to be for.
For tonight anyway.