Vacuum by Rhys Jones

It was called The Super-duper Vac and Mel hated it. Brian, that was Mel’s husband, was very neat and tidy- a place for everything and everything in its place – that was Brian. He was constantly pottering and tidying the house, it did Mel’s head-in if she was honest. It wasn’t that Mel thought tidying the house wasn’t important, just not that important. Brian spent every free second of his life at it, it was his hobby… no it was more than that; it was his obsession. The Super-duper Vac was in the house when they moved in. Brian was chuffed when he discovered it in the cupboard under the stairs. It was the best Vacuum Cleaner he’d ever had. It was cordless and never needed to be charged, no matter how much you used it. Even if you used it as much as Brain did (which was pretty much all the time) it would never die. It even had an automated mode which meant that you could leave it to roam the house of its own freewill- dirt patrol function. It could suck up anything and everything. And best of all it never needed to be emptied, you couldn’t fill it if you tried.  

Brian was cleaning the living room for the fourth time that morning. It was 7:23am. Mel was having breakfast trying to watch the news in peace. Had Brian been up all night cleaning? 

“Do you really need to do that now?” Mel asked.  

She was greeted with a smile, “just keeping on top of it,” Brian said 

She finished her toast and Brian sucked up the crumbs almost before she had gotten up. 

“Just keeping on top of things,” Brian said again. She left him to it. 

Mell went to grab her keys off the hook. 

Where were they? 

 Mel knew she had put them on the hook last night but they weren’t there now. Brian would have been cleaning in here earlier, he must have moved them.  

“Have you seen my keys?” Mel shouted.  

“Where did you put them?” Brian shouted back.  

“On the hook.” 

“That’s where they will be then if that’s where you put them.”  

That was just the kind of unhelpful thing she should have expected from him. She’d just have to do without her keys for today.  

“Don’t forget you said you’d drop me off at work,” she said.  

Mel waited by the door as Brian put the Super-duper Vac into automated mode. It set out on its dirt patrol as Mel and Brian left for work.  

That night Mel spent a good twenty minutes looking for the TV remote but god knew where it had gotten too. Brian was off somewhere in the house dusting. The Super-Duper Vac drifted into the living room still on its dirt patrol.  

She wasn’t in the mood tonight, sick of all the cleaning and sick of the vacuum. All she wanted to do was relax after a long day, fat chance in this house. She decided to just go to bed, but the vac seemed to be blocking her path. Mel tried to sidestep it but it just kept getting in her way- not letting her past. 

 No that was stupid it was just a vacuum- all she had to do was walk past it.  

It lurched forward at her catching the bottom of her dress. It was so powerful it ripped it off. Mel screamed.  

Brian rushed in to see Mel in only her underwear. She was cowering away from the super-duper vac. That’s when the vacuum powered down.  

“What are you doing?” Brian said.  

“I want you to get rid of it,” Mel said, referring to the vacuum. 

She ran up to the bedroom and shut the door behind her.  

She didn’t feel safe knowing that it was still down there. Sleep didn’t come that night, Mel just lay in bed. Brian didn’t come up, she could hear him cleaning all night. At around 3am he was hoovering the landing. 

She kept expecting Brian to come in with the vac, but he didn’t. She was glad of that. 

Brian was cleaning the kitchen when Mel came down. He looked happy enough but there was something off about him.  

“I’m not getting rid of the super-duper vac,” he said.  

“It attacked me,” Mel said.  

“You’re being silly.”  

She didn’t hang about to argue, she wanted to get out of the house quickly. 

The super-duper vac was waiting for her as she came into the hall. Her coat wasn’t hanging by the door and her shoes were missing. And her handbag was gone too. The super-duper vac made a whirling noise, it was like it was mocking her. She quickly put on a pair of Brian’s trainers and ran out the house. She made her own way to work that day leaving Brian home, pottering all day.  

It must have been a very busy cleaning day for Brian because when Mel got home from work the house was not only spotlessly clean it was empty. Her footsteps echoed as she walked through the empty house. It looked very much as it had before they’d moved in. Back then things had seemed so exciting. But it wasn’t long before they slipped into a humdrum routine. The excitement gave way to boredom. Mel often thought that Brian pottered about so much to fill the time up, to distract himself. At some point that distraction seemed to have become the point of their lives 

Brian was in the spare room, he was pushing the vac around in a zombie-like trance. Mel walked slowly over to him. There was a horrific smile on his face, an incredibly happy one as if nothing would ever make him as happy as cleaning his house. Mel was taken aback by it.  

“Where’s all our stuff?” she asked. 

“I’ve been keeping on top of things,” Brian said, “cleaning, cleaning, lots of cleaning. Everything cleaned.” 

“But where…”  

The super-duper vac growled loudly. Brian began pushing it around again.  

“It’s clean; you can stop now- Brian?”  

Brian didn’t stop he just kept saying, “I’ve got to keep on top of it.”  

“BRIAN!” Mel shouted, the surprise of it got Brian’s attention. He looked at her, “stop cleaning.” 

“I’m trying too--“  

“Keep on top of things, yeah I know. But look what you’ve done. You’ve cleaned away our whole life. That Vac has sucked up everything. There is nothing left, empty. Look!” 

Brian did as he was told and it was like he was seeing for the first time, he looked like a scared little boy, “Everything—it’s gone,” he said.   

“Not everything, not yet, I’m still here,” Mel said, “but we need to get rid of that vac.” 

“Yeah, yeah you’re right,” Brian said, “I’m sorry about all this, I really am. I love—“ 

The Super-duper Vac sprang to life. It raced forward, knocked Brian over, his foot was the first thing to get sucked up.  

Mel grabbed his hand but she couldn’t pull him free. The Vacs intake port seemed to grow in size; beyond it was a dark vortex that made Mel think of a black hole. Brian was screaming.  

Mel’s grip loosened, and then Brian was gone, sucked up into the Super-duper vac along with everything in her life. 

The vac didn’t stop, its intake port now like a massive maw greedily coming for Mel. She scrambled to get to her feet, but the suction had her now and wasn’t letting go. There was no escaping it. She stared down that black hole of nothingness as she was pulled towards it. She had just enough time to scream as the Super-duper vac swallowed her up and the darkness took her.  

With nothing left for it to suck up, the Super-duper vac powered down, it was still hungry though. It would always be hungry, always ready to suck up anything or anybody. 

Maybe eventually it would suck up the whole world. But for now it waited.

Fish Tank & Spoons by Robin Bell

Elizabeth sat staring at her fish tank, she was full of rage. The beady eyes of the fish were watching her. She knew they disagreed with what she had done.

She watched them swim around the tank, judging her. It was time for them to die. How do you kill fish? She wandered around the house pondering this, she walked into every room except the bedroom. She hadn't been in there for a few days. Not since it happened.

In the end she came up with an elaborate plan of dipping fish flakes in bleach and then feeding them to the fish.

She sat and watched the television as the fish ate the flakes. She had to turn the TV off pretty swiftly, all the TV people seemed to be discussing her, looking at her, judging her. No one understood.

Elizabeth just had to discard the dead fish. She got a spoon to scoop them out of the fish tank. As she scooped the last dead fish she caught her reflection on the bottom of the spoon, she smiled at herself, and for the first time the anxiety dissipated.

She threw the dead fish in the bin, next to it lay his final meal, half eaten. She couldn't bring herself to throw it away.

Elizabeth sat down, she couldn't turn on the television, she didn't want to see anyone else. She definitely couldn't go in the bedroom, that's where his body lay.

She turned to look at the fish, it had turned into a habit to stave off her boredom. She sighed as they weren't there swimming around anymore, but she had an idea.

The rest of the day Elizabeth sat staring at her fish tank, now full of spoons which reflected back to her the only face she could now trust. A face that wouldn't judge her, that wouldn't tell her she did wrong. They reflected the face that told her "You did what you had to do."

Happy New Year by Robin Bell

What was the point? It was just another day, in another week, in another year. They all felt the same now didn't they? There was a time when life had a narrative, a through line of questions that you wanted answers too, an ongoing search, but these days that art of a journey and discovery was gone. No one cared about it anymore, people just wanted surface.

It was safe to say Roger wasn't excited for the New Year, he hadn't made a list of things we was going to attempt to better himself. He'd had enough, and he'd given up on people.

If they were reading a novel, it had to fit a certain genre and give the reader what they expected. Same with films, no one discussed what the film was about or what they'd learnt from it, no, people were better than that now, they positioned themself above it and just looked at it on a surface level.

But it wasn't just culture that Roger felt people didn't value, it was life as a whole. The glorious colours, mesages to be learnt, communications, every facet was being ignored. Maybe not ignored, people still participated but it was taken for granted.

Emotions weren't valuable anymore, no one cared, people just wanted to see wealth, things they could never obtain, out of their realm of possibility, because that took reponsibility away from people. So when they didn't try and didn't achieve anything it wasn't their fault.

So what was the bloody point? January the 1st, a new start, a new year. But who cared? Time was only something we invented to make sense of getting from A to B, A being birth and B being death. And if everyone devalued the middle bit, what was the point. The narrative of the world had disappeared. Roger couldn't be the only one that felt this.

He sure felt like he was though. Cocooned in his own bubble, where he chased meaning, applied thought and depth to his own life. A human can only exist for so long within themself, and Roger had drained his inner resources, the love for ongoing journey was gone.

He didn't have a clue why he would want to go on. The only thing he wanted to do was end it all.

As an author, at this point in the story, you become really worried for the character you've created. I stopped for a moment to really consider where Roger can go here, and he's left himself no wriggle room. He's had enough of life, and nothing could save him. I've effectively killed a character off. I could contrive something, like he meets somebody who shares his passions, but really he's become too internalised, and his problem is with the world as a whole. How do you change the entire planet in a short story? Well, you could but it'd need a genre shifting twist, a meteorite resets the world. The obvious answer is that the world really isn't as bad as in Roger's head, you just have to show him that, but really him discovering that is contrived.

Lastly, my image of Roger is a quiet, intelligent man, he's probably quite timid, he avoids interaction because it will always let him down, increasingly so over the years. I don't even think he'd be able to go through with suicide. So, this story presents you, the reader, and me, the writer, with a quandary, do we keep going with the exploits of Roger even though we know the only thing that can happen is an ongoing trudge through a joyless existence?

Basically, I'm asking if you want to read on? Because if not, we can stop here?

Now obviously, if you're still reading these words you've chosen to continue. Which sort of answers this author's question.

When faced with carrying on with this life that had been set out for Roger, you decided as a reader to keep going because no matter how bad life gets you believe that something will happen. You had faith in life that just carrying on the journey would unveil something. That, to me, proves Roger wrong, because you had faith in finding an answer for him. You wouldn't give up on him because you believed against all warning that life has the ability to change.

So, on January the 1st, even though it was another day, in another week, in yet another year, Roger himself, willed on by people's belief, woke up and told himself, like he did every New Years Day, that it could be a fresh start. He didn't believe it anymore, but it got him out of bed.

He still felt awful, all those thoughts cascaded throigh his brain, but he managed to keep going, keep making plans and doing things. Even just washing the pots, having a cup of tea, or settling down to read a story. Which he did.

And halfway through that story he looked up from the page and smiled, because the person actually reading this story, yes I mean YOU, hadn't given up on him. Tears filled Roger's eyes, the narrative and journey had come back to his life and all because of you.

He thanks you from the bottom of his heart.

Alone at Christmas by Robin Bell

I woke up alone on Christmas Day.

It was dark in the bedroom and her bedside table still had her glasses and an unfinished book upon it. It was the Lord of the Rings, which she had read hundreds of times but wanted to re read again before she went. She only made it through a hundred pages. Her bookmark hung loosely out of the book. I stared at it, but didn't go near it. Instead I sat up and braced myself to get through another day.

It was cold in the house. The heating dial was downstairs. Was easier to layer up; vest, T-shirt, jumper. I didn't bother with a shower, just got dressed, headed downstairs and sat on the sofa in our living room where not much living went on now.

It was quiet, the television stayed off. I couldn't concentrate on anything like that anymore. Instead I just got lost in my mind, in my memories. The past was something I could relive, it could make me happy, until the pain of it being gone hit home. It wasn't just the fact that she was gone, but my youth also. No one tells you how life changes as you age. How everything becomes so distant, you expect aches and pains but you don't expect how they affect you.

You're full of everything when you're young, and then you shape yourself, and then life seems to attack your reserves until your left with nothing.

I seemed to overflow with love in my early twenties, with nowhere to focus it upon. Everyday seemed a quest to be in awe of life and discover more and share this wide eyed love of the world. Of course, whilst this was happening I didn't realise this was the case. I was probably quite cynical about it all.

But I found someone. These are the moments which turn lives. Finding someone to share moments with, someone to fall in love with. And I fell, deeper than I ever thought possible. Maybe that's why no one can tell you about the despair of aging because you have to experience it to understand, much like love.

Rachel, was small, nervous, but fiercely intelligent. I remember we were both drinking, the music in the club loud, the atmosphere held something special in it. Before we'd shared any words we were kissing, and it's true in those moments that your surroundings just seem to disappear.

We only dated for five years. That period before life really started. We didn't have jobs, routine, family of our own, whatever constitutes a life well lived.

We spent our time together completely focused on each other. Hours drifting by, wrapped up in each other, not just physically but the way we thought. The outside world a distant memory.

It wasn't even a bad break up. We drifted apart, life seeping into the cracks of our relationship. A melancholy took hold of my life, and suddenly a few years had gone by and I missed her.

I sit here now, on Christmas morning, listening to the clicking of the radiator as it comes alive with heat. I can take my jumper off as the room warms up. The clicking reminds me of the noises in the house when I lived alone in my mid twenties. Reflecting on how I missed Rachel, how I loved her, how I just let her go. It had seemed right for both of us.

I contacted her some years later and found she was married, she hadn't changed, she still had that glow. She was happy. We chatted all night, it flowed just as easy as it used to, but not once did I mention how I felt about her. How every second that I looked upon her I felt full of love. I walked home that night and broke down in tears.

It seemed like the end of a chapter. That was when life lost a lightness, and some of my love became misplaced towards someone that would never know I loved them. My soul was split in two.

Life went on though. I thought about her a lot, and we stayed in touch, but I had to live my life too. In time I met Helen, within a few years we were married, and we grew old together. Helen made me feel comfortable within my life, even when everything had the capacity to be terrifying. Your body does strange things as it falls apart, and as the time drifts by faster and faster you wonder what everything means, what you've done and what matters.

People make it worthwhile. Christmas, one of the only times you show true love and affection to each other. Gifts that you hope they like, that you spend time to find, money to buy, all for that moment when you know they see your love for them.

I've always loved Christmas. Wherever I was, it always had a magical feel. A special atmosphere that is probably all in my head, but it feels full of love.

But today, Christmas Day, and life feels empty. The walls of this house I've stared at for years, exactly the same. I've not bothered with decorations. There are no presents either. Helen died November 28th. It'd been a long battle, and it seems unfair to say she lost. It wasn't a fair fight.

We're in our seventies now, death can be expected any moment. All that love that you're given at the start is mostly gone. All those aches are adding up. All that fear is real. And this room is devoid of love, or any life. On the day I used to experience it the most.

So, my life now, what is it? I don't know, except for everyday I get out of the house and go for a walk. I don't stop I just keep going. Along rivers, up mountains that overlook my village.

You can't ask for more than some of the gorgeous views of countryside, especially when the sun breaks through illuminating everything. The birds float by, and the air can seem magical. It's somewhere I can place my love, something that will always be here.

Something that is full of the awe that life provides.

But even this is filled with a melancholy ache. How Helen would love this view. How I still can't quite comprehend how it happened,. How she isn't here anymore. How it just sort of happened like when me and Rachel split up. I didn't cry, I knew she was going. I just felt guilty that maybe I never loved her enough.

Love changes and I never felt it as strong as I did with Rachel, that first time can't be replicated.. Like the first time someone close to me died. Was a school friend who committed suicide. I remember getting the call, and again, one of those moments where your surroundings disappear. I put the phone down, and bawled for hours with Helen holding me. These agonies of death continued to come, and it didn't get easier, but it got so you could prepare for it. Maybe it's a numbing thing.

The constant battle of life rages on, and I realised the only escape is to exit the world. I don't mean suicide, I mean getting lost in something, like I did with Rachel, like I do on my walks, and the views. I walk and get lost in thoughts which take me down as many random paths as I walk down.

So I may be alone on Christmas, but I decide to walk, and pass houses decked out in Christmas decorations, the room inside aglow with happiness and love, with children opening presents, with old people spending what could be thir last Christmas with loved ones.

I'm reminded of my Mum and Dad, my brothers, and Rachel and Helen. I'm reminded of the pictures Rachel sent me of her two daughters and how they look like her, and how they'll be older now, but still at home with the family on Christmas.

I still feel part of life, connected to it, but also apart from it. I'll never share that love again, I don't have it within me anymore. But getting atop the mountain and looking down upon the village as the snow begins to fall, everything is OK. I wonder how do we survive it all? I have no answers, but we do. Because life has this tremendous magic. It elevates us through our time. I've woken up alone on Christmas Day knowing I won't see or speak to anyone all day, recently bereaved, with nothing ahead of me but my own death, but I've survived.

I head back home through the snow and I smile, it feels strange on my face as I don't think I've smiled in a while, but snow on Christmas, can't fail to raise a smile can it?

I get home kicking my shoes against the wall to knock the snow off. I go upstairs and I kneel next to the bed on Helen's side, the pillow still smells of her. It's like she hasn't gone.

Then the phone rings. I didn't expect that.

It takes me a while to answer it, stiff bones and surprise see to that.

"Hello?"

"Hi, are you ok? I thought I'd call you today. I heard about Helen. I'm really sorry."

I recognise the voice. I just don't know what to say.

"It's Rachel. Are you ok?"

"I'm... I'm.... Hi Rachel. I'm .... Merry Christmas"

"Sorry to call out of the blue. You sound a bit shocked."

"I've just been for a walk. It's snowing here. How are the girls?"

"They're good. How are you coping?"

"I don't know. I just walk, and relive memories and somehow I wake up every morning. What about you?"

"Well, bit of an odd one, Matt left me."

I didn't know how to react, it was like there was too much going on in my head I couldn't focus on what any new information meant.

"Thanks for calling Rachel."

"I was worried about you."

"It's good to have friends that care. I didn't think I did. You know I've always loved you."

"Yes."

I laugh, of course she knew. She knows me better than I probably do. We talk about our lives, I can hear her two girls playing in the background, I can hear Rachel's smile when she talks. We talk for hours, until it's dark outside, and I'm reminded once more of the awe that life can fill you with, and it's the best Christmas present I could have had.

The Man who was looking forward to Christmas by Rhys Jones

The Man who was looking forward to Christmas

December 22nd  

9:30am  

Rudolph the red nose reindeer had a very shiny nose and if you ever saw it you would even say it glows,” Josh sang. He did a little dance into the office showing off his woolly jumper to everyone, it had Rudolph on it. Josh thought it was funny.  

  Josh’s first port of call was the break room, where he made himself a coffee, using the Christmas cup he’d got. Morning without coffee was like coke without vodka, pointless, that was Josh’s little joke.  

“What’s the deal with the Christmas stuff mate?” Liam put his empty cup on the kitchen top and Josh took it and chucked a teabag in.  

“I’ve decided to get dead into Christmas this year,” Josh said.   

“It’s bit much though.  

Josh shrugged, “Don’t know, not for me I guess. Going to go all out this year and really take the time to enjoy it.” 

Few Christmas Beers again tonight then?” 

“As I said, I’m getting dead into it this year.” 

Josh stared blankly at the monitor on his desk. He was suffering a minor hangover from last night’s Christmas Beers and in a few minutes angry customers would start calling him to moan, he wasn’t sure he could cope. Josh began to hum Jingle Bell Rock too keep himself in the right mood 

Hope this doesn’t ruin your dead into Christmas thing, but have you seen Debbie has put you in for Christmas Eve?”  Liam handed Josh a printed copy of a brand new rota. 

“You what? She can’t just do a new one this close to… ” His face flushed with anger, he was up and out of his seat in a flash. 

“You’ve got calls Josh,” he heard Liam call after, but he didn’t care. All he could think about was finding out why Debbie had put him down till ten on Christmas Eve 

Josh knocked before entering, Debbie (the office manager) didn’t look up or make any sign that she knew he was there at all. He stood in awkward silence wondering if she would ever acknowledge that he was there  

“Yes?” Debbie asked.  

 “You’ve got me down for Christmas Eve,” Josh said, “I can’t I’m going out with my girlfriends Mum and Dad…” 

“That’s hardly my problem is it,” Debbie said. She fixed him with a stern glare. 

“I’m not going to be able to do it,” He said.  

“If you don’t do it then there will be trouble, you don’t want trouble do you? Already on thin ice from the problems you’ve had,” She said.  

“It’s just that….” 

“I’m very busy, Josh. Could you please leave me in peace if that’s everything?”  

“But…” 

“Thank you,” Debbie said and then went back to typing, like he wasn’t there 

And that was that, she hadn’t listened hadn’t let him make his case. But if she thought he was working Christmas Eve she was wrong. 

8:20 pm  

The Talbot was heaving, full of festive atmosphere; Josh liked a bustling Pub at Christmas.  

“Lets get these down us,” Josh said. He’d bought two pints of No Elf Control, “then off home.” 

“Not even nine yet!”  

“Don’t start,” Josh said.  

Liam pressed his thumb on the palm of his hand, under the thumb.  

“Let’s just enjoy this beer,” Josh said.   

“You’re the one that’s dead into Christmas this year, should be you pushing for staying out,” Liam said.  

Josh sipped his pint of ale and smiled, it was good. 

 “Mandy will be waiting up for me.”  

“Text her not too. Come on, why not?”  

Josh took the ring box he’d be carrying around out, opened it and showed Liam the engagement ring inside. Liam smiled broadly.  

“So that’s why you’ve been trying to keep her on side then is it? Congratulations mateI;m getting you a beer. 

Honestly need to get back.”  

Liam was already on his way to the bar.  

Another one wouldn’t hurt, after all he had just told his best mate he was going to propose- was right he’d buy him a beer.    

 

December 23rd  

6:34am 

Consciousness happened abruptly. His head throbbed and his mouth was dry. 

What happened last night? 

He realised he was in the spare room. 

At the top of the stairs he could hear the morning news in the living room. Mandy was already awake.  

The mulled wine Mandy had prepared was sat cold on the hob. Josh made himself a strong cup of coffee; he still felt pissed and needed to sober up.  

Mandy brought her breakfast bowl in and plonked it in the sink without looking at Josh.  

“I’ll clean them,” he said. Mandy continued to ignore him and left the kitchen. He followed and stopped her next to the Christmas Tree in the hall, it looked sad with its lights switched off.   

“What’s wrong?” Josh asked.  

“Thought we were going to watch Muppets Christmas Carol last night,” She said. 

“I’m sorry I was…” 

“I know, getting off your face again, you promised to stop that.” 

“It’s Christmas.”  

“You just stomped up into the spare room when you got in, didn’t even say hello, just gave me a dirty look. I don’t want to live like that,” she said, and pulled loose of his grip and left the house leaving Josh alone. 

13:01pm 

Work was unbearable, the hangover didn’t ease up it just got worse and worse. He had sent a few texts to Mandy trying to say sorry, but so far no replyJust after lunch Debbie called him into her office, Josh knew exactly what this was going to be about.  

She was glaring at him from across her desk, it made him feel uneasy but he was determined not to let that show.  

“I’ve heard rumours that you put a complaint in about me saying I tried to bully you into working Christmas Eve,” she said.  

You shouldn’t know about that,” Josh said.   

She moved with predatory precision as she came around the desk, she pushed Josh’s chair backwards rolling it on its wheels. His head was spinning; he could taste bile in the back of his throat- this was a bad hangover 

“I don’t like it when people go over my head,” she sniffed at him, “you stink of alcohol.”  

“Just had a couple last night for Christmas, Josh said.  

There was big smug smile plastered all over Debbie’s face.  

Smells like you drank a brewery. We have a zero tolerance for this sort of thing, you know,” she smiled.  

14:17pm 

Somebody shouted his name as Josh trudged across the carpark. He turned to see Liam running after him 

“Where are you going?” Liam asked.  

“Home,” Josh said.  

“You can’t just walk out.” 

I can, I don’t work here anymore,” Josh headed for his car, “I shouldn’t have had anymore last night, why did I let you talk me into it?” 

“Hey! It’s not my fault, you’d have left if you really wanted too.”  

Liam was right. Josh should have stopped seeing Liam the moment he realised his drinking was becoming a problem, dropped his drinking buddy, but he hadn’t.   

On the way home Josh was pulled over, a spot check, he failed the breathalyser and had to call Mandy to come and pick him up.  

16:48pm 

They sat in the car in silence (band aid was playing on the radio). She dropped him off at the house but didn’t come in.  

“I’m going to go stay with my mum and dad for the night,” she said. She didn’t sound angry, just sad.  

“Please don’t, stay home tonight, stay with me. We can watch Muppets Christmas Carol,” Josh said. But she didn’t want too, it was like she could barely look at him. There was an awkward silence between them; Josh went in for a kiss. She pulled away; he could see the tears in her eyes. He got out of the car and let her drive away.  

16:55pm 

The stone cold mulled wine was still sat there where they had left it this morning. Josh picked it up and took a deep sniff, it smelt nice  

 

 

18:34pm 

He watched the fairy lights in the living room flashing, he’d zoned out. The number he’d found on the internet was written in large shaky scrawl on a notepad in his handIt had been a half hour since he’d written it, he called the number 

“No, not every day, more of binge drinker,” he told the helpline. 

And he said, “Yes people are always telling me that I need to cut back or stop, but I can’t.”  

He told them everything about Mandy, losing his job and getting breathalysed. How he felt overwhelmed by it all and that it had sneaked up on him. It was like an expunging, it was good to get it off his chest, to tell somebody.  

“Hope you have a good Christmas,” Josh had said at the end. He hung up and felt exhausted.  

He slept that night right there were he was sat.  

December 24th  

12:34pm 

There was a loud bang on the door, it woke Josh up. 

He answered the door, it was Liam.  

“Hi mate, sorry about your job,” Liam said.  

Josh shrugged, “What’s up?”  

We go the pub Christmas Eve, its tradition, midday pints,” Liam said, smiling.    

“I’m not up for it, sorry but no,” Josh said.  

Come on, it will cheer you up!” 

“I’ve got to go. See you in the New Year mate, have a good Christmas,” Josh said and closed the door. He planned on not seeing Liam again for a very long time.  

15:19pm  

Josh sent Mandy a text, but she didn’t reply. Later in the afternoon she came back home.   

“I thought you’d be out with Liam,” She said. She walked into the kitchen and found the empty pan that had held the Mulled wine, empty.  

“No, I told him I didn’t want to. I don’t think I’m going to see him for a bit,” he spotted Mandy looking at the pan. “I poured it away.” He wasn’t sure if she believed him or not, but he had.  

“You need to go get ready then,” Mandy said.  

“What for?”  

“We are meeting Mum and Dad for tea, remember?”  

“You still want me to come?” 

Go get ready. 

16:18pm 

He had a shower, after he came back to find Mandy holding the notepad with the helpline number on it.  

“I called them last night,” he said.  

Mandy nodded. Josh sat down next to her.  

“I’m sorry,” he said.  

“I know.”  

Josh took the ring box out. 

“Not right now.” she said, “Let’s just see how Christmas goes, hey. Maybe in the New Year. 

You’re not going to leave me?”  

“I don’t think so... Just stop being a dickhead.”  

“I’m trying, I’ll get there I promise. I can get a new job and sort myself out.”  

“Let’s just try and have a good Christmas.  

They kissed and held each other.  

“Merry Christmas,” Mandy said.  

“Merry Christmas,” He said back, and the tears came. She held him tighter and told him everything was going to be okay. He wasn’t sure it would be but he hoped it would - they had to get Christmas out of the way first.  

The End