Darren Saunders paused his ride along the park cycle track to take in the sudden vision. The father and little girl emerging from the playground were attractive, but it was the mother who really caught his eye. She was breathtaking. Slim figure, lovely eager smile, and long dark hair framing perfect features.
‘Wow!’ he breathed, and found that he was feeling a considerable pang of envy for the man at her side. He hadn’t missed any sort of permanent attachment while he had had Barry as his best mate living in the other part of the duplex. The two of them had hit it off as soon as Darren had bought his half and moved in. They had gone on bike rides and climbs, played rugby for the same team, and partied often and hard with or without an ever-changing bevy of girls. His only regret had been that Barry had never taken to tennis.
Then Barry had to spoil it all by losing his marbles and getting married. As soon as he had completed his Best Man bit, Darren had felt a door slam on the sort of friendship they had enjoyed. The two of them hadn’t bothered much with other blokes, and now Darren was left very much at a loose end.
‘Don’t be so effing stupid,’ he told himself as he watched the little family, and particularly the mother, until they were out of sight. ‘You’re not the marrying kind – and anyway, all girls like that smasher are already taken.’
Letting himself into his half of the duplex after putting his bike in the garage, he reflected, not for the first time, that the next day was going to be bad news, on two counts. Firstly, it was Christmas Day, and somehow he had ended up with nowhere to go. Barry and his bride were still on honeymoon, and it so happened that all the other friends and family he could have tolerated were also away.
Secondly, some ghastly old woman called Gudrun Schmidt, widowed a couple of years previously, had taken the other half of the duplex. She was scheduled to move in on, of all the ridiculous days she could have chosen, Christmas morning. ‘Because it suits me to do it then,’ he heard that she had told the Agent. Bang would go the comforting untidiness of the secluded communal garden at the back. Bang would go the volume at which he enjoyed playing his modern music. Worse, bang would go his customary casualness of attire – or lack thereof – in and around the shared pool.
After a failed attempt to find somewhere not fully booked where he could have a meal, he lost all interest even in a takeaway. Dinner consisted of a couple of slices of toast and cheese, washed down with a few beers.
He tossed and turned in bed for quite a while. Somehow the vision of that mother would not leave his mind, and he found with annoyance that he was having longing fantasies of taking the place of the father in that little family.
It must have been around midnight when he had a dream which started by being vividly realistic. He had heard a sound in his living room and had tiptoed out from the bedroom to investigate. Then the dream became unrealistic, indeed. Noises seemed to be coming from the fake chimney of the fake (electric) fireplace. He could just make out words: ‘Oof, ugh, why do they make them so impossible?’
‘Who’s that?’ he had blurted inanely.
‘Santa Claus, of course,’ came a muffled reply.
‘I don’t believe in Santa Claus,’ he had said. In the dream, it had seemed most important to make this point.
‘For that, I should take back your gifts … but I won’t,’ came the voice, with a few ‘Oofs’ in between, and becoming fainter. ‘Anyway, I’m only sending the second one a bit later on in the morning.’ Then came a, ‘Ho, ho, ho!’ doing a fast fade.
The dream became real enough again for him to remember returning to bed in it, but in the light of day he could see how ridiculous all of it had actually been.
He wasn’t sure how soon the new owner of ‘next door’ would be arriving, so he dressed reluctantly and had some cereal for breakfast. Then he went to the living room – and stopped in astonishment. Just in front of the ‘fireplace’ was a roll of something, wrapped in Christmas paper to look like a large Christmas cracker. Thrown through the window, perhaps? No, all were tightly closed.
‘This … is … crackers, indeed!’ he breathed, grimacing wryly at his own pun as he tore open the wrapping. Inside was a copy of the local rag for a suburb at the other side of the city. Shaking his head in bewilderment, he scanned the front page and then began skipping through the rest. He got to page five … and stared with bulging eyes. There was a picture of the couple he had seen the day before, holding racquets. The caption read:
Brother and sister team win doubles for third year in a row.
Before he could read further, the doorbell rang. ‘Hello,’ said the vision standing there, giving him a dazzling smile. ‘I’m Gudrun, your new neighbour. I know it’s an awful cheek, but would you mind terribly if my niece had a swim while her parents and I do some more ferrying?’
‘Thank you, Santa!’ Darren said loudly and with great feeling.
© Colonialist December 2013 (WordPress)