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White swan event

More from 365. Got a garage? Got a loft? It’ll be stuffed with electronic equipment you can’t quite let go of. And it’ll only get worse…

It was the wires that got to Graham the most. Bunched up, tangled, multi-coloured, a morass of plastic and thrumming copper stuffed in behind a monstrosity of a television.

How could it get such a mess? Didn’t these people know that wires had a habit of kinking together?

Well, there was the wires, and also the noise. Particularly from the children, Nessa and Stewart. Their screaming competed with the video games, which was quite a feat in itself. The video games consoles and giant televisions that bred the wires, of course. That was bad enough, but Graham’s own boy, Andrew, should really have known better. Video games, thrashing music, flashing lights, accompanied by shouting children. This is what the word “cacophony” was invented to describe. This very situation.

So there was the noise, the flashing lights, the wires, and also the Christmas decorations. It was over, now. Time to put it all away. The fairy on the top of the McGoverns’ tree particularly offended him. It appeared to be a boy, not a girl, and many had noted its resemblance to a fey pop singer from the 1980s. Its cupid’s bow mouth looked like it was missing something that was meant to plug in there, and it drew the eye. Even with all the rest going on.

A tug at his elbow. Tim, the genial host, who had been more than genial with gin and tonics since they’d arrived. “Another one, Graham?”

“You know what – I think I’ll pass.”

“You sure? It’s Christmas.”

“It was Christmas a week ago! No, seriously, I think we have to go. I’ve got a shift on tomorrow.”

Christine was sat between Tim’s brother Ivan and his wife, Pamela. They were all shrieking at the same joke, someone they’d known at school who’d gone on to do quite well. Just like Christine to bitch about a bit of success, Graham thought, sucking in the last of a cloudy lemonade. She caught his eye, then, and maybe something in his movement, and her face fell. It was definitely time to go.

The boy cried as he put his coat on; Graham was so embarrassed he almost wanted to walk away from the clucky scene that ensued, the hugs and promises to visit. He even set off the other two kids, then.

“Come on,” Christine said, jamming a hat on the boy’s head as he choked back huge, miserable sobs. “You’ll see everyone again soon. Be a brave soldier.”

Brave soldier! Graham stomped down the icy gravel towards the car, balancing presents underneath his chin.

Later, with everyone in bed, Graham lounged in the darkened sitting room and allowed himself a sigh of relief in front of their flame effect fire, watching the faux flames chase each other around the wall.

The cards were down, the tinsel boxed up for another year, and the tree, thank god, consigned to the recycler. Doors closed, windows locked, everyone sealed tight in their beds, all in order. The way it should be. At last, he smiled.