“Lacy knickers?” Leslie’s face is crinkled with confusion. “Is this a joke?”
“They’re not for you,” Gerald grumbles. “They’re supposed to be for Lesley.”
“I am Leslie,” says Leslie.
“The other Lesley.”
“But I picked the other Lesley out of the hat – I bought for her.”
“Hang on. How do you spell your names?”
Edna huffs. “Female Lesley is spelled with E, Y. Male Leslie is I, E. Really, Gerald, you should know that by now.”
“Bloody hell,” says Leslie.
“Well… they’re definitely meant for Lesley with a Y. Give.” Gerald snatches the red thong from Leslie’s hands and dangles it in front of Lesley’s face.
She blushes and gingerly plucks it from his grasp between her index finger and thumb.
“You’re disgusting, Gerald,” Mabel announces, shaking her head side to side in a manner that forces the loose flesh on her neck to wobble like a wattle. “This was supposed to be a nice Christmas get-together amongst friends and you have to lower the tone, don’t you? How could you do that in Jesus’ presence?”
“Yes, Gerald, he’s right there. On the Christmas tree.”
Gerald turns to the Christmas tree beside him and squints at the array of red and gold baubles and blaring fairy lights. “You mean that little blob in the manger on that bauble with the nativity scene?”
“Yes,” Mabel says, lifting her chin in the air. “That one was hand-painted by nuns at the local convent. You don’t present people lacy smalls in the presence of Jesus.”
Gerald sighs. “There’s no tolerance for romance in this day and age.”
“There is romance, Gerald, and then there is vulgarity,” Edna pipes up, which triggers a smug I-told-you-so smile from Mabel.
“Shall we do the next present?” Lesley says as she lays the thong on the arm of her rocking chair and rubs her fingers on her trousers.
“I’ll go next,” Mabel says. “I picked the short straw and got Gerald. Let me tell you, Secret Santa is not so fun when you’ve got to buy gifts for the likes of you.”
“Charming,” Gerald mutters.
“But I think I did quite well, in the end. I went over budget but that doesn’t matter. It’s worth it, I think.” She passes Gerald a slim, cream envelope.
“It best not be vouchers,” says Gerald. “So impersonal.” He rips open the envelope and retrieves a sheet of folded paper. “If it’s vouchers, Mabel, I’ll –”
“It’s not vouchers! Read it.”
His eyes scan across the page and his brow drops lower and lower as he takes it in. “A plot? You’ve bought me a bloody plot?”
“A plot in an allotment?” says Edna. “How lovely!”
“No – not in an allotment. In a graveyard.”
Edna and Lesley gasp. Leslie wheezes out a hearty chuckle and offers Mabel a sly thumbs-up.
“You old bitch!”
“Gerald!” Edna scolds.
“She wants me dead!”
“Don’t be so silly, I don’t want you dead,” Mabel says. “But if you went sometime soon, then… well, I’d like to make sure you got the best plot in the graveyard.”
“And where exactly is this plot?”
“Right next to your late wife, of course.”
“Bloody hell,” says Leslie.
“You evil cow! I had enough of her in life; I don’t want to be buried next to her for the rest of eternity.”
Mabel cackles. “Yes – worth every penny, that gift.”
Gerald grabs his walking stick and makes to clamber out of his chair, but his dodgy hip keeps him in check and he throws Mabel a filthy glare instead.
“Let’s move on, shall we?” says Edna brightly. “This is for you, Mabel.” She hands over a beautifully wrapped parcel – deep red paper adorned with an unnecessarily large gold bow – and clasps her hands together. “I really think you’ll like this one.”
“Thank you, dear.” Mabel carefully unravels the bow and winds the ribbon up into a neat bundle, before peeling back the Sellotape strip by strip.
“Christ, woman, get on with it!”
Edna glares at Gerald. Mabel slows her unwrapping, smiling sweetly at Gerald as she peels back the paper. But her smile drops when she’s sees what’s inside.
“What’s this all about?” she snaps.
“Well, I had a lovely picture of your little Jimmy on my mobile phone, so I asked my grandson to have it printed for me. And look – little paw prints on the frame!”
“Two weeks he’s been gone. That’s all. I’ve just started to heal, Edna. And now you’ve presented me with a picture of my dead dog and it’s all… it’s all coming… back… to… me…”
Mabel’s words descend into wailing. As her tears fall onto the panting image of her much-missed mongrel, Gerald breaks into a sick grin.
“Bloody hell,” says Leslie, the man of few words.
“I thought you’d like it,” Edna says. “You kept saying you missed him! I thought it would help.”
“What do you know? You don’t even like dogs. You never liked Jimmy when he was alive. You’ve done this to upset me, haven’t you?”
“I don’t think that’s the case at all, Mabel,” Lesley says.
“I thought I was doing a nice thing, actually. Goodness knows why you don’t think so. You always did have a strange relationship with that dog.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I don’t know, what do you –”
“Shall we move on?” pleads Lesley. “Come on. It’s Christmas. We should all be getting along.”
Mabel crosses her arms. Edna follows suit. They look at anything but each other.
“Here,” Leslie says. “For you, Lesley.”
Lesley accepts the small, crumpled parcel offered to her with a smile. She eagerly unravels the paper to reveal a pair of socks. “Oh. Lovely. Thank you.”
“Let’s see,” says Mabel.
Lesley holds the socks up for the group to inspect. They’re bright green, adorned with a black and white football print, and turning threadbare at the heels.
“You gave her used socks?” says Edna.
“I darned the holes in the toes,” Leslie says with a shrug.
“You cheap old git,” Mabel scoffs.
“That’s a new level of low, Les,” Gerald says. “At least my knickers were brand new.”
“I’ve been a bit hard up lately,” Leslie mutters.
“It’s fine,” Lesley assures him. “Really. It’s the thought that counts.”
“You’re too nice, you,” Mabel says.
“Time for my gift now. Edna – this is for you.” Lesley retrieves a gift bag from beside her seat and hands it over. The rest of the group stare the tall, rectangular bag enviously – it can only be one thing.
“Sherry! Fabulous. Just what the doctor ordered,” Edna says. “I’ll savour this.”
She looks around the group who gaze at the bottle hungrily, like lions eyeing up a vulnerable gazelle.
Edna rolls her eyes. “I’ll get some glasses, shall I?”
“Good idea,” says Leslie.
“I should hope so,” mutters Gerald.
“So nice of you to share,” says Lesley.
“Get the big glasses, won’t you?” calls Mabel as Edna disappears into the kitchen.
“Ah, isn’t this nice?” says Lesley softly. “Presents round the Christmas tree. Lovely company. Aren’t we lucky that we’ve got each other to celebrate with?”
Mabel and Gerald share a sheepish look and force smiles.
“Aye,” says Gerald. “We are.”
“I suppose so,” says Mabel.
“When am I getting my gift?” says Leslie.
Lesley winces. “Well… technically Gerald should have bought for you. But he accidentally bought for me instead, so…”
“So you got two gifts and I end up with nowt?”
“Oops,” says Gerald. “Sorry about that.”
“Bloody hell,” says Leslie.
“You could have your socks back,” offers Lesley. “Or you could have the knickers?” She proffers the second-hand socks in one hand and the skimpy thong in the other.
Leslie puckers his lips as he considers it. “Aye. I’ll take both. Cheers.”
I write one new story each week inspired by a random song from my Spotify library. It’s December so we’re getting festive with “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee.