when kevin looked back on the events he was surprised how things had escalated so quickly. from a small gripe. a slight. to action. to conclusion. but one thing he was certain of. it definitely wasn’t his fault. he was not to blame. he was the hurt party. when all things were done. when you looked at things objectively. he was justified in what he did. fully justified. unavoidable in fact.
a contract had been agreed at an early age. when he was young. without his approval. agreed by his parents. their parents. the parents before them. and so on. back through the ages of time. to the first person. the first contract. for first instance. kevin had no say in it. it was done. besides he was too young to voice an objection. to know the full implications of what he had entered into. how it would be with him for years. a chain around his neck. from place to place it was dragged. situation to situation. time to time.
the early years he was too young to know. too unaware. he was given things. he was not told. they were inconsequential items. a pair of woolly socks. a beanie hat in bright yellow. a small brown bear. how he loved that bear. where was it now? long gone. with his youth. hope. naivety. his parents.
he was told of the contract when he was four . of course they did not call it that. they referred to it joyfully. as if some game. but as the time neared. it was made clear. he had to be good. all year. to get the presents. or he would be left nothing. just coal. a single piece of coal. for his crimes.
kevin was horrified at this. why hadn’t he been warned earlier. given the heads up. he would have been much better.the ideal child. not pulled lucy’s hair. squirted the neighbour’s tabby cat with water. thrown a stone at a duck. eaten his broccoli. he had to make amends quick. play lucy’s games. give the cat some trout. feed the ducks. eat some broccoli. lots of broccoli.
the morning arrived. the reckoning. all would be revealed. had he done enough? he looked at the end of his bed. the presents were there. nuts. a tangerine. chocolate. a kazoo. a game where you flicked ball bearings into cardboard holes. all seemed well. but these were the additions. the unasked for. the starters. he made his way down stairs. to the lounge. and there. under the window. by the symbols of the contract. were the presents. specially wrapped to mark the day. he had to wait until his parents were up. that was the rule. he must not be tempted. they could all disappear by one wrong action. he waited. breathless. an age of time. waiting.
his parents appeared. they smiled. little realising the obligation they had created. gave the signal. he opened the first. the largest. a pale blue metal scooter. push down brake at the back of the foot rest. rubber gripped handles. perfect. the contract for that year was complete. he could relax. a bit.
as kevin grew. his teachers remarked what a quiet, well behaved child he was. what an angel. but kevin was not fooled. he knew he had to be on his guard. to be good. perfect. maintain the contract. he knew what was at stake. he knew his teachers had a straight line to the contract keeper. the adjudicator. mrs higgins had told him so. with a smile on his face. as nigel kicked the classroom door. again. so kevin was good. always. made sure his reports reflected this. studied hard. got A grades.
when at college he didn’t fall into the trap of long hair, electric sounds and smoky rooms. hallucinogens. experiences. his dad called them reprobates. he kept his hair down. kept away from the pretty girls. stayed in his room. played sports. had only one pint after matches. studied. kept his hair short. and each year the contract was fulfilled. he had been good. the presents were there.
his father passed. he still visited his mother. cared for her. phoned her regularly. a dutiful son. his mother worried that’s he had yet to meet a nice girl. but he told her not to worry. he was looking for one just like her. like his mum. she just smiled. patted his hand. made them some tea.
in search of a good girl he joined groups. book groups. poetry groups. choir singing. wholesome pursuits. he even once went to a singles night in search of the right girl. a wholesome girl. it was in a bookshop. not just any. the most respectable bookshop. high vaunted ceilings. oak beams. pile bookshelves with only the classics. dickens. brontes. london. austen. eliot. none of that new writing. none of the corruptible stuff he had heard about. certainly no joyce. no hemingway. woolf. and absolutely not any larkin. never any larkin. but all to no avail. but there were no nice girls. they talked of politics. feminism. sex. not like his mother at all. his dear mother. his dear departed mother.
maybe it was because he had attended the groups. had read the sports pages. had two beers after a match. but kevin did not get a present that year.
vowing to do better. kevin stopped the groups. joined the church. stopped drinking. avoided female sports. gave regularly to christian aid. but still no present. on adjudication day. nothing. no orange. no chocolate. no nuts. not even a lump of coal. how had he been so bad? he had done everything. he had been good. better than good. john in the office had got a watch. and he was sleeping with jane from accounts. be he. good kevin. had got nothing.
it dawned on kevin. it was not his fault. he was not to blame. he had not broken the contract. he had fulfilled his part. fully. to the full. the blame did not lie with him. it was the other to blame. he had broken it. he had torn the unseen threads that lay between them. something had to be done. retribution had to be sought.
so before judgement day. kevin lay in his mother’s house. on his mother’s bed waiting. waiting. waiting for the tell tale sounds. he was prepared. the traps were set. he would have it out. in a calm.reasonable. manner.
it was after midnight when he heard the sound. the clatter on the roof tiles. the sprinkle of coal dust down the chimney. a sneeze. kevin hid behind the closet door. baseball bat at the ready. in case. he could hear the scrap of the glass on the mantelpiece. he pulled the string. there was was a cry. a thud.
it took kevin a while to position the man on the chair. he being so large and all. and the need to make the ropes tight. real tight. but he got the job done. he removed the hood to see what was there. a ruddy face. white hair. white beard. a red hat. with bell. it was him.
‘where’s my bloody presents?’
‘i’m sorry Kevin. What do you mean?’
‘last year. christmas. no presents. my mum even died.’
‘i’m sorry kevin. a foul up in the system. one of the elves…’
‘that’s not good enough. i was good all year. every year. every year of my life. and you didn’t come. a filing error. i’m worth more than a filing error.’
‘we’re all a little bad,sometimes, kevin.’
‘i’m not. i’m always good.’
‘and now. this isn’t being good kevin.’
‘screw you. you broke the contract.’
‘well kevin, if you’re going to be like that. we may have to forget presents this year.’
‘well, you’ve certainly put yourself on the naughty list…’
‘now now kevin. this isn’t looking good for you.’
‘i want my presents.’
‘maybe next year..’
it was those words that did it. and the smile. and possibly the hoo-hoo on the end. but kevin couldn’t stop himself. he saw blazing red. a lot of red. the red of Father Christmas as he brought the bat down on the fucker’s head. not once. but several times. each time harder than the first. he ignored the crack of bone. the smash of teeth. the blackened eye. he just kept brining it down. all those years. all those opportunities. all those women. and he said this. the bat shattered with the last blow.
the body was easy to deal with. a spade. his mother’s large garden. a dark night. all pre-occupied with celebrations. festival delights. a quick sale of the house would sort that out. he would be long gone. abroad probably. somewhere with a wild nightlife. parties. bikini clad women. no worries. but what to do about the reindeer on the roof? that was a problem.