Sometimes I think I should have done more but I’m not a well man and, besides, it was Christmas Eve.
I’m telling you all of this not because I want your sympathy (I don’t) or your expertise (such as it is) or your advice (quite frankly, worthless to me). I need you to brick up my chimney.
Soon after Caroline and I met I realised I was not cut out to be a father. Not yet.
I realised when her son Alfie urinated, grinning, into the frozen foods in Sainsbury’s.
Alfie had behavioural problems. The specific problems being that he had never been taught how to behave; and that he was a very, very naughty little boy.
He had a number of weapons: dumb insolence, an extraordinary vocabulary of profanity (only once have I been called a ‘quim-faced twatmonger’), and the threat that one day he would run away.
Oh, the nights I prayed he would make good on his promise…
My instinct, of course, was to beat it out of him. Or, at the very least, beat it a lot further into him, to where it wouldn’t see the light of day. Apparently, I’m old-fashioned.
If being old-fashioned means taking a stand against public micturition, gross incivility to one’s elders, and a positively astonishing level of onanism, I am proud to be old-fashioned.
Caroline worried that he was too small for such discipline. I thought that such discipline would be effective only while he was small. One wouldn’t want to risk any reprisals. I’m not a well man.
I did not consider the thirty years’ difference in our ages to be problematic. When we met we were both approaching uselessness: me at 65, she at 34.
I’ve always had a terrible fear of dying alone.
In my time I have accumulated a lot of things, a lot of valuable things, a lot of things that demand careful handling and reverent replacement on shelves. Not things for twelve year-olds.
I offered to rent him a nearby flat. Just four minutes on the bus. Apparently another sign of how little I understood the modern age.
As was Christmas.
Christmas used to be a day of church, nuts, tangerines and charades. Now it’s defrosted pre-stuffed boneless turkey joints, DVD box sets, and crippling debt. I had to take a stand.
She decided to wait until Christmas Eve tell me she was pregnant, presumably assuming even I would not make a pregnant woman spend Christmas on the streets. She was right.
But I poured myself a small sherry or two.
That night, I put Alfie to bed. He was nestled amongst the tissue-paper detritus of a quite spectacular wanking jag, gazing at the screen of the PlayStation Portable he was not meant to have until tomorrow.
He had stolen it from under our bed, and was waiting, like a barely-pubescent spider with incipient RSI, for someone to come and notice and start a fight, during which he could threaten to leave.
That wasn’t going to happen.
Instead I told him the story of Father Christmas. The old story.
The story about Saint Nicholas finding three naughty little boys in a pickling jar, about to be served to him as ham. In the old stories, when Saint Nicholas comes he doesn’t just bring presents. He brings other things, too.
He brings Knecht Ruprecht, deer haunches stinking of leaf mould and sweat, with his rod for beating bad children. Or Schmutzli, who bundles you up in a sack, and then takes you deep into the forest and hurls you into a still, dark pool where you sink and lie forever. Or the Black Petes, with sharp teeth and sooty faces who, again, shove naughty children into sacks, but, worse, carry them off to Spain. Or the Krampuss who drags his chains and bells. Or the Houseker. Or the Parkelj…
There used to be two sides to Christmas. There were things that would come and catch you up and take you away and hurt you because you were a wicked, wicked little boy, who had pushed his luck too far.
Then I turned out his light.
A man who has had a few sherries will not act if he hears a scuffling in the chimney on Christmas Eve. A man who has to get up four or five times to use the bathroom, is not going to go poking about when he hears what could be the gnashing of tiny pairs of evil teeth in a child’s room, or could be the boiler turning itself on. When he hears muffled thuds and thumps and something that sounds very much like hooves on the roof, he is liable to roll over and hope for the best.
I maintain it to this day. It’s what I told Caroline, and it’s what I told the police. He was always threatening to leave. Maybe he was as good as his word.
No, I don’t know how he locked the door behind him.
I had hoped that the birth of Oscar (an old name, a good name) would cheer Caroline somewhat. If anything it made her worse.
The fact that Oscar wasn’t boisterous or demanding or rude or recalcitrant just seemed to emphasise everything she had lost.
She would spend hours on the internet, looking for him in chatrooms. Looking long into the night after I had put Oscar to bed.
As if electricity were free.
This will be our first Christmas without her. Oscar has reacted very badly to her death. Very badly. He screamed when we visited her in the hospital.
His behaviour has really become quite, quite poor recently. Screaming. Running. Biting.
And I’ve begun to hear noises, scratchings in the chimney.
Like something waiting, moving, chuckling.
And so I’d like your help bricking up the chimney.
After all, I have this terrible fear of dying alone. And I’m not a well man.