Harry sees his own face looking at him, hair crowned with tinsel, and a red tissue paper crown on top of that. A green Christmas cracker is on the desk in front of him, a red and white winter scene stuck on the front of it. A half-empty wine bottle is next to him with a half-full glass of red wine that he has been drinking.
A square appears next to his face, with his mother's name in it, then his father's face appears sideways in the box. His father's mouth moves but there is no sound. Harry's speakers blast out Silent Night. “How appropriate” he thinks wryly.
His sister appears in a third space on the screen now. She sends a message that appears across the screen. “Touch the sound icon so we can hear you!”
Their father's hand appears across his face, fumbling at the phone controls. Then his face comes back sideways again with sound this time as he booms out “Happy Christmas”
Another voice joins in the chorus of Happy Christmases and the family is gathered, as much as is possible this year.
“Does everyone have their presents ready?” Harry disappears offscreen briefly then holds up a basket of brightly wrapped mysteries.
Everyone is waving things at their screens.
“OK, three, two, one – go!”
“Damn!” Dad has knocked the phone flat and fretting he might have broken it, but everyone reassures him it is still working fine and not to worry just stand it up again. Mum is scolding him for bad language on Christmas Day of all days.
Cries of “Oh I love this” “Thank you” “Oh my god how did you know I wanted this” “What the heck? Hmm thank you” “Ooh socks. It's never Christmas without socks.” All distorted and bubbling chaotically as technology doesn't quite keep up.
“Did Jeannie like her doll?” asks mum.
Her daughter assures her that Jeannie has gone to bed cuddling her new ragdoll. “Oh I'm so glad Margie” says mum “You know I put a lot of love into that – every stitch.”
“She ignored me though” jokes dad. “She was so busy all the time getting it finished, I didn't get no lovin'” He chuckles self-consciously.
Margie and Harry are looking a bit discomfited but they laugh politely. Margie quickly relates that Jeannie had named the doll Dolly. “very original” she comments, and says that Dolly had been fed Christmas dinner “I had to stop her messing it up with real food, tell her if she didn't want it straight in the washing machine she'd just have to pretend” and that Jeannie had even read the doll a story. “It's going to be a great way to get her doing her schoolwork.”
“We got her a bike” she says. “Took her out to the park so she could try it on the paths. She did really well, managed to pedal ok and not fall off. Maybe soon she'll let us take the learner wheels off it.”
“Oh that's nice” says mum. “I remember when I learned to ride we didn't have those little wheels so I fell off plenty of times. It's when I got this scar.” She points to her nose but nobody can see the scar on their screens. They have all seen it before though so they nod and comment on mum's scar.
“So who ate all their sprouts?” asks Harry. Everyone groans.
“Bet you didn't” says mum. “I remember the only way I could get you to ever eat any was the time I dared you to eat them with custard on and you ate just the one. I couldn't believe you actually did that.”
“I can't believe you actually put custard on sprouts” retorts Harry. “It was disgusting. How could you do that to a child? It was abuse!”
Mum's face reddens and she begins to retort but Harry quickly tries to correct the situation, suggesting they play their traditional game of decorate dad like a tree.
“How on earth can we manage that this year?” scoffs mum, still a bit cross about the suggestion of abuse.
“A-ha. I have here...” Harry disappears briefly for a second then is back, waving a box at the screen. A box game.
“It's kinda like Jenga” he says. “Oh, by the way dad, have you got stuff to put on?” Dad grunts and nods then breaks into a boyish grin.
“I'll set it up so you can see it, then you pick a letter. If the monkey doesn't fall off then it means you added a decoration and dad didn't wake up. Dad can put them on himself and we can all see him.” He is laughing as he explains but the others have to fake enthusiasm. Mum doesn't even go that far, she just grudgingly agrees to give it a go “even though it's silly”
The game is set up. Mum disappears to find her glasses as she can't see the letters on the blocks.
Some movement on Margie's screen and a little girl is waving a ragdoll around between Margie and Richard, hitting their heads a little vigorously.
“Oh hello” “Happy Christmas” garbled down the internet. Jeannie is grinning and saying something but can't be heard through the garble. Harry mutes everyone except himself then tells Margie to unmute so Jeannie can speak.
“Dolly ate all her dinner, even the SPROUTS! So then she was allowed pudding but she doesn't like Christmas pudding so she had ice cream, and she learnt how to read and” “and it's time to go back to bed” interrupted Margie “Goodnight”
The little girl waves and says “goodnight” and everything is quiet.
Margie sends out another message telling everyone how to unmute themselves. Dad's screen fills with his fumbling hand again and they wait until he and mum appear side by side and sideways again.
“Ready to start?” asks Harry. “I'll go first”
A little voice is heard “I want D for Dolly”
Margie turns back to her daughter, who is offscreen. “I thought you went back to bed young lady.”
“I want to plaaay” Jeannie begins to wail.
Margie relents and let's Jeannie back onscreen “since it's Christmas, but you go back to bed properly once this game is finished. We're decorating Grandad.”
Jeannie is giggling as Harry pushes out the letter D from the game and the little monkey on the top moves down but doesn't fall.
“You get to pick what goes on Grandad.” says Harry. “Dad, what do you have?”
“Oh, um, I need to go and find them.” says dad.
Harry sips his wine patiently while dad goes off to find the decorations. Margie and Richard are laughing while mum looks fed up and grumbles at dad. Rummaging noises can be heard and dad still isn't back. “What are you doing Dennis? Everyone's waiting. Oh.” Mum disappears to go and find dad.
“Can I get some crisps?” asks Jeannie. Margie goes off with Jeannie to the kitchen, calling to Richard “Do you want anything love?”
“How about coffee and some mince pies” calls back Richard.
“I have wine” says Harry. “Don't you want a proper drink?”
“Make that a brandy.” calls Richard to Margie.
“OK love, d'ya want coke with that?”
“No thanks love, straight, make it a large one, since it's Christmas.”
“So how are you doing, really?” he asks Harry.
“Oh don't” says Harry. “I'm just trying to forget, just for today. Wasn't even going to mention it. Call me back tomorrow. I can't talk about it now. Let's make Christmas fun eh. Just the one day. I think we all need it.”
Jeannie and Margie appear again. Richard takes a swig of his brandy and bites into a mince pie. Jeannie is rustling crisps and has a glass of cola. Margie sips coffee. It's quiet. They are still waiting for mum and dad.
“I'm bored.” says Jeannie. “Dolly wants to play.” She makes Dolly do a handstand and a cartwheel, knocking her parents heads again.
“Why not pick another letter” suggests Margie. “Dad, Grandad can put more than one decoration on when he gets back with them.”
“Got them” calls dad, waving a handful of assorted decorations at his phone before dropping them on the floor and disappearing again to retrieve them. “OK what's first?”
“Oh you.” says mum, and picks up a long piece of tinsel and throws it at dad. It hits his face then slides off, falling onto the floor and he disappears again to retrieve it, wrapping it around his head.
“You're supposed to be asleep.” mum comments and dad obligingly closes his eyes and makes a giggling snore. Everyone cracks up laughing except for mum who tuts.
“Next letter. Margie?” says Harry, and Margie chooses M. Out it comes and the monkey slides without falling. R, C and S follow. The monkey is getting further down but still unfallen. Dad is chuckling to himself with his eyes shut and making occasional snoring noises. Richard's turn comes and he is very relaxed and has to be given a nudge. He chooses B for Brandy and shuts his eyes. The monkey falls. Mum tells dad he has to wake up.
“What? Oh.” Dad startles everyone with such a dramatic wake up that Richard opens his eyes and asks what is going on. The decorations fall off dad onto the floor and he throws a paper snowflake at mum, who pushes him playfully.
“Back to bed” Margie tells Jeannie. “I'm going to go, get her settled back. It was nice. Happy Christmas.”
“Happy Christmas. Bye.” the calls are again garbled with everyone speaking together. People are waving and then disappear. On the screen “This meeting has been ended by the host.” and a countdown. 5 4 3 2 1. It's ended.
Harry gulps down the rest of his wine, tips in the last of the bottle, gulps some more, begins to cry.