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The old man sat by the glittering Christmas tree, snoring gently in his comfy armchair. His white hair sprouted outwards in untidy tufts, clean but unbrushed. His puffy face and corpulent stature spoke to seasonal over-indulgence, and the way the chair seemed to form around him suggested that he hadn't moved in some time. He wore soft pyjamas and an old but clearly very comfortable robe. His feet were encased in fluffy slippers, and his chin rested on his chest in slumber. In short, he was the very picture of ease.

The family of the house went about their business, paying the old man no mind. Mother bustled round the house; parcelling up the leftovers to freeze for another day, collecting bits of discarded wrapping paper to salvage for next year, taking the laundry out of the machine and hanging it up to dry. Father did the washing up and put away the crockery, stacked the Christmas cards and added them to the recycling bin, then watched the sport on TV, cheering on his favourite team. The two children poked and teased one another, bored now the first rush of enthusiasm for their Christmas presents was past. They sulked as they tidied away toys, both new and old, after stern instructions from their parents. Things were gradually returning to normal after the festive excess of the last few days. Soon, another year would begin, and it would be back to the humdrum routines of work and school.

Some hours later, when the children were snug in bed, Mother and Father drank a glass of champagne at the appointed time, while the old man slept on in the corner. He hadn’t moved from his regular spot the whole day, and none of the family had disturbed him, going about their business without acknowledging his presence.

Finally, Mother sighed and gestured at the old man with a significant glance to her husband. Father tried to pretend he didn’t understand, raising his eyebrows in mute enquiry.

"Don't you think it's time to make the exchange?" Mother said.

It was always up to her to point these things out, but she wasn’t about to take full responsibility for what was required.

Father sighed. "I suppose so."

He levered himself up out of his chair and approached the old man, somewhat reluctantly. He looked the old man up and down as if not quite sure how to approach the problem. He reached out one hand towards the old man’s sleeve, then pulled it back, throwing an appealing glance back over his shoulder at his wife. Mother just crossed her arms and glared at him, nodding urgently towards the old man.

"Come on, you old duffer," Father said, loudly. "Time to go!"

The old man gave a snort and a snuffle, shifting in his chair and then settling to stillness again.

Father made an exasperated noise and raised his voice another couple of levels. “I said, it’s time to for you to go!”

The old man gave a violent start, emitting a groan as he woke. He looked up at Father, bleary-eyed.

"What's that? Go?" His voice was plaintive. "But I like it here. It's warm and comfortable, and I can do just as I like. I’ve been here all year. Why would you make me leave now?"

"Your time's over now," Father said, sternly. "You’ve been rather a disappointment, all things considered. And now we need to make plans for the future."

He grabbed the old man's arm and hauled him up onto his feet. While Mother looked on, half regretful, half eager, Father marched the old man out of the room and up to the front door. The old man shuffled along, propelled from behind by Father’s firm grip. When they reached the door, he dug his heels into the carpet and looked back at his erstwhile host, whose expression was grim.

"Don't you like having me here?" the old man protested. "I don't make any demands on you. In fact, I encourage you to enjoy yourselves - eat, drink and be merry. That's my motto. I thought that’s what you wanted."

"It might have been for the last few weeks," Father admitted, "but we need to stop indulging ourselves now and start forming better habits again. We need a change and we can’t start working towards that with you here, tempting us into unhealthy behaviour."

He steeled himself and opened the front door, letting in a blast of cold air. On the path outside stood a smiling young woman in leggings and a leotard. She had perfect hair and perfect teeth, and the body displayed by her skimpy outfit was fit and trim. She didn’t seem to feel the cold, bouncing on the balls of her feet in eagerness. She had a rolled-up yoga mat under one arm and carried a plastic bottle of thick green liquid in her other hand.

She beamed at Father, jogging enthusiastically up the steps to the threshold.

"About time you came to let me in," she said. She threw a disgusted glance at the old man. “Dear me. What a disgrace. You really have let yourselves go, haven’t you? I can see you’re in desperate need of my help. This time, all your good intentions will come to fruition and you’ll develop excellent physical and mental health routines that will last the whole year. I promise, i can make all your dreams come true! Are you all ready to get started?"

Father smiled back at her, then frowned as he remembered the old man, who was standing, bewildered, between them. He was a literal barrier to bringing all the family’s hopes and dreams into the house. Father pushed the old man unceremoniously out into the cold night and dusted off his hands dramatically. 

"Good riddance to you, 2019," he said. “You may have had a promising start, but then it all went downhill. He gestured for the young woman to come in. "Welcome to the family, 2020. We've got big plans for you!"


December 28, 2019 15:27

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1 comment

James Offenha
20:10 Jan 15, 2020

I understood the metaphor at the end, but I wish the story had started with the father forcing the old man out of the chair. I wish instead of sitting there the old man had and him had argued and the wife had tried to break it up. The beginning needs more action. That’s my 2 cents


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