I pressed the doorbell and saluted to the camera I knew was watching me. There was a muffled crackling noise and then I heard Grandpa say “Rosalyn! I’m so glad you could make it. Come find me in the kitchen.”
He was the only one who still called me that name. Everyone at school, even the teachers, calls me Murphy, because I remind people of that dead actress who was in Clueless, Brittany Murphy. I guess maybe with the hair and eyes I can see what they’re talking about.
Grandpa was buzzing me in. I pushed the door but luckily before I pushed it too wide I remembered to turn so my back was to his security cam and flip my new septum piercing up so it was tucked inside my nostrils. Linda had told me it was ones of the best piercings to get as you could hide it easily. I just hope he didn’t spot it on the camera, but then his eyesight’s not been too good these past few years anyhow. Last Christmas after a few too many snowballs he said the sheet music now appears to him more like ‘shiiiiiit’ music, which caused my mum to spill some of the sprouts.
Wafts of cooking smells enveloped me. I could almost taste all the slaughtered animals. Last year at this annual shindig grandpa throws for all of his fancy orchestra people I started telling the guests the names of all the creatures they were snacking on from the plates I was carrying round. By the time I was introducing the prawns as Larry, Curly and Woe, grandpa had clocked it and told me to put a lid on it.
The kitchen was a white whirlwind of activity, puffs of flour floating around, starched aprons, and buzzing gadgets, with grandpa sticking out at the table covered in his lists and recipes, the black-clad conductor of the chaos.
I stood in the doorway, feeling a bit shy. I mean, this does always feel like a performance. Even though I’ve been helping grandpa by waiting on his guests for god knows how many Christmases. It gives me a chance to work on my stage fright, I guess.
Grandpa peered at me over his glasses, looking angry at the interruption before he saw who it was. His already crinkled face fragmented further with happy creases.
“Come in, come in my dear!” he beckoned me over with a whisk. “So, early this year? My favourite drummer girl is finally learning how to keep time!” I patted him on the back while he got over the coughing fit his little gag brought on.
“How are you doing, grandpa?” I asked him, hanging my bag off the handle of one of the table draws.
“Fine, fine, will be better when Gus comes back with correct brie.” He rolled his eyes and huffed dramatically. “Anyway! We need to talk about the serviettes, I’ve seen a great idea for folding them so they look like little turkeys…but first we need to do something about that hair of yours.”
“My…hair?” I tentatively patted my ringlets, worried maybe I’d managed to get toothpaste in them again.
“Those roots! As long as my arm. Luckily, I’ve got just the thing.”
He reached into the carrier bag that was on the stool next to him and brought out an elf hat.
“Oh no,” I began to protest.
“Oh yes,” Grandpa said.
It was going to be a long evening. I could tell.
* * *
Some stats for you, dear reader. It’s now 9:40pm, half the guys have become champagne-drunk enough to have – gasp – loosened their bowties, there is a woman I last saw on a stage with a harp between her legs attempting to dry hump a man she’s lassoed with a feather boa, I’ve been asked five times what’s the weather like up there (like I can help that I’m 5’11), I am in need of exactly one cigarette and I will scream if I see another platter that’s been abandoned with just one morsel left on it. Like, stop being polite people! Just eat the damn piece of pig or whatever so I don’t have to think of its wasted life when I’m scraping it into the bin.
I’ve decided it was time for a bathroom break and headed up the stairs, sighing with relief when I shut the bathroom door on the downstairs cacophony.
After washing my hands I checked my phone to see if anybody had thrown me a lifeline. There’s one from Linda reminding me of rehearsal tomorrow. She’s the lead singer of Trailed Laces. And our manager. And songwriter. And basically the one we all look up to because she’s like a year older. I tapped out a reply while walking back down the stairs. One of many circus tricks you learn as a teen in this brave new world.
I checked in on the sequinned chaos. Grandpa was in deep conversation with the accountant woman. I think he’s always had a bit of a thing for her. Kinda gross. She must only be in her mid-50s or thereabouts.
Nobody seemed to be wasting away from hunger, so I decided it was a good time for that cigarette. I checked my bag, brushing off a little light dust of pastry flakes. My fingers felt only the usual gum wadded up in bits of receipts, umpteen biros and a few coins that always sink to the bottom. I headed to the entrance, figuring the smokes must be in my jacket pocket.
Which some strange guy was going through.
“Hey…” I began. He jumped up like a rat bit him. Which would be ridiculous. Nibbles likes sleeping in my faux fur coat the most and not the denim jacket I brought with me tonight, which has far too many holes for her to get caught in.
“Jeez. I thought you were my mum.”
I gave him the look Grandpa calls ‘the eyebrows’.
“Sorry, I mean, no, obviously you’re not her…it’s just, I’m here with her tonight and…”
I couldn’t help but raise a corner of my mouth at how flustered he was getting. Going red to match his pillar box red dyed hair.
“Gah, I just want a smoke and I thought I put my baccy in my jacket,” he eventually managed.
“That’s my jacket.”
He looked at me, the jacket, then back to me. “Uh, no; it’s mine.”
“We sound like a panto,” I laugh. “It’s behind youuuu.”
He looked to where I’m pointing.
“Okay, so we have the same jacket. But,” I start, taking mine from his fingers, noticing a skull ring glinting on one, “does yours have the Hole badge on the collar?”
He reaches around me and I catch the scent of something subtle yet expensive. And importantly, not an animal.
“Nope,” he says. “Green Day”. He points to a familiar bleeding heart/hand grenade design. “And importantly,” he continues, “this jacket actually contains nicotine.” He pulls out the packet and waggles it. “Shall I roll for you?”
Here’s where I would normally say I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself, but I decided to let him go ahead. It gave me more of an excuse to take him in. Someone who actually towered over me for a change. Meanwhile I could hear grandpa protesting as one of his crew did something dreadful to a saxophone. I’m grateful for it though, as my heart’s beating crazy fast and loud right now. Just like a drum.