The Gift That Keeps On Sounding

Submitted into Contest #119 in response to: Start your story with an unusual sound being heard.... view prompt


Christmas Fiction Funny

I jerk awake from my stupor and feel it coming on fast.

There’s this bizarre transition from total peace and dormitory to vivid awakening. An awakening so sudden and vicious enough to gatecrash a pleasant dream, slap consciousness back into the body and set off all the internal system’s alarm bells that something is very very wrong.

As I come to, swaddled like Baby Jesus in layers of tartan blankets, sandwiched toastily between two other dosing relatives, I feel it tear through my innards and explode across my middle.

The noise startles the lounge and the entire Baxter-Collins clan snaps awake, looking both alert and half-dead from the rum quantity in Aunt Rhema’s fruit cake, that KO’ed us all, an hour ago.

“What in the…” Uncle Zachery launches himself to standing, taking the fleece cocooning the three of us with him. He fumbles with his glasses hanging from their neck chain until they are correctly positioned on his nose and glares accusingly back and forth at the equally perplexed room, “What in the world was that?!”

Nobody answers, but they all look vexed. Vexed that their post-feast nap was so rudely cut short by “the most unpleasant and baffling noise I have ever heard” (Uncle Zachery’s words).

It doesn’t take long for everyone to identify the responsible party because I am the only one still horizontal and the pain is now so intense that I am riveted to the sofa, with my teeth clenched.

I know what’s happening. 

I know exactly what’s happening.

And as my stomach starts to ripple and gurgle and expand in protest, I realise my secret is about to be unveiled and take centre stage at this very intimate occasion; our very first family gathering on the greatest day of the year - Christmas Day. 

And worst of all, I am not in the comfort of my own home. I am in my husband’s relatives’ house surrounded by his nearest and dearest, who quite frankly know absolutely nothing about their new daughter-in-law. Apart from the facts that:

  • I am saved (a non-negotiable)
  • I am the only child of the great Pastor Foster (brownie points) 
  • I have agreed to birth lots of little Baxter-Collins’, in hope of at least one son to keep my new husband’s family line strong and hopefully provide the successor to my own father’s ministry.

And so, at the sight of my reeling and panting, my new family are understandably, completely stumped.

I clutch my stomach with both hands and press hard and down against the wall of distension building up within me, the bubbles inside bursting against my skin.

The sheep themed onesie, the present I’d unwrapped and slipped into after the 3 pm Queen’s Speech, in preparation for dinner, provides less warming comfort and more overheating restriction as the unseen reactions continue to dance around in my gut.

Suddenly, I am roaring and everyone in the room staggers to their feet in a blind panic. Naturally the caregivers - the women of the household - come shuffling to my aid, with worried voices and frantic hands, combing my hair and stroking my face. The men hang back, peering cautiously over their wives’ shoulders at me as though I am an evil spirit they’ve just cast out into the abyss.

“Well don’t just stand there,” a first-cousin called Josie rebukes the docile crowd and with her free hand (the one not gripping my own) launches a TV remote at them; “Do something!”

Yelping, several bystanders dash out of the lounge, grateful to leave the unfolding drama and are replaced in a moment with the one person who connects us all together.

“Jamie,” I whimper at the welcoming sight of my shaven-headed, Santa-beard bearing, apron-wearing husband, who muscles his way through the wall of big breasted, thick accented women to take his rightful place as my rock in my moment of distress.

“Geesh, Cass, what happened?” He demands, tearing my hand away from Josie and blinking down into my tear-strewn face. His eyes are big and brown and concerned behind glasses that are slightly fogged up, I imagine, either by the steam from the oven or the hot breaths invading my own air and space.

I can barely think let alone speak; the cramping within me intensifies and it takes every conscious effort to remember my breathing technique in order to manage the waves of nausea and not pass out on the spot.

“She just started howling,” Josie interjects as a spasm shoots down into my lower back and forces me to lurch forwards, almost flying off of the sofa uncontrollably, “Like out of nowhere...It was all quiet, we were just sleeping off the food, and then, then there’s this noise…” She trails off, glancing pitifully down at me as though sharing in my shame and pondering over the mysterious cause of the sound that had shaken the room.

“Wait -what?,” James’ nose crinkles and he glances sideways at her, "What noise?” 

“Oh my gosh, Jamie, it hurts so bad,” I scream out before anyone can answer him, in a desperate attempt to distract from the line of questioning and mask further unwanted noises from down below.

I am dying from unrelenting pain and embarrassment. The room begins to feel small and suffocating, the previous peace and joy of Christmas evaporating with every second as my body continues to throw its poorly timed tantrum. I am tingling with both heat from being trapped inside the onesie and a chill from a nervous cold sweat.

James is hushing me as somebody behind him darts back into view and insists that we should phone an ambulance.

“No,” I shriek, mortified, “ Please no, no, don’t you dare.”

“Baby, you need to calm down,” James snatches both my clenched fists and pins them in his own. The women have produced towels, “Just calm down and talk to me… tell me, what’s going on?”

“Jamie,” a voice hisses. Uncle Zachery is back, “You need to take control of your wife. What in the world is going on with her? I’m telling you right now, the neighbours’ll start knocking on the walls, she’s yelling real loud…”

“Stuff the neighbours,” James snaps in my defence,“Who cares about the neighbours? How can you be so insensitive? Can’t you see she’s in pain?”

Uncle Zachery jostles a glass tumbler of something dark. His nostrils flare as he takes an exaggerated swig.

“Imma call that ambulance,” he announces with a huff, just as his wife’s head rounds the open doorway.

“Lord in heaven!," Her brows furrow at me thrashing about on her sofa,“What’s going on in here? I can hear all this commotion from way upstairs. The baby’s trying to sleep...”

“Rhema, get the phone. We’re calling an ambulance right now”

Auntie Rhema gawks at her husband, taking in the glass in his hand.

“What? But why? It’s Christmas…”

“It’s not necessary,” I wince, in between shallow breaths. Josie presses a small square flannel to my face but I wriggle away, repulsed by the discomfort of an ice-cold wet rag against my face.

James starts tugging at my onesie, tackling the flimsy plastic zip with his bare hands just to pry it open and get me free.

“Stop,” I gasp at him, realising I’m virtually naked beneath the suit and he’s unknowingly disrobing me in front of everyone.

“What are you doing, Cass?” James scowls, “I’m trying to help you.”

I know, I think. But I feel powerless to my rising irritability.

“Don’t touch me,” I retort and press away to attempt sitting upright.

The juices inside sloshes from left to right and a queasy feeling makes me gage. James quickens out of my way, instinctively. The spray hits Josie and the room erupts in disgusted wailing. But the purge does little to lessen the pain and I’m back to howling and scratching at my own middle.

Auntie Rhema is in hysterics about her soiled Italian leather sofa and James is apologising profusely, whilst staring at me with so much mixed emotion that he seems to regret entirely ever bringing me into his family.

Uncle Zachery starts stabbing numbers into the wireless phone, staying an obviously clear distance away from me.

“You gotta go,” He wags his finger at me from afar, “I’m sorry, my girl, but this, this is too much. Christmas day, of all days…”

Josie’s face freezes. She lifts the damp flannel and wipes away the vomit slowly from between her eyes. Her mouth is a hard line, but she doesn’t back away like everyone else.

“I know what’s going on here,” She declares and orders everyone to pipe down, mocking them for crying about “a little bit of sick.” It’s obvious…”

I know exactly what’s going on.

But I’m pretty certain Josie doesn’t.

“You do?, ” My flustered husband lifts his head from his hands. He has just managed to shoo his auntie out of the room, ensuring her that he will handle the situation and redeem the remainder of what started out as a great Christmas day.

Josie nods confidently and shuffles on her knees back towards me until her face is in line with mine.

I feel fear for her being this close to me. I can sense the churning starting up again as my abdomen muscles squeeze and squeeze. 

Oh God, I just need to get away from here. I just need to be alone, to ride this out in peace…

“You’re pregnant, aren’t you?” Josie says, with an air of ridicule.

Her words stun everyone, including me, into a moment of deafening silence.

“Wait, what?!,” James, hearing her outrageous claim, staggers backwards and the watching room revolves too and squeals.

“No!,” I bark at their accusing eyes, scanning their faces for allies, whilst forcing back the bile in my throat. Josie is wrong. She is so wrong.

“Yes!,” Josie insists and punches the air triumphantly; she seems exceedingly pleased with herself for being so witty, "It’s the only thing that makes sense...You must be pregnant. And this - this must be labour”.

Labour?! No, no.

“That’s impossible,” I argue.

But I catch Josie’s adamant eyes shining down at my onesie. I didn’t realise James had snapped the zip clean off of the track. Protruding out from within, is the rounded arc of my belly, tripling in appearance since the morning. It looks grossly huge.

“Lord have mercy!” Paula, one of the other cousins, squawks.

Ironically, I feel my stomach contract and then pout and I draw in a sharp whoozy breath to keep as calm as possible. This is ridiculous...

“Is it James’?" Josie nods at the evidence of my “baby” belly. She delivers her punchline with such speed and finesse that it sends the congregation into a tailspin. Someone responds with a chorus of tongues and rebukes.

I gape back at Josie, appalled by her act. What is she trying to do to me? I can’t do this; I think. Not here, not now...

At her smug face, I tell Josie to get away from me, covering my exposed flesh with the flimsy onesie flaps. She does, without protest, and Detective Josie baits the crowd further with an obnoxious shrug.

“Operator,” Uncle Zachery suddenly shouts into the phone, “Imma need you to get that ambulance here - and make it snappy!” He slams his glass down on the cabinet after necking the rest of the dark moody liquid.

“No,” I protest over the wahala, trying desperately to single-handedly defend my character over the rising uncertainty, “I mean, no, she’s got it wrong. I’m not - owww - pregnant. You’re wrong...It’s, it’s...”

No one is listening to me at this point, now that the accusation has polluted the atmosphere and the words infidelity pregnancy and labour, are bouncing around in everybody’s mouths and minds, and my poor husband is insane with confusion, pacing around and around in small circles, clearly beside himself.

I try calling out to assure him, but James completely ignores me. He doesn’t even glance in my direction as he suddenly breaks out of his trance, stalks to the other side of the floor, steals his uncle’s empty glass and unashamedly requests: “Wine - no, scratch that - make it a vodka.”

”You’ve done enough,” I’m told to be quiet and I collapse back into my grief, rocking my own swollen body. My head feels light as I try to grasp the truth and how to salvage this mess. More nausea forces me to screw my eyes shut and I take comfort in listening to my own breathing, alone in the darkness for a second. 

This episode is exhausting, I just want to overcome it, curl up in a ball and disappear.

I hear Uncle Zachery take charge, by stepping up as the man of the house and declaring the evening to be well and truly over. Everybody’s leaving; he decides; i-mme-di-ate-ly.

I can’t bear to open my eyes again and look into anybody’s face: the animosity is electric.

The entire situation is ridiculous. In a matter of unfortunate events and a handful of senseless words, my newfound family has turned against me and allowed a perceived scandal to further reduce our first family Christmas together to cinders. I am done, I an over it.

As bubbles of anger overtake the gripe in the pit of my stomach, I sense a sudden change taking place within me. A few more gurgles inside proceed a rapid rushing of foul-tasting acid up into my mouth and before I can stop myself, I let out the loudest belch I’ve ever produced in my entire life; the sheer surprise of it pries open my eyes. It sounds off, like a foghorn and ricochets through the air, calling the naysayers back to attention.

The tight huddle, enveloping their beloved and now visibly tipsy James, instantly dissembles at my war cry and bodies swivel back towards me with baffled expressions.

We all blink at each other until one brave Baxter-Collins member presses his glasse to the bridge of his nose, and in the same exclamation as before says “What in the world was that?!”

I sigh heavily, finally relieved.

My pain and nausea slows and my distended stomach deflates against my hands.


When the paramedics finally cross the threshold into the living room, they find a restored family gathering seeing through the last few hours of Christmas Day together.

“We got an emergency call,” they explain, “The operator told us someone was in labour?”

We all apologised heavily for wasting their time.

The two men exchange puzzled looks.

“So, no baby?”

No baby; we all insist.

I take the initiative to see them out; with James in tow.

James and I gaze at each other at the door and he lowers his face into my head, his glasses crunching softly against my hair, a million and one sorrys still rolling from his tongue. I feel terrible for him - he didn’t know, wouldn’t have known. I whisper to him once again that he’s forgiven and that little Baxter-Collins are still on the agenda.

But I feel even more terrible for the paramedics.

“Perhaps you get this kind of call a lot at this time of year,” I prob the men lightheartedly, hoping they’re in a bit of festive mood despite being on call at this hour on Christmas day.

They don’t understand what I mean.

So I nip back inside and return with a little white medicine bottle, flashing it guiltily at them. It feels inappropriate to laugh, but I can’t help replaying the night over in my head.

One of the men squints at the label in the dark and then makes a unique noise of his own.

“Ah.. yes,” he confirms and manages a small smile, “Every single year”.

His partner clocks on and groans.

“It’s always the ruddy Christmas dinner,” he says. “ Bet it was the pud, wasn’t it?”

We all chuckle.


“Works wonders,” I say, gesturing first to the bottle and then down at my flattened stomach hidden under a clean sweater, “ It won’t happen again. I’ve made a mental note that, next time, I’ll be sure to mention to people who don’t know me very well that I have a slight problem with dairy…”

November 12, 2021 23:18

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