An old Christmas 3words story, from 2006, chance-remembered thanks to VikT. Thank you. 🙂
Jimmy was worried about his mum’s condition; about Suzy’s tears when Bert claimed sannyclaus was everywhere because he wasn’t real; and about the beanbag.
“Geddidoudaway, Jimmy,” their mum mumbled, her head stuck in a box of decorations.
Jimmy studied the old beanbag. It was still bigger than him, but smaller than when he was one and had swallowed him whole, their dad fishing him free.
He winked at Suzy, but a single white bean that must have slipped from the bag held her captivated.
“Funny there’s only one,” Jimmy said. Thinking, like there’s only one sannyclaus, and I’ll prove it.
Steve watched Jimmy, his middle child, drag the old beanbag to the far corner, proud and hopeful. He moved to where it had sat and picked up two blue beans, turning to his wife, Mary, tapping her shoulder.
She pulled her face from the decorations. “Yes, dear?”
He showed her the blue beans and she smiled.
“You’re thinking of the academy, right?” she said, and he nodded. She leaned into him and sighed. “I was only there that once to return my girlfriend’s towel, but I got to meet you. I was lucky.”
“We both were,” he said, kissing her.
Bert glared at Jimmy with a purple intensity, then forced the irritation to wash from his face, not wanting anyone else to see it. He glanced around nervously, but stupid-Suzy was besotted with jerkoff-Jimmy, and their parents were being snugly. It all made him sick.
He scooped up three beans left in Jimmy’s wake and popped them in his mouth, chewing on them as if it was required and not just another destructive impulse he felt, like when he’d tried to convince a three-year old Jimmy there was no sannyclaus. This year was stupid-Suzy’s turn.
Smirking, he swallowed and contemplated.
Mary pulled away, a popsicle of pain raging inside her head. She closed her eyes and swayed, comforted yet angry when Steve caught her. Her eyes darted to the kids, but they hadn’t noticed, being too interested in the nice money daddy earned for more presents. Did they know?
She looked at Steve, trying a smile. She loved her kids, and thought it normal for them to be gift-obsessed, but did that make it right?
She spied four beans from the old bag and became lost in a cyclone of memories from the day her ex gave it to her.
Suzy wallowed. Was Bert right? Was there no sannyclaus? Jimmy’d stomped his foot, punched Bert’s arm and bet the price of all gifts sannyclaus would bring that he was real; that men in white beards and red suits pretended; that daddy wasn’t the accoun ant he pretended to be at work; that when gran puckered her lips for a kiss Suzy pretended to be interested, but wasn’t, was she?
Well, no, but this was different…
Suzy looked at the five beans she pulled from the bag and huffed, watching them scatter, smiling as she remembered the joy of last year.
Jimmy scooped up six beans and put them in his pocket, telling himself not to forget them so they wouldn’t get caught up in the washing, reminded of when Bert left a pickle in his trousers and mum blew her top.
He smiled as he watched the others string a few Christmas cards, everyone humming a carol. If he could convince Bert to accept sannyclaus as a reality, Suzy would be safe. Well, for a year at least. Jimmy knew Suzy loved him, but she idolised Bert.
He shook his head, mumbling, “I can understand that. I did too, once.”
“How many beans you got there, little Floozy?”
“Don’t call her that,” Mary whispered. “Either she or the boys’ll start quoting it to our parents.”
“Wouldn’t that be a vision.”
“Can you imagine your mum?”
Suzy said, “Seven, daddy.”
Steve turned and counted them with her. “That’s right, darling, well done.”
Suzy smiled and dropped the beans.
Steve nudged Mary. “Remember when Bert was seven?”
“Birthday or Christmas?”
“Oh, god, either one,” Steve chuckled. “But Christmas.”
“Yes,” Mary sighed. “When he uncovered the truth about the big man and we suffered a serious reduction in our Christmas spirit.”
Bert closed the door to the cupboard under the stairs and nestled down among the shoes. This was his quiet place, where he escaped.
“Mental healing,” he said. “That’s what mum’d call it.”
He fumbled in the dark for his grandmother’s walking stick, taking a deep breath, remembering the day in the hospital when the old gourmet offered it, claiming to need it no longer. Bert had been Jimmy’s age then and cried, but knew better now.
He plucked eight more beans from his pocket and chewed, thinking about the day his grandmother sat on the bag that first Christmas.
“Nothing as nasty as cold coffee,” Mary mumbled in Suzy’s sleeping ear, putting the cup in the microwave to re-heat it, watching her youngest to see if she’d stir.
“What’s this, little chicks?”
There were black marks under Suzy’s chin, reminding Mary of the day she found a rash and couldn’t explain it. She’d called her mum who’d come and soothed her. But now she was in the home, Mary would have to cope.
She lifted Suzy’s chin and found nine squashed beans from her dad’s old bag. She plucked them free, thinking it might be time to trash it.
Suzy couldn’t remember her birth, but knew it wasn’t yesterday, and if Bert was saying there absolutely was no sannyclaus, then there probably wasn’t, and she should just swallow the pill or check out.
She chuckled. That was one of Bert’s sayings, and she was happy she remembered it. She scooped up even more of the beans that had fallen from the stinky old beanbag Jimmy seemed to be dragging around the whole house, and counted them into her mouth, as she’d seen Bert do.
She saw her parents look in her direction, but looked away, looked for Bert.
Jimmy locked the bathroom door, removed his trousers and sat. More beans fell from his pockets, eleven this time.
Within a busy family there were few places you could go for a little alone time, but pretending he had a weak bladder (or worse) seemed to work for him, and he smiled.
He remembered his best friend at school, Tuck “the duck” Johnson, telling him in a few years his parents wouldn’t ask him so many questions about what he did behind the locked door, so he should suck up the heat before he got to palm off their interest.
Not forgetting to switch off the garden sensor, Steve slipped through the door into the shadows.
He checked over his shoulder, wincing at the pain that still ached in his lower back, cursing the day he took the challenge at school to attempt that crazy skateboard flip down the steps leading to the underpass.
He shook his head, laughing as a dozen or so almost fluorescent beans from Mary’s mum’s bag fluttered off into the breeze.
Steve checked behind again before lighting his sly cigarette, heaving in the first breath, just in case he got chased out of a second.
Bert pulled a thirteenth bean from his pocket and rested it between his lips, taking care not to breathe and force it away before he was ready.
Thirteen was supposed to be unlucky, but it was his birthday, so he never subscribed to that way of thinking. Plus it happened during summer, and anything was possible when the sun kissed.
He remembered his eighth when he’d got a go-cart. He’d gone crashing round the streets, bumping into people and hitting lampposts, uncaring, but loving the gift. That was what his parents never understood.
Bert exhaled, mumbling, “Best be gone outaways.”
Mary couldn’t believe the little bugger beans were still turning up everywhere. It was days since Jimmy moved the old thing, but she’d found fourteen lodged in the cracks in the back of the tv when she dusted it.
“Why lament what is?” she mumbled, then smiled, reminded of a poem she’d written for Steve when she was fourteen.
She had to rhyme her poems back then, and ended one line with ferment, desperate for something loving to couple it with, rejecting cement, her first thought, finally settling for lament.
She turned to watch Steve in the garden and smiled.
Suzy heard her mother rhyming words and smiled, loving the pretty sounds they made, with even the funniest words cute if you paired them well.
“Pair,” she said, picking up a couple of beans she’d pulled from the bag, flicking one at another, laughing. “Don’t be scared,” she said, flicking again and again. “I’ll play fair.”
She counted out fifteen and rolled onto her back, staring at the ceiling, remembering a time when she used to see it high above her teddy mobile, thinking it would always be out of reach, but now feeling it was getting closer every day.
Jimmy counted out sixteen and pushed the remainder under the beanbag. He hadn’t found a rip, or would’ve told his mum, so the best he could do was be tidy.
And play with them.
He spread them on the floor, forming a one and six, then crawled around, nodding when he recognised a ninety-one on the far side.
“Nana Olive,” Jimmy nodded, remembering her age when she stopped visiting.
Jimmy knew the real reason was she died, but Olive’s other daughter, Vera, who came in her place, hadn’t said, it was just something Jimmy realised, like Suzy might re sannyclaus.
Steve checked the football score on tv: still five points clear. He looked down at the decoration he was making for Suzy. Beans showered his hands, bouncing on his knees.
He let go of the latest loop in the chain and scratched his head, watching six more appear, totalling seventeen. Someone must have put them there, but that was ok. In fact, it was a sweet surprise.
He refocused on the loops, something he’d done for Bert, then Jimmy, now Suzy, though she might not want him to much longer. He remembered his mum doing it for him and smiled.
Bert lay back, his feet wedged against his door. His mum was singing Christmas songs downstairs, and he wanted to think about anything else.
He pressed play on his mp3, Joey Ramone barking about how everyone is screwed up in their own special way.
Bert took the first of eighteen beans and rested it on his lips. As Joey’s words weaved through him, Bert blew on it and the bean flew up. When it descended, he caught it and chewed, slapping his lips like Suzy.
He did this again and again, wondering how to break the far-from-guiltless news to her.
Mary felt the flutter of fear feather-tickle her spine, and was confused.
On the phone with a man from the paper regarding a story for which he thought she might be able to nail an answer, Mary watched Bert take Suzy into the downstairs toilet, probably keen to aid her move toward a potty-free life.
More damn beans from the old bag trailed them down the hall.
Mary moved toward them, still listening, but lost in a memory of an Easter hunt in her grandmother’s vast garden when she was a girl, counting nineteen beans, as there had been eggs.
Suzy knelt on the cushions and pulled back her curtain. Mummy had sung “Twinkle Twinkle”, tucked her into bed, turned on the nightlight, latched her gate and pulled her door to, but Suzy had to check again.
Yep, there were the stars, she smiled. What had mummy called them? The big toilet and the hungry hamster? She couldn’t remember.
Suzy pulled some stray beans from grans’s old bag and counted them onto the windowsill. Twenty. Just like the stars, Suzy thought, remembering when mummy first sang today’s rhyme, telling her about sannyclaus.
She yawned and snuggled back under the covers.
Jimmy prodded the dying embers and turned to his dad.
“That’s good,” Steve nodded. “Just be careful. Your mum might not be happy you’re doing that.”
Jimmy beamed and turned back to the fire.
“Remember,” his dad said. “When it’s out, it’s bedtime.”
Jimmy nodded, counting the beans that lay marked by ash in the fireplace. Twenty-one. Wouldn’t that be a cool age? “Is mummy not happy cause I’m a big boy now?”
Steve laughed. “Keep on like this and you will be soon.”
“Does she know we had that talk about sannyclaus?” Jimmy whispered, remembering this day last year.
Steve pulled off his shirt and set it on the back of the pine chair. White, pink, blue and yellow beans fluttered to the floor. “Look at these,” he chuckled.
Mary glanced up from her scented night table and shook her head. “I know, they’re everywhere. It’s like they’re alive with the spirit of gran.”
“Now there’s a scary thought.”
“They’re just dry beans. How many you got there?”
Steve counted. “Another twenty-two. Remember when you were-”
“Yeah,” Mary laughed. “When I introduced you to Grans. What a night.”
“Come here, gorgeous. Let’s remember something else we did that night.”
Bert blushed hard and cringed. She was just a girl, a neighbour in his class he liked more than the others since she proved herself not to be one of those girlygirls who wouldn’t touch bugs.
Bert gazed down at her from his window. She was caked in red and brown leaves. Why did he blush when she didn’t know he was watching?
He pulled his hands from his pockets, pleased to find more beans. He leaned out the window and sprinkled them over her, counting twenty-three before she looked up and he ducked back inside, finding Jimmy watching him.
Mary picked up more beans, twenty-four this time, closed Suzy’s door and walked down the hall. “Finally, she nodded off.”
“It’s the excitement,” Steve chuckled. “You must remember what you were like all those years ago.”
“Easy on the all.”
“Had I better watch out?”
“No, but Bert might. I heard Jimmy tell him not to tell Suzy about sannyclaus. It was sweet.”
“Do you think he will?”
“Not this year. But I think it might be time to trash gran’s old beanbag.”
“That’s a shame,” Steve smiled. “You wanna fool around till we’re sure the kids are fast asleep?”
“Sweet little baby cheeses,” Suzy heard her dad whisper.
“You were supposed to wake me,” her mum said.
“I fell asleep.”
Suzy tiptoed to the door. The latch was off. She glanced left, hearing her parents in the bathroom.
“There’s no time, Steve. What’ll we do?”
Suzy reached the stairs and started down slowly, quietly, picking up what she somehow knew were the last of the beans from gran’s bag.
“Twenty-five,” she shouted, bursting into the lounge, marvelling at the presents under their tree, checking the glass of milk was empty and nothing but crumbs remained on the plate.