Part Two of three parts over three days, this Christmas story is a semi-humorous collection of reminiscences from an adult when he was a teenager. He said it is a fictional recollection – but is it? I have retained the way it was imparted to me, with minimal alterations and formatting so readers may find it a bit unconventional. GBW.
This may have been a threat but I reckon Mr Bad Neighbour wouldn’t take it further because he was mostly in the wrong, most of the time. I’ll never forget him taking a kick a Bitzy just for walking past his front gate. What he didn’t know was that he was surrounded by neighbours who pretended to ignore him while keeping a dossier and thinking “He’s a bit suss. He’ll trip himself up sooner or later.” Of course, they hoped he’d trip and fall straight into prison. There’s a slim chance that could happen. But, in the meantime, they politely pretend he didn’t exist.
I hung up the receiver and it clattered into the cradle in such a way that I hoped hurt his eardrums. As I turned, I saw a pile of white envelopes someone had dumped in the cane basket beside the telephone which usually held keys and junk. I brushed aside tiny plastic charms from the Christmas bonbons we had at school on the last day and started to shuffle through the bundle like a pack of cards. I recognised some of the handwriting and was pleased to see an overseas stamp. My brain stopped my hand. My eyes locked on the address in a long window-faced envelope. It wasn’t addressed to my parents. It wasn’t addressed to me. It was addressed to the man nextdoor. We had received Mr Bad Neighbour’s post by mistake.
Tentatively, I recommenced shuffling the white business envelopes and was amazed to see that three others had his name and address on them. I read a bank return address, a doctor’s return address, a government office return address and an investment corporation return of address. There was no way of knowing if they held good news or requests for payment. Maybe the doctor’s one said he had an incurable disease. “Oh no,” I thought, “that could mean he’s highly contagious.” I shuddered. My next thought was to toss the envelopes back on the pile and let Mum or Dad sort them out. They’d probably seen this happen before, especially at Christmastime when the post office had relief staff sorting the mail. Mum might even slip a striped candy cane in with the bundle. She would think it was a nice gesture but I preferred to think it was hinting at Scrooge, or more likely the Grinch.
My mind seesawed but my hand stayed firmly clamped. There were many things I could do with these four envelopes and they were all illegal. I couldn’t open them, I couldn’t bin them, I thought about re-posting them so they took longer to get back to him, and finally the nastiest option. I could drop them in the soapy kitchen sink, maybe walk on them, then popping them into his letterbox. He’d never know. Or would he? The postman may have realised his error and would be prepared to testify in court that he put them in our letterbox, unsullied.
The more I mulled over ways to annoy Mr Bad Neighbour by delaying or partially destroying his mail, the less grip I had on reality. The right thing to do had slowly evaporated and I knew there was no way I would simply put his mail straight into his stupid Swiss Chalet letterbox with its plastic Rudolph on the roof. I wanted to get back at him for pushing over my bicycle, puncturing my football, telling Mum I trod on his flower bed looking for snails. Well, it was for a school science project.
Re-posting mail at this time of year meant long delivery delays, quite possibly he wouldn’t get the four envelopes until the New Year and by then he may have advanced lung cancer. The rational part of my mind said “Surely the doctors have already booked his hospital bed?” No, there was nothing for it. My finger prints were all over them, they had to be destroyed. It wouldn’t be my fault they accidentally fell into the bonfire we always had in the back corner of the garden on Boxing Day afternoon. Mum liked to clear up and burn the rubbish left over from our festivities. Occasionally items, unwanted or otherwise, were accidentally broken or scrunched up or drooled on by Bitzy, so what did a handful of paper matter?
It may have been Aunt Zilla’s Christmas plum pudding and brandy custard, but I did not sleep well that night. Cousin Philip’s parents were on a grown-ups break so Philip stayed in my bedroom, snoring like a diesel train in a sleeping bag. First up, after I had wiped the envelopes down like they do in the movies, I secured them in some spare wrapping paper and sticky-taped the sides. Unsure if they would pass as useless overflow or a forgotten gift, I tucked them safely into my pillowcase. This made my pillow crackle all night and that didn’t help my sleep either. My mind replayed our Christmas Day family fun over and over, but instead of focusing on my great haul of goodies, and Dad whacking a six over the garage, it kept circling back to the hall telephone table.
Over Boxing Day breakfast, mainly leftover lychees, cheesy bread and dips, I casually asked Roslyn what she thought a person would be fined if they destroyed someone’s Christmas mail. She looked away from the sight of Philip spooning plum pudding and custard into his mouth and onto his chin. After swallowing a chunk of ham, slathered in mustard pickles, she said “Depends what was in the mail?” then took a big glug of orange juice before continuing. “If it was birthday money or bank cheques, it would probably mean a stint in the lockup.” This was not what I wanted to hear. “Er,” I groped for a reply. “What if it was an accident?” She laughed. “Then nobody would know, would they?” And I knew I had my answer.
I tried to keep the jubilant tone out of my voice, while tucking away the word “jubilant” to dazzle my next English teacher, and said “Better not work in the post office, I guess.” Roslyn gave me a funny look, as though she was going to ask if I’d got a holiday job. I quickly jumped to my feet. “Hey, Phil, wanna come to the pool with us tomorrow?” Philip nearly choked in his eagerness to accept the invitation. It was nice being a younger kid’s idol. “That would be great!” Roslyn raised her nose and said in a haughty voice “I wouldn’t come to that lukewarm pool if you paid me.” I pulled my Velcro wallet out of my board shorts. “I have moneeey.” I waggled two five dollar notes. “Ice creams are on me.” They both responded appropriately but I guessed Roslyn had worked out that Uncle Mark had been unfair and given me more than he had given her this Christmas. Should it matter? It did, and I felt bad about it. I made a mental note to buy her a packet of Smarties.
Philip’s holidaying parents left instructions while they were away; games of Scrabble were meant to be the kid’s calm Boxing Day entertainment. Yeah… At the chlorinated council swimming pool, I let Phil slide down the slippery slide into the blue water about a hundred times and eat too many jelly snakes which made him sick. Even when Roslyn forced him to wear a daggy t-shirt in the water, and he got a sunburned face which made him look like a drunk on Saturday night, he loved every minute of it. “You forgot to apply his sunscreen cream,” wailed Mum. “Don’t worry, Auntie June,” said Philip. “My skin will peel off soon enough.” She left the room still wailing but I couldn’t work out if it was because of Philip’s skin or because her own sister would skin her alive. Little did I know that I was minutes away from my own personal disaster.
To Be Continued…
© Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020