AlterNativity - Part 4 - Get Away! In A Manger
The animals steamed and slumbered in the dark stable, occasionally shifting their weight from weary foot to equally weary foot, to get a little relief. The ox, in particular, was desperately trying to catch up on some sleep before the long day tomorrow. The ass, by his side, was wide awake.
“Waiter, waiter…” The ass began, hopefully.
The ox continued to slumber, or certainly appeared to do so. The ass stepped smartly sideways and banged into him, raising quite a cloud of dust and rousing the ox.
“What the f…” He quickly remembered the sleeping infant and started again, “just what do you think you’re doing?”
“I said ‘Waiter, waiter…’” The ass explained.
“Look, I’m not interested in your asinine jokes”
The ass looked at him reproachfully, as only an ass can.
“I speak as I find” the ox said, huffily “I wouldn’t mind, but it wasn’t funny the other fourteen times you told it!”
“Oh, go on. It’s Christmas after all” The ass pleaded.
“That’s another thing. Every time you come up with one of these dumb jokes, you come out with this stupid phrase ‘It’s Christmas’. No-one knows what you’re talking about!” The ox snorted loudly and stamped a hoof irritably.
“Just repeating what the humans have been saying all night, that’s all” The ass sulked.
“So, what is this ‘Christmas’ then?”
“Seems to involve giving presents from the look of it. See, there’s some gold, although I can't think what use that is. You can't eat it, I've tried and got yelled at." The ass said, gloomily. "There's also a couple of other things that make me sneeze if I get anywhere near them. Plus eating and drinking quite a bit, if those shepherds are anything to go by. Talking of eating…’Waiter, waiter’” The ass looked at the ox, expectantly.
“Oh, go on then.” The ox sighed and adopted a resigned tone ‘Yes sir, what seems to be the problem?”
“There’s a baby in my soup” The ass’s brays filled the stable
“It’s not soup, it’s hay” The ox pointed out
“Well, it’s the same thing innit?” The ass snapped, “Wouldn’t be soup in a manger now, would it? What use would that be, eh? I’ve adapted it for my species. You’ve just got no sense of humour, you.”
“But it’s just not funny!” The ox pointed out, “It’s just a statement of the flaming obvious. Where did you get it from?”
“Out of a cracker” The ass muttered
“I reckon you’ve missed something, somewhere. Look, you’ve woken him up with your braying now.” The ox observed.
“He’s alright. He’s not crying, is he? Ooza booful babyden, eh?” The ass leaned over his manger and addressed his remarks to the infant, who seemed to understand and gurgled appreciatively. “I just wish he’d hotch over and let me have a mouthful of hay. My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut. I tried to snaffle a few strands a while ago and his mam had a fit.”
“I’m not surprised, damn great nashers like yours chomping away by her son and heir" The ox snorted," enough to give anyone the vapours”
Just at that point, there was a terrific sound like a whole flotilla of ships lost in the fog. The ass skittered and the baby jumped a foot from his manger, but didn't make a sound.
"What the dickens was that?" The ass asked.
"Just the cattle lowing at the back" The ox replied, "Shut up, you morons, there's a baby here you know!" He yelled over his shoulder.
"Thought you would be joining in" The ass said, archly, "right up your street a spot of lowing, I would have thought"
"What do you mean by that?" The ox asked, menacingly.
"Well, they're all your lot aren't they?" The ass suggested, "Bovine" he added, with some distaste.
"Don't you dare lump me in with that lot" The ox bellowed to everyone's surprise, "They're cattle…kine…nothing to do with me. I'm a beast of burden" he ended proudly.
"So? That's me too. I can carry stuff. You just pull stuff along. Anyone can do that" The ass sniffed.
"Ah, but I'm specifically mentioned in the carols" The ox said, proudly.
"So am I" retorted the ass.
"But you get second billing. I'm the star!" The ox held his head a little higher and fluttered his eyelashes. “The ox and the ass, that’s what it always says. I’m in Isiah too, and he knew what he was talking about”
"Bullocks!" the ass said, with feeling, "you're nothing but a potential jar of Bovril trailing a good bowl of soup. Just remember, I brought them here!"
“Oh yes, and don’t we know it! Shepherds and all sorts traipsing in at all hours, Heavenly Hosts singing till the cows (begging your pardon, ladies) come home, not forgetting infants in your dinner. Nice one!” The ox pawed the ground agitatedly.
The ass considered a withering response but took a deep breath, causing quite a few swaddling clothes to come unwrapped, and calmed down a little. "Speaking of dinner…" he nudged the ox again, "Waiter, waiter…"
"I'm not playing. Go and bother somebody else" The ox sniffed.
"There isn't anybody else. Have you ever heard of anyone else being mentioned, eh?" The ass pointed out with exasperation, "It's just you, me and your mates, the cattle, lowing"
"There's a lamb. The shepherds brought him. He must be wandering around here somewhere"
"You can't do jokes with a lamb. They just stand there looking cute and going 'baaa' winsomely" The ass grumbled.
"Well, I'm going to get some kip, so just shut up and leave me alone"
There was a long silence in which the ox attempted to settle down to a nap. His breathing had just taken on that regular rhythm that presages a good snore, when he was nudged heavily again.
"Wha…Now what?" He thundered
"I could do with a jimmy" The ass stated
"A jimmy. You know, a jimmy riddle…a widdle!"
"Well, go on then. I'm not stopping you" The ox said, reasonably.
"I don't like to. Not with the baby watching and everything. Doesn't seem right" The ass stated, primly.
"Well, it's up to you, but it hasn't stopped him, has it? Just look at the state of your hay" The ox nodded toward the manger.
"Oh no. He hasn't, has he?" The ass wailed.
"Looks like it" The ox chuckled, "do you good to lose a few pounds anyway"
The ass stared at the infant for a while, thoughtfully.
“What do you think he’ll be when he grows up?”
“Who? The nipper?” The ox considered the question for a while, “Didn’t his dad say he was a carpenter or something? Suppose he’ll follow his dad. Do him good to have a trade behind him.”
“Perhaps he’ll make wooden DONKEYS for the kiddies to play with?” The ass suggested.
“Humph!” The ox replied, disdainfully. “With all these toffs bringing presents and the celestial choir and everything, maybe he’s going to be something more than a carpenter?”
“What, like a cabinet-maker, something like that?” The ass suggested.
“Dunno. Could be.” The ox tried to shrug his massive shoulders, unsuccessfully.
“Well, whatever, I’ll take him wherever he wants to go” The ass declared, loyally.
“You want to be careful making promises like that, you never know where you might end up” The ox warned.
“If he does turn out to be a carpenter, perhaps, he could make you a yoke” The ass sniggered, “Speaking of jokes…”
“We weren’t” The ox pointed out.
"Well, anyway, 'Waiter, waiter…'"
"Is there any chance of me getting a kip if I don't do this?" The ox asked, irritably.
"Oh for goodness sake, "Yes sir, what seems to be the problem?"
You can find the complete AlterNativity, along with a whole bunch of other seasonal stories, in Philip's collection 'A Christmas Cracker' out now on Amazon Kindle.