MovieLand! (A Christmas Story part 2)
Read part 1 here - https://www.abctales.com/story/drewgummerson/movieland-christmas-story-p...
While the two boys shaded in the wind turbines in the Wind Farm Activity Book with Attached Pencil, the woman poured out the deep recesses of her heart.
Her husband the shipbuilder.
A world wide recession.
Shipyards mothballing major new construction projects.
The bottom falling out of the shipbuilding business.
“Every day he came home with the same defeated expression. And it was the way he looked at the boys that was the worst. Like he had failed them or something.
“The evening he didn't return home I feared the worst. He’d been depressed, we all had. When he was eventually found washed up on a beach outside Carnoustie by a pair of elderly dog walkers it was almost a relief. Except it wasn’t. It never is. His pockets were filled with ratchets. That's what he used to do, fix ratchets onto boats. Maybe he was hoping it would look like an accident. You know, ratchets had pulled him under. It’s the boys I worry most about. All boys need a father. I’ve been trying to do everything I can to cheer them up.”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Alright Sammy! Alright Pete!”
The younger of the two held up his activity book. He had shaded in his wind turbine, almost perfectly keeping in the edges.
If truth be told it didn’t look like much, kind of dark and foreboding.
We used to give out a set of colour pencils but Doug had got a deal on these packs, 'Ten Shades of Grey. Pencils For All Occasions'.
At the staff meeting where he had announced it he had claimed ‘shading is the new colouring’ but that was just Doug putting his own spin on things.
None of us believed it.
At the end of the tour as I stood at the gangplank wishing the guests a safe and pleasant onward journey the woman put her arms around me and gave me a tight hug.
She said it had been wonderful to talk and then Sammy, he was the younger of the boys, tore out the page displaying the wind turbine he had shaded in and held it out towards me.
“This is for you. You can pin it on your wall. That’s what daddy always used to do.”
I watched them cross the car park to an old battered Fiat. For a moment I thought about calling them back and asking them to come with me to the train station. The woman could tell James what a great person I was. Plus if James saw me with a woman then perhaps that would make things easier.
I wasn't sure if he knew about me and it seemed another thing to deal with on top of everything else.
But what was the point in lying? How did that ever help anyone?
If you put your heart on the line and then it got trampled at least you'd put it on the line.
You can't go through life with your heart never on the line. That would be a life half lived, a quarter lived even.
I raised my arm and waved towards the departing Fiat. I waved until the car had disappeared from view. I don’t even know if the woman had seen me. Or those two little boys either.
I’d seen this film once. Someone meets someone at a train station. The train looks like its last stop was The Railway Children, and as it pulls in steam billows from the smokestack obscuring everything from view.
As the steam clears only the hero and the person he is there to meet are left. They run into each other’s arms.
James’s mother and I had ended badly. I could have perhaps got away with the condom she’d found in my trouser pocket after a business trip to Glasgow or the flyer for ’Pump’ with its promise of dark areas and even a ’watersports’ dungeon but not the two together.
She confronted me with them clutched in her hands and asked me if they meant what she thought they meant. I broke down at once, glad at last for a chance to confess and agreed with everything she said in return.
I didn't like myself or what I was doing. I agreed I was scum and even in the height of my self-abnegation admitted that in Pump I had let grown men urinate on me and enjoyed it. Or not enjoyed it but felt at last I had got what I deserved. Which was a kind of enjoyment.
I packed a suitcase and that was that.
Ten years of my life over in one afternoon, I never saw or spoke to her again. That she knew how to find me was because I put my address and phone number on the back of the envelope in which I put James’ birthday card and £500 in twenty pound notes every year. I had been doing it for so long I almost didn't connect it to any physical reality. That was why the phone call had come as so much of a shock.
Like Doug had advised at the emergency staff meeting the morning after Ed died I had put my feelings in a box, put a lid on the box, put the box in a cupboard, closed the door and walked away.
I worried I wouldn’t recognise James, after all, it had been five years, but there was no mistaking the young man on the bench. He was slouched down, legs apart, eyes glued to a copy of something called Nuts.
He looked like he’d lost weight which was a concern since the last time I’d seen him he’d been nine.
As I stood there watching he plucked a suppository shaped object out of his ear and said without even looking in my direction, “Before you ask, I don’t want to be here. It wasn’t my idea."
All the way back in the taxi I could hear the music coming from his ears. It was like being at a rock concert but also being far away. I thought about Ed’s son.
After Ed had died he had threatened to wonk Doug on the side of the head with one of the stainless steel replica wind turbines we sold in the gift shop. Later I’d found him sobbing in the guest restrooms. That was serious. Staff and relatives of staff weren't allowed in there. If Doug had found him there would have been repercussions.
But Ed Junior didn't care. He missed his dad.
Ed was a great bloke. You get the children you deserve. That’s what I thought now.
On entering the Quonset hut James prowled around picking up and putting down objects as if I'd brought him to a shop and he was looking for something worth buying.
Spartak was sitting on the sofa. He’d taken my advice and for once he was fully dressed.
With all his Moscow Mafia tattoos covered up he looked quite respectable but after I introduced him James didn't even ask him who he was or what he was doing there.
When James disappeared into the bedroom we’d prepared for him and closed the door I almost felt a sense of relief but seconds later he came straight back out.
“WHAT’S THIS CRAP?”
He was holding out Sammy’s greyed-in wind turbine picture. I’d tacked it above the bed in an effort to make the place look more homely.
“YOU KNOW WHAT? YOU DISGUST ME. I DON’T WANT A PICTURE OF AN ENORMOUS PENIS PINNED UP OVER THE BED.”
With that he screwed up Sammy’s page and tossed it towards me and stormed back into the room, slamming the door behind him.
Spartak fixed me with a stare. “In Russia, son speak to father like that you break his legs. You want me to do business? Or maybe just slap him about a bit.”
I walked out past the other Quonset huts. One had a row of underpants hanging in the window. I wasn’t sure if they’d been put there as decoration or to dry in the weakening afternoon sun. The way they were so neat and held by brightly coloured pegs made me think the former, but what kind of judge was I?
I was disgusting.
James had said so.
The last of the Quonset huts abutted the fence of MovieLand. It being a barrier to any further forward motion I followed it around, stopping only when I came to the tall and imposing iron gates.
Behind the initial bank of closed up concession stands, coloured lightbulbs popped or dusty, loomed the lifted up cars of Wonka’s Flying Marshmallows, tarpaulin covers stretched over them, and behind these rose the bare tracks of Indy’s Last Crusade Coaster.
If the park had been open I could have brought James. He might not have liked me any better, thought me any less disgusting, but at least he might have thought it a cool place to live.
I remembered him as a baby, his arms and legs waggling uselessly in the air like a turtle who has been turned on his back. I remembered how shortly after his birth his mum had gripped my hand tightly and said we had done it, me and her, we had made this beautiful and spectacular living thing.
Past the theme park on a patch of otherwise deserted land was the only other building within a three mile radius; a garage with a twenty-four hour mini-mart attached.
A bell rang above my head as I went inside. It was then that fate took over. Although it was getting on for the end of March they had some Christmas stock set out jauntily on an end-of-aisle merchandiser.
A string of lights twinkled off and on around it and on a sign someone had handwritten in a thick red felt tip, ‘Last chance to buy! 20% off’.
I knew what I had to do.
Quickly, for you never knew what other eager bargain hunters would appear with grabbing hands behind you, I chose a plastic tablecloth with fat Santas marching over it, a candle in the shape of the Virgin Mary, some disposable plastic plates with snowmen regaling the edges and a wind-up yule log that played God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemenover and over until the spring ran out.
Gathering up all these items in my arms I took them over to the checkout along with six frozen microwave meals nearing their sell by date. We didn’t have a microwave but from past experience I knew you could put these things in a pan and they wouldn't taste any worse.
The plan was simple.
James, Spartak and I would have a Christmas dinner together.
It would both make up for all the Christmases James and I had missed and it would also show him what a normal and loving family unit Spartak and I formed.
Back at the Quonset hut, luckily for me, James was still holed up in his room. I explained my plan to Spartak and as quietly as we could we set to work.
When everything was just perfect, it really was quite a scene, I shouted for James.
It had grown dark and we had turned off the lights so the room was lit only by the glow of the tv on mute and the Virgin Mary candle. The Santa cloth had fit perfectly on the table and Spartak had had the idea of making an extra chair from an upturned beer crate.
The pièce de résistance however was the yule log.
As I brought James in it was belting out, ‘In Bethlehem, In Israel, This Blessed Babe was born, And laid within a manger, Upon this blessed morn’.
The whole thing formed quite an effect, better even than I had hoped.
James looked one place then another his eyes growing wider and wider and just when I thought he was going to say how brilliant it all was and he was sorry he had called me disgusting he shouted, “I NEVER WANTED TO COME HERE. WHY COULDN’T THINGS STAY AS THEY WERE?”, and without touching his Specially Selected Lasagne with Fifty Per Cent Real Beef on the snowman plate he was out the front door.
Spartak said he would be back when he was hungry but at midnight there was still no sign of him and he must have been hungry by then.
At two a.m. I went to look for him but the truth was he could have been anywhere. He had a five hour head start and he was just a thin boy and this was a big place.
At four o’clock I came back.
“He’ll be back in the morning,” said Spartak.
"It is the morning," I said.
Spartak pulled a face.
"Later in the morning."
Later in the morning he wasn’t back. Nor the next morning either.
On the third morning Doug asked me how I was getting on with my son, I said, ‘fine’.
When he said he had taken the accommodation charges out of my next week’s wages I said, ‘fine’.
After all, I didn’t want to tempt fate.
On the fourth night after James’s disappearance I drank too much Sambuca and decided I would go and ask Ed.
Ed didn’t have a grave or anything, Ed Junior having tipped his ashes into the sea, so at just past midnight I cast off The Best Foot Forward’s mooring ropes and stepped purposefully into the wheelhouse.
The thing was, just as I blamed myself for James’s disappearance, I also blamed myself for Ed’s death.
It was a sorry tale.
The way some people are bent as all holy hell Ed was straight up and down.
We’d started at The Wind Farm Experience on the same two and a half week induction course and we’d hit it off straight away although I understood right off that Ed was something of a rebel.
Every time Doug said something contentious Ed would surreptitiously dig me in the ribs with an elbow and say, ‘Jeez’, or ‘What a sucker’ while pulling this awful pained face.
Ed really believed in all that new age kind of stuff, renewable energy, saving the planet and so on. He thought Doug was a fake.
“Doug crawls down my pants and bites,” he said to me one time after Doug had spent twenty minutes demonstrating to us the correct way to wear out tour guide hats.
"He’s all Mr Corporation and Money, Money, Money. What he doesn't understand is that right here is our last chance to save the planet. It's real."
When Ed wasn’t working he was sending off letters or making up little badges that he would hand out to schoolchildren, 'Turn out a light today’, ’The Earth is our best friend. Treat her right' and so on.
In the end it was me who came across that blasted article.
I found it tucked away at the back of the town’s bi-monthly free newspaper and I knew straight off it would be exactly the kind of thing Ed would be interested in.
Read part 3 here - https://www.abctales.com/story/drewgummerson/movieland-christmas-story-part-3