Terry awoke with sore eyes and a tar-coated tongue, brain shifting like egg yolk ready to split. He snatched a bowl by his feet, filled it with some cheap wine from his gut. The splattering sound woke Bev. Knuckling eyelids, she propped herself up in a sleeping bag that might have been yellow, once (who could tell?)
‘What day is it?’ said Bev, hoarse from comatose.
‘It’s Christmas,’ said Terry, fingers curling round the bowl again, just in case.
Across the room a pear-shaped cluster of damp twigs and tinsel had slumped against the wall. The pot had tipped, spilling soil onto the wood. A white fairy hung from the top twig, smile trapped, string tangled round her neck.
There was stagnant quiet. Then the floorboards creaked.
Radiowaves flicked into life, melodic phrases blending with white noise.
. . . I-I-I-I’m dreamin’ – of a whi-i-i-ite Christmas, just like the ones we used to have. . .
‘Turn off that shite, Terry. I wanna’ slit my wrists as it is.’
Terry ignored, rummaging around a cardboard box for some teaspoons. Instead he produced a rusty vegetable knife. He turned to Bev and thought of offering it to her, but seeing her crumpled face he knew she wouldn’t find it funny; or worse, she’d take it.
‘Let’s ‘ave a cuppa’ tea, eh?’ said Terry. ‘Nice hot Christmasy tea.’
Bev was sitting up, arms folded. She yawned.
‘Fine, but my one gets the teabag first.’
The morning’s pit-patter of rain had become a snip-snap of hail by lunch time. Intermittent hailstones fell through the usual gap in the roof, bouncing off the floor below. Terry set up a cluster of teacups to catch them, but each hailstone just ricocheted off one or two cups and darted across the floor. Eventually one dropped into the centre cup, span around and stopped. Terry clenched his fist and said ‘Yes-s-s-s!’ to himself, like a lucky kid at a fun-fare stall.
‘The fuck you standin’ there for?’ called Bev, bent over the fireplace, feeding balled newspaper to the flames. ‘Lay the table already.’
Terry sighed, walked to the two stacked crates they used as a table, and started clearing away all the foil-crafted ash trays and dirty plates.
Soon they were ready to eat.
‘Christ I’m hungry,’ said Bev.
Terry smiled distantly. ‘Can’t remember the last time I had turkey for Christmas.’
‘Well it’s not proper turkey,’ said Bev, trying to follow Terry’s misty-eyed gaze. She two took two pieces of white bread and started layering on the slices of wafer-thin turkey ham.
‘It’s tesco value,’ she said.
‘Still,’ said Terry. ‘It’s nice, is’nit?’
Bev had her mouth full. She answered with rolling eyes. Hailstones were tapping on the roof like morse-code. Terry looked upward, as if attempting to decipher it. Bev grunted, then swallowed.
‘Well go an’ take some then.’
Terry nodded, then compliantly took some food onto his plate.
‘Hurry up,’ said Bev. ‘Turkey’ll get cold.’
Terry looked up and they locked eyes. Then Bev cracked a smile and they both fell about laughing.