Rituals, Relationships, and Revelations. By @danieljburkitt
By Dan Burkitt
Rituals, Relationships, and Revelations.
The following is a short story about Christmas.
Why was it that every morning always felt the same? David tried to alter the routine, the ritual, the events that occurred. Some mornings the left sock went on first and some mornings the right. Some mornings the eggs were boiled, and some they were fried. Some mornings he showered, and some he didn’t. And yet they all merged. They all came together to form a big jar of sand, each morning, like each grain, insignificant and indistinguishable from the rest.
Admittedly, this morning was slightly different. For one thing David wasn’t going in to work. But more pressingly, he felt shockingly hungover. He was staring at the mirror as he thought about all of this. He was wearing socks and nothing else, he had woken up like that. He looked horrendous. He decided to shower.
David felt this sense of – one the one hand, oppressively dull, and on the other, chillingly uncanny – repetition in many aspects of his life. And he was feeling it with a particular sharpness because of the time of year – it was Christmas. Events always repeated themselves in the final weeks of the year. And as result, old memories resurfaced, uncomfortably close and familiar, yet impossibly remote, from the present.
David’s hangover subsided under the hot water, he felt the alcohol washing off his body. He had been at his mother’s house last night and had made a fool of himself. He’d regressed to a teenage state, as a past version of himself transposed itself into his present mind and body. ‘Mum, you need to stop treating me like a child’. Yes, he had definitely said that at some point, And what else?
‘I don’t need your fucking money’.
That might have escaped his lips, and that really was too much. It was rude and ungrateful and downright horrible. And David had said it all the same. He had said some other things too. But why? He stepped out of the shower and hid his face in a towel.
He didn’t want to remember. He wanted to forget. And so, he decided to think about Christmases past, rather than the Christmas present. He could retreat into cosy nostalgia. But it was an impossible task. Only images from the dark, unpleasant Christmases flooded his mind.
Like the time his Uncle Ian gave his Aunt Lucy an expensive necklace and she had broken down into uncontrollable sobs. Everyone had looked uncomfortable and David had felt bemused, assuming them to be tears of joy. His older sister later revealed that, she, his entire family and indeed Lucy knew that, in fact, Ian had been having an affair for some time and this lavish present was the result of his guilt. Ian died not long after and Lucy seems much happier nowadays actually, according to David’s mother.
What else? What else did David see? He saw his father. But what did David see of him. It was all fog. A man reconstructed from photos, never known to David personally. Every Christmas his memory would hang heavily over proceedings. It would weigh down the family. He would re-emerge during toasts and talk of Christmases long ago, Christmases before your time or Christmases you’d have been much too young to remember, Davey.
David was back in bed now. He checked his phone. A message from Mum:
> Call me when you’re up darling. Best to clear the air x
Rather than reply, he went on Reddit and looked at pictures of dogs and then threads about premier league football and then porn and then back to threads about football and then before he knew it, it was the afternoon.
David knew he ought to call his mother back. Someone always caused a scene at their family Christmas dinner, held the week before actual capital C, capital D, Christmas Day, due to scheduling conflicts. And often, it was David at the centre of some sort of ruckus.
‘Mum I’m really sorry about what I said last night. I was drunk but that’s no excuse. I know that it would have really hurt you and I can only apologise.’
He pressed send on his phone. What a coward he was. He went back to scrolling. But oh horror, she was ringing back.
‘You got my message then?’
‘Yes, I did. Now look, I’m your mother and I love you. That’s not going to change, and unfortunately, I have to love you unconditionally, so I accept your apology.’
‘Great, thanks for letting me off the hook.’ He smiled weakly and could feel her do the same on the other end of the line.
‘Well it was a relatively small spat compared to the Great Barney of 2016.’
‘Alright darling, I’ll let you get on with the rest of your day. Lots of love.’
‘Lots of love.’
It was all forgiven, and now it was just another patch on the damaged quilt. Meaningless really, and yet David found it so comforting to hear his mother say those familiar words, to forgive and pretend to forget.
Perhaps what actually occurs during a family reunion, the annual ritual of a Christmas dinner, is almost immaterial. If everyone behaves themselves short of pissing in the gravy, life moves on, and a communal warmth is felt by all. The evening is just more water in the ocean, more sand in the jar. The more he thought about this, the less comforted David felt. He decided to stay in bed and continue scrolling.