GOD REST YE MERRY
"This Christmas is mine," said Mary Caster in a Don't Argue voice. "I deserve it, pregnant right through the hottest summer ever and looking like hell in those maternity tents. So, clothes, clothes, clothes, now the kid is off the tit and I've got a figure again."
"Yes, dear," replied Joe, his mock meekness concealing the real thing.
"Personally I'd settle for a roll in the hay. It's been a long time between drinks..."
"We'll see." Mary's tone implied that they wouldn't.
Joe thought he must be the first husband in history whose wife had gone straight from honeymoon hysterics through pregnancy panicking to post-partum blues.
The limousine stopped outside the Casters' house, an Eighties conversion from some old stables. Without turning his head, the driver said, "I was wondering if you'd be taking a cab back after? That way, I could get off home. I've got three brothers in from the East and..."
"Forget it," grunted his employer from the back. "Getting a cab on Christmas Eve is a mega-hassle. Call your brothers on the car phone. You'll be okay here, it's not a cold night."
The driver might have argued, but his employer had already switched targets. "Have you got the damn presents, Liz?" He was still churning over the bum who'd almost forced his way into the limo, whining for change. "Look, fella," he'd said, resisting the urge to signal the driver to show him the gun that was always ready, "We've just been to a hundred buck plate charity raiser for guys like you. What more do you want?"
"Yes, Gabe. Rolex for him, fancy perfume for her."
"Nothing for the damn kid?"Her laugh was partly genuine. "Damn kid? And you the President of Toys For Tots! No, of course not. He's only a tiny baby. He doesn't know it's Christmas. Mary won't be expecting us to bring him anything."
"Well, I hope you're right. From what Joe says, she's absolutely stuck on the little sucker."
"Joe has to say that."
They penetrated what was now the Casters' family room. The driver had been left in the car, the snowboots in the hall. Presents were exchanged to contrapuntal Oh, You Shouldn't Haves.
"Smell this perfume, Joe."
"Great. That'll cover a multitude. See this watch. Real gold, Gabe?"
"The best plastic can buy. Help you start getting to the office on time."
Gabe looked at Mary and Joe's other presents. "Jeez, you guys did well. Got the goods on Santa, or what?"
"No, she's got the goods on me. It's mostly hers. Still, I'll say it before she does. She deserves it, after the year she's had."
"Yeah, well, people deserve to get what they deserve."
"That reminds me, where is the little monster?"
"Isn't that him over there?" Gabe's tone would have sounded almost wistful to anyone who had been listening.
Finger over mouth, Mary led them to where a blue bundle lay supine in an otherwise empty playpen.
"See, he's fine. Now come and have a drink, or the food'll be ready before we are. Christmas, who invented it?" Mary glanced at the bundle whose chubby hands were now exploring a red bow tied around its neck.
"I tell you, we're only doing this for its sake."
"What's Christmas without children?" Three of the four knew that it was actually Gabe's child; none of them were sure if the fourth did.
"That's right," said Liz, who had discreetly aborted Joe's child on the very day blue bundle was born, "that's what it's all about. Come on, Mother Mary, where's that drink?"
When the driver burst into the room with gun in hand, just as the local churches were starting to ring out midnight, mad as hell and not going to take it any more, he wasn't sure if he was glad or sorry to find the job already done for him, thanks to the punch which had been lethally spiked by that fourth person.