Ed and Sally’s two-year-old daughter Emmy followed her mother into the kitchen, helpfully dropping an open pot of strawberry yoghurt into the dishwasher.
As Sally fished this out, Emmy gazed up at her with entrancing blue eyes and announced that “Emmy needs a poo.”
Elsewhere, the house resembled a battlefield, with torn wrapping paper all over the floor and the debris that had been the family’s Christmas breakfast strewn across the table. And in the middle of the wreckage, Sally’s husband Ed and his brother were holding a council of war.
“If he wants to sit at home sulking, then leave him to it.” Chris was saying.
“Come on Chris” Ed pleaded, “It must be hard for him you know.”
“Yeah” his brother replied “but he’s spoiling it for everyone. And anyway, if he won’t answer the phone, what can you do? Break a window and drag him out?”
“Well I’m worried about your Dad” chipped in Sally, as she buzzed around the two men, deftly stepping over their outstretched legs, picking up rubbish, and collecting empty glasses and bottles “It’s the first Christmas ever that he hasn’t made the effort.”
The three adults fell silent, each reflecting on their differing memories of happier times. In the background bombs were exploding and bullets ricocheting around the TV screen as Chris’s two sons duelled to the death on their new Xbox game.
“So what are we going to do?” asked Ed, finally.
Chris just shrugged helplessly and reached for another beer. “Let Jane sort him out. When she gets here.”
In his bungalow, Ted sat staring unseeingly through the French windows at the neglected lawn. Despite himself, he too was thinking of other times. One Christmas in particular haunted him: Ed and Chris were playing boisterously as usual and little Jane – just a toddler then – was sitting quietly giving her new doll a serious dressing down – while Ted himself was deeply worried about their financial situation. He could have done without Christmas and all its expenses at all that year. And the worry of it defeated him so that when Lesley gently tried to snap him out of it, he swore furiously at her and at Christmas in general. And that shot fired in anger had wounded his wife and killed that Christmas stone dead. How desperately he still hated himself for that.
Meanwhile, back at the house, Jane had arrived and was being hugged by Sally.
“How was the flight? We knew you were running late, so don’t worry you haven’t missed dinner” said Sally all in one breath.
Jane heaved Emmy up into her arms and both shared hugs with Jane’s brothers. “Where’s Dad?” Jane asked suddenly, looking around.
“Not here” said Ed, guiltily. “He’s holed up over there and won’t budge – we have tried”.
“Oh won’t he?” Jane asked quietly. Then she looked deep into Emmy’s eyes.
“Let’s go get Grandad” she said.
When the Special Forces arrived on the doorstep at the bungalow, they met little resistance. Ted relented and opened the door, to find Jane standing there, head tilted to one side and one eyebrow raised. Then the girls triumphantly escorted their captive back to the house. There, the terms of his surrender were read out to Ted by Sally: he was to sit down to have his dinner (albeit with Emmy perched on his lap) to accept a glass of his favourite Mackeson stout, to open his presents (what lovely socks) and above all to stop apologizing. After all, it wasn’t his fault, was it?
So the family were reunited, but the atmosphere was subdued. The elephant in the room had to be addressed. And it was Jane of course who spoke up.
“We miss her too, Dad” she said gently “But you do know we need you, don’t you?”
Ted nodded. As he looked at the faces of his family surrounding him, he felt like a naughty child. But for the first time that day he felt a glow of warmth spreading through his veins.
It was left to Chris to have the last word on the subject.
“You silly old sod!” he said.