The Christmas Party – short story

The Christmas Party

Chin up Eleanor. It’s just a Christmas party. How many have you been to before eh? What’s different about this one? Look at Tom in his new suit all ready to be host with the most. He’s worked so hard lately, throwing himself into his work, spending ten and twelve hours every day at the office hoping they’ll notice him and make him a full partner in the firm. And it’s paid off. This dinner is to celebrate the promotion before the paperwork is signed tomorrow and everyone can then prepare for the holidays. The guests will be here soon so I better check everything’s ready.

Is my hair alright? Yes it looks just fine. I only had it styled last week. At least I think it was last week. Time is a bit strange at the minute, I keep losing track. Maybe it’s my time of life? Oh did I just say that! I’m only 42; I can’t be going through the change right now. But I do keep losing time. Our nephew came to visit yesterday. He seems so big. I feel like I haven’t seen him in ages. One minute crawling and now he’s running about on his fat little legs.

Outfit? Well, it’s not what I’ve chosen to impress Tom’s bosses but I guess I’m stuck with it. Black shift dress from Zara. Ok for my own job but I would have preferred to be wearing my new little red cocktail dress from Monsoon. It’s so hard to find clothes to fit.

Oh Tom…not those shoes! The man is fantastic at picking suits but always falls apart on the accessories. And his attachment to those scruffy shoes!! I remember him buying them though, his wedding shoes. Once so patent and shiny, they seem to have now lost the gleam and the heels are worn down at the back. Why does he not just throw them away and buy something new. Something modern. I’ll never understand his attachment to them.

Right time to go downstairs. We’ve had the caterers in for this bash. Only the best for Misters Dick & Harry. I remember his interview for the job many years ago now. Hartley & son’s; one of the best firms in town. Now staffed by Tom, Dick & Harry. You couldn’t make it up. We found out he had the job on our trip to Stratford. The call coming through while we wandered around the Anne Hathaway’s house. We celebrated by going to the RSC to watch Othello.

The food looks fantastic. We’re having a sit down meal, a traditional English Christmas carvery. My favourite. Oh Tom…smile! This is meant to be your big night and you’re just mooching around touching things and behaving like a bored teenager. The food looks divine. Choice of chicken or beef, home made Yorkshire puddings as big as my fist. Four types of veg. I’m not sure about the gravy though, it doesn’t look thick enough. My dad always said it wasn’t real gravy unless you could stand a spoon in it. If he could see me now; miners’ daughter turned law partners’ wife. He always wanted the best for me, wanted me to have what he never did. Small things like a detached house, my own car, holidays abroad and I think he’d be proud of where we are. It was hard for him, trying to bring up three girls with no mother. Just our grandma for support while he spent long hours underground, his lungs getting progressively worse every year until they finally gave out when I was 17. All three of us made it through college, my elder sisters going to university. Molly is now a vet but she always did love animals and Patty is …well patty is a new age hippy. Oh wait we can’t call people that anymore. She’s an environmentalist, living with her partner Julie, growing her own veg and attending rallies. Not sure how dad would’ve taken to that. He never could quite get to grips with anything he didn’t see as “the norm”. But I think he would’ve been proud of her all the same. He always taught us to do be proud of who we were.

What am I like? I’m getting as bad as Tom sitting here lost in memories when there’s work to do. What’s the starter? Please don’t say prawn cocktail. How very 70’s middle class. Hmm looks like some kind of Jamie Oliver version of prawn cocktail. I’m not sure if that’s any better really. Not the choice I would have gone with but hey ho. I wish I knew what was for dessert but I haven’t been able to see it yet. I hope it’s not chocolate pudding. Tom always jokes that I am the only woman on the planet that hates chocolate.

Looking around the ground floor of our house where I spent so many months last year when Katie went to Oxford. I’d taken a course on interior decorating and dragged the house kicking and screaming into the new century. Replaced all the chintz with leather sofa’s, cream walls, a magnificent glass table as a centre piece for the dining room. We worked hard for it and I enjoyed doing it. I even thought about a career change so I could do it for other people. I would love that.

Oh no, look at that dint in my sofa cushions. I don’t know what’s wrong with Tom lately. He hardly ever seems to sleep in his own bed. He’s either at work or sitting on the couch eyes glazed over while mindless programmes flutter across the television. I don’t think he even takes anything in that he sees. What am I going to do with him? Maybe he should take up golf? Isn’t that what successful young law partners do?? Maybe it should be suggested to him tonight.

Ooh doorbell. I rush to the door as Tom opens up and there’s Dick Hartley; elder statesman of the firm. Now here’s a man who wears the right shoes. I’ve never seen him anything less than immaculate. All his suits are hand made on Saville Row, his shoes polished so much you can see your face in them. And ties of pure silk. He arrives with Talia, the latest in a long line of middle aged (old aged??) crisis girlfriends. I swear he thinks he’s Hugh Heffner. She can’t be much older than Katie. But at least she is a bit better turned out than the last one. I’m shuddering at the memory of that one. All tin foil mini dress and boobs straight out of a porn film. No one knew where to look for the best. Talia is young but she does seem to have some class. I think her uncle is a Lord or something. She certainly carries herself as someone who has had lunch at Buckingham Palace.

Ah now here’s Harry Hartley and his wife Margaret. I’ve never met Harry’s mother but I’m told he is just like her, in both looks and temperament. Certainly nothing like his father. It’s hard to imagine they could ever be related although Tom says they are identical in behaviour; fighting like tigers in the jungle to secure the best for the customers. That’s one of the things Tom has always loved about working for the firm; the sense of fair play and the will to see the wronged come out on top.

Like his father, Harry is dressed in the latest designer clothes. It just makes me sigh again to see Tom in those scruffy wedding shoes. I want to rip them off his feet! I got him some fabulous Patrick Cox shoes before…before…I forget now. They would go so well with his suit. But no, it’s all about the old wedding shoes tonight. Where was I? Oh yes, Harry not being like his father. Dick, is your typical tall, dark & handsome. Reminds me a bit of Roger Moore. Whereas Harry is smaller and more fair. I’d keep the James Bond theme going and say more like Daniel Craig but he’s not that rugged.

Margaret gives Tom a hug, keeping him close a bit too long for my liking. I can see her whispering something to him but can’t quite figure out what. Oh wait; she’s so sorry. Sorry for what? I know he’s got the promotion. He’s got everything he ever dreamed of right now. Perfect job, perfect family, perfect home. Oh Tom why are you looking so sad? Whatever Margaret said to him seems to have upset him. I really hope the firm haven’t changed their minds. But surely they wouldn’t be all dressed up for a meal if they’d taken it away from him??

I’m confused now as they make their way into the dining room for the meal. The caterers have stayed behind to act as waiters for the evening. All pristine in their black pants and white shirts. Everyone takes a seat and they bring out the first course; the modern day prawn cocktail. I remember trying some for the first time on our honeymoon. I couldn’t even look at them with their beady eyes staring back at me, making me feel guilty for even considering to eat them. In the end Tom tricked me into eating them by ordering scampi and not telling me what it was until afterwards. I didn’t speak to him for hours afterwards but I did learn quickly to always check what I was eating. It came in handy with all the social occasions we’ve attended over the years.

Conversation is stilted as everyone eats. There’s obviously something very wrong and I can’t put my finger on it. They don’t mention the promotion at all and mostly seem to be avoiding all mention of work. So how’s Katie asks Margaret.

  • Oh doing well I think. She’s just finished for Christmas at university.
  • Is she not in tonight?
  • No she decided not to come home. She’s gone to stay with her boyfriends’ parents. Too many memories here ….

What memories? Now everyone looks sad, even Talia who has never met my daughter. I wish I knew what they were talking about. I feel like I’ve been kept out of gossip of some kind. Why would Tom & Katie keep secrets from me??

I’m still working on this as Talia changes the subject. She sounds like she’s grasping for something positive to say. What about Andy Murray winning at Wimbledon this summer? Really??? When did that happen? Something’s wrong and I’m starting to panic. Why don’t I know my daughter isn’t coming home? Why is Tom so attached to old mementoes; his shoes, my favourite meal. Why does he look so tired and stressed out. And how did I manage to miss the sporting event of the year especially as it’s my favourite sport.

I try and think of my last memories. I’d been in the Pandora shop buying a Christmas present for Katie. Then the Harvey Nichols store looking for an overnight bag for Tom for a team building away day he was going to. A weekend of boys and their toys; playing paintball and riding quad bikes. Apparantly that will make you work better as a team! Oh my mind is wandering again. It’s so hard to think!

I bought the bag, then what? No wait I walked up to the Headrow. I’d parked my car in the car park in The Light centre. It was snowing heavily; the shops were closing early with the weather and the pitch black darkness of the day. I couldn’t see every well, I remember that now. I think there was an accident. Yes, yes I’m sure a car was going too fast and knocked someone over. Killed outright they were. I have a vague memory of Tom telling someone, his father I think. Oh this is all so difficult. What is wrong with me? Here we are, the eve of my husbands big promotion, the week before Christmas: you could cut the atmosphere with a knife, my daughter is God knows where, I can’t remember a thing of the last few weeks. You would think somebody died or something….

…Oh Tom…

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