*Ok, it’s not exactly heartwarming, but it is a Christmas tale and Julie really is very lovely.
‘Oooooarrrrghhh!!!! Jesus, Mary and fucking Joseph!’
It wasn’t how I would have chosen to spend Christmas Eve.
‘It fucking hurts! Get that fucking thing out of me! Oooooaaaaarrrrghhh!!!!’
On the plus side, Jenna wasn’t having any more fun than I was. I reckoned the whole thing was overrated.
‘Peeeeeeeeterrrrr!!! Fucking do some fucking thing!!! Pleeeeeeease!!!!’
That was new: I’d never heard her beg before.
‘Come on, Daddy. Mummy needs you!’ The midwife had an expectant look on her face. She nodded at Jenna, looked back at me. So I did something: I went out for a smoke. As I headed down the corridor I could hear Jenna cursing and screaming. I hoped the midwife wasn’t easily offended.
Outside, among the other addicts, my breath smoked as much as my cigarette. It was bitterly cold, frosty, a few stray snowflakes drifting down from above. The pavements and driveways around the hospital sparkled in the lamplight. It was beautiful, provided you ignored the piles of dog ends and the motley assortment of people in pyjamas, coats and boots, closed your ears to the wheezing and the hacking coughs.
Events had conspired to bring me to this place at this time. Bad stuff, mostly. I mean, I’d always reckoned me and Jenna would have kids one day, but not now, not like this. I lit a second smoke from the first, dropped the butt and ground it out with my heel.
I’d been working away. She was lonely. She went out with the girls one night, got pissed and Benny Maxwell played the good mate, walked her home for safety, then went in for a drink. She can’t even remember it, so she says. Not that she said anything at all until she had to, until she knew she was up the duff and the timing gave her away. There’d never been any question of getting rid of it. Jenna suffered from selective Catholicism, so whilst it was okay to live in sin, drink the town dry and swear like that wrinkly fucking cook off the telly, abortion wasn’t an option.
As the fat snowflakes tumbled faster out of the sky, I dropped the second smoke, went back in to see what the score was. ‘You have a daughter,’ the midwife beamed as I pushed through the door. I looked at Jenna, exhausted, sweaty, hair plastered to her forehead. She was clutching a wailing bundle, smiling through the tears.
‘Come and see,’ she said. I went over for a look. It was an ugly little spud.
‘She’s our first Christmas arrival,’ the midwife said. ‘Just one minute past midnight, out she popped.’ She looked at Jenna. ‘Any thoughts on names, dear?’
Jenna looked at me. ‘I dunno … Holly?’
I looked at the bairn again. ‘How about “Wingnut”?’ I suggested. The kid was Benny Maxwell’s right enough. No wonder Jenna had squealed. Must have hurt like a bastard getting those ears out.
The midwife tutted, then bustled on out of the room. ‘I’ll get you a cup of tea, dear,’ she called over her shoulder to Jenna. ‘Won’t be long.’
‘Do you want to hold her?’ Jenna asked me.
I shook my head. ‘Maybe later.’ I was still getting used to the idea of bringing up another man’s child. I saw her face drop and I felt mean, but I couldn’t help it. I kissed the top of her head. ‘I’ve got something to do. Get some rest. I’ll be back in an hour or so.’
She looked worried. I heard her start to say something as I went out of the door. ‘Don’t—’
I took it to mean ‘Don’t get caught,’ and since I didn’t intend to, I kept on walking.
I hadn’t believed Jenna when she spun me the line about not remembering. Then I heard that Benny had been picked up and questioned by the police. Some little bird had gone to them with a story about him putting something in her drink. There hadn’t been enough to charge him with, but it was enough for me. Things fell into place, Jenna and I stopped fighting and started working things out, slowly, painfully, but getting there, and I bided my time.
Sure enough, an hour or so later I was back. Jenna was asleep. I tiptoed over to the crib and peeked in at the baby. She was looking better than earlier, I thought. Less red and wrinkly. When she was old enough, we’d get her ears sorted out. I wasn’t having my bairn going through life looking like a taxi with the doors open. She’d get ripped to shreds at school for ears like that. Besides, they reminded me of Benny.
Next afternoon, I was perched on the bed, one arm round Jenna’s shoulders, the other cradling little Holly, when Jenna’s sister came in to visit. There was the usual amount of cooing and crying that I was starting to get used to, then she sat down and started eating the grapes she’d brought for Jenna. ‘You’ll never guess,’ she said, then continued without giving us the chance to. ‘Benny Maxwell’s dead.’
I felt Jenna tense up beside me. ‘How?’ she asked.
‘You know how cold it was last night? They found him lying in his back garden, covered in snow. He was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts. He died of hypothermia. I reckon he must have been drunk or something, and fell down or passed out. Sad, really.’
She was right: he had been drunk. He’d also been full of GHB. It’s frighteningly easy to get hold of. She was wrong on the second count, though, I thought, as I hugged the missus and the bairn: it wasn’t sad at all. In fact, it was probably the best Christmas present I’d ever give them.