It's Late (2013)
It’s late afternoon and a slight breeze is blowing across my eyes as I stumble through the gates and start to pick my way across the oval. I smell grass in the air and I stop and squint into the afternoon sun to try and get my bearings. It’s difficult being so recklessly drunk at six in the evening. I wouldn’t have even left the house if not for the haunting, echoing music that I’ve been hearing on the wind all afternoon.
The unknown source of the beautiful sound has drawn as a group of sirens would draw a sailor to death and ruin. I think I recognize some of the music but I cannot remember properly. The memories that may have stirred at such sounds I drowned and hid away long ago. As the sun sinks lower across the drab green hills I find myself having crossed the expanse of the oval and amidst a group of clean brick buildings and demountables.
I look around in the windows of the buildings as I try not to trip over my own shoes. I see finger paintings, letters of the alphabet, gigantic worms screaming at me to read and I stop as I realise where I am. It’s a school. I’m in a school. Music must be around here somewhere I say to myself aloud. I start walking again and after a little while a kid runs past me and shouts at me over his shoulder
Hurry up you’re going to miss it!
Miss what? I yell back
C’mon, don’t ask stupid questions! He’ll be there!
But he was gone and around a corner as quick as a flash so I may as well have asked the brick wall. I decide to follow him. He is heading to the source of the piping music and the sound of singing that I can now recognize.
It’s getting darker and I struggle to find my way through the darkening night when I see a golden light. There is a big chain of them hung on the guttering like fireflies, leading the way to a bigger cluster of red and green lights twinkling in the distance. I keep following the path and finally emerge onto another oval on the other side of the school. Here is where the music is blaring and there are crowds of people gathered together in the dark.
Everyone is singing carols in an angelic chorus, all are facing a little platform in the middle of a wide semicircle. The platform has an enormous golden throne right in the middle of it. I stumble through the crowd, asking as I go:
What’s going on here?
Why are you all singing?
What are you waiting for?
But I am met with shadowed faces that cannot hear me, either from indifference or their devotion to singing the carols through to the end. Or maybe I’m just completely incoherent. I turn around and the same little boy is there, watching me with amusement.
Can you tell me what’s going on here? I say.
You really are dumb aren’t you? Didn’t you hear? He’ll be here tonight!
Who is he?
I’m not going to tell you if you don’t know. Everyone’s been talking about it for ages! You’ll just have to wait and see!
And with that he darted between the legs of the crowd to get to the front to get a better view of whomever was coming. Wait! I call after him but I am shushed by those around me as bells begin to ring with a sound like tinkling glass. I realise that the music has stopped and the crowd is holding it’s breath. A second later I realise who he is and why everyone is here to see him.
He lumbers on to the stage and sits upon his throne, the big fat man with the big red coat. The children laugh and applaud while the other faces standing in shadow smile at their glee. I finally understand why the little boy was so excited. I had forgotten all about Santa. Along with a lot of other things. It made me happy to see him again. And to hear the music and see the bright lights in the night. While he Ho Ho Hos and Merry Christmases I move away from the crowd and find a bench to sit on and remember what I thought I’d forgotten.
I don’t know when I passed out or how long it was for but when I wake up I see the little boy looking down at me.
He said What did you fall asleep for? You missed him!
No I saw him. He made me happy. But he made me sad too so I had to come sit down. Then I fell asleep.
He makes me happy and sad too. My sister loved seeing him. So did Mummy and Daddy.
Why didn’t they come and see him tonight?
They can’t see him anymore. So I come and see him for them. To make sure someone does. I hope it makes them happy.
I bet it does. You helped me see him. You made me happy again. And I haven’t been happy in a long time.
I’m glad he made you happy mister. Well, good night.
Good night. Hey wait — where are you going?
Home. Maybe you should go home too. After you have more of a rest.
And with that he turns his back on me and disappears into the dark and I slip off to sleep again. I come to once more getting poked in the forehead by the end of a push broom. I get up and ignore the janitor’s angry yells and leave the school and walk home in the pink light of dawn.