Quitting Christmas cold turkey is preferable to labouring through it with other people, reckons our columnist.
‘I don’t mind spending Christmas on my own,’ I said. ‘Honestly, I don’t.’
I wasn’t lying. One of the very reasons I was in Boston over Christmas was that I knew no one there and wouldn’t have to buy anyone presents or make dutiful visits or eat a gloomy lunch while scrutinising distant relatives, fearful of discovering that I resembled them in some way.
I was looking forward to spending the day alone with a pizza and a carton of eggnog, watching the first two Godfather movies. But then, on 23 December, I made the fatal mistake of dropping by to pay my respects to an old school friend of my mother’s. I had never met Sal before but she was a strange, blue-haired old buzzard who wore a knitted multicoloured Peruvian beanie with ear flaps, even indoors.
She wanted to know my Christmas plans and I made the second fatal mistake of telling her the truth.
‘Never!’ she declared. ‘You’ll have Christmas here.’
‘Oh no, please,’ I said, a little desperately. ‘I couldn’t intrude.’
‘No intrusion!’ she bellowed, like a bad-tempered judge overruling an objection. ‘There’ll be plenty of food, lots to go around! You need to experience some Boston hospitality!’
I spent the next day trying to figure out how to get out of it. I could call in sick, but what if she came over with chicken soup and vitamins? Damn the Americans and their hospitality. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. If there were enough guests (how big was her family? Twenty people? Fifty? A hundred?), I could slink in, hover on the peripheries avoiding chit-chat, have a hearty meal and flee into the snowy night with no harm done.
As I rang the doorbell, I wondered whether I should have brought Christmas presents. No, surely not. I hardly knew these people – they can’t expect gifts, can they? At such late notice? Damn it, I should have bought a box of Quality Street. Do they have Quality Street in Boston, Massachusetts?
The door opened and Sal stood there. She was still wearing her Peruvian beanie, and also some kind of flannel housecoat.
‘Come in, come in,’ she said. The place was very cold and strangely quiet.
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Am I the first to arrive?’
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘there’s no one else, just the two of us.’
If you’d been present you’d have heard, in the silence that followed those words, the sound of my heart contracting like a ball of tin foil being crushed in a savage hand. Also, if you’d been present, it would have been a lot less awkward because then at least there would have been three strangers in a room, which is better than two. This was my worst nightmare. This could not get any worse.
‘Here’s a gift for you,’ she said, handing me an elaborately wrapped parcel.
‘Oh,’ I said, wishing I would faint, or spontaneously combust. ‘Oh, um … I didn’t bring one…’
‘Hmm,’ she said, looking down at the gift as though considering taking it back.
We sat at opposite ends of the lounge and looked at each other. We had no small talk left. We ate nuts from a bowl and each bite sounded like a gunshot. I think we sat there for three hours without saying a word. I started shrieking inside my head, to try and drown out the embarrassment. I’m not religious but I made a Christmas prayer: please let lunch be nearly ready so that I can eat and then run outside to throw myself in front of a passing car.
‘Well,’ she said at last, ‘I guess I’d better start making lunch.’
I hope your festive season is happy. I will be holed up in an undisclosed location. Please send no invitations.
This story first appeared in the December 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.
The December issues features the Tok Tokkie Trail in Namibia (perfect if you dream of sleeping under the stars), 50 things to boost your summer holiday and our ultimate gear guide with the best travel gear, and much more!