David R Ewens

The Christmas Rebel

9th November 2009

Who knows why one Monday morning can be terrible and another (like most Monday mornings) just about tolerable? Mary Miller pondered this as her time in the doctor’s waiting room edged up to the hour mark. One of her friends said she’d once been in and out of the doctor’s in fifteen minutes. They’d both thought it was a miracle. There weren’t going to be any miracles this morning. The day had begun inauspiciously when Mike had spilt their two mugs of tea (the only way they could face getting up) on the bedroom carpet. They’d been running late and had abandoned thoughts of making time to get another kettle boiled.

Then the girls There had been some kind of squabble and after Ella had lashed out naturally Jasmine had retaliated. And of course the rain. As Mary sat in the surgery, a little puddle had formed around her as a result of a biblical deluge just after the girls, still grizzling, had gone through the school door. She had been trembling since the incident with the tea. Now she began to shiver. ‘If I go down with something ’ she muttered to herself. She longed for a cup of tea. Without her tea, she felt she could never get going in the morning. It was almost a matter of superstition.

At last she saw the GP. It was only about a repeat prescription really, but you still had to go in and he still had to check. It was hardly any comfort that Doctor McLean looked as tired and harassed as she did. It was still raining as she left the surgery – no longer a deluge, but that persistent fine mid-September drizzle that penetrates everywhere. She knew she had to pop in to the supermarket before she could go home and recover. She hated the supermarket; hated all supermarkets and the loathsome dependence they created. As it had been such an awful day so far, she had a nagging foreboding about the next phase of her day. And she still hadn’t had her first cuppa.

The security guard at the entrance to the store looked his usual bored, surly and pasty-faced self. His cap didn’t quite seem to fit, and the peak was always low over his forehead, which gave him a sinister but at the same time slightly ridiculous look. His longish dark hair, as usual needing a decent trim, squeezed out from the sides and back of the cap. He was slight in build, but, Mary noticed curiously, had the beginning of a little paunch. There’s not much exercise as a security guard escorting shoplifters to the police car. As she entered the fruit and vegetable section, her eye caught a huge, garish, exclamation-mark splattered sign with tall, bold, red, in-your-face letters.

CHRISTMAS: IT’S CLOSER THAN YOU THINK!!!

Underneath the sign, and stretching into the aisle beyond, was a huge Christmas display – decorations, fruit and nuts, mince pies and all the usual trappings of late December. At the head of the display on his own plinth was a beaming Rudolf the reindeer, his huge nose a bright electrically-charged red.

When she was at school, Mary’s favourite English teacher always told her to avoid clichés whenever possible, but now she couldn’t help it. As she looked at the sign – advertising Christmas wares in mid-September (mid-September!) she genuinely saw red. Indeed, she seemed to be enveloped in a red mist. She felt something go inside her head. Synapses snapped, crackled and popped. She felt dizzy. From somewhere at the bottom of her throat came a kind of feral growl that she’d never experienced before, emerging from her mouth and transforming into a terrible, ear-piercing shriek. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped her trolley and smashed right into the nearest display. Bags of assorted nuts burst open and their contents scattered everywhere. Next to fall was a huge orange pyramid of satsumas. Mince pies (sell-by date, 23 October) flew indiscriminately over the aisle and into the fish counter. Mary seemed to have no awareness of what she was doing as she sped up and down the display, ramming anything that looked as though it was still even half standing.

One minute thirty one seconds later it was all over. Mary’s coup de grace was to lift her trolley above her head and hurl it. Now it rested on Rudolf’s plinth. Rudolf’s smile had gone. Indeed his bottom jaw had been completely removed. His now sad, dead eyes stared forward as he lay on his side on the floor, mortally wounded. His red nose flickered desperately one or two final times and then went out. A satsuma nestled between a block of red-skinned Edam and green-packaged Gouda. The effect was like a small horizontal traffic light in the cheese section. A mince pie sat on top of a mackerel, its black innards leaking from the pastry casing onto the scales. Magritte couldn’t have conceived of anything more incongruous.

The supermarket was silent. There seemed to be an air of shock. The security guard, never very quick-witted, which is maybe why he became a security guard in the first place, surveyed the carnage. ‘What the f—?’ he whispered. His mouth hung open and he looked as gormless as ever. Mary sat down exhausted and started absent-mindedly eating Brazil nuts scattered round her. Her eyes indicated that she was somewhere very different.

*

The police cell was where she started remembering. She considered herself to be a sane and sensible woman, a dutiful wife and mother and a loyal friend. She cringed at the thought of what she’d done. The shame. The madness. What would Mike and the girls think? How was she ever going to show her face round the village and the school and all the other familiar places again? What had got into her? It was only a Christmas display for goodness’ sake (OK, a Christmas display in September, and the supermarket was being pretty provocative, but still).

The slot in the cell door opened and a face appeared.

‘We’ve got you the duty solicitor, Mrs. Miller. I’m going to open the door and take you to the interview room. You’re not going to try any funny stuff, are you now?’

Mary shook her head. Rage had been replaced by meekness – and of course longing for that elusive cuppa. The solicitor was a young girl who looked barely a couple of years older than Jasmine – about 10.

‘How are you feeling, Mrs. Miller? I’ve been finding out what happened and finding out a bit about you. I reckon that we can mount a defence on the basis that you acted when the balance of your mind was disturbed. A flash of temporary insanity. But can you tell me what disturbed it?’

Before Mary could reply, two police officers came into the room. The one who was clearly in charge had one of those hard-bitten looks that you imagine experienced officers always have who’ve seen it all. His hair was cut in a salt-and-pepper crew cut. Acne scars mottled his pale face. But his blue eyes had a little twinkle about them.

‘I don’t know what line you were planning to take on this, Miss De Souza,’ he started to the child-solicitor, ‘but actually I don’t think you’re going to need to take any line at all. The supermarket, not just this local manager, but HQ, is not going to press charges. In fact, I’m told that they’ve dismantled their Christmas display. As far as we’re concerned, Mrs. Miller is free to go. I’d just say to you, Mary,’(turning in her direction) ‘that other acts of vandalism like the one you perpetrated this morning, are, shall we say, inadvisable.’

Nodding to the two women, he cocked his head at his colleague, and they both left the room. Miss De Souza began packing up her papers. A smile played across her small, pretty, inexperienced face.

‘I don’t think you’ve heard the last of this, Mrs. Miller, and I don’t think I’m going to have a case like this again for a long time, but let’s get out of here before anyone changes their mind!’

As they walked through the station to collect the effects that had been confiscated from Mary earlier, there was a distinctly upbeat air. Everyone seemed to be cheerful and smiling. As she emerged into the early afternoon sunlight, Mary began to understand why. A large crowd had gathered outside the police station. It surged forward as she appeared, cheering and whooping. There were placards. ‘Marry me, Mary!’ ‘Keep Christmas at Christmas’. ‘Stop this appalling Christmas commercialisation’.

‘You’d better let me give you a lift home’, murmured the kindly young Miss De Souza. *

Later that evening the girls had finally gone to sleep. The promises to consider contract offers to tell the whole story had been made to the red-tops. The deluge of e-mails and Facebook contacts had just about been dealt with – not to mention the Twittering and the YouTube clip – from a fellow shopper’s enterprising mobile phone video clip – of ‘Mary’s mayhem’, ending with a shot of poor derelict Rudolf.

On the News at Ten, Mary had made the ‘And finally ’ slot: –

‘A Canterbury housewife made her feelings about the commercialisation of Christmas very plain this morning when she ran amok among a supermarket’s September Yule display ’

Mike turned to his wife.‘I know you do get riled by the supermarkets and their crass ways, and I know you well enough to understand that early Christmas displays are particularly irksome. But whatreally possessed you to launch that attack?’

‘Well, you remember that we were late and you spilled our mugs of tea this morning ’ Mary replied.

She took a sip of her lovely hot Fair Trade Clipper tea, astonishingly the first of the day, and looked over the rim of the mug at her loyal husband.

‘Ah’, he said in the eureka moment.

David R Ewens

 

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