A Christmas Story by Murray Rutledge
Under the shade of the Christmas pohutukawa, white sand spreading beneath its feet and mine, I stare up through the holly-like thick foliage and crimson bloom. The twisted roots wrestle through the ground. The always hungry seagulls bleat their wail at my feet, and the Tuis’ wings make a shuffling sound as they chase through the mighty tree. The shade deepens as the lazy clouds push through the sky, then brightens again when they move on.
Christmas time as a Kiwi, a time of lazy afternoon indulgence, a contented stomach full of ham, salad and pavlova beneath the pohutukawa.
There is a neighbouring backyard and the smell of a late hangi being lifted onto plates for hungry mouths, and the sound of children, always noisy bubbly babbling children with their new bikes and skateboards and Christmas trinkets and treats, and adults with their more expensive treats. A drone goes humming around the tree, startling the tuis into making their noisy delightful cackle.
A barbecue has started up, and the clinking of glasses, and the aroma of steak and of the hangi drift over to embrace the mighty pohutukawa. On another day this would be enticing, making me hungry. But this is a day of quiet satisfaction and contemplation, away from family christmas squabbles, to consider life and the New Year and what it will bring. Everyone wants favour from the gods. I resolve not to make a resolution for the new year.
An outboard motor starts up and a fishing dingy heads out on the bay. Like another Christmas toy, the orange life-jacketed figure in a floppy sun hat slowly gets smaller. The craft leaves a white trail on the green blue shadows of the water and soon becomes a black dot and the noise ceases.
A lone woman walking a labrador ambles slowly past. She is wearing a tee-shirt, shorts, jandals, sunglasses, and an outrageous fluffy Santa hat which appears to be too big for her silly head on this warm day. The labrador splashes in the water, at least he shows sense. She looks my way. Usually I don't mind absurdity, but this is my quiet contemplative time and her absurdity annoys me. In attempting to avoid looking at her I knock my empty wine bottle and it rolls down at her feet. The labrador quickly runs over to sniff me.
"Hello, merry Christmas," she says, brightly, condescendingly, and sadly, the unspoken, "You poor lonely man."
I try to reply, a rejoin to join her absurdity. "Well who do you think you are, Noddy? Oh look the dog got an idiot for Christmas." But it remains unspoken as a gust takes my hat and rolls it toward the water while hers remains annoyingly in place. The dog traps my hat in his wet paws and barks. She returns my hat and bottle.
"There you are," she says as I place it on my head and sand trickles down my face. "Thank you. Merry Christmas," I splutter, spitting sand.
"Merry Christmas," she nods pleasantly and continues down the beach. Her flip-flopping jandals kicking up sand onto her bottom and her annoying hat bouncing gently on her head. The wind rises and I get the urge to leave. I stumble to my feet and shake the sand off my face and clothes. She will be returning soon and will probably want to take me home and put me under the tree with the dog. Darn, there goes my hat again. I leave it where it rolls. Trapped in the sure and stable roots of the Pohutukawa.