Half-Gifts – Andrew Robertson

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Andrew Robertson

“The sack is too full, there’s no way all these gifts are going to fit!” Simcock exclaims, pushing down on the large boxes and cloth bags in the enormous, red velvet sack. There is a sound of crunching, popping adhesive and decorative foil paper and bows crumpling as the contents are forced deeper.

“Careful,” Grizel clips. “You’ll ruin them. They are wrapped all nicely for when he comes. I don’t want them all ripped and crushed and broken.”

“More than they already are?” He asks, giving a brown-toothed smirk. “And this one is sticky and smells off. It’s right whiffy!”

She frowns slightly, considering his question, and wrinkles her nose at his breath. It’s definitely worse that the smell coming from the leaky gift. She resumes handing him wrapped presents. There are only three more to fit in the sack, heavy and oddly shaped but not impossible. They will slide in like little soldiers, all side by side.

The cottage is warm with a roaring fire, which Grizel chopped the wood for, and the kitchen table is laden with all manner of treats, which Grizel made, and the house is clean, because Grizel cleaned it, and the list of items Grizel needs for the coming year is tucked into her apron pocket. Just like always.

Every year he comes on Christmas Eve, and Grizel has never let him down. For her trouble, her guest fills her pantry with the various tools of her trade. Every year, Simcock benefits and every year he does fuck all. But Simcock has never been punished, probably because Grizel always got their guest the best gifts she could find, travelling great distances to find exactly what he would want.

“Some of them may be a little banged up, but it was a long drive in that sled and I didn’t have time to be as delicate as I wanted to be.”

“Yeah, when you threw the first set down the basement stairs yesterday I’m sure that helped.”

“Be helpful or don’t,” she replies. “I know you are only here to try and get some credit; a gold star beside your name and a share of the cookies when the night is over. He works hard the whole night long and you couldn’t even go out and get him a gift. Not even a small one. He will know. He always does. He knows you are a lazy fucking shit.”

Simcock’s face is struck by a gurny shadow realizing that he hasn’t been all that helpful this year. Or last year. Then panic rises in his throat like a warm lemon gurgling in his windpipe.

“Tell him I did good, Grizel. Tell him I’ve helped you. I don’t want him to be mad at me.”

“Why would I lie to him?” She counters, shaking off a chill that runs down her spine like a cold chain. “Every year it’s the same thing. I do all the work travelling all over the countryside to get these gifts, I give them the sleeping tea, and I wrap them up all lovely. You sit at home touching your awful little toadstool. And he will know anyway. Now I need to go and change, I don’t want to be a mess when he arrives. Tie up the sack tight and don’t touch anything else!”

Simcock sat on the floor despondent, knowing that one year the guest would call him out on being a sad and useless cunt. But the son of the farmer nearest them was a real wretch. A whining little shit that went out in the fields to sleep all day, touched himself in the barn, and stole the neighbours pies from their windows. Simcock decided he would go get the boy and bring him back so that there was something in the house much worse than him. Then Simcock wouldn’t look so bad.

He ran out the kitchen door, hopped on his bike, and was off in a flash.

* * *

The sound of the backdoor crashing open almost kills Grizel , her nerves wound as tight as her grey curls.

“Where were you!” she screams at Simcock as he drags in a large potato sack that is squirming like a bag of snakes. The sound of crying and protest escapes the holes in the rough fabric.

“I got a gift for him too,” beams Simcock, watching the sack with a smile as a bloody pool forms beneath it.

“Where did it come from?” She asks, panic on her brow.

“The farmer’s son. He’s a real little fucker. He will love this one.”

Too close to home, she thinks. What will we do if someone saw Simcock take the wee bastard?

“How badly damaged is it?” She worries, and then it stops moving.

“Oh no, no, no, no,” Simcock cries, realizing that the gift can’t be given if it’s broken. “Just tell him the gift is asleep like the others.”

A cold wind blows through the house as the sound of bells comes from near the hearth. The siblings run down the hall and see their guest, resplendent in his red suit and white gloves, long silver beard shining, teeth sharp and ready.

“Merry Christmas Grizel,” he says, nodding to her and ignoring her brother who was sweating behind her despite the draft. “Time for my gifts. Let’s start with the naughty one that Simcock got me. I’m starving and I have a long night ahead of me bringing toys to all the good boys and girls.”

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