“Well fuck Scott Morrison anyway!” Laura bounded into the sitting room of the dilapidated share house in Bondi and slumped onto the couch. She grabbed a cushion and hugged it to her chest as her bottom lip began to protrude.
“He was useless during the bushfires and he is useless now during COVID-19!”
Daniel looked up from his laptop across the room and cocked his eyebrow. “Well Laura what has our Mr. Morrison done to warrant today’s outburst?”
“He won’t open the borders and let me go home for Christmas. So now I am stuck here with you lot!” Laura’s postured resembled that of a spoilt six-year-old as she flung the cushion onto the wooden floor in front of her.
“Charming. Stuck with us! Well Laura, I can assure you I’d rather not be anyway near you this Christmas either,” Daniel scowled as he turned his attention back to his laptop.
“Please tell me you two are not fighting again?!” Mary pleaded as she bundled in the front door. She caught her flip flop on the door saddle and fell straight into the sitting room. Her flip flop remained at the door as her body fell to the ground and into a heap with an exceptionally large Christmas tree on top of her.
“Jesus Mary, you will do yourself a serious injury one of these days”. Laura exasperated as she pulled the Christmas tree off Mary, as she in turn lay panting heavily underneath it on the floor. Mary rolled onto her side and propped herself up on her elbow and tugged at Laura’s ankle. “You ok hun?”
Laura shook her head as tears formed at the corner of her eyes.
“She’s upset because she is “stuck” with us for Christmas and can’t go home to her precious Dublin.” Daniel answered with scornful grit.
Laura reeled on him. “Sometimes you can be a right shit Dan!” She stormed out of the sitting room and into her bedroom down the hall. She slammed both doors as she went, leaving the house shaking in her wake.
Mary got up from the floor heavily and shook her head. “You know she’s really homesick now, Dan. You could be a little more sensitive.” Mary began to unwrap the crushed tree and place it into the corner of the room. Daniel got up from his armchair and helped her secure the base and steady the wilting green.
“I’m upset I am not going home too you know. All the boys will be having the Christmas night out in Leicester square and I’ll miss out on all the holiday tail. Women are crazy horny at Christmas,” Daniel explained.
“It really is a wonder you are single, Dan” Mary responded sarcastically as she left him to wrestle the tree. As Mary peeped her head around the bedroom door, she saw Laura curled up, her knees to her chest and sobbing into her pillow. Her soft whimpers pulled at Mary’s maternal instincts.
“Oh, Laura, please don’t be upset. It’ll be ok.” Mary pulled Laura up from her pillow and into her arms. She hugged her tightly and rocked her softly.
Eventually Laura’s crying subsided and she wiped her tears on her duvet cover. “I know I am being childish, but I just hate that I can’t go home. I know everyone else is missing family and locked down too but at this time of year, I think the homesickness just gets so much worse. I know we are better off here with some sort of normality, versus the lockdown at home, but it is just hard you know. I really miss them.”
‘I know hun, it can be a pretty lonely time of year no matter how used you are to living away from home. I would be completely lost if I did not have Patrick. We just need to make the most of what we have, and I promise, I will make you the best Christmas dinner, EVER! Now come on let’s go save the tree from Daniel and have a festive tipple. That’ll surely cheer you up!”
“Thanks Mary. Now if we could just get rid of Daniel, it would be perfect!” Mary made a knowing face at Laura. Since Daniel had moved into the share house, they had each rubbed each other up the wrong way. The constant bickering was starting to take its toll on Mary, who often had to retreat to her boyfriend Patrick’s flat for respite care. With the international borders closed, the usual choice of roommates was pretty limited. With less and less new people moving to the Eastern Suburbs, the girls had been desperate to get someone in. Mary was now wondering was it worth it.
Laura interrupted Mary’s thoughts, “Do you think I hate him ‘cos he’s English or because he’s a knobhead?”. Laura now stood in front of her bedroom mirror desperately wiping the mascara from underneath her eyes with her sleeve.
“I honestly don’t think he’s that bad, Laura. Yes, the ssh-ing every five minutes because he is on a work call is annoying, but that’s not really his fault. If I had to work from our sitting room, I would probably be more annoying than that!” Mary stood up and straightened Laura’s bedsheets as she rose.
“Knobhead,” Laura retorted while sticking out her tongue at Mary.
“Ok knobhead it is, but a very good looking knobhead you have to say!” Both ladies left the bedroom giggling.
As Laura and Mary came back into the sitting room, Daniel could see Laura had been crying. He shifted uncomfortably in his armchair and tried to concentrate on his end of year presentation on the laptop screen.
“We are going to decorate this unfortunate tree and start the festive season with a drink. Do you want to help?” Mary asked Daniel as she pulled out a worn cardboard box of decorations from the storage cupboard.
“Sure, why don’t I make the drinks? Laura what would you like?”
Laura looked up at Daniel, shocked at his friendly offer. Warily she considered her answer, “Prosecco please. …and eh, try not spit in it!” Daniel rolled his eyes and went to the kitchen to fetch the drinks.
The rest of the evening passed in a blur of baubles, tinsels and prosecco. Each housemate spoke of their favourite Christmas memory or unusual family traditions. Dan spoke at length about the ‘best Christmas present ever’ – his skalextric racetrack. His competitive nature come to the fore, when he told them of beating his Dad. Mary loved the way her mother would light the Christmas pudding on fire. They would all sit transfixed, watching the blue hue dance around the mixed fruit. Laura regaled them with stories of Christmas eve in her local pub. She explained how her sisters would all go in for ‘just the one’ and desperately try to avoid the old codgers with their mistletoe. But by the end of the night, they would all be draped around each other, singing Fairytale of New York at the top of their lungs.
Later that evening, Mary’s boyfriend Patrick arrived with a pizza and a box of beers. Mary greeted him with a quick peck on the cheek and began fussing over him. She made sure he had his aioli to go with his pizza and moved up on the couch to give him the corner spot that he liked. “So, what’s the news?” he asked the group.
Laura sheepishly looking into her glass of prosecco, embarrassed after her earlier outburst. “I think I will do a full traditional Christmas dinner, turkey and ham the works! Is that ok with everyone?” Mary enquired.
“Sounds awesome, Babe, will you do the mash I like?” Patrick asked,
kissing her on the forehead.
“Will you do Yorkshire puddings too, Mary? My Dad always makes the best Yorkshires at Christmas,” Daniel asked excitedly.
“Yorkshire puddings aren’t very Christmassy. You should do Brussels sprouts. We always have Brussels sprouts at Christmas.” Laura now added her request.
“Yuck! Brussels sprouts. How are balls of green garbage Christmassy but Yorkshires aren’t?” Daniel retorted.
“Ding ding, fighters to the ring,” Patrick whispered into Mary’s ear making her giggle. Laura watched the tenderness between Mary and Patrick’s interaction. She then noticed another Tinder alert had grabbed Daniels attention.
“Fuck sake Dan, why do you always have to ruin everything!” Laura downed her glass of prosecco and left Dan to his Tinder and Mary and Patrick to their Christmas planning.
As Laura lay on her bed, she became annoyed. Why did she let Dan get to her so much? Why had seeing Mary and Patrick being so loving, make her want to cry? Laura remembered this time last year. She had landed in Dublin airport and was greeted by her family all cheering and waving as she walked through the arrival’s door. Her mother cried as usual, her sister hugged the life out of her, and her Dad stood awkwardly in the background, complaining about the price of the car park. She thought about how excited she was to see them and the love that washed over her, as she held them tight in a hug. It was so much more than relief at being with them again. It was the feeling of her whole body slowly contracting, her shoulder slowly loosening, the permanent lump of anxiety in her throat being swallowed. It was home.
Tears fell from Laura’s cheeks as she longed for that feeling now. She longed to hear her nephews excitedly telling her that Granny had got butcher sausages and soda bread especially for her and they were all going to have breakfast together. Laura loved how they all made such a fuss over her. She loved that feeling of being loved. Of being wanted.
She didn’t have that feeling in Sydney. After 8 years, she had gone through three different groups of friends. The transient nature of the city allowed for people to come and go from her life with ease. Some moved back to their home countries, some to the cheaper houses in Brisbane and some just opted for the eternal party. Not keen to get attached, not keen to settled anywhere too long. Laura pulled the bedsheets up to her chin and cried herself to sleep.
As Christmas day rolled around, the differences between Christmas in the Northern and Southern hemisphere magnified. The southerners all became more excited about their summer holidays than Christmas. The talk was of prawns and barbies than tinsel and turkey. The Christmas lights just didn’t seem to twinkle as bright in the sunshine for Laura. However, the share house in Bondi was a hive of activity. Mary was frantically peeling potatoes and basting the turkey. Laura was hastily wrapping last minute gifts and Patrick and Daniel were trying to figure out how to fit ten people around a four-person table.
As the midday sun began to heat up the already toasty kitchen, the friends began to get ready for the obligatory Christmas Day swim on Bondi beach. Mary was reluctant to leave her turkey. “I don’t know when I am going to get those Yorkshires in the oven for Daniel and how am I going to bake Brussels for Laura. I am going to need another oven!” The sweat rolled from Mary’s brow as she raced around the kitchen and confided in Patrick. He in turn took her in his arms and kissed her on the head. “It’s our day too, Babe. Don’t worry I’ll plan something to distract them from their dinner. Now let’s go have a cold beer and a swim.”
As the group of housemates descended onto the beach, they could see the golden sand was filling up fast. Their neighbours Fran and Eddie were there and Daniel and his friends were already camped around a speaker, drinking with Santa hats and board shorts. Laura sat on her beach towel quietly and looked around. The beach was full of bronzed bodies in festive red swimsuits and the occasional Christmas hat. “It’s all a bit surreal isn’t it?” she said to Mary. “It just doesn’t feel Christmassy drinking beer on the beach.”
Mary stretched out her legs and let the sand pile on her toes. She let the heat of the afternoon sun ease her tension. “It may not be what you are used to but with everything that is going on in the world right now, I think there are worse places you could be.”
Laura nodded and then smiled as she watched Daniel and his mates attempt to make a human pyramid. “Come on over, let’s get a photo,” he called as he noticed the girls watching. The girls joined the pyramid and Laura couldn’t help but laugh, as it inevitably collapsed, and arms and legs were strewn across each other on the sand.
As the sun began to lower and meet the sea, the gang of neighbours and friends strolled back to the house arm in arm, singing Christmas carols. Later, Mary’s dinner was a triumph with all the hungry orphans who had gathered. They were fed and watered to a happy contentment. The joyous mood began to change as the first of the facetime calls from the Northern hemisphere came in. One by one people left the table to talk to their families at home. Those waiting for their turn, anxiously checked and rechecked the time zones desperately waiting for it to be late enough to call. The fun and frivolity of earlier was now forgotten, as a sombre mood descended.
As Laura’s turn arrived, she escaped to her bedroom and waved frantically down the phone. She desperately plastered a smile on her face. She was determined not to upset her mother. She lied about the great day she had had and ooh-ed and aah-ed appropriately, as Christmas gifts were each held up to the screen for her review.
When she hung up, the lump in her throat became unbearable and she cried. She could hear the mood outside her door lifting, as someone had turned up the Christmas music and another bottle of bubbles had been uncorked. Laura ached to be lying on her mother’s couch, one hand in the tin of Roses chocolates, the other clutching her mulled wine. It just felt weird, even wrong to be drinking a beer in a swimsuit.
Laura eventually stopped crying and reapplied her makeup. She brushed her hair and sprayed her favourite perfume. She didn’t want anyone to notice she had been upset. Especially Dan. He had been weird with her ever since her outburst the previous night and she was dammed if she was going to give him any more ammunition.
As Laura re-entered the sitting room, the party was back in full swing. Mary, now relieved of her kitchen duties, was swigging directly from a bottle of prosecco, while the guys gathered around the table playing cards. The neighbours Fran and Eddie danced around the Christmas tree singing German carols. Suddenly from the kitchen, Patrick let out a roar, “We forgot the crackers!!”
No one else seemed remotely concerned about the omission but Daniel and Mary sprung into life.
“Oh yes, quick, Laura, over here,” Mary called as she gathered in the kitchen with Patrick and Daniel. A bemused Laura joined them, as they pulled the Christmas crackers out of the cardboard box.
“Will you pull my cracker?” Patrick asked Mary seductively as he nuzzled into her neck. She giggled and pulled suggestively on his shirt collar. Daniel awkwardly held out a cracker to Laura. “Shall we go next?” he asked as he studied her face intently.
Laura had never noticed how brown his eyes were. They reminded her of two chocolate pools of a Labrador pleading with her. Laura shifted uneasily as she found herself staring back. She gripped the end of the cardboard cracker and pulled. The snap echoed around the kitchen as the prize fell out and onto the floor, in between Daniel and Laura.
Confused Laura bent down and picked it up. “It’s mistletoe,” she chirped, and she then noticed the hopeful expression in front of her. Daniel slowly lent in and placed a soft kiss on Laura’s lips. Nervously he pulled away and again, concentrated his puppy eyes on her face. Laura stood still, unmoving. She then lent in and kissed him back. This time, their kiss had more certainty and urgency, as they held each other tightly in the kitchen.
“Woo hooo, Finally!!!” Patrick and Mary cheered as they watched the housemates embrace. As they eventually pulled apart Laura stood back and looked at Daniel. “Maybe being stuck in Sydney with you isn’t so bad after all.”