A Christmas tale
Crash… bang… crash… thump… wallop!
I lifted my head from my paws. I’d been dreaming of Brigitte and Samiya when the noise woke me.
Sooz was lugging a large box into the dining room and none too quietly. Didn’t she understand that Lola and I needed our rest?
‘What’s going on?’ I looked across at Lola. She was resting on the rug near the fire place. It was her rug, the place she liked to watch the world go by from – in her dotage – not sure what she meant by dotage. I’d learnt over the years it was best not to question Lola as her vocabulary was well beyond my understanding.
‘It’s the Christmas tree,’ muttered Lola, without moving. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten it’s nearly Christmas?’
‘Oh wow… of course. But the pageant was a few weeks ago!’ Oops! I forgot about Christmas and the tree… best not to let Lola know. I’d never hear the end of it.
‘Sooz never puts it up until December,’ muttered Lola. ‘Are you losing your memory Paddington? Even you should know that… how long have you lived in this family?’
‘Okay, smarty pants so I forgot about the tree… big deal!’ I knew I was acting like a spoilt child but Lola had a way of making me feel small and insignificant. I pushed up and glared harshly at her as I sauntered by. ‘There’s nothing wrong with my memory!’ I mumbled under my breath as I made my way to Sooz.
‘So Sooz,’ I said loud enough for Lola to hear. ‘It’s Christmas tree time then? Where are you going to put it?’
‘Move out the way Paddington.’
‘What’s wrong with everyone this morning? Talk about grumpy.’ I sat down close to where she was yanking and pulling at the box.
‘Do you need a hand?’ Pete stood looking at us from the kitchen doorway. He wore the expression of someone wanting to flee not stay and help.
Sooz obviously didn't notice his furrowed brow.
‘Yes please. If you could lift the tree out of the box for me and lock it into the base that would save my back.’
‘Bad back Sooz? I told you last week not to move that furniture!’ I looked at her under my long fringe – it needed cutting – and hoped she could see my disapproving eyes. ‘You never listen to me – do you?’
‘Paddington, if you don’t move you’re going to get trodden on. Move out the way.’
Sooz’ finger pointed the way to the bedroom. ‘There's no need to be grumpy. I was only reminding you that I cared enough to tell you not to move the furniture by yourself. It’s all part of caring and sharing!’ Oomph… I got up and walked toward the stairs. I perched myself halfway up them and looked down. ‘I can watch you dress the tree from here Sooz. It’s a good view.’
She never replied. She was ignoring me, because she knew, that I knew, she had no argument where the furniture removal was concerned. If only Pete knew the half of it. She turned and addressed Pete, who was still waiting for further instruction. ‘Can you fetch the boxes containing the decorations from the garage? I can’t lift them.’
Oomph… now she asks Pete for help! She should have thought about asking him last week. I remembered watching her struggle to push and pull the furniture into place. When she was done with that task, she took the lounge suite apart and gave it a thorough clean. The vacuum cleaner hummed along for hours. Its constant whine and buzz nearly drove me crazy as she cleaned with gusto, and I mean gusto. It was like watching a whirlwind move through the house. After she’d finished, I remarked how great it looked, even though I castigated her over her insistence on moving everything herself. The smell of disinfectant and polish wafted through the rooms – I didn’t mind the clean smell – and with the new furniture replacing the old furniture, there was more room for Lola and me.
Yes, the new look was good.
I was staring into nothingness, when more noise brought me back to the present. Pete came into focus dragging two large containers into the dining room.
‘Thanks,’ said Sooz.
‘Is there anything else you need, before I go off and do some work… real work.’
There was no mistaking the firmness in Pete’s tone. I watched them carefully, anticipating a firm word or two in retaliation from Sooz. Everyone was in such a bad mood this morning.
She, however, didn’t bite.
‘No,’ replied Sooz. ‘I’ll make a coffee for you in a while.’
I figured she was trying to appease Pete. It worked and he disappeared, and Sooz turned her attention back to the containers. She pulled off the lids and lifted small individual boxes of colourful glass balls and ornaments from within. One at a time she selected pieces and hung them on the tree.
Well, that was boring, I thought. I’d been sure the two of them were going to have an altercation. I sighed.
Lola’s face appeared from around the corner of the kitchen, and she came and sat at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Did I ever tell you about the time Gromit chased a possum up the Christmas tree?’
I looked at her intrigued. ‘No.’
‘It was a few years ago now. Sooz decided – for whatever reason – to put the Christmas tree up in the indoor-outdoor room.’
‘I think that would be a great place for it,’ I interrupted.
‘Yes, it was.’
‘You’d be able to see the lights from the patio.’
‘They’d look great at night.’
‘PADDINGTON are you going to shut up while I tell you the story or not?’
‘I’m sorry, Lola.’
‘Anyway,’ she glanced at Sooz then back to me, ‘it looked glorious.’
‘Oh for the goodness sake, what have we been talking about?’
‘The tree… sorry Lola, I knew it was the tree.’
She rolled her eyes at me. ‘Over the years Sooz collected glass balls for every year of hers and Pete’s life together. They were in different colours and looked very pretty. When she turned the tree lights on, they sparkled and looked very festive.’
‘Well, one-night everyone went out to a Christmas party. Gromit and I were left in charge of the house. The night was uneventful as usual and Gromit asked if I wanted to take a stroll around the deck,’ she stopped, and I saw that reflective look in her eyes she got whenever she talked about Gromit. ‘Did I ever tell you what a gentleman he was?’
‘Yes Lola. You’re always telling me how unlike him, I am.’
‘As we were walking back to the indoor-outdoor room, we saw movement. Gromit took off like a greyhound, and I was close behind him. We sprinted into the indoor-outdoor room, and that’s when we saw them.’
‘What… what was it? Tell me.’ I looked at her eager to know. This was one of Lola’s better stories.
‘Two possums had ventured into our territory. We had them trapped in the indoor-outdoor room. Gromit went after them while I cut off their escape on the other side off the day bed.’
I could feel my eyes broaden in awe. ‘And… and what happened?’
‘The possum nearest to Gromit made a bee line for the tree. Gromit nearly had it, but it scrambled up through the branches… and that’s when it happened.’
‘What… what happened?’
‘The tree collapsed and the possum fell with it, as did all the decorations. Gromit was still trying to reach the possum through the debris, but it did a flying leap across the day bed and into the wisteria.’
‘What happened to the other one?’
‘It escaped into the night during the mayhem. Whereas the one Gromit chased into the wisteria was so traumatised it sat in a frozen state’
‘It must have been very scared,’ I said solemnly.
‘Yes, I was just going to say that,’ said Lola. ‘Gromit wouldn’t leave it alone he sat watching it all night. I wandered around the back of the day bed to survey the damage, and that’s when I noticed the floor was covered in broken baubles. All of Sooz’ beautiful glass balls were smashed into millions of pieces. I told Gromit to forget the possum, as we had far more important stuff to worry about.’
‘Like how you were going to explain it to Sooz?’ I couldn’t help butting in. Lola was drawing out the story.
‘Yes. I wondered what she was going to say when she saw the tree. I must admit for the first time since living with Pete and Sooz, I had a cold sick feeling wash over me. Gromit of course was no help. He said Pete would expect him to keep the possum in his sights… and so that’s what he did.’
‘Gromit sounded extremely focused.’ I murmured.
‘Oh yes… he was a lot of things. I’ve told you some of the stories about Gromit. He took his job as the protector of the family very seriously.’
‘So do I.’ What was Lola trying to say? That I didn’t take my job seriously, well that wasn’t true.
‘That’s not what I’m saying. Honestly, Paddington, sometimes you’re too sensitive for your own good.’
Oomph… Perhaps I was. I calmed down and asked. ‘What did Sooz say?’
‘Gromit was being stubborn and wouldn’t take his eyes off the possum, and so he didn’t see the mess. When Sooz and Pete arrived back home and saw the mess… oh my God!’
‘What did she say? What did she say?’ Would Lola ever tell me?
‘Sooz was worried that we may have cut our feet on the glass. And then Pete saw the possum, and he worried it was going to have a heart attack. Pete had to drag Gromit away. He was still on duty watching it.’
‘Did she punish you?’ I couldn’t imagine Sooz hitting us. She had a way with words, and so we always knew whether we were in the right or wrong. Could she have lost her cool and lash out? I was almost scared to hear Lola’s answer.
‘No, of course not. Sooz isn’t like that. But I would have to say she was very unhappy about the broken glass balls. Her beautiful collection – ruined.’
‘Did she make you pay for new ones?’
‘And how could we do that? Really, Paddington, I sometimes wonder where you got your brains from. We couldn’t have got new ones, even if we wanted to, they were very old. I heard her tell people. We felt bad of course and Gromit promised to put in extra hours guarding the house without additional food or anything.’
‘Wow… without extra food!’ my stomach rumbled. ‘Talking about food, I wouldn’t mind a snack.’
‘Always thinking about your stomach.’ Lola got up and walked back to her rug.
‘Thanks Lola that was a good story.’ I jumped down the steps and joined Sooz. She’s just finished dressing the tree and was packing away the decorations she didn’t want to use. She turned the light’s on at the wall, and the room lit up in a colourful flashing display.
I suddenly remembered that I liked Christmas very much. We always got presents to open. Sooz put something that smelt very tasty under the tree for us. We had to wait until Christmas day to open them, but it was worth the wait. I drooled at the thought of the leftovers she gave us from Christmas lunch, and my stomach rumbled again.
‘Hey Sooz, any chance of a bite to eat? Lola and I–’
‘Don’t bring me into it,’ grumbled Lola.
‘–we’re starving,’ I finished, ignoring her comment. It always swayed Sooz when I implied Lola was hungry.
‘Okay Paddington, it’s time for a break. Would you guys like a biscuit?’
‘Yes please Sooz. I thought you’d never ask. I think Lola wants one as well. Pete is probably hungry too, and you might like something also. We’ll eat what you leave… remember I like hot buttered toast. Are we having turkey for Christmas lunch?...