The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
I’m trying to cook dinner whilst listening for the washing machine to finish with one eye on my eldest to make sure he’s still at the table doing his homework. My little one, only four years old is begging for a snack. I try to explain, for the tenth time, dinner will be ready shortly. His incessant demands never seem to end and the begging with fat tears in his eyes are enough to make me want to run out of the house with nothing but the clothes on my back and phone. I wish I was talking about a romance gone wrong, but this is motherhood. There is no way out and no break up. I can’t ghost my own kids, as much as I want to at times. The big one is like Nosferatu lurking around the house, shuffling from the kitchen for feeding back to the lair of the playroom to play the PS4 with his friends online. There is a permanent scowl on his face from me badgering him to shower, do homework or chores around the house. God forbid he helps his beleaguered mother.
The baby, bless, with her sweet face is like a Siamese twin attached to my chest. Her wails are as painful as a separation without anaesthetic when I try to put her down even to make a cup of coffee. Our relationship is like something from that B movie Basket Case.
The middle child has an angel’s face with the disposition of Damien. All three so very different, but in the end I’m like the nanny in The Omen that hangs herself from the front of the house and screams “It’s all for you Damien!”
Then all goes dark when my neck breaks as I forget any of my needs because it is indeed all for all of them.
The fun of Halloween has ended and now its’s time to get down to the business of Christmas. The middle child needs the new PJ Mask life size talking action figure. If I didn’t think it would scar him for life, I’d show him Child’s Play. Maybe he would stop asking.
The eldest is happy with cash or video games, the baby just wants to be held, plus she has a playroom full of hand me down toys. There are so many toys my house resembles the aftermath of a tsunami of wood and plastic. There are multiple wakes strewn across the floor. The middle one is old enough now to want everything and anything he sees. He understands the concept of new things. Fuck all the adverts snuck in between cartoons showing my kid the new and wonderous toys available to him. As soon as I hear the advert jingle float into the kitchen, my sentry post, I know I will have to stop whatever I’m doing and watch for the millionth time. The sheer greed on his face makes me want to toss a pan at the TV so it’s forever broken, but without TV or an iPad my husband and I might never have sex again.
These days I can’t seem to keep up, with any of them. And now it’s that dreaded month we have to ensure is 24/7 magic. The month of December is one long concert, play, home baking, exam taking, house decorating, card writing, gift buying frenzy. Every weekend is jammed packed with events that are mostly enjoyable for children. No wonder most people love Christmas as kids. As an adult there is no longer that anticipation of what could be under the wrapping. Adult toys (not to be mistaken for the bedroom kind. Those are a year round gift anyway.) are bigger and more expensive. The adults in the family choose what we want ahead of time and pick names from a hat for gift exchange. It’s very civilized, but not exciting, kinda like going from dating to married with kids.
Thank the heavens and hell one of my girlfriends has organized our very own women only Christmas party.
This night out is a long time in the making with our conflicting schedules. All of us women gather like a coven at a restaurant or bar, it could be a public toilet, as long as there’s booze and devoid of husbands or children. We just want to commiserate, get drunk, laugh and remember there is a world that spins beyond middle age duty. Unlike the twenties there is no attention from the opposite sex. Half of us don’t wear make up and the others have just enough energy to fuck our husbands or masturbate. Nobody has time to fuck someone new.
The evening is fun with most of the women wanting to leave when I feel like I’m just getting started. Begrudgingly I say my goodbyes. There is still enough time to catch that last train.
The wet cement underneath the heel of my boot is a wonderful sound. It’s a city sound unlike the buzzer of the dryer or the clinking of dishes in the dishwasher. I feel like I could be twenty- five again walking home from a date that wasn’t half bad. Since I live in the suburbs, the trains don’t run at frequent intervals. I have a bit of time to kill. I walk slow relishing every second alone. As I make my way to the station a single shop is still open, which is odd. Then again Christmas hours I suppose. Why the hell not, I think to myself. It’s a bookstore. Just to be sure, I set the alarm on my phone to alert me when I absolutely must leave before my carriage turns back into a pumpkin.
Candles flicker and fill the shop with the faint scent of pine and cinnamon. There’s no one at the front desk. I look around thinking of all the books I want to read, but the only stories in my head are those of mischievous trains or masked pyjama clad heroes.
There’s a bin of free books. I look at my phone, still enough time for a quick look through. There is an unmarked red book with intricate calligraphy and symbols. The alarm goes off. I have to make this last train. Without thinking I slip the book in to my handbag.
When I get home my husband is sound asleep with the iPad still propped on his belly as his video game plays on. I slip on my eye mask hoping to get a good night sleep before a wonderful morning of rugby training in the freezing cold for the eldest followed by a five -year old’s birthday party. Tomorrow I will be teeming with good will to man and joy.
I wake up before everyone on a mission to get my Christmas shopping done online before we head out the door for rugby training. What the fuck was I thinking leaving my Christmas shopping until the first weekend of December. That stupid life size action figure doll thing is sold out everywhere except eBay where assholes are trying to flog it for hundreds of pounds. I don’t think so. I’m sure it will all be fine, and we can find something else.
After standing in a wet blanket of drizzle and fog during rugby, we rush home for the birthday party. It’s two hours of your life you will never regain as you feign interest in talking about your kids even more than you do at home with your partner. These parties are usually at 11am, so too early to drink for most and we all drive. Like, I said, wasted fucking time.
The looped Christmas music and mince pie over watery coffee make me want to vomit or sit down. I’m feeling a bit woozy. Nothing a bottle of red wine won’t cure later tonight. Right now, I just need to make it through. The small birthday boy unwraps his last present. It’s that fucking stupid doll I can’t stop hearing about. Immediately my child runs to my legs and starts begging. I will do anything to stop that noise that tells me I’m a failure at this parenting thing. My ears prick as the mother whispers she bought it months ago. That smug look on her face burns me inside like a lighter igniting plastic. All my frustration begins to melt and turn into tears.
I lock myself into the bathroom and cry. I curse the day I decided to have children, I curse my youthful stupid belief in love and family and all those hooks that keep us tethered to earth but infect us at the same time with something no tetanus shot can prevent. I reach into my bag for tissues and makeup. The other mothers will probably know this fresh coat of paint is from stifled sobs, but we don’t have to talk about that. This is what we chose, and motherhood is such a wonderful thing, like Christmas.
My fingers find the mini pack of tissues, but there is something else, the book. If my husband can sit in the toilet for hours with a book, why can’t I?
My black mascara tears soil the pages, my guilt and sorrow throb from my heart like a little beast trying to rip through. As I fumble through, something unexpected causes me to stop feeling so damn sorry for myself. On chapter four a naked woman lounges back while a demon’s head rests between her legs. Underneath it reads “A spell for those hidden desires. Call my name and I shall answer.”
I scoff and read the words of some mumbo jumbo incantation out loud. When it comes to the point where you speak your desire, I say the first thing on my mind. I want that damn doll so my kid will shut the fuck up and give me peace. I just a nice Christmas where everyone is happy. I want to feel like I’m doing ok because this is the only job I have. There are tears in my eyes and the words of the spell are soaked with black blots of mascara. At the bottom of the page in small writing, like parenthood, there is a warning. “Any spirit conjured will be there for good. They can only leave on their own volition.” This makes me snort. Take my damn soul while you’re at it because I think it’s as shrivelled as my breasts from nursing three children. My husband interrupts my moment.
“The kids are getting restless. Are you ok? We need you.” I look in the mirror at my streaked face. It’s unrecognizable to the point there could be anyone in my place. They don’t really need me.
I mentioned it’s Christmas, and of course the children’s party gave me a party bag that keeps on giving- a bad stomach bug. But Mama can’t be sick. I go between school concerts and school runs shivering and dripping in a cold sweat that makes me look like I’m transitioning into some beast. The aching in my bowels is worse than any period pain Satan himself could conjure. I grit my teeth and smile through it all. But not all is lost. One of the mothers has told me about a small shop in Surrey that might have that toy I need before Christmas. I’m willing to sit in my own shit if it means putting an end to this chase.
I drive for forty-five minutes in the rain to get there. Seeing how empty the shop is makes my heart sing. Maybe there is a chance.
The woman at the till is young and completely uninterested in customer service. I can tell by the way she remains staring at her phone as I walk in.
“Hi, I’m looking for the PJ Mask life size action doll. I heard you might have one.”
She looks at me in disgust as if I have interrupted something so important it might alter her life forever. I know I look like a wet jaundiced mermaid from hell, but just do your damn job.
“Sorry all sold out.” My stomach cramps, a little voice whispers in my head. “She’s lying. It’s in the back. Just wait.” At first it startles me, but then I feel grateful someone, anyone is on my side for once.
I force a smile and pretend to browse the aisles. When I see the young woman busy with another customer I wander to the back. The place is small enough I doubt they have CCTV, but I look around anyway. I’m trying to be as quiet as possible in my frantic search. The place is a disorganized mess. I wonder what they pay kids these days. Out of the corner of my eye I see the thing. It’s underneath a puffer coat but there is no mistaking the colours of the masked heroes. Then a voice stops me.
“What are you doing here.” It’s the damn girl. My hands begin to shake. I can see them wrapped around her throat as I throttle her against the wall for ignoring me, for being pretty and thin and young without any effort whatsoever. She probably spends hours bitching to her friends how fat she is. God, I want to murder her just for being her. There is a growl inside of me. Is it my belly awash with virus or something else?
“I thought you said you didn’t have one,” I snap.
“That’s mine, so technically we don’t. But I will sell it to you for £200. Cash.” Her smile is a smear of bright red as it stretches across her face.
The voice in my head is back. “What are you going to do about it. If you want it, take it. I’m here to help.”
Without thinking I feel my fingers clench as they reach for a cricket bat I scarcely remember noticing. In one swift arc of my arm I hit her across the face, splitting open her lip. There is a calm that comes over me. The stomach pains are gone, my fear and worry about everything being so damn perfect, including myself, is no longer a thought. A little voice growls just above a whisper.
“It’s so easy to get what you want. Just take it. I’m here now and you have nothing to worry about. Look to your left. There is a box cutter. Use it, watch all her youth spill out of her throat. Step into her blood and complete the spell. I promise you will be everything she is.”
I feel myself smiling as I watch her fall to the ground. She hits the floor either dead or unconscious. I feel my empty hand begin to reach for the box cutter, but looking at her face that is hardly out of her teens, softens me. Suddenly, the cross I wear around my neck feels tight like it’s choking me. My left hand tries to pull it off while my right pushes it back to my chest, cricket bat still in hand, helping me. I will myself to kneel next to her. Is she dead? Thank the heavens she is not. Just out cold with a nasty bruise and cut. With all my anger stewing inside, I drop the cricket bat, grab the doll and run out the back door.
The cold air stings my eyes and lungs. The cramps have returned. That voice hisses. “Why are you fighting? You called for me. You wanted this. Now I’m here to stay. Don’t you want me to make all your wishes come true. What about that man you have a crush on? I bet you would like a night alone. I can do this, but you must let me live inside of you. Let me use your hands as my own. Tis a small price. Stop fighting.”
I remember the book, my desperation at that party. I didn’t think it was real, but it was. How the fuck is this real. My thoughts of the girl are gone and now the only thing that concerns me are my husband and children. Will this thing come for them next? Will I do something I can’t take back. What if that cricket bat was the box cutter. This thing has to go. It’s ironic children have a way of bringing the worst out of you, however, it’s at these times you must be at your best. They are the best part of me that will live on.
I rush back home with this doll next to me thinking back to my own childhood. When did we fall into the anarchy of needing it all. I pull over to a charity shop with the doll in hand. The woman’s eyes are wide as she watches me approach the till. Without saying a word, I leave it on the counter and shove a fifty -pound note inside the collection point for a relief effort in a part of the world that will never know the pleasures I have everyday without thought. She thanks me, and I smile, trying to hold back tears and shit that is threatening to pass through me. Claws are digging deep, I can feel it. It’s no longer the virus at work.
The voice hisses. “You are so weak. After what I have done?”
I ignore it, maybe I deserve this thing inside of me to forever torment me for being a Grinch with a heart too small.
My next stop is to a food bank. I unload all of my groceries still in the back of the car and hand them to a vicar. He shakes my hand, “Bless you!”
The voice sounds weaker. “Stop this! This is not the plan!” My stomach hurts again to the point I feel I might shit myself. I don’t care. Sweat is running down my back and between my breasts. I must look like hell. I don’t care. I have just enough vision to make it home where I will have to face off with this demon.
I run into the house and run straight for the toilet. Behind me are my family’s voices.
“Where are the groceries? Did you remember the nice Waitrose mince pies? You ok?”
After ten minutes I feel so much lighter. I look into the mirror as I wash my hands and see a shadow across my face. The thing is right behind my eyes. It’s voice fainter than my baby’s breath. “This isn’t over. The spell wasn’t completed but that doesn’t mean I won’t return.”
I turn on the shower and lock the door before anyone has a chance to intrude.
As I enter the kitchen my husband is giving me an incredulous look. “Where were you? Did you get the thing?” I grab his glass of wine and open the computer. Without giving anyone notice I open the Waitrose website and order a complete Christmas meal that should be delivered just in time.
It’s Christmas day. The house is a jovial din of chaos. The baby is crying, and the two boys are fighting over what Christmas movie to watch. The middle one didn’t even notice there is no action figure this year because he was too busy trying to reclaim his old toys that his sister now enjoys. No one is dying because I didn’t make everything from scratch three days ahead of time. The demon is long gone, perhaps, and must have tired of me not really giving a shit. I sit in the middle of everyone in my pyjamas stained with baby food and drink my champagne straight from the bottle. Fuck perfection, my demons, the other demons residing in wait. It’s Christmas after all.
V.Castro is the author of Maria The Wanted and the Legacy of The Keepers, her debut vampire novel series. She is a Mexican American ex-pat living in the UK for the past 12 years. As a full-time mother, she dedicates her time to her family and writing.
You can find out more about Violet by visiting her official website www.vvcastro.com
Follow Violet on Twitter @vlatinalondon
“Word started to get around there was a new enforcer in town. No one knew if she was a demon or an angel, perhaps a mythical mix of both. Maybe the woman in the black hat was one of the old gods that wandered this land before the lash of the cross was introduced. The only thing anyone knew was that no human could run from their devious deeds if Maria and her fist caught you in their sights.” Maria The Wanted
Maria is a wanted woman. She’s wanted by an Aztec trafficker, a cartel boss, the people she fights for, and now the devil she can’t resist.
Her journey begins as a would-be immigrant turned vampire, until the injustices of the world turn her into something else. She’s not just out for blood, she wants answers.