‘Why have I called you both downstairs?’
Col hadn’t the foggiest. He could tell Trine didn’t know because she was grinning at him like HAHAHA. Only Mum knew, and she had her pointy finger out, shining its metaphorical searchlight on the nativity scene.
Metaphor. That was like saying something was like another thing without saying the word like.
On the lowly table by the telly was Mum’s treasured nativity scene. Hand-knitted when Col was little, or Mum was little, whichever. A two-faced Mary, outsized baby Jesus in a tinsel stuffed manger, three Kings in drag, a wonky donkey, a sheepish sheep and the evil scheming pig. Angels hung by their woolly halos from paperclip hooks on the cardboard backdrop. That was a starry night with an inexplicable arched window of yellow cellophane.
‘Who’s touched it?’
‘Not me.’ Col did his best never to look at it. That pig gave him nightmares.
‘Not me.’ Trine said. ‘It’s perfect.’
Goody two-shoes. Her feet stank, ironically.
Ironic. That was when things were the opposite to what you expected. Like life, according to Mum.
‘This stable was perfect last night.’ Mum knelt before it.
Each Christmas, the nativity scene biscuit tin was opened, its all-caps instructions and stick man diagram taped inside the lid. Mum would set the scene up like she knew exactly what went down in Bethlehem, like if she didn’t get it perfect, she’d ruin Christmas. Mum, Trine and he were the three shepherds and they didn’t need a Joseph, not in Mum’s version.
‘Colin Shepherd, have you been fiddling with it again?’
Ages before, when he was ten, he’d turned the pig to face the inexplicable window, to stop it staring at him with those back beady eyes. That had been the Christmas of no puddings at all for him, and extra helpings for Trine. Never again.
‘I’ve been in my room literally all night. No, not literally, factually, actually.’
‘Strange that Melchior’s not quite himself, then, isn’t it?’
Rhetorical. Sounds like a question, but it isn’t, is it?
Col didn't know which of the kings Melchior was. They were three sausage blonds in matching red sparkle frocks, stitched smiles and silver foil crowns. Then, Col saw. Melchior was not adoring the enormous baby Jesus as a wise man should. He was cuddled up to Caspar. Or Balthasar. Whichever.
Trine covered her eyes. ‘Ew. It’s like they’re whispering secrets about us.’
She’d know all about that, having told on Col for pig fiddling. The pig gave Col a meaningful look. Locked gazes. It had arranged this, and it wanted him to know.
‘Evil schemes.’ Col forgot not to say.
Anthropomorphism. That was like knowing exactly what a knitted pig was up to.
‘Don’t you speak about the Magi like that.’ Mum put Melchior right, adjusted his crown. ‘I know you hate this nativity scene, Col, but there’s no need for you to ruin Christmas.’
Which was what the pig wanted, same as it’d always wanted. With its nightmare snout of midnight ear snufflings, that troughed down on Col’s brainwaves and squealed horrors. But the pig had miscalculated. While it came out of the tin each year perfectly preserved, same as it ever was, Col was not a kid any longer, and Col had done his homework.
‘Only because it’s anachronistic. That's like when something doesn't belong in a certain time. There wouldn’t have been a pig in stable in pre-Christian Judea. Unclean, see. Taboo. The rest of your nativity is fine by me, Mum.’
Mum’s jaw dropped.
‘But it’d be perfect without the pig,’ Col added.
‘Yeah, it would be even more perfecter without the pig.’ Trine still had her hands over her face.
Col didn’t talk to her about the pig, hadn’t since he was ten. Maybe it squealed in her ears too.
‘I suppose it doesn’t belong in Bethlehem.’ Mum reached for the pig. ‘Ruins the whole thing. And it’s not even a bit Christmassy, is it? I've never liked them piggy eyes. Let’s get rid.’
Just in case Mum changed her mind, Col went out to the bin with her. He lifted the heavy lid. The evil scheming pig glared at him, and Col grinned back like HAHAHA.
‘Thanks, love. To be honest, I can’t even remember knitting it.’ Mum tossed the pig into the bin.
Col dropped the lid with a satisfying onomatopoeia.