THE ALTERNATIVE FAMILY CHRISTMAS A short story by Mercedes Leal It was a very strange Christmas. It started normally, with the seven foot, artificial tree being decked, from top to bottom, with dozens of shiny red and silver baubles. To those were added sparkling, seasonal trinkets, collected over decades, and tired, scalloped garlands of small, golden beads. Dotted between these glittering decorations were four sets of lights, with hundreds of bulbs, all flashing in different ways, entertaining the children, but threatening seizures to anyone over forty. Grandad’s increasing unsteadiness was the determining factor for action for Mum. She had to duck beneath the spikey branches, to press all four control panels several times, to still the multi-dazzle display, rather than risk spending Christmas day in Accident and Emergency, with her toppling father, instead of serving up the Christmas festivities. It would not have been a first. As she kneeled under the tree, Grandad took the last furtive swig from the bottle of brandy he had hidden behind The Angling Times, at the back of a neglected cupboard. He would dispose of the empty bottle later. The family joined in the singing of TV carols from regular stars, like Nat King Cole, Mariah Carey and Noddy Holder, as well ruining descants by duetting with the angelic voices of the Kings College’s Choir. There was laughter, and mulled wine, with crisps, mince pies, and lots of chatter. It seemed a typically Christmassy, family scene, in an area in northern England. The only stress, it seemed, was the gentle coaxing away of childre [...]

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