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"Youíre not really going to sit at home on Christmas day?" Kathy said, her glass of mineral water rocking agitatedly.

"Yes, I am," Emma said. "Iím going to curl up with a dozen bottles of cold white wine, an ocean of prawns and a fingerbowl, and a nine thousand page epic encompassing seven generations of lust, infidelity and miscegenation in the Deep South of Silesia, and enjoy myself."

"But youíll be so lonely, with everybody else out there having such a good time. What about your family?"

"Both my brothers are blessed with wives and children, and will be quite far enough up the wall, thank you, without me descending on them."

"Doesnít sound much of a family," Kathy said. "Why donít you come to our place? We always get together at Christmas, all of us. Itís so nice. Never a cross word."

"Thatís not what Gordon tells me," Sue said, her chamagne glass poised between two talons like the claw of a crab.

"My brother wouldnít know a cross word from a jigsaw puzzle."

"The way he tells it, itís a remake of Pol Pot meets Vlad the Impaler, only with a referee present."

"Thatís mean."

"Not at all. He says your uncle Godfreyís got a set of yellow and red cards. If you make a snaky remark, like say your last one, thatís a yellow card.

"Remarks like ĎBut after all the trouble Iíve gone to ...í, ĎWhy was that long-haired lout with the holes in his jeans pawning your engagement ring?í and ĎI fail to understand why you have to go down to the pub at seven thirty in the morning?í get two hours in the sin bin.

"íWhen you were three, you had this lovely dollís house, with trees all round it, and you used to pretend you were a dog, ...í gets a red card ó off to your room for the rest of the day."

"At least we donít fight," Kathy said. She turned back to Emma. "Itís really nice. Do come. Mum and dad are dying to meet you."

Petra listed her eyes momentarily distracted from the column of bubbles in her glass and held up a yellow coaster. "Is this how it works?" she asked.

Kathy ignored her.

"Why donít you have dinner with me and Des?" Sue asked.

"What about his wife and kids?" Emma asked.

"Theyíve got him at lunchtime."

Petra lifted her eyes from the glass and twisted her shoulders into position, the movement flowing into her breasts, as if to say Look at Me. "I did that once," she said. "It doesnít work. The guy turned up at ten oíclock, stuffed to the gills with turkey, drunk as a skunk and with this story about having to wait till his wife flaked before he could get away. Iíve got a better idea. Why donít you both come to my place."

"After last year!" Emma said.

"Last year was good. Everybody was there."

"Two ex-husbands, four ex-boyfriends, five new girlfriends, eleven children, parentage various ..." Sue interpreted, using a fingernail as a tally stick. "Plus a murder. It sounds like your book on Southern Silesia, Emma."

"My sociology textbooks describe it as typical blended family Christmas," Emma said. "Sort of like a fruitcake, only heavier, and it canít hold its grog as well." She nibbled at a hunk of cheese.

"It wonít happen again," Petra said. "Robbie thought Roland was my new boyfriend ..."

"Couldnít you explain that he was an ex-husbandís ex-wifeís new boyfriend," Sue asked, "or would that have been too hard for him to follow?"

"Whatís going to happen to him?" Kathy asked.

"His trialís in March. Iím hoping he doesnít get off, but thereís a risk."

"How come?" Emma asked. "Didnít he shoot him point blank with a sawn-off shotgun?"

"The Australian Shootersí League is paying for his defence," Petra said. "They say it was a hunting accident." She paused. "You see, Roland had buck teeth and sticky up ears. They say Robbie mistook him for a rabbit. And rabbits are vermin. So Robbie is a public benefactor."

"Itís Robbie thatís the vermin," Kathy said.

"Unfortunately, troglodites and dinosaurs are protected," Sue said.

"Do come," said Petra. "Thereíll be lots of nice men there."

"Such as?" Sue asked.

"Andrew, Joseph, Karl, Wayne, Bruce, ..."

"What about their wives?"

"Iím not sure. Does it matter? But hands off Andrew. I saw him first."

"What happened to Alexander?" Emma asked.

"His wife called in the loan. Heís got to babysit now while she has her affair."

"Why donít you and Emma get together?" Kathy asked me.

I shook my head. "Thereís this mob," I said. "We get together, get so much grog into us that the food floats, and pretend weíre having a great time. I wouldnít miss it for worlds." I looked at Emma. "Youíre welcome to come," I said. "The only qualification for admission is that youíre not related to anybody else there."

Kathy looked imploringly at Emma. "You must do something. You canít have Christmas on your own. We wonít let you."

Emma smiled a thin smile. "Then perhaps you should all come here. I will supply scrawny chicken, deep fried with greasy parsnip, macadamia nuts still in their shells, hundreds of gift-wrapped socks, handkerchiefs and aprons, and a most gorgeous fruit punch that will bore you out of your skulls in half an hour flat."

"That would be nice," Kathy said, "but ..."

The party moved for the door.

Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1990

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