The traffic had been shit. The snow had caused a lorry to slide diagonally across the road and to Barry it was just one more thing to go wrong. He would feel guilty later when he realises that he’d not even cared if anyone was hurt but he just couldn’t tackle any other task apart from getting to work. That was hard enough.
He knew he shouldn’t have gone out to the pub the night before. At his age, he’s just not used to working and these early mornings were proving to be difficult, especially when a jumped up, little nipper was telling him what to do as soon as he turns up. It was all Barbara’s fault, as usual. One little conversation, if that’s what you’d call it, and Barry’s then stuck with a Christmas job.
‘Why aren’t you ever happy at Christmas, you grumpy sod,’ she’d remarked frustratingly, as they were sat in a Costa coffee shop in town.
‘I am,’ he replied, ‘I just don’t always show it, that’s all.’
‘D’you know, I actually think you hate other people being happy. I reckon the sight of others smiling makes you feel physically ill. You never used to be like this.’
‘That’s rubbish,’ he said shaking his head. ‘How can I hate people smiling? I mean, what am I, evil? It just annoys me when shops start putting up decorations in bloody November. I’m not in the minority, I reckon if you were to ask these people walking past right now, I bet most of them would agree with me. It’s just the money grabbing shops trying to squeeze every last drop out of us before the New Year and they all start announcing profit warnings again.’
‘And what makes it worse is that you get sucked into it all just like everyone else. Look at that bloody inflatable snowman, where the hell’s that going to go? I’m not having it in the lounge, you can stick it in the garden.’
‘Oh my god, stop being so miserable. The snowman’s for Lisa anyway. Just cheer up, this is typical of you. You bloody ruin everything I try and enjoy. What’s wrong with you?’
‘There’s nothing wrong with me, Barb, it’s everyone else.’
‘Oh, is that right? Ok then, I’m going to get you to do something to prove to me that you’re not clinically grumpy. You have to agree to do whatever it is that I put you up for, yeah?’
‘I don’t have to prove anything.’
‘You do to me and besides I’ve got an idea that’ll be perfect.’
‘Alright then, if you say so.’
‘Jo mentioned a little job that’s going. You’d be perfect with your happy demeanour.’
That was it. The next thing Barry knew, he was going along to The Samaritans’ office in town for an interview. He had to get one of those stupid CRB checks done to prove to a load of people that he wasn’t a paedophile, and then he was sent along to the draughty, wooden hut at the back of the car park to meet his co-workers.
The only ray of light that this whole episode had delivered so far was his main colleague, Jess. She was just out of university and did something with children in the community, Barry didn’t know for sure because when she started talking he couldn’t take his eyes off her chest. Even in a velvety, green jacket with white fur around the collar, her chest looked like something from a film. He couldn’t remember seeing anything like it when he was in his twenties. At least she’d made the hours go by a little quicker for him.
He had to admit she was smiley, and her manner with the kids was extraordinary, even the little shits who would turn up and ask too many questions. Although he wouldn’t admit it, a bit of it was beginning to rub off on him. The happiness, that is. Barbara had noticed it at home, but she was far too wise to mention it because she knew he’d deliberately become moody again.
This new found happiness had led him to the pub last night instead of turning down a few Christmas drinks with some of the old boys like he normally would. They’d stayed until closing time and by the end of it he was staggering back home, reminding himself of why he didn’t do that sort of thing anymore. It had been hard to get up this morning but he knew that he’d let Jess down if he didn’t show. The truck sliding over was just another item on a list of tiny disasters that had occurred to him on his way there, but finally the car park came in to sight just around the corner of Gordon Road.
Jason came up to him, the minute he opened the wooden door with the fake snow falling off the top of it.
‘Are you feeling Christmassy today?’ he asked, bouncing around Barry like Tigger.
‘No,’ replied Barry. ‘Piss off.’
‘Now, now, I know you don’t mean that,’ he said with a daft grin on his face. ‘ I used to think you didn’t like me at the beginning, but I know it’s just your way.’
‘No, I really don’t like you very much,’ said Barry with a deadpan expression. ‘Now, let me get my coat off and swallow my pride enough to get into that monstrosity of a suit again.’
‘Ooh, he’s touchy today, Jess, I wouldn’t go near him this morning. Bear and sore head springs to mind.’
‘I’ll give you a sore head,’ mumbled Barry, ‘just let me get on with it.’
Jess walked over with her angelic smile and the whole world seemed to fall into place.
‘Good morning, you ready to get on with it then? Another day spent providing dreams to the children of the world? Umm, or maybe just dishing out gifts to brats as they try and grab your beard with their sticky hands?’
‘That’s more like it,’ nodded Barry and couldn’t help smiling for the first time that day. ‘Right, I’m ready, ho-fucking-ho, let the lions in.’
Barry went to sit down on his makeshift sleigh, which was actually a really uncomfortable bench with a curtain draped over it, and rubbed his hands together. The first little boy walked in, and looked expectantly at Barry with a stare that appeared older than his years.
‘Come over here, my little man, ho ho ho!’ rumbled Barry in his best put-on voice.
‘What up there?’ squealed the boy with a sneer.
‘Yes, up here, if you don’t sit with me then how can I give you a present. It’s not a soup kitchen.’
‘Alright then but I don’t want soup.’
‘You’re not going to get soup.’
‘Then why did you say soup.’
‘I said it’s not a soup kitchen.’
‘What is a soup kitchen.’
‘Oh, it doesn’t matter, really, I’m losing the will to live. Just sit down next to me, will you?’
‘Ok then,’ the boy jumped up on the bench next to Barry. ‘Are you that fat or is it all just stuffing?’ And with this, he jabbed his grubby little hand right into the midriff of the red suit.
‘Oof,’ exclaimed Barry as the beers from last night made their presence felt. ‘Why d’you do that?’
‘I doubt you’re going to be on the ‘Good’ list this year.’ As he said this he felt his stomach lurch over on itself. A sudden bubble of gas was dislodged from somewhere deep within and without any prior warning a burst of methane exploded from his arse. The sound came first, a ripping sound like a saw, reverberating on the flat wooden bench. Jess looked round in disgust and the little boy suddenly showed fear in his eyes. Barry looked physically shocked and for a moment all three of them just looked at each other as if trying to comprehend what had just happened.
But then the smell introduced itself.
It was the product of six pints of ale, mixed with broccoli and marinade in stomach juices for nine hours. The coldness of the temporary wooden shelter made it somehow worse, as if an unpleasant warmth was thrown into the atmosphere. It was the boy who responded first.
‘Urrrrrggggghhhhh!!!’ he exclaimed, jumping off the bench and running to the door. ‘Mum, Father Christmas just trumped. It’s disgusting. It really stinks. Urgh, I think I’m going to be sick. I can’t breathe.’
‘Alright, alright,’ interrupted Jess as she moved him towards the exit. ‘Here’s a present for you and here’s an extra one because you’re so special. Merry Christmas!’ She forced a smile and quickly shut the door to prevent the smell escaping to where the parents were sat.
‘Im really sorry,’ said Barry as Jess turned back round to face him. ‘I don’t know what happened. That little shit prodded me in the stomach, what am I meant to do?’
Jess stayed silent for a moment, and then quietly said, ‘what just happened then was unholy. That smell was disgusting, and if that was a window into what your insides are like then I’d be surprised if you survive until the New Year. Let’s not speak of that again.’
Barry looked crestfallen and just nodded, as Jess walked out of the other door without another word. He was left to sit in the smell for another ten minutes while the air cleared, reflecting on what a horrible person he must be to poison an angel like Jess.
For the rest of the Christmas period he returned to his grumpy self and Barbara remained confused for the sudden reverse, never knowing of the terrible Christmas fart.