Chris wasn't sure what had gone wrong with his Christmas.
He'd made all the right preparations, sparing no expense. There was plenty of grog, and he was into it at a very reasonable pace. There'd been lots of good food: ham, chicken and prawns, and all kinds of salads. He was still feeding himself as much White Christmas and nuts as he could handle without making himself sick. There'd been presents for everyone under the tree; he'd made sure everyone got what they wanted.
Now, with the presents opened and the Christmas lunch consumed, Chris sat back with his rum and coke, trying to make himself feel happy. He knew he should; and he couldn't rightly think of anything else that he wanted, that he could have or get, that might be missing.
His son Jack was playing with his new iPhone, in his room. He'd seemed happy with it.
Chris got up, and went to the kitchen where his wife was trying to work out how to use the whiz-bang fully automatic coffee machine he'd bought her. He shook his head; a thousand bucks for a machine, when a teaspoon did the same job, quicker. But, it was what she wanted. She'd seemed happy enough, when she'd unwrapped it, though not very surprised. Now her head looked like it was shaking, as she turned from looking at the manual to the machine, back and forward.
Seeing the machine made Chris think he'd like a cup of coffee, so he put the kettle on.
"Are you right?" Helen snapped at him.
Chris got such a fright he almost spilled his drink. He looked at her slightly dazed, confused. "What?"
"Don't you think I can get this to work?"
Chris thought about that for a moment; he knew a trick question when he heard one. Actually, almost all of Helen's questions were trick questions. She didn't often ask him for his opinion or his advice. "Of course you will," he said.
"Well wait five minutes and you can have a real coffee."
Chris shrugged, and turned off the kettle. As he left the kitchen the machine started to make a terrible high-pitched grinding noise.
Well, in any case, thought Chris, if he couldn't feel happy on Christmas Day, he could certainly get drunk. He made himself another rum and coke, going very easy on the coke. He used only as much as was absolutely necessary to make the concoction look black.
He went and sat on the back steps, wishing he wasn't already looking forward to his next tour. Over the fence, his neighbour was playing frisbee with one of his boys, who was about ten. They really did look like they were having a lot of fun, and for a minute he envied them, which was ridiculous. That man didn't earn half what he did: he drove a piece of junk, and their house was tiny – especially for the four or five kids they had. They might be happy for a few minutes, but it couldn't last.
The neighbour's kid laughed as he jumped to catch the frisbee. He called out, "Thanks for the frisbee dad, its fantastic."
Chris sipped his drink and frowned, and tried to think. Had Jack actually said thanks when he'd got his phone? He'd certainly said, "Cool." That didn't mean thanks though, did it?
Chris went inside to Jack's room and knocked on the door. No answer. He opened the door. Jack wasn't there. The iPhone box and manuals and cables were on his bed.
He went into the kitchen. "Helen," he said. "Jack's not in his room."
Helen handed him a cup of coffee. "He went out with his friends. I said he could go. It's not a happy Christmas if you can't have fun, is it?"
"No, I suppose not." He sipped at the coffee. It wasn't hot enough, and it tasted like dirt. He smiled. "Lovely. Happy Christmas." He took a long sip of his rum and coke.
This story was originally published in Issue 102 of Shift Miner Magazine.