Every year on the 30th of November, in the steaming heat of the tin-roofed garage, Nathan teeters on the top rung of the ladder to retrieve two dusty boxes; one massive box, gaffer taped in a way that suggests the heft of it’s contents, containing that oversized tree, and one smaller one- the decorations.
We know they are the Christmas decorations and the Christmas tree because my Dad wrote “Xmas Decs” and “Xmas Tree” on the sides of the boxes all those years ago, in his distinct, back-slanted script, that I no longer get to see fresh. Back when those things still mattered to him. Back when it seemed important to know which box was which.
We heave the boxes down and we puff them up the stairs, and we hold our breath a little as we see what treasures reside inside.
There are thrills of delight, and tinkling of laughter and bells mixing, as we remember things we’d forgotten. We anchor them again in space and time, as we remember making or buying them. We throw our mind’s eyes and our memories back to the when, of Christmas past.
Amidst the mirth of recollect this year, there was also melancholy, as it came to pass that Santa Chook was not long for this world.
Santa Chook came into our lives on Coco’s first Christmas. We went to a work Christmas Party at a time in our lives when things weren’t easy or settled or at all party-like. Coco was nine months old, and we were far, far from being at peace with her diagnosis. I felt like life was careening around like a cheap plastic spinning top, the swirly picture on it moving faster and faster, rather than calming down, and I was dizzy with the vertiginous emotions of testings and procedures beyond my sphere of control. Transfusions were unpredictable and often. Procedures were unfamiliar and frightening. Sleep was fractured and elusive, and I grasped the relief of forget that it gave, whenever it deigned grace me.
We took Coco to the party with us- it was that or not go- because it was the only way I could hold onto an atom of that adult I was trying to remember to be.
We played a silly game: The Present Game, whereby you can steal someone else’s present, or take a mystery parcel from the central mother-lode.
Randall unwrapped Santa Chook. He was jaundice-yellow like my golden child, and his coat and hat glowed red with a sheen that only cheap plush made on foreign shores, with no concern for inhaled particulate matter can produce. And when Randall The Mighty pressed the “press here” button, it was like the angels spoke to me, and me alone. Santa Chook crowed his morning doodle-doo and broke into The Chicken Dance. He was the first of that glut of animated toys, a wonder of 2007, and I knew I must make him mine.
I stole him-legitimately, and within the rules of the game- from Randall The Mighty, and Randall stole him back. I stole him again, and again Randall stole him back. And again. And again. And again. Long after the other participants had lost interest, Randall the Mighty stole that Santa Chook, and I stole him back. Until eventually the yelling and the raucous music woke Coco up. She was screaming, in the piercing way that only the simple and the very sick are able to do, so I bought her down to the arena, and held her in front of Randall the Mighty. He “pressed here” and Santa Chook burst into his song. Coco was transfixed.
Randall The Mighty became Randall The Vanquished, bowed his head, and handed Santa Chook to me. Randall The Saviour.
All of that long hot Summer of Coco’s first year, Santa Chook distracted her when she was fractious, soothed her for a time, when what she really needed was blood. The blood-red of his suit substituting, momentarily, for the life-blood.
Eventually, we put Santa Chook back in the box marked “Xmas Decs”, and we moved forward into a new year. I would often consider getting him down from those dusty rafters, when days were difficult, when my arms ached to put that child down, for just a moment, without that persistent wail.
I never did get him down, most days just the thought of him would bolster me. Knowing that I had him there, if times got too tough, that there was respite. A potential.
This year, when we opened that box with all of the ‘xmas decs’ inside, I grabbed out Santa Chook and ‘pressed here’ like I always have, expecting him to herald the start of the season with his crackling warble, only to hear a tiny “crrr”. Then nothing.
I’ve changed Santa Chook’s batteries twice. I’ve cleaned out the craw that was half full of battery decline and salty moisture. I’ve stroked and pushed and heimliched him, but Santa Chook is no more. Oh Santa Chook, you saved my sanity, little mate. You were worth every one of those nine hundred and ninety-nine cents that you probably cost.
Vale Santa Chook.
Yes, I know he’s either a chook (no cock-a-doodle-doo) or a rooster (and not a chook), but Santa Rooster sounds wrong.