close up photo of christmas ornaments

“Retail Grinch” by Quinn Clancy

Retail was not conducive to feeling that festive spirit. It felt like Christmas came earlier and earlier every year, with the shows for shops starting in June. And they overplayed it. Speakers playing tinny Christmas carols, bright festive lights strung up everywhere. Lots of forced cheer and ho ho ho’s. It was too much as shops took a gamble on what would be popular in six months time.

Products would arrive in September for storage until the proper time. I was convinced that the reason so many places had their stuff out early was they couldn’t store everything they bought. Or their staff complained about having to run the gauntlet just to take breaks in employee areas. I wasn’t immune. I’d been squeezing between boxes into the little break room we had. Only to eat with creepy staring Santas, snowmen, and reindeers. At least it added to the spooky season of October.

Then it was November and rearranging the shelves; filling them to the brim and having baskets on the shop floor for staff to trip on. Listening to everybody worrying about getting presents for so and so. The brief calms and people actually happy to be out in the crush getting rarer each year. December was a constant refrain of Happy Holidays and Happy New year. All undercut with that same music first heard in June. And the most annoying songs were on repeat until they haunted me in my sleep.

So trudging home late at night and late in December it was hard to feel happy seeing the twinkling lights. Nowadays a garish blue more inclined to sear your retinas than look pretty. Some houses had tasteful decorations with a large tree in the window. But most appeared to be competing for a prize with lights and neon signs determined to tell you Christmas was here and the inhabitants were celebrating it the best. If you considered massive debts and a huge electricity bill a prize.

The weather had turned nasty and I wanted to get home. But when I arrived I stopped, hand raised to insert the key, to stare at the wreath on my door. A wreath that hadn’t been there when I left. It made me stop and look at my surroundings, rather than curse the season. I noticed the bright lights of those fake icicles hung on the eaves of my own house. Thankfully they were tasteful and the more bearable white.

Cautious for what my partner would have set up inside, I slowly opened the door. Christmas being one of the few things we agreed to disagree on. The smell of pine hit me first, a real tree. To keep the peace I didn’t demand on having or not having, leaving this to Eric as he got great enjoyment in the season. The tree was one of them. Thanks to comments of jack’s brush trees from siblings growing up put me off fake trees. It didn’t matter how realistic they now looked. The hallway was understated, cards on the table being the most of it.

A glance in the sitting room showed it empty of Eric, but fully decorated. The tree, done up in all its splendour, was beautifully coordinated. And lacking personality. Fairy lights and tinsel lined the fireplace, topped with more cards and two stockings hung up. The door to the kitchen was closed over, soft sounds coming from it.

Opening that door revealed Eric humming along to the old crooners singing Christmas tunes while stirring a pot on the hob. Another tree waited near the back door, bare, while boxes of ornaments sat on the dining table.

Eric turned around with a content smile on his face showing off the geeky themed ‘ugly’ sweater he was wearing. “Put up your coat hun, I’ve got hot chocolate ready for you.”

“Marshmallows?” I grunted out while doing as he said.

His bright laugh, the first thing that caught my attention when I met him, warmed me more than entering the house did. “Like I’d forget your favourite part. Come over here Grinch and give me a proper welcome.”

“Bah humbug,” I said even while doing as he asked. He held two steaming mugs of chocolate, topped with white and pink marshmallows. Ignoring them I went straight for a kiss, the richness of the chocolate giving way quickly to his own taste.

He pulled away half laughing half tutting. “That was Scrooge, not the Grinch.”

“Well, you’re the Christmas expert.” I took the cups away from him, placing them gently on the counter before sweeping him up in my arms for a dance as Sammy Davis Jr sang about Christmas all over the world.

“I left the personal tree for us to do together.” He whispered, letting me lead.

“You always do that.” Every year we would open the boxes and he’d comment about where or who got us the ornament.

“You love it and you know it.” He smiled. “Besides I got a new ornament.”

“Don’t we have enough?”

“Not from our lives together.”

“You know, I’ll agree with you on that.” I dipped him and brought him up for another kiss.

We got heated for a long time as songs changed. Eventually, he parted panting.

“Stop distracting me, we’re getting the tree up tonight. Christmas will be ruined without it.” Eric pouted.

“I’d never want to ruin Christmas for you.” The thought of not having him light up as he pulled presents from under the tree brought tears to my eyes.

“Oh Grinch, your heart’s too big, you never will.” His expression was soft and loving.

And like that maybe the Christmas season isn’t the worst thing ever.

Quinn Clancy is a writer and programmer from Dublin. Fascinated by fantasy at a small age, she has consumed everything passed down from her equally fantastic minded family. Quinn has been a member of Cupán Fae for three years and has contributed stories to the Cupán Fae Anthologies: Fierce Mighty, Fierce New World, and Fierce & Proud.

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