When I was ten years old my father quit his job at a chocolate company and started working as a marketing manager for a business which sold tea. This meant two things; our house would no longer be filled to the brim with delightful cocoa related goods- instead my father insisted on stocking our cupboards with old person drinks because what child guzzles Earl Grey? The second thing was that my tenuous grasp on any semblance of popularity from living in a house filled with candy bars was gone.
Life went on and before I knew it, Christmas was upon us. Previous years my sister and I had been packed in our snow suits and shuttled to the chocolate company’s Christmas party. The fete not only featured Santa Claus but the giant allergen that was the company’s mascot as well. Diana and I would take turns standing next to the costumed people for pictures. This would be followed by a draw in which every child was given a gift then we would leave with a loot bag as large as ourselves after being stuffed with candy, brownies and cake. In essence the chocolate company’s Christmas party was every child’s vision of heaven. I used to picture going there after I died.
This year of course there would be no company party, not for the children in my family at least. My mother and father dressed to the nines early in December and left my sister and me at home with a babysitter. The next night my mother presented Diana and I with a box. “It’s from the tea company’s Christmas party, your Dad said we should bring it home to open as a family.”
It wasn’t a garbage bag full of sugar but it was something. Furthermore after initially questioning the wisdom of his career move I had been buoyed up by a phone call my mother had made to me while on a business trip with my father two months previously.
“Guess where I am girls?” she cried ecstatically into the phone. Sitting at home with our grandparents Diana and I had a vague notion that our Mom and Dad were very far away but not exactly sure where.
“Scotland?” we said in unison.
“No! I’m in the bathroom!”
“Um” was our confused and faintly grossed out response.
“The bathroom in the hotel room is as large as our bedroom at home and there is a phone by the tub!” My mother’s excitement was contagious and I began to forgive my father for leaving his lucrative candy coated job.
As Diana and I unwrapped the small package I could tell we were both thinking of the enormous hotel bathroom with a telephone in it. If this new company had provided something as fabulous as that for the employee’s families on business what sort of wonders had they packed into this little box?
It was a dead baby. Or to be more specific; half a dead baby. The lower half of the infant was a ceramic bell while the upper half was dressed in what looked like a nubby, hooded ceramic jacket. Without a doubt the gift was the creepiest, most homely Christmas ornament I had ever seen. The entire tchotchke was beige coloured except for the eyes which were painted blue, giving it the appearance that someone had dressed the baby crossed bell in a coat then thrown it in a snowbank to freeze to death. “Well, that’s um, nice.” said my mother looking at the ornament skeptically. The baby’s eyes stared back, sinister and unblinking.
Without looking at my sister, I knew what she was thinking “I would have preferred a bag of chocolate.”