Mistletoe’s ma, sadly deceased and therefore unable to defend herself, had seemingly been in possession of a somewhat dubious sense of humour.

“Poisonous, that’s what it is, poisonous!” Mistletoe could often be heard muttering darkly. She was not, however, referring to the famous and much-favoured white-berried flora after which she had been named, but rather to the handle itself.

Mistletoe’s schooldays, seemingly endless, were a period in her life which she would much rather have preferred to obliterate from her consciousness, distinguished as they were by bullying of the most dastardly and dismal kind.

“Oi! Sod off, Toe-rag!” and “’and over yer marbles, then, Toenail!” were the raucous requests bandied about with alarming frequency and ferocity in the playground, much to teacher’s distress. Trying to extricate the guilty culprits from within the sweaty depths of a tightly- huddled band of sniggering, fag-puffing pupils, was a task of almost gargantuan proportions and one quite beyond teacher’s limited capabilities.

“Never mind, love…” her pa would say on Mistletoe’s mournful return from school, as he diligently decimated stir-fry for their tea. He delicately dropped a soupςon of Golden Virginia ash into the wok, “…yer mum always did ‘ave a bit of a screw loose.” Which, although kindly meant, nevertheless failed to alleviate Mistletoe’s understandable distress.

“But why ‘Mistletoe’ pa?” his distraught daughter would wail, quickly whisking the ash into the beansprouts, where it dissolved nicely, “Even ‘Holly’ would’ve been better…”

“Think yerself lucky, my girl, she could’ve called you ‘Santy’,” guffawed Pa, adding a subtle touch of spittle to the sizzling veggies. “Yer ma,” he intoned reverently, “was very fond of the festive season…” and he added a sad, salty tear to the mixture, along with the pepper. A forgiving soul, he’d long ago suspended hostilities with the driver of the milk float that had caused Ethel’s sad demise, but nevertheless retained fond memories of his dear-departed spouse and mater of his only offspring.

As Mistletoe grew older and having, by a minor miracle, managed to survive the trauma of her youth and land herself a job stacking shelves in her local Kwiksave she had, with great and unexpected resourcefulness, changed her name, by deed-poll, to ‘Missy”.

This worked reasonably well with new acquaintances and work colleagues but, needless to say, didn’t fool her numerous and ubiquitous relatives. They, to a man, not only remembered her ma with great and lasting fondness, but also rejoiced in the fact that, come Christmas, Mistletoe was there to remind them, if only by association, of the defunct Ethel.

“Oooh, you look just like yer ma, don’t she Albert?” quavered Auntie Nelly, false choppers sunk in a walnut. She fixed her other half with a steely eye and waited.

“Yup,” agreed Uncle Albert hastily, simultaneously swigging his fifth G&T and flicking lumps of congealed gravy from his moustache with a grubby fingernail.

“…an’ such a lovely name, Mistletoe, innit Albert?” sighed Nelly nostalgically, spitting shell delicately and with astounding accuracy, into the rum punch.

“Yup,” groaned Albert, by this time so thoroughly plastered he wouldn’t have noticed if Mistletoe had suddenly metamorphosed into Anne Widdecombe.

“Now then, Mistletoe!” cried Auntie Nora, flushed and thrusting a well-padded bosom to the fore. She waved the parsons nose at her unfortunate niece, ‘tell us all about yer new job then. In Lapland, is it, eh, eh?” and relatives en masse collapsed into hysterical and inebriated laughter.

Thus it was that, every festive season Mistletoe, unavoidably ensconced in the midst of the Yuletide Family Gathering, found herself the recipient of cruel and deeply distressing jests about her moniker.

And thus it was too, that at the ripe old age of 20, when most girls had long since mislaid their cherries, Mistletoe had never experienced the joys of unprotected sex. In fact, she’d never experienced sex of any sort. The blame for this, she felt, lay firmly at the door of the well-loved but quite loony Ethel.

“As soon as I tell ‘em me name,” she’d wail to her best mate Germaine, who’d been blessed with a devoutly feminist mother and thus a good start in life, “they crack up, pinch me arse, gurgle a bit and bugger off…”

Germaine, a worldly girl well versed in the pleasures of the flesh, had never encountered this particular problem. She tried, nevertheless, to sympathise accordingly, as female friends are obliged to do in a crisis of this sort, “Well, why d’you tell ‘em, then?” she’d ask, reasonably enough.

“Because they bloody-well ask, don’t they?” wailed Mistletoe, distraught and exasperated at the apparent denseness of her best mate. A well-brought-up girl, not given to lying, she had great difficulty in practising the art of deception, even on blokes.

This particular Christmas, she was convinced, was destined to be the worst yet. Stacking ‘no frills’ on the shelves as if her very life depended on it, she contemplated with mounting horror the imminent birth of Cousin Hilda’s first sprog and what it was going to mean to a family already, in her view, on the brink of collective insanity.

“Me and yer Auntie Nora have decided to have a santy this year…” her pa informed her a few days before the dreaded event. They were doing their Christmas shopping in Kwiksave as Mistletoe, an employee on a pittance, got a discount. Pa chucked a large pud in the trolley, “…be nice for Hilda’s kid, we thought,” he threw in two packets of sage ‘n’ onion, “Whaddya think, love?” and he scrutinised a net of sprouts, with the air of a man expert in these matters. “It’ll be a great do. Better get plenty of booze in, you know what yer Uncle Albert’s like.” and he made a mental note to add three extra bottles of gin to the list, not wishing his brother to go short.

Mistletoe, mortified at the memory of a Selfridges Santa whose beard had fallen off due to an unfortunate attack of excessive mirth when he discovered the name of the little girl perched on his knee, glowered at a packet of gooey dates,

“I hate bleedin’ Christmas!” she growled, eyeing mandarins malevolently.

“Awww, come on, love!” wheedled her pa, squinting at a packet of brandybutter mix, “It’ll be fun. Remember that time I took you to Santa’s Grotto…?” but Mistletoe had legged it, leaving a trail of custard powder in her wake, thrown to the floor in a tearful tantrum.

“It’s gonna be a bloody nightmare!” she wailed to Germaine the next day, as they swigged Bud from the bottle in the local boozer, “the whole bloody lot of ‘em are coming…” and she swiftly purchased another in order to drown her not inconsiderable sorrows.

“Well, you’ll just have to grin and bear it, won’t you?” retorted Germaine unhelpfully, eyeing up the local talent that had just sauntered in, “After all, it’s only once a year, innit?” and she fluttered black spikes in the direction of the tattooed, leather-clad pitbull. Pitbull raised a be-ringed paw in drunken salute.

Christmas afternoon found them all stuffed, sozzled and slouched on sofas, awaiting the imminent arrival of Santa.

Auntie Nellie’s bright, white teeth rested fetchingly beside her on the pouffe. Uncle Albert dribbled gently in front of the telly. Auntie Nora, eyes glazed as a chocolate log, wielded nutcracker and brazils in menacing fashion and Cousin Hilda’s newborn, ensconced starkers on a tatty tartan under the tree, puked over the presents.

“HO! HO! HO!” cried Santa theatrically, as he strode in, “Er…the front door was open…” he mumbled apologetically to the assembled crew. He staggered over to the tree, beard bobbing and bent double under his sack of goodies “Ah! HO HO HO! So is this the little boy then?” and he peered myopically at the squalling infant.

“Girl,” asserted Hilda, affronted.

“Oh, right, sorry,” squinted Santa, contrite, “hard to tell in this light.”

“Ain’t she cute?” asked Auntie Nellie, hastily shoving in her teeth.

“Our pride an’ joy!” beamed Pa boozily.

“Yup,” drooled Uncle Albert, reaching for his gin.

“Oooh, look, I think she’s gone an’ done summat!” cried Auntie Nora happily as baby, in abject terror, expelled a steaming stream of brown liquid, “’Oo’s a clever girl then, eh? Look you lot, she’s shat!” and she gazed gleefully at the gaping congregation.

They all stared, transfixed, at baby’s nether regions, failing to notice, lost in admiration as they were at this amazing feat of human achievement, the sudden absence of Santa and Mistletoe.

Mistletoe, a kindly girl at heart, had noticed Santa sloping surreptitiously off, obviously unimpressed at baby’s remarkable expertise in the waste disposal department. She finally, by a clever process of elimination, discovered him sitting disconsolately, head in hands and rumpled, on her unmade bed.

“What’s up, then” she asked, “I thought you were s’posed to be jolly. The life an’ soul, like.”

“It’s no good. I try hard, but I can’t do it. I bloody-well hate Christmas, but I need the dosh, see?” sighed Santa, wrenching off his fake facial foliage dramatically.

“Coo…” breathed Mistletoe, stunned. Santa exposed, divested of belly-cushion and scarlet togs askew, was the stuff of her dreams and hitherto unfilled desires.

“What’s yer real name, then?” whispered Mistletoe, overawed and breaking out in a clammy sweat. She’d suddenly come over all woozy and weak at the knees and felt a sudden urgent need to park her posterior, as closely as etiquette would permit, next to Santa on the bed.

“Rudolph,” groaned Santa in despair.

“Christ!” screeched Mistletoe, delighted.

“See?” wailed Santa, “everyone pisses ‘emselves when I tell them!” and he wiped away a glistening tear.

“Did they take the piss out of yer in school, an’ all?” asked Mistletoe, waiting for the answer with fearful trepidation, hideously aware that her whole future hung in the balance.

“’Course they bloody-well did, ‘specially at Christmas. ‘Rednose’ this, ‘Reindeer’ that, an’ ‘you pullin’ the sleigh tonight, then?’ It was a bleedin’ nightmare.”

“Yeah, I know…” said Mistletoe, taking a deep breath, “My name’s Mistletoe. So I know, see?”

“You’re kiddin’!”

“No I ain’t!”

“Wicked!” gasped Santa, who was an Eastenders fan.

“Respect!” yelped Mistletoe, who was into Ali G.

They stared at each other, astonished and astounded by this fateful but fascinating meeting of the minds.

The rest of the family, gazing mesmerised at Cousin Hilda as she wiped, washed, wheedled and whisked out Pampers, looked up sheepishly as Rudolph and Mistletoe, flushed and blushing, hand in hand, entered the room. They all gaped speechlessly at the unlikely pair of lovers.

“Never mind that bloody baby’s crap ‘n’ stuff,” quoth Mistletoe, awash with newfound confidence and the cognac she’d had stashed under the bed, “Me an’ Santa ‘ave got an important announcement to make…”

© Andrea Lowne [1]2001

Previously published by CK Publishing [2].

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