A Red Hot Christmans

On a Christmas Day picnic at the beach, Fleur Glenn’s family made waves.

We woke on Christmas morning to a hot blue sky. Blowflies buzzed in the window frames and the cicadas had already sung their tunes. The chocolate in our stockings, which hung on the fireplace,  had melted before breakfast. The house was littered with wrapping paper we were too sweaty to pick up. The day was totally unsuited to the traditional hot lunch my mother longed to cook, so we decided to go to the beach.

We all helped pack the picnic basket with anything that felt vaguely like a festive lunch: Christmas crackers, spiced nuts, ham and mustard sandwiches, mince pies and candy canes. Mum filled a thermos with iced pink cordial for us kids and wrapped a bottle of riesling for her and Dad in a plastic bag filled with ice blocks.

Piling into our station wagon in my new bathers with my fringed beach towel and coconut sun lotion, it felt like an adventure, a Christmas like no other.

There was plenty of room on Mornington beach; most families were sweating it out in their houses, greeting weary relatives who’d woken up far too early. I’m sure they wished they were at the beach like us.

Mum wasn’t really a beach person, even though this picnic suggestion had been hers. She found us a place to sit, up out of the sun on a grassy patch at the back of the burning sand. While she spread out the picnic rug and set out our lunch, my brother and I ran straight into the water. The bay was flat and calm, like a mirror. The haze from the water on the horizon curved up into the blue of the sky, making it impossible to see the arc of the earth and tell where the sea finished.

We dived under the water, looking at each other with open eyes as we swam. It was crystal clear. The sand below us ran off into the distance in perfect ripples scattered with tiny shells and rocks. We could hear the distant rumble of a motorboat heading out from the pier and the soft buzzing of insects above us on the surface.

Dad was calling, “Come and eat lunch before it all dries out in the heat.”

The sand burned our feet as we sprinted up the beach. We jumped onto our towels, sending a spray of sand over the lunch. “Watch out you two, for heaven’s sake you’ll ruin it all,” said Mum as she handed us each a plastic tumbler of cordial. Dad chose to sit on a small rise of sand next to the rug and Mum sat in her new Christmas-striped canvas deck chair.

Lunch had never tasted better; the soft white bread with fresh ham and mustard melted in my mouth. Then for dessert we sat with cherries dangling over our ears pretending to be posh ladies, eating melted chocolate, telling stupid jokes from our Christmas crackers.

As I sucked the dripping chocolate from my fingers, the drama began. Dad let out a huge shout: “Arghhhhh!”

We watched in disbelief as he dropped first his shorts to the sand, then his underpants.

My mother gasped, “Tom what on earth are you doing? Don’t look, children!”

But of course we did.

“There are ants!” he said. “Ants in my pants!”

And yes, there they were, lots of them, red hoppers, all over his thighs and bum, crawling and nipping. Red welts had already started to rise on his white veiny skin.

I’d never seen my father naked before and there he was, for all of Mornington beach to see.

He ran dancing and hopping across the sand and fell into the water.

I laughed, and then my brother laughed. The family next to us were laughing too, and the man pushing his dinghy out chuckled as well. Mum didn’t think it was funny though; she was hurriedly piling everything away into the picnic basket.

She spoke in a low voice. “Come on you two, we’re going home.”

Dad started to walk out of the water as naked as when he went in. “Stop right there, Tom.” Mum called. She handed me a towel. “Take that to your father, he’s lost his mind it seems, with his trousers.”

We held in the giggles as we left the beach. In the car the seatbelts burned, and our legs stuck to the vinyl seats. Back at the house, Mum went into the kitchen and closed the door. Dad plastered himself with Savlon and lay down on his bed. My brother and I turned on the telly and watched a Christmas movie in our bathers. We ate homemade icy poles in front of the whirr of the pedestal fan. Life was pretty good.

Fleur Glenn lives and writes in Melbourne, finding stories in the streets and lanes.

First published in ed#650.

Illustration by Lauren Rebbeck.