Gift giving can be so difficult…
It was New Year’s Eve, the seventh day of Christmas. As Jess gazed around her yard, she locked eyes with Gerald and forced a smile. It was, she thought, good that he was so generous. It was good that he was so attentive. Most of all, it was good that she had such a bloody big garden. It was bad, though, in hindsight, that she’d once said she ‘quite liked birds’.
Her seven new swans were squabbling with each other over in the pond, the six geese were laying eggs all over the place. The four calling birds – ‘lovebirds,’ like you and me, he’d simpered – were chirping away incessantly. The three French hens – French, for god’s sake, there was a farm down the road full of British ones – had already eaten all their corn and she wasn’t going to be able to get to the shops tomorrow. The two turtle doves had gone to sleep, sparing her from their constant bloody cooing, while the partridge had long abandoned the pear tree it came in and gone to roost on her bedroom windowsill, where it glared through the glass at her in a way that gave her the chills.
Admittedly, she’d liked the five gold rings. Gerald had insisted she wear them all at once at first, but she really wasn’t that showy and now kept four in a drawer in the living room. She reflected on her preference for the understated as the seven swans began honking at the French hens while her neighbours stared from their windows. She wondered if she was going to have to eat goose eggs for breakfast – again – on the first day of the New Year.
She turned. ‘Gerald,’ she said. ‘This is all very nice. But that’s it now, right? You’re not going any further with this, are you?’
Gerald smiled, oh-so bloody lovingly. ‘You’ll have to wait and see,’ he said.
Jess groaned inwardly. They sat outside until midnight, which was accompanied by the crashing of nearby fireworks and a cavalcade of honking, hissing and clucking from her garden, and went to bed. As she drew the curtains, she eyed the silhouette of the partridge, still on her windowsill, eyes boring through the glass. She shivered.
On New Year’s Day, Jess was woken by the sort of thunderous noise that sounded like there was a herd of cows on her doorstep. She sprang from the sheets and looked out of the window.
There was a herd of cows on her doorstep.
She swivelled to face Gerald, who was sitting up, brightly. ‘Herd of cows?!’ she hollered.
‘Yes, I’ve heard of cows,‘ he giggled, before the look on Jess’ face made him realise this might not be the best time for jokes.
‘A herd, yes,’ he said. ‘But just a small herd. Only eight.’
Jess looked out of the window again. ‘And eight milkmaids!’ she spluttered, as several young ladies in chiffon dresses, carrying buckets, stared up at her.
‘Well, I didn’t think you’d want to milk them yourself.’
‘And what am I supposed to pay eight milkmaids with?’ she screamed. ‘Goose eggs?’
Jess shrugged on her dressing down and stalked out of the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
‘I thought you’d like them,’ said Gerald to the empty room.
‘How does he even afford this stuff?’ she thought, as she stamped down the stairs. ‘He works in the library!’
She swung the door open wildly, so wildly that it caught her in the face and she went sprawling backwards onto the floor. She staggered to her feet and on to the doorstep, while Gerald trotted down the stairs behind her.
It was only eight in the morning on New Year’s Day, but there was already quite a crowd gathering to watch the scene.
‘Go away!’ she screamed at the cows, who looked back at her unmoved. She had better luck screaming at the milkmaids, who shrank back nervously. She turned to Gerald. ‘Get rid of them,’ she yelled. ‘Now!’
‘But sweetie plum pie,’ he said. ‘I’ve already paid for them.’
‘Now!’ she screeched. ‘And don’t come back in until they’re gone!’
Jess strode into the house and slammed the door. Gerald looked at the eight cows, the eight milkmaids and the various neighbours who were hanging about on the street. He sighed.
‘Mooo,’ opined a cow, unsympathetically.
By early afternoon, Gerald had managed to get some of his money back by selling the cows to a local dairy farmer for a pittance. He’d then had to pay the milkmaids to go away again, and he could hear them hollering from the pub over the road, the King’s Bottom, where they appeared to be getting drunker and more coarse as the minutes ticked by.
‘Wanker!’ yelled one of them from the pub window.
‘Wanker!’ chorused the others in unison, laughing.
And they’d looked so sweet in the catalogue. He sighed again, and went back indoors.
‘Tell me’, said Jess as Gerald entered the lounge, ‘that you haven’t bought nine ladies dancing for tomorrow?’
‘They’re just hired.’
She knew she was sounding ungrateful, but really, would anyone actually be pleased to be on the receiving end of all this? It was stupid.
‘Cancel them,’ she said. ‘And the dancing lords for the day after tomorrow, the eleven pipers for the day after that and the drummers for the day after that.’
‘Fine,’ Gerald pouted.
‘And then I think you should go.’
‘Oh. It’s like that?’
‘I’m afraid so. You can have the rings back, if you want.’
‘Yes, please. I maxed my credit card on all this stuff. I’m broke.’
‘Fine. They’re in the drawer over there. Grab them on your way out.’
‘Can I borrow twenty quid? I’ve got nothing until I can get these rings on eBay.’
He had to duck the flying shoe before it hit him in the face. He scampered out of the door, into the rain.
Jess went up to the bedroom to lie down. The partridge eyeballed her menacingly. She drew the curtains with a flourish.
A few days later, her friends Megan, Sarah and Joy received an email.
‘Hi girls,’ it read. ‘I fancy celebrating being single again. Fancy coming round mine tomorrow night for dinner? Here’s the menu:
Goose and chicken liver pate.
Roast partridge in a pear sauce.
Wine. And lots of it.’
Jess leaned back and clicked ‘send’, glancing out of the window as she did. She was just in time to see Gerald stagger out of the King’s Bottom, arm firmly wrapped around the waist of a girl in a white chiffon dress. Gerald saw her watching, and leaned in to kiss the milkmaid, although, to be fair, she didn’t seem that keen.
She rolled her eyes and went to bed.