Christmas Day in Harlaxton by Vanessa Page

    The winner of the 2016 Martha Richardson Memorial Poetry Prize
    Christmas Day in Harlaxton
    by Vanessa Page

On Christmas morning, the devil slips under the edge
of a green canvas marquee – another family tradition

to keep the festive underbelly from view. There’s a
pecking order of men, propped on kitchen chairs –

dragged outside without ceremony. They squash the
bruise-yellow vinyl flat, sweat-patched and moustachioed

in ruggers and singlets and rubber thongs. The palette of
khaki, mustard and mud – everywhere, a regular truth in

the threat of sex and muscle. They eat first, a conga line
of patriarchs, peeling blackened bits off barbequed birds.

The plastic tub of tabouleh up-ended near the door: we
don’t want any of that fucking weirdo shit here
. The women

sigh, deep inside themselves. This is just another day to
‘get through’. At the sink, a pot-bellied uncle grabs a niece

from behind. She starts, fresh-skinned inside a sleeveless
cotton shift – the rough two-step and lark just enough

to make nubile flesh. Downstairs, the kids run and
shriek in sarsaparilla-high notes. The eldest boy-cousin

barks orders from the top of the fence. The others
laugh and call him the King. Little girls bring offerings

on paper serviettes as the devil lurches off his stumps.
And before plum pudding even makes it out, one of

the piss-fuelled sons is shaping up to the old man. They
shake the earth like diprotodons beside the hills-hoist.

Hate-faced and cussing, their fists in knots of flesh and
rage. The in-law from the city waits it out – keeps his

blonde-headed girls away from their grandfather’s lap.
When Boxing Day dawns, there will be nothing left

for the sun to beat to a pulp. They’ll sleep it all off.
Wives and aunts will unpack the same old excuses.

Copyright Vanessa Page. Reproduced with permission.

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