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Shine / Variance

Ok late I know was supposed to be home at 12 to pick him up and do this thing and now gone 2 and just getting out of office. In my defence busy and if honest quite challenging morning/afternoon so not full ready to step into surrounding season as parting words from James still in ears re Quarter 4 full 14% off target and deep concerns. These justifiable as variance from target pronounced and compounded by Quarter 3 variance and need now to address issues. Fully understand I said and committed will get out there today and shake the tree. But have also made counter-commitment at home. Texted Nicki running late lots on any chance could push tree thing with Charlie into tomorrow?

 

No. He’s been waiting since 12.

 

Ok. on way. X

 

 

Stop saying on way when nowhere near. This a problem in Quarter 4 too. Have assured will come good but nowhere near. Have texted Nicki again outside can you send Charlie out as have to do quick call in car. Do not need to do call just do not want to go in. Should make call. Should let James know working on making Q4 good. But not actually doing. Already called best prospects all saying check in after Christmas let’s see in Jan enjoy break etc. Enjoy unlikely given 14% adrift and 2 days at best remaining before closeout. Also nice just sit in car take moment. As house has full feeling. Full of kids. Kids fine. Generally fine. Just one thing would say and not critique of any specific individual but three is a lot no? House weather moves between extreme screaming and extreme tired. Piles of things everywhere. Piles of clothes in hall and on stairs. Piles of twins on floor eating crayons or similar. Nicki mainly asleep on couch when not actually correctly asleep in bed. Charlie often left to own devices as in literal just face lit by screen and seems content but that not active parenting. So nice perhaps if indulgent to stay in car and not step into just yet. Plus enormous amount of together time ahead over Christmas. And possibly enormous more in Jan if Q4 undelivered as consequences clear in meeting. And feeling slightly woozy coming down with something best not infect whole house. Possibly make Charlie sick too. Though promised today tree day one-on-one special time, very important as heard in podcast on being a present parent which listened to on way home late last night.

 

 

Here he is. Why not smiling. Not looking forward to this? Very ungrateful if not as quite a sacrifice to do this today given challenges.

 

‘Are you excited?’ I say.

 

‘Why are you so late?’

 

‘I was very busy at work Charlie.’

 

‘You’re always busy.’

 

This unfair in my view but not wishing to start on sour note so leave it. Onto Sandyford road and head right, away from town. Nice to head towards mountains away from things as nature can have positive effect during challenging times many self-improvement experts say.

 

‘So we’re getting a tree?’

 

‘Not a tree, Charlie. The Tree. The best most amazing tree.’ Within our range which as of this moment is subject to extreme downwards revision.

 

‘Where are we going to get it?’

 

‘I think we’ll just scope out a few places? See what we like the look of?’

 

‘Can I play on your phone?’

 

Give it to him. Watching fail videos. Kids falling off bed into pools etc. Unclear if people actually hurt requiring treatment assume not as off camera laughter. Switch on Xmas FM. Driving home for step into thank god it’s all I want for. They are raising money for sick children give what you can at this Special Time. That is worst thing. What must be like. Life devoted to care. If not horrible thought at same time, quite pure way to be? Parents of sick children humble with pure statements, e.g. he’s the light of our life and it has made us stronger more patient better people? When listen them talking like this as doing now on radio, feeling slightly jealous. World excuses you if not having on target Q4 and constantly tired as you have to deal with horrific illness etc.? Brings new meaning/purpose to life? Our kids not sick. Not complaining or wishing otherwise of course. Our kids fine. Fine but not amazing. When look at other people’s children, e.g. at carol service or school play and see faces shining then look at own and thought is oh well. Can divide people into two groups: shining faces like lit from within and then non-shining dullish faces. Ours non-shining variety. Of course love but if can be objective for a moment would give them say 5 average on looks. Charlie maybe when was younger smaller smiling more would give solid 7 or in some light 7.5 but recently face not so cute as 11 now and sharper jaw where was puppy fat, gone from looking like adorable gerbil to more like fox. Twins have odd look about them. Twin mouths hanging open. Bad eyesight both and wearing glasses further disimproving look. May outperform over time as only three but currently drag down average score. This not their fault, Nicki/me not catwalk material readily admit mid-table at best. Low score manageable when child but then grow up and world says well nice that you’re intelligent/caring etc. but we go mainly on looks here and you guys well you’re ok but only ok. And confidence if not good means you only get with other 5s or below within variance zone. If getting older more desperate possibly settle for a 4 or below. Distinct possibility grandchildren if any will be hovering around 3 or lower.

 

While deep worrying about how Charlie ends up with sub 5 wife and we get likely very basic looking grandkids if any he interrupts.

 

‘You have a text.’

 

‘Ok, I’ll look at it later, I’m driving now’, as important to set example don’t text and drive have seen ads death on roads Charlie obsessed with watching them children all smashed up funeral tears lone parent staring middle distance if only hadn’t read text.

 

‘It’s from James. Need to speak urgently re Quarter 4 variance. V concerned. Call pls.’

 

This from Charlie’s voice taking edge off? Or actually making worse?

 

‘Ok. Thanks.’

 

‘Is James your boss?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘What’s Quarter 4 variance?’

 

‘It’s when something isn’t what you thought it would be.’ ‘Like a surprise?’

 

‘Yeah, sort of. Do you like surprises?’

 

‘It depends. Some surprises are like oh great a bike but then you could also be told surprise you have a serious illness.’

 

‘Yeah.’ Serious illness? Must have picked up from radio just now. Lets things like this go into him. Like watched YouTube videos about deaf children hearing for first time all tears emotional and told teacher he used to be deaf and remembered first time hearing our voices and crying in class with memory of. Had to clarify to teacher not case. Told him that making up things of this nature confusing for people. Just using my imagination he said. Just to see what people would say. Don’t want to crush imagination as this positive but need to watch as imagination sometimes just lies.

 

‘Do you need to call James. It’s ok if you do,’ Charlie saying as we pull into tree place in Enniskerry. This now really pushing in on our special time and nothing I can do about Q4 in this moment.

 

‘It’s ok. I’ll do it later. Let’s get our tree first.’

 

 

We are in this I would guess call pleasant grotto. Realistically garden centre but some effort with lights and canopy overhead goes some way to transform bring some small amount of magic/otherness. Can step into this moment? Leave Q4 in car / outside grotto? Get Charlie a hot chocolate from stand and also mulled wine in small plastic cups and yes why not no harm only tiny amount. Mulled wine hot and sweet and now catching in throat a bit overly cloying. Spill onto a tree as ideally not drink driving destroying future lives on top of present challenges.

 

Man approaches and asks us what kind of tree we’re looking for.

 

‘We want the perfect tree’, Charlie says and smiling at me. Have small shine of admire at least listening in part to aspirational car talk.

 

Man takes one shakes it out shows to us. ‘This is a 10 footer Norwegian non shed.’

 

Looks very luxurious. 10 foot though a lot of tree.

 

‘How much is it?’ I say.

 

‘120.’

 

12 Euros a foot. For something just, in nature? Freely occurring? Actual moral right to charge for this?

 

‘I think, just looking at it now. A bit big, no?’

 

‘Depends on where you wanna put it mate,’ says man with tone counter-seasonal. Ideas on where to put it arriving in mouth but do not share with man as has feel of moment that spills into faces pressing into each other and yeah? Oh yeah? type exchange and already enough going on.

 

‘Would you have anything, maybe, bit more…’

 

‘Modest?’

 

‘Compact.’

 

Modest? I mean, in front of clearly son? Perhaps is actually moment for asserting with face? Show Charlie can’t let world be all at you?

 

‘I have 6 foot or 8 foot. Or, well I have 12 foot, but that’s not…’

 

‘No, that’s less…’

 

‘Compact. Yeah.’

 

He gets out a few more and props against wall. Charlie points to 6 foot one.

 

‘This one looks ok.’

 

He’s correct does look ok. On small side. But actually more full I think in the branches than 10 foot. And not so dwarfing of people. Twins possibly terrified of large tree, if falls over causes injury then festivities ruined and trip to Swiftcare oh that is a nasty gash we do see this a lot, people should really get more compact trees, Nicki shaking head, if only had been more modest, this what we get for overreaching. Decorations have more impact if all bunched together in any case?

 

‘So how much are we looking at for the 6 foot?’

 

‘80.’

 

‘80?’

 

‘Yep.’

 

This, just working it out, actually more expensive per foot than 10 foot? How does that work? Man just making up numbers now clearly some kind of spite tax applied.

 

Charlie touching its branches. Not seeing much in way of delight amazement in face. ‘What do you think Charlie?’

 

‘I think this one is fine.’

 

‘Fine? Did we come all this way for fine?’

 

‘I don’t really mind what kind of tree we have.’

 

‘Well you look around a bit. I just need to get something from the car.’

 

Before walking off lean in to Charlie. ‘These are not good trees. We are under no obligation here.’

 

Wink at man. Does not wink back. Leave it. Point made.

 

 

Have cigarette behind car. Text James. Will call shortly. Not now. Charlie not really minding re tree, this disappoints. Needs to strive more. If settling for less than best then standards slip and variance ensues. Charlie bit of a settler? If things just ok then he is happy. His Santa list a bit flat. Basic things. Bike Football Goals. Ask for more? But also grateful he not doing so. Picking up maybe this not great time to want for best? Happiness is reality minus expectations. This from mindfulness podcast. Sounds insightful and liked at time when breathing in through nose out mouth but on reflection but perhaps encouraging very low expectations. This is how end up with 5-ish life situation when ideally 8 plus target so quite large variance. Problem with equation also being that expectation continues to stay high and reality fixed or declining over time so happiness drifting downwards & possible to become negative. Maybe draw graph of this to illustrate point to Charlie as life lesson? Old enough would understand. Maybe become expert in happiness and striving for expectations and have podcast of own, write book on this? New direction? People change directions. Many gurus deeply unhappy then realised potential of new direction and now extreme mindful and no longer striving/dealing with Q4 or similar issues.

 

Go back find Charlie looking at another smallish tree.

 

‘Let’s get this one,’ he says.

 

Choice looks bit dumpy in my view and limp in effect overall. Possibly am overthinking choice of tree. Tree not symbolic of reality vs expectations. Tree just tree. But still this not great tree and certainly not at proposed price per foot. Show man we are not settlers. Man not currently around though.

 

 

‘What didn’t you like about that tree’ he says when we are back in car and heading on further up towards mountains.

 

‘It was fine. We can always come back to that one. It’s just, we might find a better one at the next place.’

 

Phone rings.

 

‘It’s James,’ says Charlie.

 

‘Just leave it’ I say but in panic maybe as said too loudly sharply he pushes answer button and now James on speaker phone balanced on my lap as Charlie will not let me drive and hold phone family rule per the ads.

 

‘James, hi, was just about to –.’

 

‘So where are we at Martin?’

 

‘I’m working on it. Was just talking to David Nelson. Sounding positive.’

 

‘Sounding positive as in closing today?’

 

‘That’s my read, yes.’

 

‘So are you giving me a firm commitment?’

 

This a thing with him now. Firm commitment. Tone gone very formal in last few weeks. Writing things down and then follow up emails. Expect then forward to HR so all on record I told him this and he said that and he did not do that so we have no choice but to etc.

 

‘Yes. But I need more time to work it.’

 

‘You have until close of play. As we discussed this morning. Do we need to go back over what we agreed?’

 

‘No we don’t.’ Can quite clearly recall what was agreed. Agreed not really the word though. He said what he wanted and said can you agree can you commit to this. Didn’t say or else. But or else clear.

 

‘So close of play update?’

 

‘Close of play.’ This as in 2 hours from now. He hangs up. Charlie looks at me.

 

‘Just work stuff,’ I say.

 

Moving further up into mountains. Roads getting narrower and keep having to shift gears and tight uphill turns and not relaxing driving home for xmas feeling more like rally conditions and light starting to fade.

 

Hand Charlie phone back. Look over at hm. See his jawline. He is clenching. Grinds his teeth at night. Anxiety maybe. What to be anxious about. Has no problems. Charlie looking out the window not talking. Car mood 4, 5 best.

 

‘Don’t want to watch your videos any more?’

 

‘No signal.’

 

This good. Out of range so not my fault couldn’t call you back apologies James was not able to get back to you by close of play can we pick up in Jan? Too late for Q4. Accept this. Accept not going to make it. Calm peaceful feeling if just accept? Not feeling that right now. Feeling more sick climbing feeling possibly altitude and wooziness combining with variance.

 

‘Who is Nelson?’ Charlie asks. Remember he in car listening and not dumb.

 

‘One of my customers.’

 

‘Why did you say you’d just been talking to him?’

 

‘Did I say that?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘Well. I have.’ I have. Just talked to him yesterday. He was clear no movement on order until Jan. But people say that and may just be looking for something off discount to get it through end of year. Waiting for me to make next move? Thinking I’m not pushing enough and someone more hungry would be pushing more? Someone else in his office right now shaking hands going home to their family Nelson deal done get whatever tree they want? 4 for effort here. Now at entrance to Tibradden Woods.

 

‘This is nice isn’t it Charlie? Two men in the mountains?’

 

‘I’m a bit hungry,’ he says.

 

‘Ok. We’ll find something.’ Also realise am hungry and this possibly contributing to choices.

 

‘There’s nothing up here.’

 

‘Let’s get out and have a look around.’

 

Park and walk up path. Walking into woods, just me and Charlie, quite idyllic something to remember.

 

‘It’s getting a bit dark,’ Charlie says.

 

‘But kind of fun too?’ I say.

 

‘I guess.’ Humouring me? Unsure if genuine terrified but press on.

 

We snap through the dried pine on forest floor and come to a gap in the middle.

 

‘What about this one’ I say, and put hand on large tree. Easily 10 foot. Probably 14.

 

‘What do you mean?

 

‘I thought we could, like real men, you know, cut it down and bring it home.’

 

He looking at me like are you real actual man in charge of things.

 

‘You’re not allowed to do that.’

 

‘Who says?’ Good chance to show you make own rules in life even if not always case.

 

‘Isn’t it stealing?’

 

‘Stealing from who? It’s nature, Charlie. Who owns nature?’

 

‘How would we even get it down?’

 

‘We could tie some ropes around it, and, I could get the car up this far, and…’

 

‘I saw an epic fail video where someone did that and the tree fell on their car and crushed it.’

 

That is to be fair to him possible outcome which would further compromise day. Though annoyed at limited and negative thinking.

 

‘Would it be fun just to get our tree, straight from nature, like this?’

 

He is looking on tears verge.

 

‘Dad I think we should just go back and get the tree we were looking at in the other place. I don’t like it up here.’

 

Look at him. Look at clearing where we have ended up. What meant to be nice afternoon outing memory now stuff for future nightmares. And how would even get car up here, how sawing going to transpire. Not well formed as idea. None of today or Q4 thought out properly. Stop all of this. Urge to wander into woods on own and find quiet peaceful out of range place. Become hermit. Carve wood. Stay away from people. But have tasks responsibilities. Take Charlie’s hand.

 

‘Charlie. I’m sorry. You’re right. This is not a good idea. I’m sorry I brought you up here. It was stupid. I’m just not feeling very well at the moment.’

 

‘Are you going to die?’

 

‘No.’

 

‘My teacher said we are all going to die some day.’

 

‘That’s true. But not today.’ This teacher idiotic. Not what you say to someone like Charlie already death/illness fully troubled.

 

‘Are you in trouble at work?’, Charlie asks as we go back down path.

 

‘A bit.’ Just let all out. If don’t then just more lying putting off and poor example. He now more aware than Nicki of how things stand. Sick of hiding things. Shine light on where you’re at. What is worst can happen. Everyone will know soon enough.

 

‘But don’t worry about it. Ok? It’s all going to be fine.’

 

Sit down on tree stump for a moment to catch breath await idea to land. Moments like this when for many gurus inspiration/epiphany comes. Nothing coming except get Charlie out of here.

 

‘I don’t mind what I get for Christmas’ he says, looking away from me at city lights vista below car park.

 

‘Ok. Well you’ve sent your list, so, just wait and see.’

 

‘I know. But, if it’s… I don’t mind if I don’t get things.’

 

Charlie settling for less. Because of you drifting, off target. This is how you take the shine away from all of them.

 

Then have strong clear idea. As if can picture great outcome if just act on. Not calling it epiphany, not that big. More of a piph. But still something. Like hand pushing towards obvious destination.

 

‘Charlie. I’m going to get you something to eat. Then we are going to get a proper tree. First we just need to go somewhere.’

 

 

Pull into car park very busy for a fri afternoon. Lot of kids. Then remember they are having the family Christmas party today. He told me when had suggested meet at his office again on Fri to try and finalise things. Can’t meet Fri family Christmas party at work lets do it in Jan. But here I am in the area and was passing and thought well why not.

 

‘Why are we here’, Charlie asking as we walk through reception.

 

‘There’s a man in here that I just need to have a quick chat with, it won’t take long. And you will get free chocolate. Is that ok?’

 

‘What man?’

 

‘His name is David Nelson.’

 

‘The Nelson you told James you were just talking to?’

 

‘Yes.’ Nelson who is idea that called from mountain.

 

‘And I was talking to him Charlie. I talked to him yesterday.’

 

‘Yesterday is not just now.’

 

‘It’s close enough.’

 

Reception lady takes name. We are not on family Christmas party list. Explain this probably because personal friend of David Nelson and he’d said to drop in and probably just didn’t have time to update list. This sort of true as in previous years has said stop in if you want. Not admittedly this year but surely standing invitation. Put arm around Charlie. Surely not putting boy out on street, receptionist? I mean look at us.

 

‘Go on so’, she says.

 

All in very festively strewn canteen. Nelson doing same as every year dressed as Santa. Kids in queue meet Santa get chocolate. Get into queue with Charlie. He’s a bit big for this admittedly but playing along which is helpful. Our turn. Nelson looks up me.

 

‘Martin? I didn’t know you were –’

 

‘Was in the area David. And thought we would just, stop in –’

 

He’s looking at me and eyebrows up and hard to tell if pleasantly surprised or quite angry due to cotton wool masking much of face. Expect latter. But too many people around and looking so cannot eject or cause scene as would seem like Santa throwing boy and man out not very in keeping with season.

 

‘Right. Well. Just wasn’t expecting… and who’s this?’

 

‘This is my son Charlie.’

 

‘And how old are you Charlie?’

 

‘10.’

 

‘And what do you want for Christmas?’

 

Now right time to lean in and start the beg but Charlie pulls Santa/Nelson close to his ear. Charlie saying something to him. Can’t hear what is being said. Charlie leaning in low voice reddish in face. Nelson putting hand on Charlie shoulder. Saying something back to him all low hush. Nelson puts his hand on Charlie’s head and smiling at him. Lets him go.

 

Mood set somehow? My turn with Santa. Just get something. Anything. A partial commit. Will discount order by 20%. No authority to do so but we are well past this at close of play.

 

‘David, I’m sorry this is terrible timing, but if there was any way you could –’

 

‘It’s ok Martin.’

 

‘It is?’

 

‘I know what you’re going through.’

 

Look over at Charlie. Has said what exactly? Should stay out of private business. But in fairness have dragged him in.

 

‘Just tell James I said yes,’ Nelson says.

 

‘Yes to…’

 

‘The whole order.’ ‘The whole order?’

 

Nelson puts out his hand. ‘Done deal, Martin. Least I can do.’

 

Shake his hand and he puts other hand on top and am thanking him not sure what least I can do means at this point but not time to worry about details yes is yes.

 

He’s putting his cotton wool mouth to my ear: ‘You take good care of yourself.’

 

This all very un-Nelsonlike.

 

‘I will. Thank you for this.’

 

Charlie standing away from us know and can see wants to get out of here.

 

‘I should, well…’

 

‘Yes. You go. Spend time with family. They’re the most important thing.’

 

Poss he’s been drinking or in full character but yes we should go get out of here before changes position.

 

 

Call James from car park. ‘I can’t believe it.’

 

Me neither but don’t say this.

 

‘So Nelson is a firm yes whole order for Q4’, he says. ‘Firm yes’.

 

‘How did you get the old bastard over the line?’

 

‘Just, I think, caught him at the right moment.’

 

Wait while he tots it up.

 

‘That puts you in the clear for Q4.’

 

As if have not done maths in head 49 times on way to car.

 

‘Puts me over actually, a shade I think?’

 

‘Yeah. Hold some of that back for next quarter. Jesus Martin. Took it to the wire.’

 

And that is that. We are there. Zero variance. And suddenly all problems immediate ones at least gone. Christmas back on. Nobody going to die. Q1 starts in Jan and come last week March be in same situation but so far away no point thinking about future complications. And then remember small outstanding issue. Small issue of what did Charlie say to Nelson. Do not want to know. Private business between him and Nelson. Do not ask. Do not need to hear.

 

Drive back get tree close this all out.

 

‘Charlie. What did you say to Nelson?’

 

‘Nothing.’

 

‘No, you said something.’

 

Charlie looking out window. ‘You’re not in trouble. I just need to know what you said.’

 

Charlie face with tear blur emerging. ‘I said you had cancer.’

 

Ah. Damn. Explains easy close.

 

‘You told him what?’

 

‘I said you had cancer, and all I wanted for Christmas was for you to not die.’

 

‘But I don’t have cancer.’

 

‘You might. From smoking.’

 

‘But I don’t, Charlie.’

 

As far as know. I mean possibly might. Maybe genuinely thinks I am dying. Talk of not feeling well combined with radio talk sick kids and so on. Could not have seen me smoking as was behind car and always hide it. But still knows. Knows what’s going on. Maybe am dying and he has supernatural insight like canary in mine.

 

‘Why did you say that? That’s a… you can’t just…Jesus Christ Charlie.’

 

‘You said you were in trouble at work and I thought maybe If he was sad about you he might say yes and you would not be in trouble and you would feel better.’

 

He is full crying now. Pull over. Christ. Need to go back and tell Nelson. Before he sends message to James/Nicki with confusing thoughts and prayers then further difficult conversations under Christmas tree and in office.

 

‘Charlie I know you were trying to help me. But you can’t just lie like that.’

 

‘But you lie all the time.’

 

‘Not like that. That is a, that’s a very, extreme –’

 

‘You said we were getting a tree and we didn’t. you said we’d get something to eat and we didn’t. You were doing work stuff the whole time.’

 

‘We are going to do those things’.

 

‘I was only trying to help you. I’m sorry.’

 

Look at him crying and this wait, actually shining moment. This raising him from 6.5 to 9. In fact very helpful person and meaning well just using imagination. Will deal with Nelson. Now not time. Now time to say don’t worry I know it’s ok I am not dying I know you were trying to help I will fix it it’s not your fault. Saying between hugs/tears which all passengers now have.

 

‘Are you going to tell Mam?’

 

‘No. I won’t. If you don’t tell her about the work stuff today. Deal?’

 

‘Deal.’

 

Deal closed. Pull out. Keep driving. ‘Where are we going now?’

 

‘We’re going back to the tree place. We’re going to get the one you said you liked. We’re going to put it up and cover it with lights. And we’re going to have a great Christmas. That ok with you?’

 

‘And get something to eat?’ ‘Definitely.’

 

 

Driving back to tree place now and working on resolutions ahead of schedule. No more variances from promises. Remember you’re being watched by Charlie and he thinks this is how you do it. This not how you do it. Starting in Jan or earlier if possible aim to not be terrible striving. Accept what is offered and what already have. Take more Charlie-like approach. Call Nelson say something like Charlie overactive imagination we had minor scare but all ok appreciate if you kept private etc. If cancels order and Q4 short that’s fair enough. If get actual cancer then harsh/ironic but as fair as anything else. Life not fair. Not life’s fault. You take your number and you get what you get. Resolve to get nice tree before further complications. But Charlie right. Does not have to be most perfect amazing. Get tree he chose and get him home. String on lights, squint a bit: will shine fine.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

is based in Dublin. He spent time in Chicago and London teaching high school and working in technology. He is currently working on a collection of short stories.

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