Kneeling on all fours, Janet rested the present from Pete against the tree, reversed under the branches while disentangling the lights from her hair, stood and rubbed her bruised knee caps. After flopping onto the sofa, she tucked cold feet into the gap between the cushions, and slugged back the last of Santa’s sherry. Staring blankly at the twinkling tree, she wondered how her life could have gone belly-up so quickly (she also wondered if it was the tears in her eyes that blurred the tree lights, or if she had accidentally bought the kind of lights that were impossible to focus on – they’d go back!). Padding her left hand round the mahogany side table that was a wedding present in 1989, she found a mince pie (which was placed on the arm of the sofa for later) then found the phone.
‘Hi, Jan. What’s up?’
On hearing her sister’s voice, Janet released the sob of a grieving Mafia mother, and dabbed wet lashes with the sleeve of her Monsoon Christmas jumper.
‘Pete’s having an affair…ohhhhh, how could he? And when we were just about to get a new kitchen!’
Sue – a sensible woman – could not have imagined a more unlikely candidate for a ‘bit of extra’ than Pete.
‘Never. How do you know?’
‘I’ve just been under the tree, and he’s bought me a – I can hardly bring myself to say it – but he’s bought me a… onesie for Christmas, the swine!’
‘Hmm. And a onesie is?
Janet blew her nose on a stray tissue her toe had touched down the crack of the sofa.
‘You must have seen them, Sue. They’ve got them everywhere…Next…M&S…Primark. A onesie is an all-in-one pyjama suit.’
‘So, buying me a onesie is his way of saying, ‘Wife of mine, I’m not intending to have hot sex with you ever again!’
Sue tried to find a balance between commiseration and common sense.
‘But accusing him of an affair based on pyjamas…isn’t that a bit of a leap, even for you?’
Janet rallied. ‘For goodness sake, Sue. I told you last week, all the signs are there. He’s been closing the screen of the laptop whenever I walk in the room, and the lock on his phone isn’t Pollock1982 anymore, I checked.’
‘…his first fish.’
‘And then there’s his new clothes (since when has Pete been trendy?), and he’s even had his bloody back waxed, for crying out loud. So anyway, I followed him…’
‘Oh, no! How demeaning. Where to?’
‘The travel agents.’
Sue gasped. Even the voice of reason found this a step too far. ‘The travel agents!! You surely don’t mean the travel agents, where Hard-On Heidi works?’
Janet let out a low guttural wail. ‘Yeeessss. And, oh God, Sue, they hugged and kissed on both cheeks…both!’
Sue tried reason again. ‘That doesn’t necessarily mean…’ But Janet wasn’t listening.
‘It’s all my fault. I should never have knitted that nativity scene in front of him. Week after week he had to put up with the relentless click, click, click of the needles – I think the knitted baby Jesus was just a step too far. Let’s face it, he sees me as…as…as an old woman now.’ Another wail. ‘And the sex has all but gone.’
‘What? No sex…ever?’
‘Well, we did try to do it the other day, when he came home in his Santa suit…’
‘Santa suit? Seriously?’
Janet’s voice softened. ‘We do this… thing, every year.’
Sue couldn’t help but ask, even though she knew it would be the sexual equivalent of looking at a car crash. ‘What thing?’
‘Every Christmas, Pete opens the front door and shouts up, ‘Ho! Ho! Ho! Does my little elf want to see what Santa’s got in his sack today’… and then I…’ Janet paused, ‘…well, it doesn’t matter what I do, but this year, I was just about to tie him to the bed with his Santa braces, when he sat up and said, ‘hold on a minute love, I’ve just got to nip downstairs and record Deadliest Catch’.’
Sue swallowed a laugh. ‘Oh no, how humiliating.’
‘But it gets worse. The daft arse still had his welly boots on and his Santa trousers round his ankles, so he hopped off like a randy bloody penguin, then tripped over his trousers and fell down the stairs.’
‘What did you do?’
‘Dabbed the blood with his beard, went to casualty to get his head stitched (we told that staff we were doing the grotto at the garden centre) and then stopped off at B&Q on the way back – the sale’s started and he wanted to get the grout for the bathroom. And that was that, no sex. It’s obvious, he’s leaving me…’
The front door banged. Janet took another deep sniff and dabbed her eyes again.
‘He’s back. I’m going to confront him. Phone you later.’
Two hours later, Sue’s phone rang.
‘Hi, Jan. Dare I ask what happened?’
‘Happened? What do you mean? Oh, the affair…I got it wrong. Poor Pete. When I said I wanted something sparkly and magical for Christmas, you’ll never guess what he did…’
Relieved (but not surprised) that her sister’s latest crisis had been averted, Sue started flicking through the TV channels to see if she could find a re-run of Cadfael.
‘Go on,’ Janet pressed, ‘I bet you can’t guess.’
Sue tried to hide her indifference. ‘Er, a ring? A necklace?’
‘No! He’s only gone and booked us on a trip to Norway to see the northern lights! The tickets were in the sleeve of the onesie. Ok, he’s going to spend the day ice fishing, but still, how amazing is that? I would have phoned you back earlier, but we’ve just had sex.’
‘And the onesie? Have you told him to take it back?’
‘God, no. I’m wearing it now – ever so toasty. And Pete loves it, especially when I do this elf-type thing where I unzip…’
‘Happy Christmas, Janet.’
‘Oh, and to you, Sue.’