Good grief, the Santa saga continues

Tue, Feb 26, 2013, 00:00

A dad's life:Saturday morning and we are woken to the banshee wail of the elder blundering through our bedroom door, and throwing herself on us in despair. It appears she has the vapours. What with all the sobbing and gnashing I check for a Merchant Ivory camera crew but, alas, there is none. She is, it appears, quite serious.

“Muuuuum,” comes the cry.

“Yes, luvvie, what’s wrong?”

“Muuuuum, she’s dead.”

Right, we’re both paying attention now. Panic seeps up in bile at the back of my throat. Her mother takes the lead.

“What? Calm down now? Who’s dead? What’s happened.”

“Sue. Sue’s dead. I went downstairs and she was lying face down, not moving. Mum, she’s dead.” And the wail rises again, as the bile recedes to gurgle in the acid farm that is my stomach.

Petshop

I argued against this from the start, but now is not the time for “I told you anything”. As I had endured an afternoon of oohs and ehrs and bigger ahs in a Galway petshop back in November, and fended off all requests for hamsters, goldfish, arachnids and lizards, I had been eyeballed and informed I was to be bypassed.

Santa, I was told, would be bringing guinea pigs this year.

This is a development in the ongoing Santa saga. No longer is he just a major force in our lives towards the end of each year, but he also has the power to gazzump both me and the missus. We are placed in an uncomfortable position whenever faced with the Santa card. My line last year was that Santa doesn’t do livestock; it can cause all sorts of problems in the sleigh.

Obviously this was met with all sorts of quizzical looks as many friends had had puppies and rabbits delivered on previous Christmas days, but my reasoning was seen to be rational. How the hell could the geezer manage a tricky vehicle at the best of times if he was also to be distracted by any number of moving parts?

They pondered. And then they went to work on the missus.

Many strengths

You can’t be weak in the face of such an onslaught and while I acknowledge my wife’s many strengths, fortitude in the eye of the kiddie storm is not one of them. They know this and they know what line to take with her. They get all urchin-like, deprived and needy, straight out of Fagin’s gang, claiming neglect and unhappiness, then pop up with the one thing that might make life worth living, the one thing that could bring out the sun. And as she cracks a smile they know they’ve won and they turn the eyes up at her, slow-blinking and hopeful, masking the calculated deviousness at their core.

She goes, “Ah maybe, let me talk to your dad . . .” and the deed is done.

She came to me, like Tessio in The Godfather, with a list of things that might make me happy, a list for my own personal happy Christmas. And I knew the deal had been made. I said, “Go ahead, do it. Just don’t come crying to me when . . . well, when whatever happens.”

So the guinea pigs came, and they were the most loved animals ever delivered into a household. Winnie and Sue. Even the small dogs approved, after their first dozen attempts to make the rodents dinner were met with sharp rebuke. And not only were they loved, they were taken care of.

Fed, watered and cleaned with minimal harassment from me, which was all I asked and not what I had expected.

Until this morning, with the crying and the despair. The small girls have been to funerals of great-grandparents and witnessed the demise of a couple of neighbourhood dogs, but this, this little ball of squeaking brown and white fur, is their first proper exposure to personal loss.

The elder sobs and wails on, demented in her anguish, while the younger stands, statuesque and confused, trying not to laugh. She shuffles and offers a detailed description of the animal, stiff, cold and dead, face down in her bed.

Ceremony

I spend two days supervising the bereaved. I dig a hole and we have a ceremony. Both girls write notes to Sue and place them into the grave with her. As we stand, all four of us, heads bowed around the pit, I even summon the courage to say a few words. I do this without giggling, despite catching my wife’s eye mid-eulogy. To a guinea-pig.

She was a beacon of the pet world and she left behind her many great works. We will all miss her, but she lives on in the memories of her small girl owners. Next year Santa, a bike.

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