Parish work is immune to dates. It has to be done three hundred and sixty-five days a year. For that very reason, Freddy Bucket sat up in bed and turned on the bedside lamp. Christmas is a very sad day of the year, he thought. Of all the millions of people in London, I am practically the only one who has to get up in the cold black of 6 a.m. on Christmas Day in the morning. I am practically the only one.
He swung his thin white legs onto the cold linoleum and stood up. Compared to the snug warmness of his bed, the room felt like an icebox. He shuffled over to the washbasin and turned the hot tap. The pipe began to rattle, and a trickle of warm water emerged from the tarnished faucet. He waited whilst the sink filled, then reached for a can of shaving foam, smearing it over the grey whiskers that had grown, like weeds, in the night.
He watched in a spotted mirror as he scraped the foam from his thin sallow face with an old razor, the blade in desperate need of replacement. Freddy, my friend, what brought you here? What brought you to this godforsaken city and this crummy flat? It was a rhetorical question.
He didn’t have enough hair to concern himself with washing it, even though it was Christmas. Contenting himself with dragging a comb across it, he donned a shirt, a pullover, and a royal-blue boiler suit.
He dropped a slice of bread into the toaster and poured boiling water onto a spoonful of instant coffee. He added four spoonfuls of sugar to take away the acrid taste. Why didn’t he get himself a proper coffee machine? It’d be nice to have real coffee, not this ersatz crap. Yes, right as soon as the stores opened on Boxing Day, he’d get himself a coffee machine. One of those shiny things covered with black knobs and levers. Mebbe even spend a hundred pounds! He felt a burst of enthusiasm.
Down at the churchyard, it was still dark when Freddy Bucket began digging. The ground was cold, and the spadework was hard. But the earth wasn’t frozen, and he didn’t need a ground blanket. The blade was sharp, and with practised blows, he cut through the sod layer and made neat little piles of turf.
He took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat off his brow. On either side, office blocks towered into the sky. But the little church of St. Stephen’s was built hundreds of years before them, and it wasn’t going anywhere.
The cold glow of winter dawn appeared in the sky, and he heard the occasional rumble of a vehicle as his spade hammered into the soil, and the pile of earth at the side grew and grew.
“Happy Christmas!” a youth shouted, hurling a can at him. Freddy felt the impact and the smell of beer as the remains of the can ran down his clothes. Heartless bastard!
At ten o’clock, a workmate drove up with a mechanical digger, and they took out most of the earth, the majority of which was taken away to make the grave look neat till after the funeral, whenever that would be.
Now it was lunchtime, and folks would be gathering in their homes in preparation for the feast. Children laughing, lovers kissing, old folks getting a hug from their grandchildren. Meanwhile, he, Freddy Bucket, was at the bottom of a grave, tidying up the sides. He looked up at a rectangle of cold grey light. Tiredness hit him like a brick. He’d go home, clean himself up and go to a pub. That’s what he’d do. He’d go to the Star and Garter. He kept a pewter jug hanging up amongst the tankards behind the bar. Maybe he’d get himself a game of darts? Maybe his old pal Sammy Dean would be there?
He leant his spade against a side of the grave. But first, he’d have a little rest. He felt so very tired. It was quiet and peaceful down there. He lay down on the bare earth and closed his eyes. Merry Christmas, he thought. Merry Christmas, Freddy Bucket! He was instantly asleep.
Taken from the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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