journalist | editor | dramaturg | literary translator

Category: Sketches (Page 2 of 2)

Oh holy night


“Dennis. Dennis Mobray.”



The woman at the desk looked up at him over her glasses. “OK. Slightly bolshy sense of humour. I’ll make a note of that in the character profile. A lot of people don’t like that. But some families do, actually.” She scribbled something lower down on the page. “So, let’s start again. Age?”


“Thank you. Now, your original family configuration.”

“Is that really relevant?”

“Dennis,” the woman sighed. “We are trying to achieve the best fit possible for you and your host family. Of course the makeup of your original family is relevant in order to assure the success of your holiday visit.”

“But, Shirley,” he started.

‘Christmas was torture. I just want to watch boxsets on TV’

“I’m sorry, my name isn’t Shirley.”

“But the nameplate – ”

“This isn’t my desk. I’m filling in while Ms Nott is away.”

“Oh, right. Sorry. My appointment was with Shirley Nott. Anyway, what I wanted to say was that I don’t want to spend Christmas with anybody. I hated my family. Really, I hated them. Christmas was torture every year. So I don’t want to go anywhere. I just want to sit in front of my TV and watch box sets. Is that so bad?”

The woman sighed again and put down her pencil. “Dennis,” she said, “I understand your anxiety about the situation, but really, there’s no cause for concern. Since the government decided to do something about the increase in suicide during the holiday period by ensuring that everyone had a family to go to, it’s out job to ensure that everyone is paired with just the right family for them. So, if you’ll just co-operate now, we’ll do everything in our power to make your holiday period a happy one.”

“But…” Dennis struggled. “I’m sorry, what is your name then?”

She looked back down at the files on her desk and continued to go through them. “Holly Green.”

Dennis flinched, but continued. “Thanks, Holly. It’s like this. I just don’t want to be with anyone on Christmas Day.”

“Of course you do,” said Holly as she finished with one file and began to study the next. “Everyone wants to be with someone at Christmas. So, let’s see… “I’ve a nice family here, just perfect for you. It’s a lovely elderly couple with two adult children, both with spouses of their own, and the son has two sons of his own who just love to play football. You can all go outside and kick the ball about while gran and the women prepare the meal. The grandad got a replacement hip recently, so he just stays quiet in front of the telly watching the Queen’s speech and Dad’s Army and drinking cider.”

“Isn’t that a bit sexist? That’s exactly what contributed to my mother dying so young.”

‘He doesn’t swear quite as much, will have the four children, his mum, auntie and cats’

“Oh, dear, didn’t I tell you to explain your family circumstances? Let’s try another… Ah, here’s one. Not the same ages, but the father is a foodie, a big Gordon Ramsay fan, so he’ll be preparing a holiday meal special. It does says here he doesn’t swear quite as much as he used to, you’ll be glad to hear. He’s divorced, so I’m afraid his wife won’t be there, but he’ll have the four children, ages three to 12, his mum and his auntie. You don’t mind cats, do you?”

Dennis slapped his hands on the table. “Listen, this is ridiculous. I don’t want to spend the holidays with any family. Nobody. Not even the Holy Family. Do you understand?”

“I’m sorry, Dennis, but there’s nothing I can do. It’s regulation. So let me see if I can find another home for you … ”

“No, Holly, that’s it. I don’t want another family. Where is Shirley, anyway? Can I just again when she’s back?”

Holly sighed again. “I’m afraid that’s not possible, Dennis. She won’t be back in the office until after Christmas.”

“Oh,” said Dennis. “I’m sorry, is she ill?”

“No. Well, prevention, really. She does go a bit funny this time of year, so the doctors have recommended she travel somewhere where they don’t celebrate Christmas. So she’s in Jaipur until after New Year’s.”

“Oh, good God,” Dennis groaned.

“Oh, that’s just given me the most wonderful idea!” said Holly. “You can go to her family. Her parents have just got back together again and her brother will be on parole starting next week. They’ve actually requested someone open and friendly …”

Dennis stared at her, open-mouthed, as she got out the file. “It says here … oh, by the way, do you know how to disarm someone with a knife?”


 A version of this story originally appeared in the German magazine Spotlight

The dark side

“OH GOD,” cried the man on the park bench, and buried his face in his hands. “God, what am I doing here? What’s the point? What does it all mean?”

The pinstripe-suited woman on the other side of the bench glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Then she wrapped her sandwich, stood up and walked away briskly.

“God, why am I such a loser?” he moaned. “And now I’m even talking to myself.”

“Not entirely,” said a warm and friendly voice. The man looked back at the place where the woman was just sitting. Someone else had plonked himself down. A rather dapper looking man wearing a black leather jacket like his, black jeans like his and black trainers like his. Only the other man’s things looked new. And posh. Like they came from Hugo Boss. Not Lidl, like his.

“Em, do you mind?” said the first man. “I’m having a very private nervous breakdown here.”

“Don’t let me interrupt,” said the dapper, Hugo Boss man. “Only you’re why I’m here.”

“Look mate, I’m not your type. Go hit on someone at the Four Seasons bar.”

“No, I think you’re exactly my type. I’ve been waiting for you for a while.”

‘I deal in the strongest drug of all’

The man looked at Hugo Boss man. Calling the police was not an option. He got up.

“Ah, you don’t want to leave just yet,” said dapper man.

“What do you want?” said Lidl man, suspicious.

“You.” Dapper man smiled. It was an oily smile.

“I told you, I’m not your type.”

“Oh, but you are. You see – sit down,” dapper man said as the other man reconsidered and prepared to make a break for it. “I won’t beat about the bush. I’m Mephistopheles, and I’ve – ”

“You’re messin’ with me?”

“Mephistopheles. Old Nick. I’ve come to help you achieve your wildest dreams.”

“Fuck off.”

“No, really. I can get you anything you want.”

“How about some coke?”

Mephistopheles – formerly dapper man – pulled a small plastic bag out of his smart leather jacket and held it out to his new friend.

“Well, em,” said the first man, pocketing the bag, “actually, I meant Coke. Like in the can? I’m dying of thirst.”

“Don’t go dying on me just yet. We have to seal our bargain first.”

“No bargains.”

Mephistopheles snapped his fingers, then bought a can of Coke from a vendor who instantly walked by them on the path.

“Wouldn’t you like the power to summon everything you want to yourself at any moment? For the rest of your life?”

“Are you a dealer?” asked the first man.

“Of a kind. I deal in the strongest drug of all.”

“Meths? Plutonium?”

“Those are human drugs.”

“Oh, and yours are from Mars, are they?”

“I told you, I’m Mephistopheles. My drug is the human soul. You’re not using yours, and I could certainly make use of it, so how about it? Do we have a deal?”

The first man stared at him, and took a sip of his Coke. “So, you could get me clothes like yours?”

“Better,” grinned Mephistopheles. “Take a look at yourself.”

The first man looked, and widened his eyes. He was now wearing the finest leather, the smartest jeans, the coolest trainers money could buy. Except he hadn’t bought them.

‘That’s like Mary Poppins’s fuckin’ carpet bag’

“Shite!” He took another swig of Coke. “How about a whiskey?”

Mephistopheles pulled a bottle of aged single malt out of his jacket.

“That jacket is like Mary Poppins’s fuckin’ carpet bag.”

“Good old Mary,” said Mephistopheles. “We dated for a while. Then I dumped her for Margaret Thatcher.”

“Sweet,” said the first man.

“So, do we have a deal, Johann?” said Mephistopheles.


“Do we have a deal, Johann?”

“Sorry, my name’s not Owen,” said the first man.

“Yes it is. Johann Faust.”

“No, I’m Nigel. Nigel McPartland. Or Nidge. And Feckface. But at least that’s better than, what was it? Owen Faust? Loser name.”

“But what are you doing here? I’m supposed to encounter Johann Faust on this bench. I’ve been waiting for… well, for ages,” spluttered Mephistopheles, who no longer looked so dapper.

Nidge reached into his new jacket. “Right, it’s still here. This the lad you’re looking for?” He pulled a credit card out of the wallet he retrieved and showed it to Mephistopheles.

“Yes, that’s him. What are you doing with his wallet?”

“I flattened the fucker and stole his car. I was just feeling bad about it when you turned up. I thought you were the fuzz. Nice to see you’re not, though.”

Mephistopheles stroked his chin thoughtfully, and a dapper pointy beard appeared on it beneath his fingers. “Hmmmm.”

“So, deal still on?” asked Nidge. He spat into the palm of his right hand and held it out.

Mephistopheles looked at him. Then he grinned, spat in his hand and grasped Nidge’s. “I think this will turn out just fine,” he said.


 A version of this story originally appeared in the German magazine Spotlight

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