“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