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Catherine Woodward


‘It looks like it’s going to stalk me.’
‘The reindeer?’
‘Yes, the reindeer.’
‘There’s no reindeer.’

Boom - and it collapses in on itself, tiny triangles, smaller, smaller, down to the middle. ‘How many times can you fold a piece of paper?’ that’s the thought you wake up to, just as the dream divides into its vanishing point and bursts.
.....The kettle boils and clicks. Good morning. You get up and pour tea, that’s the first thing, or the second thing, after the reindeer. Nine times, you can fold a piece of paper nine times. The water turns brown and you can smell it, six am is here, it is December. There’s rain on the black window and it breaks up all the light from the fluorescent tube in your kitchen. You look at it…look at it. It cracks over your reflection, you are covered in stars. Now you begin to wonder who boiled the kettle and why you’re having tea, since you can’t stand tea. You drink it anyway, it is warm and you are cold.
.....You blame the reindeer, he boiled the kettle, he always wakes you up. Don’t turn around, the reindeer is watching you, sitting in the corner with his own tea. His antlers reach the ceiling and you notice the kitchen light on them now, it’s moved silently from the window and now it’s on him, bristling the fur and making his cigarette smoke thick. Yes, the reindeer is smoking, and this accounts for the smell of smoke that I hadn’t mentioned to you yet. He’s been sitting there the whole time, in your chair.
.....You try to ignore him, he only wants attention. You carry on drinking your tea, it’s foul but better than talking to the reindeer. You can hear him smoking, pulling it in and blowing him up, the chest stretching…and it comes out again, a long, squealing breath, and the room is full of it.
.....“Are you enjoying your tea?’ he asks. You were about to throw it down the sink but you don’t. The reindeer made it especially for you, he wants to know if you’re enjoying it. “I’m enjoying my tea.” he tells you, and you hear it squeezing between his lips, down his throat, you taste it. Now you throw your tea down the sink. “You don’t appreciate the tea?” says the reindeer. You don’t move, you’re scared, he wanted you to like the tea, he made it especially. What will the reindeer do? You think about the long antlers and the hole they’re making in the ceiling plaster. You are thinking of something to say to him. What will it be?
“The tea is lovely.” you lie, you are watching it crawl down the plug. The reindeer knows you’re lying. He crushes out his cigarette on the kitchen table, the seat creaks behind you, he’s getting up; the antlers are heavy in the air, swaying all wrong. The reindeer has to stoop to walk over and he hates doing that, he absolutely hates it and you know it. His shadow doesn’t creep up the kitchen counter in front of you. He is at your shoulder, are you going to look behind you?
“You have very bad manners; you shouldn’t have thrown your tea away.” His tongue is thick with tar and tobacco and it comes blowing hot over your ear. You decide that you made the wrong choice and try to think of something to say, something to move the hot thickness off your shoulder, the fur. One side of your back is damp, he’s pressing in.
“Why did you wake me up again?” you ask.
“I wanted to show you something.” he says.
“Tea?” you reply, feeling stupid and frightened.
.....A long hoof comes sliding around your waist, you see the pointed end moving down into a cloven slice and you stand very still; your hair is getting wet where the reindeer is breathing on you. The hoof is moving upwards, its side is sharp and cold from the cold kitchen and then it is at your collar bone, turning its point in on you. Are you gripping onto the counter? Are your knuckles white?
The reindeer unzips your chest, it doesn’t hurt, but it makes you sick. You are watching that tapered hoof dip in and slide down, opening you up with a fine red line. The two flaps of skin begin to part and now you look down and in: all your insides are packed neatly, coiled like a spring, jellied and glossy in the kitchen. What you recognise from old biology text books to be your pink stomach is groaning and tumbling slowly in its socket, while what you know to be your purple-yellow heart, thuds thickly and constantly.
.....You want to ask the reindeer what he’s doing but you know that if you open your mouth you might vomit, or worse, all that tightly wound inside would become outside. The reindeer moves away and begins to make more tea. “You really are wonderfully put together,” he says, spooning sugar. You say nothing. “All your pieces and parts,” the kettle begins to boil “Holding each other in, fascinating – isn’t it?” You nod but barely, you’re afraid to move in case you spill everywhere, in case your spring uncoils. Then you smell it, sweetly rancid tea, he’s pouring in the hot water. From the corner of your eye you are watching him, his long thick outline folded low over your kitchen counters, his antlers. He wipes his one wet hoof on his jacket and then the reindeer is at your shoulder again. “I made it especially for you.” he says, presenting the small cup on the flat of his large hoof. You feel like crying, you don’t want to drink it again, you want him to go away, why won’t he go away? You manage to say thank you, but you’re shaking, you can see your heart beating faster and you worry that it might pop out and land loudly in the sink.
.....The reindeer sees your hands clamped onto the counter “Here,” he says “Let me help you.” He pulls your head back until the strings of your neck are itching, you have to open your mouth. Creak, your neck bends further, your skin might snap; you think about the skin that might unpeel itself and leave all the inside of your neck on show like a wet, red, apple core. I’m sorry, but you have to open your mouth, he wants you to try the tea.
.....Your jaw pops open and the reindeer pours it in, it’s scalding water. You think about it leaking into the creases and tubes, shrinking you up. He’s still pouring, he holds you still. And now you taste something in it, in your tongue and nose, sour, months old taste of wet boiled fur and fly spray, and something else…you’re not sure, what can you taste? His damp arm is still around you when the cup drains, pressing.
.....After a long time you realise that your chest has closed, neatly and precisely, the scalding is gone and your arm is damp now. You feel the pieces of the house, the familiar room coming back together again and the scene reopens - fade in from black, you are standing at the counter. ‘Thank god’ you think, you’re alone in the kitchen again; it is six am and it is December, the window is dark and the kettle is boiling, good morning. You take down the packet of cigarettes from the top of the fridge, balance one in the split of your hoof and light it. These dreams of yours are beginning to seem real, you ought to get a hold of yourself. You smoke and scratch the base of one antler. Who are they, that person that thing that wakes you up in the morning, whose always standing at the counter, trying not to look at you sitting there? Why won’t they leave you alone? The kettle clicks, you make tea, it’s good tea, it is hot and you are cold.

Colin flips out his key and before I can coil my spring he gives all three of my mechanisms a good workout. I am now nice and tight as he swings my pendulum to its maximum and sets me back to full fitness and ready for the next few days. He says, “I remember you dad!”

“Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.…”

“Boing, boing. Boing, boing.…







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