You might remember the story I told you about why I don’t buy my daughter sweets anymore. Well, after that bizarre Easter, we had a mostly normal Christmas. We put up the decorations as usual; I wasn’t strangled by the tinsel and our fairy on top of the tree didn’t get into a fight with the plastic reindeer. We opened presents on the 25th – Elaine got her DVD of Wreck-It Ralph and her racecar set, and I not only got a House boxset from Rob at the office but Elaine gave me a picture she drew.
The drawing? Me, smashing the chocolate monsters from Easter under my foot.
Keep in mind I said mostly normal.
I don’t buy my daughter sweets anymore. We had turkey and potatoes and stuffing and broccoli but we had no mince pies or selection boxes. Elaine got a tangerine in her stocking but no chocolate oranges. And when we went to see a panto after Christmas Day was done, we chose Hansel and Gretel, the ultimate anti-sweet PSA.
We were always looking for a good father-daughter activity, and while Hansel and Gretel was a children’s play based on a children’s story, the leaflet promised “fun for young and old”. The leaflet also requested that children bring along their favourite toy, but Elaine thought that a little silly. She ended up the only child in the whole theatre without a teddy or a doll.
The play began. A giant house made out of cookies and candy canes and gumdrops, surrounded by candy floss trees and chocolate flowers was the first backdrop the show used. A house of sweets, owned and used by an evil witch that looked like Margaret Hamilton from The Wizard of Oz with a clown wig. She leapt onto the stage, cackling wildly, as everyone, including Elaine, booed. The witch grinned widely, reminding me of the rabbit with the mouth on his stomach, raising her arms as if she revelled in the booing.
The wicked witch explained her plan. She needed children so she could cast a spell that would allow her to rule the world. ‘Any volunteers?’ she sneered as she looked over the audience. She was only met with more boos. ‘No matter,’ she said, as she gestured towards the backdrop, ‘no child can resist a house made out of lovely sweeties!’
I knew one child who could.
She even pointed out that her house was made from “magic sweets”, which made me twitch. ‘Isn’t that right, Gus?’ We were then introduced to her helper, Gus the bedsheet ghost. ‘Yes, mistress,’ he said, nodding. The witch danced away to the chorus of boos, as Gus sighed. ‘She’s a meanie, isn’t she, boys and girls?’ Gus asked the audience, ‘She likes scaring people and gives them cavities too, she’s bad news!’ Instantly he was my favourite character in the panto.
The story went on as it did when I told it to Elaine. Hansel and Gretel’s mother thought that she couldn’t afford to keep them anymore so she abandoned them in the woods. They try to find their way home, only to come across the house made out of sweets. Well, in this version, they don’t find it themselves; Gus the ghost lures them there, but not before he talks to the audience about Christmas presents.
The witch keeps Hansel and Gretel prisoner in a cage as she prepares the spell. Gus the ghost decides to betray his mistress and unlocks the cage. Hansel and Gretel run away, and though the witch chases them, they manage to escape. The witch didn’t get shoved into her oven but I always thought that was a little extreme for a kiddy story.
After the interval, the witch looked over the audience again. She gloated that she would still take over the world, for Hansel had dropped his hat while trying to escape, and this hat, apparently, was what she needed to raise an army of skeletons. Skeletons, as in people wearing black jumpsuits with white bones printed on them. So, as Hansel, Gretel and Gus tried to find their way out of the woods, the skeletons creeped behind them. No matter how much the audience screamed, neither Gus nor Hansel nor Gretel noticed the skeletons, thus they ended up back in the witch’s house.
No matter how hard you try to escape from sweets, they always come back.
I half expected the chicken or the bunny from Easter to leap out from the audience and chew off my other ear, and then watch the witch who they would consider their hero. My stomach twisted and writhed.
Hansel and Gretel found the witch’s spell book and used it to not only get rid of the men in black jumpsuits with white bones, but made the witch good as well. I would make a joke about using it on politicians, but the panto had made political jokes already, with Hansel comparing the witch to Farage.
With the witch defeated, Gus the ghost had one last thing to do: bring a child up to the stage to receive a prize. He scoped the audience for a child, briefly revealing the legs under his sheet as he did so.
He looked in Elaine’s direction.
Again, I expected the chocolate rabbit and chicken monsters to make their triumphant return. They were the ones under the ghost sheet, and they would choose this moment to reveal it. Out from the sheet they’d come and bite Elaine’s head off.
Elaine walked towards the stage and I almost grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back. No, let her have her magic moment. What would the other people think of me? Up the stage she went, almost skipping, and Gus welcomed her.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Great! Now, if you want this goody bag,’ he said, shaking said bag, ‘you must answer some questions. Question one, what colour is a red house?’
‘What colour is a yellow house?’
‘And what colour is a green house?’
‘It’s made of glass!’
The butterflies in my stomach made way for a small glow of pride.
‘Wow, you are a smart girl.’ He was definitely my favourite character. ‘Now, here’s your goody bag. It’s got this headband with these little bobbly things that light up, it’s got a signed cast photo, it’s got a little ghost here, and these chocolates are magic chocolates, so eat them as soon as possible!’
After the cast had taken their final bows, we left the theatre. As we did, my ear for some reason focussed on a mechanical ‘I’m tired’ that reminded me Elaine didn’t bring a toy herself and that I almost regretted that fact. As soon as we had gotten to the car, Elaine took the “magic” chocolates out of her bag and handed them to me. A plastic bag of chocolate skulls – Halloween sweets that were still good to eat (as it were) in December.
I could think of no better shape for them.
I just put the bag in my pocket before we set off. While we were in the car, Elaine played around with the contents of her goody bag. She didn’t wear the headband but still looked at how the ends blinked, she stuck this little ghost finger puppet on her finger for a while and even gazed at the cast photo. ‘We’re going to have to frame that,’ I told her when we got back home.
I kept the skull chocolates in my pocket and kept them there until Elaine went to bed. Then, I pulled them out and threw them onto the kitchen floor. Elaine didn’t want them, I didn’t want them, so I mashed them under my foot, reducing them to something that didn’t look dissimilar to what dogs do on the pavement. After that, I tossed it in the bin, laughing to myself at the mental image of the bunny and chicken monsters suffocating.
I went to bed, only to be awoken by a loud thud.
Instantly, I checked Elaine’s room. She was fast asleep, even wearing the headband she had won at the panto.
Mumbling, footsteps. They were coming from downstairs.
‘He didn’t eat them,’ I heard.
‘Look what he did to them though.’
‘They’re still magic, you idiot.’
I ran to the kitchen.
Skeletons stood before me. Skeletons, as in people wearing black jumpsuits with white bones printed on them. Skeletons, as in what only looked like people wearing black jumpsuits with white bones printed on them.
Dripping, sticky tar arranged into a humanoid form, with human bones sticking out of them. Yellow rib cages poked out of their torsos, skulls with missing teeth and hanging jaws stuck out from their heads.
One of them had the bag.
‘Didn’t you listen to what the ghost said?’ said one of them. I fully expected the skull stuck in his head to move its jaws, but it didn’t. ‘You should have eaten them.’ He slapped me across the face, knocking me against the wall.
They vanished into nothing, and as they did, I was certain I saw a pale little girl with long fingernails.