A Very Gary Christmas – Dec 20

December 20th

For the first time in Manfred and Michael’s house, there was a kind of peace and quiet that felt like it was going to last and not be just a short relief before the next storm. There was toast for breakfast and smiles from their mother. When they left for school, she hugged them both extra tight. Not a hug that was really an apology, but one that said that everything was all going to be all right.

“You know, I don’t care about presents anymore,” Michael told his big brother when they were walking to school.
“Why’s that?” Manfred asked.
“I think we already got the best present of them all.”

Manfred nodded, and put an arm around his younger brother.
After school their mother was surprised to see them home so quickly, she didn’t even have lunch ready. The two boys usually went wandering off on their way home, but not today. Now they were eager to come home to their mother, who looked happier and younger than they had ever seen her.

There was Wiener Schnitzel for lunch, the boys’ favourite – as well as every other Austrian child’s. For dessert, their mother had made Kaiserschmarrn; it felt to them as if Christmas had come a few days early this year and they grinned from ear to ear as they were digging into their meal.

“You are still grounded, you know,” she reminded her sons, who were still beaming at her as they nodded dutifully.

She wondered if she had ever seen her sons so relaxed and enthusiastic. The guilt inside was eating her up, but she had had long talks with Meli who had promised to organise some help and allow her to finally get out of this relationship. All she could do now was love her boys and make sure they had a great Christmas. Thanks to the pastor, they would even get some presents.

If the day couldn’t get even stranger, the boys did the little homework they still had on the kitchen table, quickly and without being told, before going on to play in the living room. Usually, they would retreat into their bedroom and stay there until dinnertime. The two boys and their mother had a great time playing together all afternoon. They all knew that things would be much better in the future.

A Very Gary Christmas – Dec 19

December 19th

Ludwig was woken up far too early by the pastor hammering on the door. Even though he was very sleepy, he could see the clergyman was very upset.

“Good morning, come in, what’s going on?”
“Otto, our choir master, had an accident. He’s in the hospital.”
Ludwig almost dropped the coffee mug that he was holding and stared at the pastor.
“Oh, no. What happened?”
“Well, he was in the city buying presents for the kids who didn’t have any yet. He already had most of them, when he was run over by a Fiaker.”
“A Fiaker? Did the driver not see him?”
“No, the horses came around the corner too quickly and the carriage couldn’t be stopped in time. Then again, Otto wasn’t looking either; he had his nose in the wish list he received from the parents.”
“How badly is he hurt?”
“When I got there they were just prepping him for surgery. A few broken bones, but nothing life-threatening. He’ll be lying down for quite a while though. I got the presents he had picked up so far and went to get the rest. They’re in my car.”
“Thank you, that’s a great help! What will Otto do for Christmas, I mean will he have to spend it in the hospital?”
“They didn’t know yet, but the next issue is the choir, both for the fete and the Christmas Midnight Mass.”
“Could you do it?” Ludwig asked.
“I hope so, I think they can sing most of their songs themselves all right. I guess…”
“It’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
“There was something else I wanted to ask you,” the pastor continued. “Could we hold Christmas mass in your barn as well? Everyone will be there anyway and it would be more convenient and nobody would have to go outside again.”
“Sure, sure,” Ludwig grinned.

He suspected that the pastor wanted to seize the chance to speak to more people than would go to Christmas Mass, but in the spirit of the day, he thought he might as well fulfil his wish too. Those who didn’t want to stay that long would have gone home by then anyway.

“Just let me know about Otto, so we can make sure he’ll have a good Christmas as well,” Ludwig told the pastor before he left.

A Very Gary Christmas – Dec 18

December 18th

The shouting had lasted far into the night. Then the noises started, doors slamming, walls being kicked, sobbing and screaming. The boys’ father hadn’t bothered to close the curtains, so the police could easily see what was going on within. All they needed was proof. Meli had requested backup and they burst into the house as soon as he raised his hand against his wife. Once the drunk was handcuffed and taken away, his wife burst into tears and the boys, who saw Ludwig and Gary come in after the policemen, ran to the goat to hug him.

During the next village meeting, the mayor cheerfully announced that the presents had been found, but wouldn’t say who was responsible, only that the culprit was very apologetic and had learned his lesson. But that’s not how it works in small villages. The gossip started to spread and when people found out that the village drunk was arrested and charged with assault, they all concluded that he stole the presents in a drunken stupor and now he was charged and locked up, he was no longer a threat to anyone.

Meli, Ludwig and the mayor knew the truth, but they preferred the version the villagers had made up for themselves. They were quite happy to let the people believe that the violent alcoholic was to blame, as did his family. As punishment, the boys would have to work hard on the preparations for the Christmas fete, hang up decorations and so on. Even after that, they were to help out at Ludwig’s farm as a means of keeping them out of trouble, about which they were more excited than feeling punished.
As they left the village hall, Madeleine came up to Ludwig.
“You found the presents, didn’t you?” she smiled.
“Actually, it was my goat, Gary,” he said.
“More and more curious,” the teacher linked arms with the farmer and walked back to the farm with him.

They ended up talking late into the night, with the goat sleeping at their feet.

A Very Gary Christmas – Dec 17

December 17th

Michael and Manfred carried the presents back into the barn, one by one. Their mother had given them a lift and was now standing outside, still looking upset. Their father was nowhere to be seen. Once they were done, their mother told them to wait in the car while she went inside with Ludwig, Meli and the mayor. Manfred didn’t know what the adults were talking about, but he quickly became bored waiting, so left his brother in the car and walked over to the goats. Gary came to him and licked his outstretched hand.

“You are the only one who is still nice to me,” the boy said to the goat. “It’s probably just because you don’t know what I’ve done. Everyone is going to shout at me and be so disappointed. I know you found us in the forest. It was a stupid idea, I know that. Michael was just so upset.”

A tear ran down his cheek and he had to sniff a few times before he could talk again.

“When we get home we’ll get hell. My dad will beat us all up again, and whenever I want to go to the police he threatens Michael. Oh goat, I don’t know what to do,” Manfred said and sobbed his way back to the car.

As soon as he had turned away, Gary raced towards the barn, from which the adults were just leaving. Whilst the boys’ mother was returned to her car and the policewoman was talking to the mayor, he nudged Ludwig urgently. The farmer stepped to the side to hear what his goat had to say.

Ludwig was alarmed at Gary’s story and told the others about it. The mayor confirmed that there had been rumours for a while that the boys’ father was violent, certainly everyone knew he was an alcoholic, but no-one ever had enough evidence and his family never went near the police.

“Meli, you have to protect them from him!” Ludwig implored.
“I can’t do anything if they refuse to make a complaint and I don’t catch him.”
“You’ll never have a better chance than tonight…”

They looked at each other, understood and left to secretly follow the boys home. This time Ludwig didn’t leave Gary behind.