“Well,” said Dee, hanging another bauble from the already festooned tree, “that’s all very well and good, but who d’ya think’s gonna get the blame?”
Di, from her chair, laughed. The chair was made of the finest bone, an assortment gathered and grouped together from all the animals of the world, and it shone brightly, almost gaudily, clicking a sort of rhythmic beat as its occupant wheezed and cackled. In Di’s equally bony, skin-wrinkled fingers was a tiny glass no bigger than a thimble, and in this was a bright jot of liquid.
“If we give up – really, if we quit – then it’ll be me that humans will pin it on. Y’know – the siiiiren.” At this, she sighed, as yet another bauble magically appeared in the never-empty box.
On the floor was the baby, Dora. She looked to be about two years old, and was playing with a cardboard box, the exquisite glass ornament which it had contained pushed away to one side. Around her were a tide of presents, and amongst these were twelve stockings that seemed to have a life of their own, each one hopping here and there, back and forth, around and around. They stomped noisily, stopping sometimes to suck up a particular gift, before they continued their weird, wobbly stamp-dance.
At this, however, Dora stopped sucking at the box and gave Dee a look. Even some of the whomping stockings trembled.
“Who says they would?” she scoffed, an adult’s knowing tone emanating from her chubby toddler cheeks. She frowned then, pouting, her face puffing up like a pair of the tree baubles. “Some people always blame the baby.”
“And some the old woman,” added Di. She sipped at her drink, dropping the jot down her throat like she was packing it away rather than enjoying it; but, when she brought the glass back up again, it was refilled. Dee looked at her, shaking her beautiful head. Di raised the glass, grinning. “Want a sip?”
Sighing again, Dee signalled a sad no. “You know I can’t,” she said, and turned to string yet another bauble from a branch. This was the World Tree, and at the moment it resembled a stunning fir, thick with plush, juicy pine needles, and such a rich green that it looked good enough to eat (in fact, the baby had already tried this – as she did every year – but, like most infants, she preferred the beige, papery fayre she was currently consuming to anything that might offer even the remote possibility of nutrition).
“Well, I don’t think it’s fair,” said Dee at last. “To hell with it!” and she spun away from the tree and flung herself onto the sofa. This was as red as blood. Dee’s dress, too, was red-red velvet, and slinked around her voluptuous form like a swirl of something living, something foxy, vibrant, and sensual.
The baby stopped sucking. “Hell, you say…” The old woman took another swig of drink, and smiled. She knew what her sister would say next. This little interchange was so familiar. “Your daddy would love that!”
Di cackled again, leaning back in her ivory chair. Bone-throne. A fibula creaked as she creased herself, and her dark, amulet-eyes glistened blackly.
Dee put an arm behind her head, and rolled lazily around to look at Dora. “Hades has the space for it,” she said. “Hell is infinite. I don’t see why-”
“-because we do. We just do,” said Dora. “You know that.”
They went through this every year. It was part of Dee’s persona, they all knew, the part she was supposed to play: driven by her body, its hormones, its urge to procreate, she was petulant, with a tendency towards drama.
“But,” said Dee, kicking her shapely legs up in the air, “wouldn’t it be nice to have a change? Do something different?”
Di giggled, and took another guzzle. The liquid she was imbibing was the color of amber, but with a bit of sparkle, a hint of dazzle, so that it looked almost lava-like in the light. Fire-drink. GULP. She giggled again.
“You question,” said Dora, looking at Dee, “you consider,” she nodded her head at Di, “and I counsel. Was it not ever the way, sisters?” The baby gave a little impromptu burp after these wise words, then turned to open another Christmas present, pulling at the paper clumsily with her tiny hands. “Oh, damn this.” She blinked, and the present unwrapped itself, paper peeling away like the skin from an orange. Inside was what looked like a music box – a very, very, very old one.
“Vintage,” muttered Dora.
“What?” Dee was still lolling on the sofa, as if it were a pair of lips and she was a wagging tongue.
“Vintage is in this year.”
Dee looked at the box and groaned. “Oh, do we have to?”
“Yes,” said Dora.
Dee sat up suddenly, swinging her legs seductively. “Wait for me to finish the tree, though!”
But of course the tree would never be finished. It was spouting needles, twigs, and branches as they spoke; fruit, huge and incongruous, was bursting from it: figs; satsumas; small, Rudolph’s nose-style apples. Here and there, too, were nuts, of all varieties, plus chocolates, sugar almonds, canes, and other candies. All the sweet, delicious things of Christmas. And, as the Three watched, these swelled to ripeness, and began to tremble, for they were nearly ready to fall.
The room was set. It was a perfect and idyllic Christmas scene. The daughters of the Great Mother and of, in turn – from supposed littlest to seemingly eldest – Pan, Hades, and Dionysus, were ready.
The bone chair stopped its clicking and the twelve completed stockings – one for each day of the festive season – flew to the fireplace and hung themselves from the mantel.
Simultaneously, a blood red fire burst into being inside the grate, and the woman in the blood red dress bit into a blood red apple. Ruby juice dripped down her chin; her eyes clouded, then closed, in ecstasy.
The elder sister drank and drank, the little glass filling and refilling as she gulped.
And the baby – the youngest, the oldest, the wisest of the sisters – opened her music box and let Chaos burst forth. Welcome, wonderful, cleansing Chaos! It flew from the trinket, smashing every perfectly-placed bauble, every carefully-set item within the space; it tore the stockings down, unravelling them to nothing; it opened, ate, obliterated every gift in sight, as ribbons and wrappers and pine needles and fruit, too, were infected with the Chaos and began ripping and crushing and shredding themselves out of existence.
Within seconds, the order of the perfect room was destroyed. Di’s throne ticked its last and all its bones buried themselves back into earth. The Three Sisters sighed, and whispered away to the Next Place. Their work, for this year, was done. As the last bauble blew, its fragments returning to absence, the midnight bell chimed: proof that, once again, this spell; this ritual; the ancient Sisters’ balancing of order and chaos, gift and receipt, abstinence and abundance, had been accomplished.
And, it had. Because, now, the Christmas Eves were gone, and it was Christmas Day.