For as long as Billie could remember, he’d wanted a dog for Christmas. Not a pedigree or anything, just a plain old mutt. Didn’t matter what colour, what sex…. just a dog, with a leg on each corner and a tail.
When he was nine or ten, he invented an imaginary dog, one that slept on his bed, and he religiously mimed the process of feeding it twice a day, stroking it, putting its lead on and taking it for a walk. His brother teased him unmercifully and his parents just laughed.
Every Christmas Eve he imagined that this was it. This time, his Mum and Dad would eventually realise that all the computer games and football strips in the world simply couldn’t fulfil that basic need he had. Every Christmas Eve, when his parents went out, he was sure they’d gone to the local dogs’ home to get one for him. He knew there were hundreds there. He’d stay awake, peering through the banisters when they came home, to see whether there was a wriggling shopping bag in their arms.
There never was.
Then, one Christmas Eve, their neighbours came round for a drink, and, hiding on the landing, he saw them carefully hand over a bulky container. A pet carrier! A dog! He was sure of it. The neighbours must have been hiding it for his parents.
He barely slept all night, imagining how great Christmas would be this year. Had they remembered to buy dog food? A collar and a lead?
On Christmas morning Billie and his elder brother waited impatiently for their parents to tell them they could come downstairs. As the clock in the hall struck seven o’clock, the call came, and Billie hurtled down the stairs into the sitting room. There was a stack of presents under the tree, including a large square container covered with a blanket.
“Can I Mum? Can I?” he shrieked, rushing over to the tree.
He pulled the blanket away with a dramatic flourish, startling the green and yellow budgerigar in the cage beneath.
Someone shouted “A budgie! A miserable fuckin’ budgie! What was so hard about getting me a dog, hey?”
Dismayed, he recognised his own voice.
His Dad rose and crossed the room towards him.
Christmas, which had always been something of a disappointment for Billie, would plumb even greater depths this year.