Xmas Day photo by Steve Braunias

Silly buggers at Xmas

Knowing I’d see Anthony at Christmas Quiz Night had given my week such fresh and unusual energy. And in the final hour before I was to leave my house, all the power of this energy turned in on itself creating an almost painful sensation just under my skin and in my chest. I dressed and redressed and undressed and redressed (deciding on the green wool jersey as seemed to make me look less anaemic). I turned in the mirror. I kept trying to see myself as he would see me. Remembering how wonderful he smelled the night I met him, I put on some fragrance, Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue and finally, I brushed my skin with something golden.

After the Quiz Night, and all the trouble which happened there, I messaged him, T’was the night of Christmas Quiz Night and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, because Christmas is a time to behave properly.

He replied immediately, and I’d had one of those giggles which bubbled up soft in my chest. I held it there until I couldn’t anymore. The reply was just four laughing face emojis with the tears, and tilted, rolling around with laughter. I was encouraged and I wrote to him again, Apparently behaving properly is some people’s favourite thing about the silly season.

He replied, Not my favourite.

What is, then?

He sent an emoji of a cake. Then he wrote, Wanna watch a movie?

Xmas one?

Taxi Driver.


Something magic happened Christmas Quiz Night, and I think it happened during all the trouble.

When I arrived, none of my teammates were at Club Tasman yet. I was the first, and Anthony was the third. Jeremy was second and Jeremy began eating the dull snacks put on our table for our team, which annoyed me. I did not want my teammates thinking I had been scoffing all the snacks. Fortunately, though, Jeremy was leaving quite the pile of crumbs in his goatee, so I shouldn’t have worried I’d be blamed.

Anthony arrived with Tyler and Kaleb, and all three of them were wearing bear costumes like they were the three bears, but they were also wearing antlers, and Anthony was using his crutches. They looked so festive and silly and happy, and I was just so happy that Anthony was finally there. He smiled at me and with that smile all the strange, almost painful energy I’d built up all week became heavier, and warm. I no longer needed to wonder how it would feel to see him again.

Jeremy said, “Why didn’t you tell us you were dressing up?”

“We did,” Anthony told him, “in the chat group.”

“What chat group?” Jeremy asked.

“Shit, sorry bro,” Anthony said, and he took out his phone. My phone beeped very loudly, and I saw I had also been added to the group. I was more okay with this late invite then Jeremy was, but that’s probably because I was new to this town, and these people.

We all met quite recently – at the hospital of all places. I was in the waiting room, I had one of my bleeding noses that wouldn’t stop. A nurse had inserted one of those little balloon compresses to stop the blood flow, and Tyler and Kaleb came in with gorgeous Anthony limping between them both. He’d injured – probably snapped – his Achilles, playing in the local mixed netball competition. He was goal shoot, he told me when we were alone because the nurse asked that Kaleb and Tyler leave him now. The waiting room was small and only people who needed a doctor should be using it.

Anthony said to me, gesturing to my nose, “That doesn’t look like much fun.”

The little balloon stuck up my nostril certainly made it look worse than it was, because it flared out my nostril, giving it a swollen appearance.

“Flying out in 12 sleeps.”

“Huh?” Anthony said.


“Good one,” he said, unconvincingly.

It was at about that moment that three nurses and a doctor rushed by us, and several minutes later rushed back by us with a person on a gurney. Anthony stood up and looked down the corridor. “I reckon that’s all the staff here, we might be waiting a while.”

“Oh, I can go in” – I checked my phone – “six more minutes. They just want me to wait that no more blood spills out.”

“Lucky you,” he said.

“I can stay for company?”

“You’re all good.”

 “Why don’t you help me with my quiz?”

“What?” he said.

I looked at my screen. “Which Nicole was the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls?”

Anthony leaned into me to look at the choices. “B,” he said. “Nicole Sherzinger.”

“What kind of cloud formation is shown in the picture?”

It was cumulus. “Cumulus,” Anthony said.

“Which cereal is used to make parkin?”

Anthony shrugged, and I pressed C, oatmeal.

“In what 1976 thriller does Robert De Niro famously say, ‘You talkin to me?’”

I went to press, B, The Godfather and Anthony touched my hand and said, “No, no, it’s Taxi Driver,” so I pressed A, and then Anthony smiled and said, “You talkin to me?” in a theatrical voice, and I took the opportunity to look at his lovely face and eyes and nose and cheekbones and the collarbone which glinted from beneath his netball T-Shirt.

“Where is the Sea of Tranquility located?”

“On the moon,” Anthony said.

“Which historic event was Te Whiti associated with?”

“Parihaka,” Anthony said.

Almost an hour passed like this, both Anthony and I enjoying success streaks, before a doctor saw Anthony. I offered to stay and drive him home. I was at the hospital for four hours in the end, the longest I’d been away from home in months.

At his house, he got out and he smiled at me through the open window and said, “Hey, we got a Christmas Quiz night we are going to, but we could use someone with your enthusiasm,” he laughed. “It’s only a fundraiser, be very cool if you could come along.”

“I would love that,” I said partly because I loved quizzes – and partly because his face was beautiful, and despite having been playing netball he smelled so good, like freshly broken rosemary, and he’d been so much fun to sit with in hospital I could have stayed in the waiting room with him almost forever – and mostly because I could still feel where he’d touched me on the hand to warn me I was about to mistake Taxi Driver for The Godfather.


Club Tasman had a room like a hall, with a side room for pokie machines, a pool table and a bar. Jeremy took the card to write our team’s name and wrote, The Brown Brothers.

“Oi,” Anthony said, but really it was fine, quite funny, and I took the pen and scrawled ‘plus one’ on the card.

More and more people arrived, until all the tables were crowded, and the noise was festive, and people were bringing big cold jugs of beer, and packages of snacks, like peanuts and dried pork, and glasses and glasses of wine to their tables. As soon as Santa got on the microphone, he said something inappropriate to one of the elves, who yelled at him, “Ewww. You were my teacher – last year!”

I thought her voice sounded shrill, and yet everyone laughed.

No one had gone to as much trouble with their outfits like Anthony, Kaleb and Tyler, except for the elf, Santa and a red-haired woman who wore a jersey with the three wise men embroidered on it.

The table behind us was a team I would call – because I’ve forgotten their name, but to give a nice comparison to our team and its name – the White Sisters.

The quiz began with some sports questions and then some geography questions.

Santa began giving spot prizes out. Everyone was asked to check under their seats where they would find a number. Beside us, the red-haired woman pulled out hers, and she said loudly, “What does it mean if I got 69?”

And Santa stood up, and he said, “Give us a twirl.” The woman did and then Santa said, “It must mean Mrs Claus gets the night off”

And everyone laughed except the elf and Jeremy, Tyler, Kaleb and Anthony. Jeremy groaned and said, “Tell me why we are here again?”

Anthony said, “The big prize is a grand. Go towards our One Love trip.”

“We won’t win.”

“We might.”

“We won’t.”

“If we do you can pretend we didn’t if it makes you feel better.”

“Good one. The humour in here is rubbing off on you already.”

Anthony winked at me and said, “Why don’t we get you a turn on Santa’s lap, Jez?”

“Fuck off, egg,” Jeremy said, and someone nearby gasped and he scoffed back at them, “You got a whole night of Santa on the mic to get through, save your shock horror.”

I pulled the number out from under my chair. It was 44. I put it in front of me, like Anthony had done with his number which was 73.

Several questions went by – we were doing quite well, Anthony and Jeremy were excellent at picking what movies lines of dialogue had come from – and then Santa said, “73, who has 73?”

“Anthony!” I called, standing up, “Anthony has it!”

Santa mimicked me. “Anthony,” he shouted, “Oh Anthony.”

Anthony got to his crutches, (an oversight on our part) and went to Santa. And despite feeling embarrassed by Santa, I was still standing, interested to see what Anthony had won, and Santa handed him the most beautiful big chocolate cake. Oh, it was gorgeous, even from as far away as our table was, I could see someone had taken so much care making it.. Anthony stood there awkwardly, holding the cake, not able to return to his seat, and I rushed towards him then, kicking my knee into three chairs on the way, tripping on a handbag and having trouble getting my bottom to fit between two seats, of which the male occupants took much delight. Santa pointed at me and said, “Looks like you’ll be getting more than a cake tonight, this one is absolutely desperate to come to your aid.”

Anthony frowned at Santa but sort of smiled at me, and I took the cake from him, and we both went the long way around the room to return to our seats.

When we reached them, Anthony said, “Why do they keep giving that guy a mic?”

I saw one of the women next to us shoot a miserable look at Anthony then I returned my attention to Anthony’s prize. The cake was decorated with small stars made from silver sugar, and it was iced so smooth it could have been a polished stone.

“It’s such a beautiful cake,” I said.

“Tis,” Anthony said, and he winked at me again.

The Little Drummer Boy came on in the background.

“Boney M,” Anthony said, “Now it’s Christmas.”

And then all the trouble started.


Well, not immediately. Three other things happened before the trouble, but in quite quick succession, so they almost tumbled into and upon each other, and if one hadn’t happened maybe the big finale also wouldn’t have. Firstly, one of the men from the table with the redhaired woman spilled all his beer across the table, and a very stern, matriarchal looking woman rushed to him with small towels and a forced smile and began fussing, then two men argued over a number. One, with a sandy mullet, was saying his ticket was 66, and one with a shiny bald head was saying his was 66, but it turned out the one with the mullet had 99, not 66, Santa revealed, then slapped his bum and told him he was naughty for trying to get a spot prize, and though being naughty was a prize in itself, it should also earn a prize in itself, and then he yelled out to the bar staff that a round of tequila shots should go to the naughty mullet guy’s table (on Santa’s tab), and everyone cheered, and the third thing was that a lamb ran into the large room, with antlers strapped to his head, and it came in kicking and springing, its eyes wide with fear, and it ran under the tables, and knocked over a small child, lamb poo was rolling everywhere, and everyone was yelling and laughing, then someone said, “It’s bloody Roger Sara, he’s set that lamb loose in every pub in town.”

 “Bloody Roger,” people were yelling, with celebration in their voices, though the lamb had come crashing against a room divider, causing it to fold around the poor animal, as it bleated. Two men in gumboots walked over and one pulled open the room divider and the other picked the bleating mite up, and Santa said, “Tell Roger he’s on my naughty list!” and everyone laughed and laughed, and then finally the trouble really started.

First the room fell quiet for the first question of the music section, everyone was straining to hear, but no music came on the speakers. Perhaps out of boredom, Jeremy extended his hand, and he put the tip of his index finger upon the cake’s perfect icing and he ran it along the cakes edge so perfect, rich icing spun away like cold butter, and he leaned over and smeared the dab of icing onto Tyler’s face. I gasped, and Tyler laughed, so did Anthony and so I laughed too, and then both Anthony and Tyler reached and took icing on their fingers and Tyler smeared it on Jeremy’s face in retaliation.

Anthony smiled at me.

“Oh no,” I said, the excitement in my voice and maybe I even leaned toward him rather than away. He came towards me with the small dallop of icing and put it on my neck.

I was laughing and so was Jeremy and then Kaleb joined in, and within seconds all of us had the tiniest bit of icing on our faces and one of the women at the table next to us said, “How bloody disrespectful.”

“Seriously,” Jeremy said, “have you been here all night?”

Then I saw the stern matriarchal woman rushing towards our table. She must have seen one of the members of the White Sisters team looking upset and she must have thought something  was going on and so she was there in a flash, standing at our table with a perplexed but knowing look on her face.

“What’s the trouble?” she said, certain of trouble.

“We were just being eggs,” Jeremy said. “No trouble.”

She looked at the faces and my neck dabbed with icing, Kaleb, Anthony, and Tyler’s costumes, she looked at me, she looked at the gorgeous cake which was just barely mutilated, and she pursed her lips together. I had the distinct feeling she had been the one who had made the cake, though I might’ve been wrong, because honestly my instincts were haywire that night. But suddenly I felt very brave, maybe because of the good, heavy feeling. I was both caught up in the moment and grounded. It was extraordinary. Anthony’s winking, his dabbing icing on my face, the lamb even, had I laughed? I worry I’m to blame for what happened after the woman said to Anthony, “Do you need a box for your cake, so you don’t play silly buggers with it anymore?”

Jeremy said, “No, no, we’re not going to be silly buggers anymore.”

Anthony looked tired then. On his face I saw an embarrassment which eluded me, confused me. Like the matriarch’s sudden disdain for him and his fun had both surprised him and reminded him that she had been doing the very same thing since time immemorial and it was like he was ashamed he’d fooled himself into believing she hadn’t been doing this very thing since time immemorial.

Meanwhile, we’d been doing terrifically on the quiz, and I really think we might have won the $1000 if what happened next hadn’t happened. See I stood up, and I said, “It’s been silly in here all night…” and I was preparing to launch into a speech, or at least provide a list of all the actual nonsense I’d witnessed throughout the evening, when Jeremy stood up too, and he had the beautiful cake in one hand, palm up, and suddenly the song for the music section of the Christmas Quiz Night came on, I knew the answer immediately, Queen, “I want to break free”, and I looked at Anthony who was grinning again, like he’d unzipped and stepped right out of the suit of that embarrassed young man he’d been reduced to only seconds before and he started gesturing to Jeremy with urgent short waves at his own face and he jutted his chin out, and he said, laughing, “Gummon then, gunt.” I couldn’t believe my very own eyes, but then Jeremy smashed that glorious chocolate cake into Anthony’s face, and Anthony rubbed his face into it, and Jeremy started saying, ‘You motorboat son of a bitch, you old sailor you,’ and Anthony became hysterical with laughter then and the music had stopped and all of the people were looking at us: the three antlered bears, me in my green wool jersey, Jeremy with the cake in his friend’s face and the tall thick matriarch woman, her hands on her hips, her mouth waiting for the words churning vicious in her chest to froth up to her throat so she could administer them: “Get out!”


In the carpark with some cake over each of us, and no $1000 and the summer rain coming down lightly, I said, relieved because it had been bothering me, “Wedding Crashers!” and Anthony patted me on my back and said, “And the Christmas Quiz Night grand prize goes to Sam.”

Jeremy said, “Lucky your nan missed tonight’s quiz, Ants, or you’d be in the shit, playing silly buggers with kai like that.”

“Yeah, well.”

“Yeah, eh,” Jeremy said.

Anthony leaned and wiped the icing from my neck and put it right into his mouth. I could have died, there watching him swallow icing from my neck so brazenly. Then he took his antlers off his head and put them on me, tucking my hair behind my ears, and adjusting the headband until it sat right. He started to hum, then he sang ‘Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum, rum-pa-pum-pum, rum-pa-pum-pum.’ And the four of them began towards the lighted windows of a nearby pub, fine summer rain like shredded silver falling as slow as snow in the streetlights, and Anthony turned back to me and gestured with his lovely chin to follow, then he turned his face towards the pub’s light again, and put his hand out behind him, until I took it.

Becky’s story concludes our Saturday series of short stories for 2022. Stories accepted and scheduled for 2023 includes fiction by Stephanie Johnson, Airana Ngarewa, Laura Jean McKay, Shelley Burne-Field, and Kirsty Gunn.

Becky Manawatu is the author of Auē (Makaro Press, 2019).

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