Books and Barbies: A Christmas Memory by Camille Adnot

Christmas morning, 2001. I woke up before dawn, too excited about the presents. It’s barely 5 a.m. and, of course, pitch black outside. To pass the time, I figured I should do what I like best: read a book. I’m reading in my bed, using a torchlight for fear my parents should see I’m awake if I used the big light, when I hear a discreet knocking at the door.

“Yes?” I whisper.

The door opens, creaking slightly. The face of my older brother Jack appears.

“You’re awake?” he asks.

“Obviously, yes.”

“I’m bored. What are you doing?”

I gesture toward the book.

“I’m reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

“Haven’t you read it like, fifteen times already?”

“Seventeen,” I correct.

“You’re a freak. I’m bored. Let’s play!”

“But I’m reading!”

“Well it’s not like you don’t know what happens next, is it?”

“But it’s one of my favourite passages!”

“Hushhh!”

Jack puts a finger to his lips, urging me to speak lower. At the same moment, a loud snore resonates through the corridor. My father’s. My room is on the first floor, same as my parents, who leave the door to their room open at night. The rooms of Jack and my other brother, Will, are on the second floor.

“You’re going to wake Mum and Dad!” Jacks scolds me.

“Well you’re the one–” I start, indignant.

“What passage is it?”

“What?”

“What passage is it you’re reading?”

“Harry is trying to make a Patronus.”

“Oh yeah, that’s a good one.” He pauses. “Have you tried going downstairs?”

“No. Are the presents there already?”

“Not yet. They usually bring them down around 7 or 8ish”

I nod silently. 7 a.m. is a world away. 8 a.m. even more so.

“Camille, I’m boooored. Let’s play!”

“What do you want to play?” I ask, distrustful.

A snore from our parents’ room echoes through the corridor again. Jack and I stay still.

“I don’t know. Come upstairs, so we don’t wake them up.”

I get out of bed, put on slippers and a bathrobe. I take my book with me. Jack and I climb up the stairs to the second floor, making as little noise as possible. The stairs do creak at every step though. Much to our surprise, and to our satisfaction, we still manage to make it to the second floor without our parents waking up. Two glimmering eyes are waiting for us at the top of the stairs. It’s our cat, Sweetmug. I stroke her. She purrs, and we all go into Jack’s room.

Once there, we close the door and put on the lights. Jack and I sit on the floor. Sweetmug curls up on the bed.

“What do you want to play?” I ask.

“Let’s play Monopoly.”

“I don’t want to. You always win at Monopoly.”

Jack takes a moment to think.

“Okay, then how about chess?”

“You always win at chess too!”

Jack sighs.

“Okay, then what do you want to play?”

“Mikado,” I answer.

You always win at Mikado,” he observes reproachingly.

I think it’s rather unfair. He is much better than me at tactical games, possibly because he is thirteen and has more experience playing them. I just turned nine. I usually do better at games that require dexterity.

“Well, then I don’t want to play anything,” I say in a sulking tone.

I take my book out of the pocket of my bathrobe, and open it where I left off.

“Did you seriously bring your book upstairs?”

“I did.”

“That’s not nice. I can’t sleep, and I’m bored. Play with me.”

“Why don’t you play Monopoly with yourself, see who wins?”

All of a sudden, we hear footsteps in the corridor. We freeze. Did our parents hear us argue? A few seconds later, the door to Jack’s room opens. We look apprehensively.

It’s our elder brother, Will. He looks at us with a sleepy face.

“What on earth are you guys doing?” he asks with a yawn.

“We can’t sleep,” Jack says.

“Because of the presents?”

“Yes.”

“You guys are such kids,” Will laughs.

He is sixteen.

“Well, what are you doing up?” Jacks asks defensively.

You guys woke me up. Making all that noise.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

Will comes into the room, closes the door behind him.

“So what are you doing?”

“I wanted to play Monopoly, but Camille would rather read her book.”

Will turns to me.

“What’s that you’re reading?”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” I answer, proudly holding it.

“That one again? Geez, Camille. You’ve got to get a new book.”

“The next one hasn’t come out yet. So I reread this one in the meantime.”

“You know there are other books besides Harry Potter, right? What did you ask for Christmas?”

“Books and Barbies.”

“Books and Barbies. Brilliant.”

Jack and Will laugh. They’re mocking me. They’re not very fond of books, and they’ve certainly never played with Barbies. Perhaps they think I’m getting too old for Barbies. They definitely think I read too much. I stick my tongue out at them. They pretend not to notice.

So I go back to my book. Harry is trying to make a Patronus, but it doesn’t work. It’s okay. I know he will succeed in making one eventually.

As I’m reading, Sweetmug jumps down from the bed and sits on my lap. I pet her distractedly. She would totally be my magical pet if I went to Hogwarts. And my Patronus too. I’m nine. My letter might still come.

In the meantime, Jack and Will have started a game of Battleships. Will is winning. It’s always the older sibling who wins at these games. I wish I had a little sister or a little brother, so I could win from time to time.

The hours pass. At some point, Will raises his hand, motioning us to stay still.

“There’s noise,” he says.

Jack and I freeze, buzzing with excitement. There is indeed noise coming from downstairs. And a good deal of it too. Our parents must be up.

Very slowly, the three of us tiptoe to the door, open it, and walk towards the stairs. We look over the railing. The smell of coffee is coming all the way from the kitchen. Our parents are going up and down the stairs, bringing gifts at the foot of the Christmas tree.

“The presents are here!” I whisper.

“Should we go down?” Jack asks.

“Let’s wait another five minutes,” says Will. As always, he is taking the lead as the elder brother.

I feel something soft brush against my leg. It’s Sweetmug, scuttling down to get her morning snack. We watch her hurtle down the two flights of stairs, go and bite Mum’s ankles imperiously.

“The cat is downstairs,” I observe.

“Alright, let’s go too.”

So the three of us hurtle down the stairs.

It’s 7 a.m.

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