At the beginning of every year, Robert Malford decided to do something useful with his life. It normally didn’t last very long, as he always found something to remind him of times gone by, and it hurt too much. Every year gone by was another year in which he couldn’t read his daughter a bed-time story or help his oldest son with schoolwork, or kiss his wife. They were gone, and no matter how much he prayed for them to return, they never would, and the pain was unbearable. The only thing stopping him from going under completely was his son Christian, who was in school at the moment.

Taking a swig from a bottle that still had some contents left, he looked around the room. Surely something could be taken care of? The house wasn’t all that messy, Chris had made sure of that during the Christmas holidays, but Bob wanted to do something drastic for a change. Full of Dutch courage, he grabbed hold of a crate full of things and emptied it on the floor. There were some bits of firewood, a few bills marked “Urgent” and “Payment overdue”, odd socks, bits and bobs, empty bottles and cans and a scrunched up piece of paper that looked unfamiliar. Perhaps it was just an old receipt or shopping list. Unfolding it, he recognised his son’s handwriting, but it looked a bit more childish than it did nowadays, so it must have been a few years old. Yes, he could see the date now, about four years ago. The boy had been ten at the time.

“Dear Santa,” he read. How sweet, a child’s letter to Father Christmas! As Bob kept on reading, his smile faded.

“My name is Christian Malford and I live just outside Chippenham in Wiltshire in England. I know you’re very busy so I understand if you’re too busy for me. There are so many children who want toys, but not me. I want my family back. My mum died in an accident a couple of years ago. My little sister and big brother died too. We miss them so much. You can’t make people alive again I don’t think, but maybe you can give me my dad back? He’s alive but he drinks very much. I don’t like it. I don’t want him to die. Every time there’s a knock on the door I’m afraid it’s someone who has come to take me away from him. I don’t want to live with people I don’t know. I want to live with my dad. I love him. Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll find him lying dead on the floor. All I want for Christmas is for him to stop drinking so that we can be a family again, even if it’s just the two of us. I swear I will not ask for anything else again ever!”

Tears streamed down his face; tears that had waited years to flow. His hand automatically picked up the bottle to soothe the pain, but feeling the glass pressed against his lips and smelling the familiar alcoholic fumes, Bob realised what he was doing and made a decision. The bottle shattered against the wall, spreading its amber contents all over the kitchen, making a mess. How could he have been so blind? The one person he was afraid of losing, and he was pushing him away!

“Never more!” he said, though there was no one there to listen. He turned to address the ceiling, as he hoped she would look down on him from heaven. “Maz, if you can hear me… You must be so ashamed of me. I’ve not taken care of him as well as I should have. If I make a change now, I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me, and that so will he.”

He would never stop loving her, but at least he would make her proud, starting today. A new year and a new life, for the both of them, and this time he wouldn’t just give up. He had to turn over a new leaf, for the sake of himself and the only person he had left in the world. This year was going to be different – because this time, he meant it.

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