I will tell you a Christmas story. I will tell it as Alexander Andreievitch Masseyev told it me in his little house outside the walls of Jedda years ago one hot, damp Christmas Eve.
A traditional story within a story then, thawed from the mind of a weary Russian diplomat in the desert. Thawed by a bottle of vodka which, due to its catalytic branding, propels the story onward in a particular direction through the frozen Siberian Taiga where images of starvation and salvation morph in and out of step with those of Good King Wenceslas. What is eventually revealed in this story remains partially hidden, half-glimpsed, a mysterious symbol and a paradox as repulsive and as welcome as Christmas Day itself.
It was a large piece of meat, purplish, like beef, you understand, but there was a piece of skin on it, and on the skin some hair, and that hair was long and woolly and reddish in colour…
Sarban (which means “Caravan-driver” in Persian) was the pen name of the Yorkshire writer John William Wall, himself a diplomat based in the Near East for many years. He remains as little known today as he was in his own lifetime but his works are worthy of exploration. Written in 1947, A Christmas story was one of the author’s earliest literary ventures and by 1951 Sarban seems to have ceased writing altogether.
First published in ‘Ringstones and Other Curious Tales’ – Peter Davis, London, 1951. Now available in hardback and ebook editions from Tartarus Press
Chosen by Kevin Sommerville. Kevin is a British writer living in New York. His 2001 poetry chapbook ’The Living Hinge’ was greeted with mixed reviews. He is currently writing a novel.