It'll Be Lonely, This Christmas, short story by Alexis Bleasdale at Spillwords.com
Christoph S

It’ll Be Lonely, This Christmas

It’ll Be Lonely, This Christmas

written by: Alexis Bleasdale

@motherporridge

 

Bev grabbed her handbag and felt for a tissue. She’d always been useless at drinking; sent her down, rather than up, the way it should. She felt like a badly wrapped present. The silvery material of her top – a last-minute purchase from yesterday’s supermarket sale rail – clung to the folds of her stomach and sagged around her chest. One of the antlers on her hairband was starting to droop and she could feel her mascara starting to run as a tear splashed into the warm glass of white wine she’d been nursing for the last half hour. Quickly, she wiped under both eyes, hoping that nobody had noticed. Nobody was looking at her anyway.

The boss, Trevor, was swaying around by the bar and young Jenny the receptionist, unsteady in her heels, was trying to catch him with a large loop of red tinsel. Beyond the bar, the rotating disco lights reflected off the sticky residue on the dance floor turning the party dresses of the few remaining revellers green, orange and red in turn.

And so this is Christmas.

“Bev!” Susan’s voice, coming from behind her, slurred into her ear. “Got any fags left?”

“Nah,” said Bev.

Because she was sick of everyone stealing her cigs. Why could they not buy their own? They all earned more than she did.

Susan spun off, lurching into the next tall table, where the warehouse boys had accumulated a stack of pint and shot glasses. They rattled dangerously and she could hear the little lad with the shaved head, who looked not much older than her own grandson, Eddie, shout, “Watch it!” at Susan’s retreating leather-clad arse.

Bev thought of Eddie and smiled. Eddie, always looking so smart in his school uniform, in the pictures her daughter Liz sent her every year. His ears slightly sticking out through his hair, which he kept quite long, although smartly cut and neatly brushed. Probably kept it long because of the ears. Her husband John’s ears, she thought. Funny the way genetics work. John had been gone for ten years, yet here was a feature of him, still out in the world. She’d have to mention that to Liz when she called on Christmas Day. Although it would nearly be over for Liz out in Sydney, by the time they talked, she supposed.

Probably wouldn’t feel like Christmas out there with all that sunshine.

She should go home. Her legs felt heavy. She sighed as she remembered that the lift was broken, again. It would have been so nice to be going home to the old house, but that would be long gone. “Slum housing,” the man from the council had called it when he knocked on her door that day, handing her the eviction notice. I mean. It wasn’t perfect by any means. The old lean-to at the back would let in an Arctic gale and there was no heating in the kitchen. The lino was peeling in the bathroom and the rooms were tiny. But there was happiness in its bones. Bev smiled at the memory of Liz, slamming the door and running down the hill giggling with the neighbours’ kids to school. And John, trying to work out what the Monroes were arguing about this time, with a glass to the wall.

In the new block, nobody knew her name. She could look out of her 7th-floor window and get the sense of life, bustling, below. But she didn’t feel a part of it.

It would be lonely, this Christmas.

Bev checked her watch, gathered her things, and had a word with herself. “Sentimental old goose,” she said, under her breath. John would have told her that. But squeezed her hand as he said it, so she would know it was kindly meant. She got down quickly from the stool, grabbed her coat from the back of it, straightened up, and headed towards the exit.

The bus stop was just over the road. She tried not to catch her heels in the cobblestones. The sound of the passing cars was amplified by the rain and narrow streets, bouncing off the tall buildings, accompanied by distorted shouts and laughter as the pubs started to turn out.

She managed to get a spot under the shelter and reached into her bag for her cigs and lighter.

“Bev!” a voice, coming from over the road.

Bev squinted her eyes to see who was calling. It was young Jenny, coatless, holding the red tinsel above her head in a feeble attempt at keeping the rain at bay. She watched as several cars splashed Jenny’s bare ankles as she waited to cross the road towards her.

“Jenny,” said Bev, when Jenny arrived, shivering, under the shelter. “You’re going to catch your death in that!” What was it with young girls these days, going out without a coat in December? Didn’t have the common sense they were born with.

Jenny didn’t reply but leaned her head on Bev’s shoulder.

“Is just like Polish winter here today!” said Jenny. “I feel like I am home.”
“Well, if home means getting bloody double pneumonia while waiting for the bus, you can keep it.”

“Ha!” said Jenny. “You are funny Bev. I always say so. To Trevor. Trevor, I say, that Bev is so funny. She has life experience Trevor, I say. Worth weight in gold.”
Bev smiled, in spite of herself.

“Ah, go on with you.”

She offered Jenny a cig.

“I don’t smoke, Bev. I am not stupid. Cold, yes, but no death wish.”
Bev shrugged. “Don’t make no difference to me, now, love. Long past the time, I should’ve stopped.”

She looked up and the 247 was rounding the corner.

“Well, this is me.”

Jenny’s face lit up.

“Me too!” She hooked her arm into Bev’s.

The bus was packed, but the two women pushed their way on, both grabbing a handrail in the aisle. Bev, being shorter, held lower down and Jenny higher up. Condensation fogged the windows but the stops were announced on a display screen, as the bus began to lurch its way out of town. At the main station stop, the bus emptied a little and Jenny darted sideways to secure them a double seat. The bus let out a hydraulic hiss and trundled on.

Both women sat with their thoughts as the warmth from the heaters at their feet began to creep up their legs. Bev unbuttoned her coat slightly. Jenny stopped shivering.
After about 20 minutes, the bus rounded the corner towards the new estate. Both women reached for the stop button at the same time.

“Oh!” said Jenny.

“You stalking me?” said Bev.

“Why I not seen you here on the bus before?” said Jenny.

“I think I get in a bit earlier than you, most mornings, love,” said Bev, not unkindly.

Uninvited, Jenny slipped her arm again into Bev’s. They got off the bus, Jenny a bit steadier now, and walked slowly towards the large blocks; pockmarked by squares of light from some of the windows that were set in uniform squares on the dark façade.

“Are you here for Christmas?” asked Jenny.

“I am, yes,” replied Bev.

Jenny looked at the floor for a moment. The clack of two pairs of heels was the only sound in the night. A faint smell of the communal bins reached them as they approached the first tower.

After a while, Bev said, “Do you have a family here, Jenny?”

“No, no, not me. Not yet. I hope to. One day.”

Bev looked up at the dim light that was shining on the 7th floor. Imagined her Christmas tree, freshly decorated with the decorations that she and John had gone to buy from the market, all those years ago. A salt dough angel, made by Liz, crowning its top.

“Would you like to come up for a glass of sherry?”

Jenny smiled.

“Yes please, Bev, I would like that a lot.”

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