I walked down the street. The rain was coming down like an angry shower. I was wetter than I’d ever been in my life. My trousers were so wet that they were pulling at the waist. My shoes had started letting in water about four streets back and squelched with every step I took. I walked on ignoring my discomfort. Not long and I’d be home.
Home. It’s a strange word isn’t it. It’s a word that normally brings a smile. Makes you feel comfortable. Loved. It’s a haven, where no one can touch you. Home. All that had vanished for me four months ago. There was no one waiting for me to return. No warm cuppa waiting to wrap my hands around. No one to run me a bath. No one that cared if I were soaked to my skin or not. No, home had become a desolate place.
Even my cat Tobias seemed to prefer my neighbour’s house to the soulless place that home had become. Perhaps soulless was too strong a word. There were too many memories there. That’s what it was. Too much laughter radiating from the walls. Too many photographs that rained down their displeasure on me.
I stopped outside the dark blue front door that was in desperate need of a coat of paint, that I hadn’t felt the inclination to give it during summer. Somewhere inside my bag were the house keys. The bag however had eaten them and refused to spit them back out. I started removing items, until I’d run out of hands. At the bottom sat my keys. They jingled together as I put my purse in my mouth and grabbed them. Was the jingle some type of key laughter? Another joke to play on someone that no longer saw the funny side.
I dumped everything inside my bag and opened the door. The heating had already clicked on and I found myself cocooned in its warmth. I locked the door, pulled the curtain across and started to peel off my clothes. There was no one but me, so it didn’t matter what I wore, or didn’t wear. I hung my coat on the radiator as I picked up the wet clothes that I’d struggled to get out of. I’d nearly lost my balance as I’d tried to take my right leg out of my trousers. I’d danced around the hall trying to gain my balance as I’d tugged my foot free. My bones had creaked and complained, as I’d jostled with the garment.
Without any thought to separating colours I threw everything in the washer, filled the compartments with detergent and conditioner and switched it on. I looked round the kitchen noting that at some point Tobias had been home and eaten his breakfast. Was I that miserable that not even the cat wanted to be around me anymore? Not a nice thought.
I’d smiled and laughed my way through the morning, putting on the best happy mask I could find, so that no one would feel the sadness that hung over me. I’d helped out serving Christmas dinner to the homeless, happy to escape once the food and clearing up had finished. Before anyone could ask what I was doing for the rest of the day. I couldn’t keep the happy act up forever, and was sick of everyone asking how I was doing. Pretty crap, how about you? No better to keep my feelings to myself and put on my best Christmas smile.
Sighing, I started to walk upstairs to the bathroom. The cuckoo clock cooed out four tweets. Was it too early to put on my pajamas? On the other hand, who cared. I walked into the bathroom turned on the shower and allowed the water to warm up as I went into the bedroom and picked up my pajamas. I didn’t stop to look at the oversized bed, which had only gotten bigger these last few months, instead I turned out the light and walked into the bathroom. Steam engulfed me and I disappeared into it.
Minutes later, dressed in my pajamas, I walked downstairs to find Tobias sitting at the foot of the stairs. He blinked at me before letting out an ear-piercing meow. Must be feeding time.
“Ok, ok, I’m getting there.”
Tobias must have felt that I wasn’t walking fast enough and let out yet another screech. His ginger and white striped body followed me into the kitchen, as we battled for floor space. Why do cats always want the same floor space as you? It certainly wasn’t helping me get to his food any faster.
I picked up the packet from the cupboard. “Christmas dinner, well at least one of us will be eating turkey this Christmas.” Tobias blinked at me. Probably wondering when I was going to finish talking and serve up the food.
The kitchen quietened as Tobias ate. I walked into the living room. Without thinking I leant over and switched on the Christmas tree lights. As I sat down in the oversized chair that was next to the radiator and stared at the lights. Again, I questioned why I had put the bloomin thing up in the first place. There was only me, well, and Tobias, but I didn’t think that the cat was bothered if it was up or not.
I sat there for a long time staring at the lights as they phased in and out slowly on a runner. The tree ornaments shined under the lights. The angel on top seemed to look at me in exasperation. I frowned back at her. I wasn’t going to change to please an angel.
The shadows on the walls seemed to be consumed by the oncoming darkness. My eyelids were feeling heavy and were starting to close. An ornament fell off the tree. It rolled forward towards me. I watched it roll its way across the carpet. It stopped at the chair where I sat. Strange!
I sat looking at for a bit. I wasn’t sure what I expected it to do. It sat there, no more rolling. I bent and picked it up. Its green body was illuminated every now and again by the tree lights. Along the bottom was a year, 1978. For Forty years, I had snuggled up with Brian thinking I’d had it all.
Now, I had nothing. Only memories that pierced at my heart and constantly reminded me how much I had lost. I’d spent months and months as the family had busied, getting ready for Christmas, dreading today. I’d managed to smile and tell them that I was ok, even if Tobias had walked out the room in disgust at my words. Luckily no one had noticed.
Old age isn’t a problem, not really. The bones don’t move like they used to, and I no longer dashed around the place as I once did. With Brian at my side, old age had been a comfortable thing. We had each other. I’d enjoyed getting old with Brian. Sitting on the sofa at night, snuggled up together. Nowadays my bones seemed to feel the cold more. My arthritis complained more than it ever had, and I hated being old.
I got up and went to put the ornament back on the tree. It had its very own spot. Each Christmas it had adorned the tree in the same spot, and each Christmas Brian had laughed at me. It had become a bit of a joke between us. Brian would move it, wait and see how long it took me to notice. Sounds silly now when I thought about it. I looked at the green ornament. Funny how it had been this one that had fallen off the tree and rolled towards me.
I placed the ornament back on the tree where it belonged. My arms fell at my sides as I looked at it. For the first time in I don’t know how long a smile tugged at my lips.
“You silly old fool. The ornament belongs there, not on the floor. When are you going to learn Brian? Now stop moving it.”
I looked around the room. A warmth fell over me. A memory came back to me. Brian and I had only been married three years. It was 1981. The living room didn’t look much different than it did now. Brian was sitting in the chair I’d just vacated. He was looking at me, eyebrows meeting his hair line.
“Anyone would think that Santa really existed the way you’re carrying on.” I’d looked at Brian in shock.
“No, I won’t hear it. Don’t you start with that rubbish of yours. Telling me there’s no such thing as Santa. Why he’s as important to Christmas, as the turkey, and the presents. Without Santa, well, there just couldn’t be a Christmas. No presents. No shrieks of joy. Parents would get a lie in. You know Brian, Santa brings Christmas alive. He brings a smile to everyone’s face. He’s magic. Just like Christmas is magic. Can’t you feel it?”
Brian had looked at me. “You know Annie, you just might have something there. The first time I saw you it was on Christmas day.”
I’d smiled back at him. “I hope that I never forget how special Christmas is and everything that it has brought me.”
The memory snapped away. I found myself back in the living room. There was no Brian. Just me. I shook my head. Silly old fool that I was. When had I stopped feeling the magic of Christmas. When had I started letting my misery at losing Brian make me lonely. I walked over to the chair. It smelt of Brian. He wasn’t gone, he was still with me. My eyes may no longer be able to see him, but it didn’t mean that he was no longer with me. I’d needed that memory to remind me that not everything in life has to be seen to be felt. I closed my eyes. Tobias jumped up onto my knee for the first time since Brian had died. I stroked his soft coat. He purred in pleasure.
“Happy Christmas Brian.” I whispered. “Happy Christmas my love.”
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
Remembering Christmas looks at loss and how it affects us. Sometimes grief can consume us to the point where memories trigger a negative emotion. Life becomes a ghostly burden. Remembering Christmas is about accepting our grief and discovering that not everything needs to be seen to be felt. Believing once more in the magic of Christmas.
Kathleen Harryman was raised in Goole, in England and moved to The City of York as a teenager with her family. Though she has lived in many places, nothing is more special to her than The City of York. York is a very cultural place, rich in history and surrounded by the most breath-taking scenery. It is hard not to live there and feel inspired. This could be why most of Kathleen’s books are set within York, and its surrounding areas. Kathleen had always loved pretending to be an author as a child, and would enjoy writing down her stories, and pretending that they were books. Kathleen’s dreams of becoming an author came into fruition when her first book was published in 2015. She continues to write across genres, releasing psychological thrillers, suspense, poetry and romance books.