It should be different but it’s not. It’s been so long a time since here and then that he is somewhat surprised when he still walks to the fridge the moment she leaves for a nightshift at the local hospital. It’s Christmas eve… one more sleep ‘til the dutiful visits are performed and suddenly, in his 50’s there is no magic. There is no illusion of contentment nor any imaginary alternatives. The absence of animals and children leave this house empty of the happy urgency that is selfless care and consideration. Only now, here, as was then, as many years ago, comes self-loathing and the darkness which should be under the tree instead of in his head. Only now, is he alone.
Echoes of Dickensian ghosts live in the television, in old movies and in the sound of a caller online that he chooses to ignore as he wanders through rooms, consuming yesterday’s left-over rice. He wishes there were more sweets in the house. The paint is cracking, as he looks above his head, his legs draped over the arm of the chair in their yellow painted lounge. He loves the colour yellow but at this particular moment, it just serves to mask square rooms and institutional long corridors he once found so charming. Once, when they were younger, when sex was spontaneous, when work was an inconvenience to their passion and not a necessity for bills and payments, that’s when yellow stole from the sun and spread itself over hot toast, summer dresses and the walls of their lounge.
He’d had a son once, but children leave and if you’re really unlucky they die and then you get to keep them in your heart at that ideal age of innocence. Justin had made it to five. It was so stupid, but he’d slipped, skipping at the edge of the pond and hit his head. Hardly a scratch but that tousled blond haired explorer never woke again. He knew he had to continue to feel lucky. If he didn’t, he would go mad. Perhaps, he already had.
The next day will be Christmas and sitting around a table there will be no joy in present opening, of that, he was sure. He knew he would have to smile and nod at the banalities of difference. Perhaps it will be a time to take the last few amphetamines he has in the back of the cupboard. He smiled. Now that was a ghost of London, of partying and drug taking for leisure and pleasure. He was lucky to have been able to afford it. The early 1990’s, a different sense of reckless and feckless, and it had taken away the pain of Justin’s absence.
She, on the other hand, had always waited for him, patiently. Never complaining or reminding him. She was glad to see him home and in return he had been faithful to her. Not in time but in body. That was the contract. Check the clock.
When she had chosen nursing, he had assumed that it was her way to care for children but she had stayed in aged care and returned home night after night with stories of childlike behaviour that would make him smile and they would hold each other, perhaps against the reality of decrepitude, forgetting for an instance that it would happen to them one day. Now she works. They sleep better that way but she has grown distant, and he makes a mental note to show her some affection, to tell her he loves her more often.
Pacing around the house he sees the empty frame on the wall and can’t remember which picture it used to hold. Strange that it sits in that position – and suddenly the asylum comes to him, the Novena celebrations with the Colombians, family and partial friends. He remembers watching Justin when he was first walking. The sense of adventure and discovery that his tiny face used to respond to with a broad toothless smile. His wife had looked so beautiful then, hair naturally straight, deep chestnut; both of them younger. Why was the picture missing?
Nothing in the fridge to eat. He knows his waistline doesn’t need to add any more. He’s sure she went shopping yesterday but where has it all gone? The brain flickers to the image of himself in the mirror unkempt, dishevelled and no longer the boy who made daisy chains in a field behind his grandmother’s greenhouse. Who is he kidding? Each thought is a ghost and the closer they move towards dawn, the stronger and more vivid they become. The tangling of a fourth dimension pulls out from him the sense of the stripe within the pyjama leg.
She is there beside him. He looks up in surprise. She is early today. Unusual. But for the first time in many years, he feels pulled back to where they once were. She kisses his forehead, smooths his hair and with pleading eyes, leads him to bed where without words a space is carved on the mattress and for the first time in a very long time their bodies breathe together. Eyelids are kissed and necks caressed. Each particle of dust that had developed between them melts in the heat of their exchanges and he falls asleep with his head on her stomach and the smell of her inside his nose.
The first thing he feels as he opens his eyes on Christmas Day is a sense of peace. He barely notices the bedsheets which lie uncreased beneath him. He barely notices that her shoes are not tucked at the end of the bed. He has no need for conjecture. She arrived in the early hours. Shoes would not have been a priority. Furthermore, each moment of sleep had transported him back to a place where love and walls were all encompassing, all securing and safe. He played again in that first light how thirty years of sadness had run through each touch until all had been removed. Thirty years of needing and wanting and today, as the Christmas light drew closer, he had found it again.
It is with some confusion, when the police on his doorstep are received to announce …
Text: This Christmas by JL Nash © December 2021
Images: Predrag Pajdic © 2021