Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve. I watch the families come and go, grandchildren in warm Santa hats and muffled in mittens, daughters and sons, each come to spend an hour in the company of grandmothers, mothers, grandfathers, fathers, uncles and aunts, to show that they care; sharing seasonal greetings, the news and some laughter before they retreat down the wet evening path. They carry gifts wrapped in bright shiny paper and carrier bags filled with seasonal food.

I watch from my window, this coming and going. It’s raining out there. If in the morning I wake early enough while it’s still dark, and I am lucky to look at just the right moment I may see the fox trot up that path and briefly look up.

Shattered Light

She is screaming out in the street again, a crying toddler in her arms. He has tried walking away several times, but he keeps going back to answer her accusations. The kid is crying. They go out of sight towards their house. I hear bin lids crashing and broken glass. Those two look a match for each other.

 Worried about the child more than anything, I call the police. An impersonal voice takes details. I explain what I have seen. I say a toddler is at risk. I give all the details twice.

 I say, ‘They have gone out of sight now, while we have been talking. Gone back to their house.’

 ‘You have an address?’

 ‘No, I don’t. I’m not sure which house is theirs. There are three or four houses in a row. It could be any of them. The back gates are all obscured by trees. So no, I don’t know.’

 ‘We can do nothing then. Call us again if they come back outside.’

 She hangs up on me before I can protest.

Nothing more happens. Not that day. Soon the lamps are on and the street is quiet. I watch the lights flashing and blinking and changing colours on a Christmas tree in a window across the street. I don’t really have room for one in my place.

The next day, I go downstairs and outside. The broken glass turns out to be a smashed light globe on the edge of the communal garden for our block of flats.

 ‘I saw that little shit deliberately hit it as he walked by,’ Eva says. She shrugs as if to say it’s normal. ‘Now the landlords probably won’t replace it for months, like everything else around here.’

 ‘I was worried about the toddler,’ I say, trying to refocus the conversation onto my main concern.

 Eva looks at me as if I am from another planet and says, ‘Yeh, well that one will grow up to be a shit too.’

 I open my mouth to answer and think ‘What’s the point.’  I know she is a racist. Her Carer is from Jamaica. Eva is nice enough to her face. But that’s not what I have heard her saying to neighbours, calling her a monkey.

 You can’t convert total idiots. Especially the ones over eighty. She isn’t my generation. She won’t change now. No point even worrying about her opinions. Not everyone over eighty is a fool, thank god. My mother wasn’t.

Penny’s Desk

Penny was trying to tidy her desk of the piles of stuff that had accumulated since she last did any work. She felt she couldn’t deal with the task at hand until the desk was clear. She looked at the withered poinsettia her mother had given her at Christmas. Like her mother, it had died. This made it hard to throw the plant away. It was the last gift her mother gave her and during the rushes back and forth to the hospital she had neglected it. She shut her eyes a moment and then, closing her mind to sentimentality she tossed it into the bin.

     Next, she looked at the business cards she had carried in her wallet for years when visiting clients. She certainly didn’t need them anymore, though she was proud of the corporate title she had once achieved. Into the bin they went.

     The Tarot pack was gathering thick dust, she wiped it over and put it in the drawer. That Tarot pack had been useful when she was made redundant. It had boosted her income. She had never charged for a tarot reading in her life before, but needs must when the devil drives. Those readings had paid for her groceries for several weeks. She hoped she wouldn’t need to do that again, but the future is always uncertain. She placed the silver locket on top of the pack and closed the drawer.

     She shifted a pile of books and papers and discovered a pack of red hair-dye. That must be well out of date. She gave up dying her hair as soon as she left her job. It was a relief to be able to stop using the dye and watch the grey roots grow longer after she didn’t have to look presentable to clients anymore. Penny was not interested in being presentable these days. Another one for the bin.

Syringa – the white princess.

EPSON DSC picture

The rare smell of syringa drags me back in time to the path that ran through our garden beside a slope. A large syringa tree stood there. As summer ended it dropped damp blossoms all over the path making it slippery. I think it dropped catkins at another time of year, but I may be wrong. My grandfather said the tree had to come down. It was my favourite tree. Like a tall and slender, pretty friend. I begged mercy. Repeatedly and at length. But no. Down it came leaving only a stump in the bed of earth. I was disgusted and shocked. That was the first time someone destroyed a thing I loved.

     My grandad said I could make my own little garden around the stump. We planted primulas and a lot of other little bright flowers. I didn’t love them. I neglected them. That’s how life generally goes.

No Change

I thought he would never change, and I was right. It’s not that easy. Oh, I don’t deny he probably wanted to, well, at times. People say it’s about making new habits and discarding old ones. I expect that’s true on one level. But some habits come from deep rooted places.

     I know that as a child he had, oh, what’s that condition called? Ah yes, meningitis and his father used to hit him round the head with a plastic hairbrush. These days the news is full of the consequences or early head injury, aren’t they? And then of course he moved to the city as a child and at heart you could see he was a country boy. He was so much more relaxed away from towns. He was good with children, cats, horses, and plants. If he had been that nice to me, I would have thought I was in heaven. Instead, I lived in hell.

     People say it’s typical of me that I make excuses for him. It’s not excuses, it’s reasons. Knowing the reasons doesn’t mean that I think what he does to me is acceptable. It’s not. The problem is I can’t get away. People say leave. So naive. I have stopped telling them about it now. They don’t understand the problem.

My Nan

Coffee, toast and three paracetamols were my Nan’s medicinal solution to everything. Ah, no, tea. And it was always aspirin back then. If your throat was sore, she would bring out her special mixture of lemon and paregoric and a little tin of Zoobs. I am not even sure what paregoric is, but I know you aren’t allowed to buy it now. She didn’t give you much sympathy. No coddling. We were just told to go to bed and get on with it but later she would bring up beef broth. I have tried making beef broth over the years but it’s never anything like hers.

My Nan used to crochet blankets made up of little squares and she was quite the wizz with a sewing machine. The clothes she made were better than we got in the shops. She told me her first job was picking pins up off the floor for a dressmaker. She was about twelve. After that she moved on to wrapping parcels. She was always very proud of her ability to wrap a neat parcel with as little brown paper as possible. Granny’s parcel boasts were a bit of a family joke. So were her fairy cakes. My father once said he liked them, so he got them every time we went round.

My brother went to live with her for a while. He said he liked the cheese and tomato sandwich she put in his packed lunch, which was wrapped in a neat grease proof parcel of course. I am sure you can guess what happened. Yes, cheese and tomato sandwiches, every blessed day thereafter.

My Mum used to say my Nan was hard. I think she just had a dry, caustic sense of humour. My Gran was a realist. She made me laugh. The best reassurance she ever dished out was ‘cheer up ducks, it may never happen,’ and I have found that it rarely does, whether you want it to or not.

Coal Dust and Soap Powder

That smell reminds me of winter. In summer the washing was hung on the line, so it smelled of fresh air and sunshine but in winter it was hung over the clothes horse and stood by the fire to air. A coal scuttle stood close to the fire. Coal dust and soap powder, a strange combination, one I am unlikely to smell again but if I did, I would be straight back in that high ceilinged room with the big bay window and red and gold patterned carpet. The carpet was cut up later and put into two smaller rooms.

Sad City

The buildings in that part of town had seen better days. The white paint was peeling from classical porticos, the concrete steps were stained, the tall sash windows needed fresh paint and the curtains that hung limp behind them were worn and in need of a wash. If they were washed, they might fall apart. The trees at the edge of the pavement, too closely hemmed in tried to push up the slabs. I notice a dandelion thrusting its way through a crack by the wall. That made me smile for a moment, but the mood didn’t last. 

I turned and walked into a shabby little park with sparse grass and bare stunted trees. Then I saw her; a misplaced middle aged fairy-tale geisha in a long, fitted, brocade dress that had once been the colour of dark jewels but was now faded and made me think of thick dust. She took small hesitant steps. Her hair was up, piled on her head. Her delicate oriental face and her fragile neck were beautiful but outlined by deeply imbedded smoky grey grime.

I imagined her room in one of those houses, feeling sure she lived alone with her old treasures. I couldn’t imagine her cleaning her room. Why would she bother?

I would have liked to invite her to tea, with full ceremony and grace, but I didn’t approach. I was young then. She must have died long ago. 

His Spirit

If I compared him to a horse, he was sweet natured and easily lead. Faced with aggression he would posture, curl his lip and say grrrrrr. He was a teddy bear. But his wit was as quick as a monkey. His intelligence flashed. His memory was elephantine.

He passed through the doors of perception, almost unscathed, but his sensitivity was heightened until he could barely survive. Cut loose in a field with the gates open wide he ran and was lost from sight. There were too many tigers out there. They sunk their claws in his back.