The nights before Christmas
On the 12th day of Christmas Jenny decided not to send cards for the first time in 20 years.
She ripped up the list and threw out her address book. She gave a donation to Amnesty International and this year aimed to save any cards she received from people she was only in contact with once annually. That way she could display them ever after and never buy or send another one again.
On December 22nd she emailed her children, brother, sister-in-law and their four teenage offspring scattered across the country stating she would not be available this Christmas due to Unforeseen Pleasurable Circumstances. She didn’t elaborate. The recipients would be shocked, unforgiving and furious. Jenny turned off the computer and pulled the plug on the phone. She left her mobile on silent and in the bread bin where she wouldn’t forget it in the New Year.
On the 23rd Jenny donated all her cookbooks to Oxfam and felt thrilled with the relief of no more wrestling with huge over-stuffed turkey, salting great sides of fatty ham and fiddling with pink, slippery salmon. Usually, at this stage, cakes, mince-pies, puddings and bread sauce were all ready, slaved over since November. Now the cupboard was satisfyingly bare and the house smelled of sea breeze candles rather than sausages and goose fat.
The night before Christmas and all through the house was empty of glitter and quiet as a mouse. She mulled over her alternative tale with beans on toast and a glass of whisky large enough to kill a small dog. Carol singers came and went. Later, drunken songs floated down the road with carousers from the pub and midnight service. Someone threw up outside. The flakes of snow covered any intoxicating evidence.
They’d all still arrive tomorrow, she mused, not one of them computing for a minute she would not be there smiling with scarlet apron and wooden spoon to the ready. They’d want to kick-back and for three days be fed up to the gills, topped with booze, crackers pulled, hats on and lie up to their necks in Satsuma skins and wrapping paper while watching wall-to-wall TV as Jenny wilted and waited on them hand and foot.
On Christmas morning Jenny left a letter on the scrubbed table. They had spare keys to her house and would still descend en-mass, so this way they’d know she meant business. She picked up her haversack and tucked away her Fiesta in a cul-de-sac on the edge of the village. She walked in her new fur-lined boots for two hours over the virtually empty landscape of dazzling white fields and snow-topped hills where a few wrapped-up dog walkers wished her Merry Christmas. She smiled and thought,’Yes it damn well is.’
An egret, white as snow, lifted itself up on outstretched wings. Jenny thought it was like watching an icicle fly. It lifted her heart to see it float off beneath a pearly pink and blue sky.
Through frosty woods she arrived at the old oak door of the cosy one-bed thatched cottage with woodsmoke curling from the chimney. It was tucked amongst willow trees by a burbling ice-rimed river dotted with mute swans and cackling ducks. In the field, two friendly chestnut horses whinnied; their tails swishing and hot breath clouding the air. A kestrel soared and swooped down for a rabbit that ducked at the last second into its frozen burrow. Fox prints sparkled in the ice on the salted path.
And there he was. Her Unforeseen Circumstance. Beckoning as he balanced a pile of books they’d chosen. The beguiling man she’d planned this escape with; all smiling blue eyes, dark jeans and cashmere black sweater.
There was no TV, no phone, no mobile reception and it was snugly theirs until January 2nd when the madness was over. He lit the log burning stove while she rifled through the hamper of luxury food he had brought for the duration. She found herself humming. He opened the ice-cold bottle of champagne from the well-stocked fridge and filled tall crystal glasses until bubbles foamed over. She laughed until tears ran down her face.
‘Happy Christmas’, he toasted later in the wide soft bed. And it was.