Christmas Eve. I have been sitting in the dark watching forgettable TV and feeling sorry for myself. My sister phones me from Canada.
We talk about family matters for a while. Practical matters. She is distracted by her husband who, despite advanced cancer, is determined to drag the washing machine back into position after re-tiling the kitchen floor. Go and help him – you can phone me back. But no, he’s a man and he Doesn’t Need Help.
She tells me she is going to have to entertain one of her husband’s work colleagues and family on Boxing Day. Last time they saw me I was a weepy mess, she says. It’s embarrassing.
Think yourself on the other side of it, I counsel, knowing I couldn’t do so myself. Remind yourself that it’s only a few hours and then they will be gone. How many hours can they stay?
Well, now they’ve got the two-year-old to think of, maybe five hours…
Five hours! I think.
Five hours! she says.
Maybe you can have a few excuses lined up – things that will get you out of the room for twenty minutes here and there… I’ve run out of inspiration.
We turn to the subject of my solo Christmas Day. I’ll be on my own, Mum being unexpectedly in hospital with a broken hip. Would probably have been on my own anyway, Mum having been in the home since April or thereabouts. Somehow or other I haven’t planned for it. Why didn’t I think to volunteer to muck cats out at the local sanctuary? I know the answer – the cats would be pleased to see me but the worthy women at the cat sanctuary wouldn’t. They would look at me askance as people – and particularly women – tend to do. I was born without the ability to Bond.
We talk about our other sister – how come two sisters can never have a conversation without talking about the third? She will have her family around her – her partner, her daughter and ‘the boys’, ie her son and his partner. We think/hope maybe it won’t be as jolly and wonderful as it sounds. They’ll probably get fractious and bored. The boys will probably wander off somewhere. Couldn’t cope with all those people ourselves, etc. Not that sociable.
But it would have been nice to have had the option.
If we’d been in the same country, she says, you would have been coming to us for Christmas. It would have been only natural, the two childless ones.
Yes, I say. Or we might have taken it in turns to invite?
I am comforted, inspired even, by the thought of the succession of Canadian Christmases we might have had. I remember my one and only trip to Canada back in the ‘eighties. It was Christmas then. There were plastic reindeer galloping merrily across every front garden (or should it be yard?) and plastic Santas attempting to squeeze themselves down non-existent chimneys. Fake snow decorated every window, real snow fell ‘snow on snow’ into the garden and creatures that might have been squirrels or maybe skunks looped their way along the tops of boundary fences. It would have been nice to be there every Christmas.
It would have been nice…
A bit of a long paddle, though. She is talking about the Atlantic.
She goes on talking and I suppose I am listening and making the appropriate replies, but also I am imagining myself walking on water, skimming the Atlantic Ocean on foot, only it isn’t icy cold and mind-bogglingly, Titanic-sinkingly deep like the real Atlantic but shallow and warm. Yes, I am that woman in the Dior perfume ad – Charlize whatever – and I am slender and young and wearing a gold dress so tiny and yet so beautiful it seems part of me. Water glistens down my throat, and the sun catching it and glinting off it, and I am perfumed and mysterious and splashing my way across calm waters towards a golden sunset.