There was frost in the air. Cold stares. Numb emotions. Icicles pierced words. My ex-husband and I were on our last holiday. We had already separated and were living apart, but this trip had been planned ahead.
I had never seen a White Christmas. I did not know white can have so many shadows.
He agreed to come along on Christmas Eve to my friend’s house. She had ordered pizzas. There was wine. And a Christmas tree. She took out the little gifts I had brought her…we strung papier mache elephants beneath the lights. The anachronism was charming. Her partner smiled too much, my ex smiled a little. Both of us laughed a lot. N and I. After the meal she asked me to help her with the coffee. It was a bright yellow kitchen; the sort of kitchen where sunflowers grow and the sun wants to live. I pinched myself. Remember, this is winter.
She made me stand facing her and shook me up. “What’s wrong?”
“You are faking it. Leave. What are you afraid of? Loneliness? When you look back you will realise that this was the loneliest time in your life.”
It was. But in that yellow room on a winter evening when frost covered us like a blanket I did not know. I only saw elephants under Christmas tree lights that twinkled brightly.
We left. Together. We travelled through cities. Together. Our bags laden with sweaters, mufflers, mittens. Warmth in suitcases. I did the smiling pose near monuments that were dead. I stood erect, I tilted my head, I let my hair fly. I was the model. The model wife!
We took a coach to Edinburgh. It was New Year’s Eve. They have a huge party in the outdoors where bands play music that renders you deaf. It helped. Not having to listen to myself. I was talking to myself. I had to talk to someone.
I don’t know what music was playing. I don’t know if anyone danced. I sat on a bench feeling terribly cold. It was dark and faces were invisible. I pulled my legs close to me and felt like those homeless people you see in the streets. Suddenly, I was almost knocked off. A young kid had drunk too much and from the sloping grass up above he had fallen on the bench on which I sat. An emergency van arrived within minutes. He managed a weak smile. I wondered who needed aid, then.
We veered towards the centre where a large screen showed us what was really happening. There were broken bottles of alcohol on the floor; a few just lay there in repose waiting to roll off someplace. I moved to the corner. Most people were deeply occupied in emptying their bladders. I found my shoes in a dried patch of someone’s remnants.
In little niches of vomit I saw stories of stuff imbibed and undigested. Lives that live for a day and go on to the next. Lives where future is a Maybe.
I was a Maybe, hugged by a woollen jacket, a scarf grazing against my neck.
That year there was no White Christmas. I had to make do with ice forming on lips. Frozen memories that would melt away.