An Alternative Christmas Tale
During the last couple of years I've rarely written anything, but this week I was inspired by the comment of a friend, and fired up the laptop once more. Hopefully the New Year will be a better period for writing for me... (And yes this is partially autobiographical).
Mike looked at the empty space in the corner that in previous years would have been filled with a Christmas tree and presents. The tree and decorations now stayed firmly in the cupboard under the stairs, where the memories each piece held couldn’t hurt him.
He sipped his tea even though it had already started to go cold. For a second, he was overwhelmed with thoughts of years gone by that assaulted him, memories that as always were bittersweet. He looked out the window to the garden and saw a robin perching on the Ficus bush, ready to dive and catch some breakfast. He smiled remembering that somebody had once told him that Robins were a sign that someone who had died was visiting you. “Yeah right,” he muttered turning his head towards the hallway where he heard footsteps.
“Hello sleepyhead,” he said setting his tea aside.
“Don’t worry you haven’t missed breakfast.”
Seeing her dad and hearing the word breakfast Mike’s aging Labrador jogged a little faster into the living room and on arriving at Mike’s side nuzzled his arm.
“OK, ok,” he laughed, “I get the message. Come on then old girl, breakfast time.”
Standing up he whistled and called his other dog. “Breakfast in five,” he shouted. “Meat and biscuits, my speciality, and as it’s a special day maybe a little tuna too.”
As he opened the cupboard to take out the biscuits Mike’s other dog came scampering through and starting wiggling around his legs. “Heard the biscuit tin then?” he asked as he bent to scragg the pup’s ears.
Opening the can at arm’s length he tipped some of the contents into each of the dogs’ bowls. The smell of the tuna was not for him although it set the dogs off in their usual pre-food frenzy. Next he added some biscuits, ‘pienso’ as they say round here’ he thought, and put the bowls on the kitchen floor in the usual places.
“Steady, steady,” he grumbled at them both, whilst knowing that they wouldn’t slow down until they had cleaned the bowls. “And today a special treat… but first I need to get my shoes on,” he added as he headed towards the bedroom.
He was going through the usual struggle of tying his shoelaces and muttering about aging and his back when both dogs came running through and jumped on the bed. Peppi crossed the bed in a couple of leaps and promptly burped in Mike’s face, while Duddles, the lab madly rolled around on her back kicking the duvet aside and one of the pillows onto the floor.
“Every bloody day,” Mike commented. “You, fat boy, have the manners of an Essex Navvy, and you, old girl, seem to delight in creating extra work for me, you’re completely crazy, you know that?”
He threw the pillow back on the bed, on Duddle’s head and grabbed his coat. “Anyone want to go in the car?” he asked. This question was met with excited yips as both dogs ran into the hallway to stand in front of the coatrack where their leads were hanging.
Grabbing the leads and putting the dogs’ harnesses on Mike was seized by more memories of years past and had to straighten up and catch his breath. “Fuck,” he whispered.
Moments later all three were safely belted into the car and on their way to the beach. A walk on the beach for Christmas morning had always been a tradition since they had moved to Spain all those years ago. They couldn’t believe how lucky they were to have sun and enough warmth to be able to stroll along hand in hand while the dogs gambolled in the waves. In the last five years Mike’s life had changed dramatically but he still kept up this tradition, but solo now, partly because the dogs loved it, and partly because it helped him cope and feel connected to the past.
At the beach Mike let the dogs out and they ran straight into the surf. He laughed as he watched them, but as he closed the car door and looked over its roof to where he used to see a face smiling back at him his breath caught again, and this time he couldn’t stop a tear from escaping. “Silly old sod,” he told himself as he locked the car and joined the dogs on the sand.
After having walked up and down the beach a couple of times Mike decided it was time enough, and called the dogs to him. He clipped them both on their leads and headed up the beach to the prom. The dogs seemed to know where they were going as they pulled on their leads, but not to the car as one would expect, but to a favourite café that looked out over the sea.
Like the beach, the café terrace was pretty much deserted. Mike nodded to the other couple of customers and returned the ‘Feliz Fiestas’ greetings. He grabbed a chair near the back and settled himself and the dogs. From his pocket he retrieved a couple of treats for them to chew on while he enjoyed a coffee.
“Café con leche, muy caliente?” the waiter asked as he sidled up to the table making Mike jump a little, ‘White coffee, very hot?’. “Happy Christmas” he added switching to English, as he grabbed Mike’s shoulder. “I miss him tambien.”
Mike nodded as the tears filled his vision once more. He grabbed the waiter’s hand which was still resting on his shoulder. “Yo se” was all he could manage, ‘I know’.
The waiter nodded back and went inside to fetch Mike’s coffee. Under the table the dogs were enjoying their treats.
As soon as his coffee arrived Mike took a sip and slipped back into his reverie of years gone-by. He hadn’t wanted to be the one left behind, and now wouldn’t mind if he simply didn’t wake up one morning, although he also knew he had to be there for the dogs. This time of year was one of the worst for him, a time they had once both enjoyed was now forever coloured with pain. He always got invitations from his friends to join them and their families, but that was the sticking point; their families.
His immediate family was now him alone, and the dogs. His family back in the UK were all busy with their own lives, which was only natural and which he had pretty much come to terms with. Even his best friends back there were more and more distant, some having fell by the wayside some time before. He guessed that was only natural too and thanked his lucky stars he had made some good friends in his new hometown, but as always they were all away with family in different parts of the country for the holidays, so here he sat alone and remembered better times.
For a moment he could almost feel his too-long departed husband’s presence but knew it was only his imagination. Just in case he turned slightly to the chair beside him, “Merry Christmas, I still love you,” he whispered, and as he held the arm of his chair he was almost sure he felt another hand slide over his and give it a gentle squeeze.
“Ojala,” he said sadly; ‘if only…’