Winter Music

My dear friend TBall is currently undergoing chemotherapy. It must be a terribly frightening thing for her to go through, yet she acts with such grace.

I have written her a Christmas story as my way of wishing her well.

This one’s for you, Terry.

I know you can get through this very difficult time…….

Joe said Marlo talked too much. Gab gab gab all day long. One day he got sick of all the gabbing and just packed his bags and left. ‘I need some peace and quiet,’ he threw at her from the stairwell.

Marlo saw him three weeks later in the deli with Katie Mitchell. She talked incessantly over a cheese and watercress sandwich, spitting tiny little bits of cress over her white shirt. Joe looked down in the dumps, like a man resigned to the fact he would never get any peace and quiet.

Marlo supposed she should feel sorry for him but he had left her after three years together just because for one week she talked a bit. It was ridiculous.

He should have been glad she was talking. It was better than all of the weeping she had done for the last 18 months. She had cried so much that by the end of it her tears felt like wet earth on her cheeks.

Her father had died 18 months ago. Her best friend. Her everything. He had raised her since she was four when her mother had died. Marlo realised she was an orphan now. A 28 year old orphan. The word had a hollow ring to it, like someone expelling air through pursed lips.

She should have felt sorry for Joe but she didn’t. She didn’t care if he left. It was actually a relief. Since her father was gone nothing mattered. Nothing at all.

The Christmas lights were blinking in the street. They filled her apartment with a red and green haze. She heard carolers below singing Hark The Herald Angels Sing and felt sick. it was her father’s favourite.

Peace on earth and mercy mild

God and sinners reconciled

What a joke, Marlo thought. Like that’s ever going to happen.

Marlo had been getting to know herself since her father had passed. Her apartment had been in the family for three generations but it had never truly felt like hers. She had been a lodger in furnished rooms but now that the apartment was wholly hers she was being forced to reassess how she felt about it.

In the mornings she confronted the heavy silver cutlery her mother had favoured. Out of deference to her memory, her father had insisted they use it at every meal even though it was easily tarnished and so heavy it often chipped the breakfast bowls.

You have to go, she said. I need something lighter that I can put in the dishwasher.

Next it was time to glare at the velvet and brocade cushions on the sofa, so full of dust they had changed from their original deep red to almost black.

You too, she said. I am smothered by your dust.

And that was how Marlo spent the next few days, cataloguing things that were staying and things that were going. It was a spring clean of sorts. In the middle of winter.

At night the loneliness crept in, easing under the doors like fog. Her chest grew tight with it. It was hard to believe all the people in her life had gone. Her grandmother, her mother, her father. Joe. Sometimes she shook her head, wishing it was not so, but the loneliness remained and she sat in the dark with her night thoughts that she had no hope of holding on to.

It was the music that drew her first. She thought it was one of the carolers. Rehearsing. She hadn’t realised any of them lived close by.

It was singing so pleasing it was crystal bells tinkling in a soft wind. It filled her with such hope she almost wept.

Marlo drew back the curtains and peered out into the dark. There was a fine layer of frost on the windows, feathery as torn lace. In the apartment opposite hers she saw a light on, warm as amber. She was sure the singing was coming from there. She had never noticed before that someone lived there. She had assumed the apartment was empty, but then she was not prone to gazing out the windows at night.

Joyful all ye nations rise

Join the triumph of the skies

Marlo peered and peered, trying to catch a glimpse of the singer. Her voice was celestial in its beauty, Marlo assumed she must be a professional. She gently tapped the window, hoping the frost would fall away; and then she saw it, extended like the limb of a tree coated in snow, the tender curve of a wing.

Marlo pulled back from the window as if she had witnessed a crime. She was gasping and shaking.

This cannot be, she thought. The woman must be an actor or a dancer. That’s it, she’s in  a Christmas play. If I wait long enough I shall see her on the street, hailing a cab, her wings tucked under her arms. Of course, that’s it. There are no such things as angels.

The next morning was Christmas Eve. Marlo noticed a brightness in the air. Birds were singing and swooping through the hot air rising from the vents on the buildings in the city. She saw a group of children wearing reindeer antlers and telling everyone who cared to listen that they were just like Rudolph.

As she waited in line for her morning latte, she got into conversation with an elderly couple in front of her who were celebrating their sixtieth year together. They were as happy and giggly as teenagers in the first glow of affection.

A boy who looked like he was about ten years old was busking outside the bookshop. He was playing Angels We Have Heard On High with great flourish on the violin. He had drawn a crowd. Marlo felt as proud of his prowess as if he were her own child.

She bought a turkey breast seasoned with sage butter, new potatoes, asparagus, some smoked ham and a bottle of French champagne and went home. She would cook tonight so she could spend Christmas day eating and watching television.

Christ by highest Heav’n adored

Christ the everlasting Lord

The woman was singing again. Marlo found that she didn’t want to look but that she couldn’t help herself.

The woman, the singer, the angel, stood in front of the window. Her wings were unfurled. The window was illumined with gilded orange. Snow was falling in confetti clusters. Marlo placed her hand on the glass trying to count the flakes as they fell as she had done as a child.

The angel saw and looked. Straight into Marlo’s soul. Marlo was struck by the terrifying power of her beauty.

The angel held out her hands and sang –

Hark ! The Herald Angels sing

Glory to the newborn King

The snow began to fall more thickly. The world was white ice. It became difficult to see. There was a feeling of movement as if a small bird had flown close to her face. Then a sensation of peace.

Marlo cooked her turkey. Ate some of the ham. Made a cup of tea. For the first time since her father had died the loneliness shrank back into the woodwork. It felt like the spirit of Christmas was a distinct possibility. She went to bed dreaming of the songs of angels.


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17 thoughts on “Winter Music

  1. Oh, dear Selma, I will be thinking of your friend and wishing for the best. Last year, at this time, my good friend’s sister was in the beginnings of battling breast cancer on top of being a diabetic and she is cancer free!!!
    Such a wonderful story for your friend, you wrote. You are the type of friend I’d like in real life.

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  2. Selma, love your description..”There was a fine layer of frost on the windows, feathery as torn lace.”

    The holidays are very difficult for those who have experienced the loss of family members or those facing great struggles currently. I agree with GeL..it’s wonderful of you to write a story for a friend.

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  3. Selma, how lovely you are. I hope the story helps your friend get through what must be an awful time.

    Your story has many nice images-in particular:
    ‘At night the loneliness crept in, easing under the doors like fog’
    I like this, it’s like the loneliness has become a creature and you carry that metaphor until the end which is nice-‘the loneliness shrank back into the woodwork’.

    I’m inspired by the spring clean- don’t we just hold onto things that we think keep our loved ones nearer- but they don’t do they?

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  4. wonderful story, she may be alone but she’s still hopeful and I like the idea of angels around at her darkest hour, sort of a sign that maybe her life won’t be so sad after all

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  5. resplendent – hope in the face of darkness with imagery vibrating a harmonic in sync with the layers of meaning here – so artful and rich – such a wonderful gift for Terry – and all your readers

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  6. Sending you and Tball big hugs and my sincere best wishes for the new year. I think we could all use a little good news….

    Lovely, eloquent story Selma, well done.

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  7. GEL – I am so glad to hear your good friend’s sister is now cancer free. That is brilliant. I hope and pray it will be the same story for Terry. Thank you for your very kind words.

    VIC – thank you so much.

    DAN – you’re so right. The holidays can be very tough for many people. I think a lot of people are feeling it this year. It really is a pleasure for me to write a story for Terry. It’s the least I can do.

    LAURI – I’ve seen lots and lots of people hold onto objects that belonged to people they have lost. I’ve done it too. I still do it. Sometimes we hold onto things that chain us to the past. I guess that’s where the idea of the spring clean came from. So glad you liked it. If this story can help dear TBall in any way, I will be delighted.

    HEATHER – of course I don’t want to make you cry, but if I can move you in that way I am really honoured. Thanks, hon.

    MELEAH – it’s such a shame about TBall. I am praying the treatment will help her. I am thrilled you liked the story!

    LISSA – I think angels would take the sadness away, wouldn’t they? Maybe you’re right, maybe they signify a new life for Marlo.

    KAYT – resplendent is such a beautiful word. So lustrous you can almost taste it. I am so happy to have something I’ve written described in that way. Cheers, Kayt!

    MAITHRI – awwwww, You really do say the sweetest things. Thank you so much!!!!

    KAREN – your wishes are so welcome. It would be such a gift if she completely recovered. I am hopeful.

    GERALDINE – thank you so much for wonderful email. I will reply shortly. Sorry to be so late, it’s been a busy day. We could definitely all do with some good news. Do you hear that spirits of the new year? We only want good news!!!!

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  8. Chemo must be a horrendous ordeal. I’m sorry to hear about this.

    I think we do have angels in our lives – they’re the people who help us get through it all.

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  9. Selma, thank you so much reading this story gave me the chills. It took me a couple of times to get through the story – my concentration is a bit of whack right now and very sleepy! I just loved the imagery, I felt as if I was there listening to the angel singing. This was so beautiful, I know I have an angel in you. I felt like crying after reading this tory just thinking what will this year’s Christmas be like. I’m staying positive and hoping I will be around for amny more.

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  10. I truly believe angels exist Selma and hopefully Tball has one watching over her during this very difficult time. I would like to add my good wishes for a full recovery too.

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  11. RICHARD – I agree, it would be a huge ordeal. I can’t imagine how I would cope. You’re right about the angels – I have met many along the way. They are often the quiet people waiting in the wings who surprise you with their inner strength. It is a treat when they come along!!

    TBALL – I have been lighting a candle every night for you. Sometimes I sit and watch the patterns it throws against the window. I even lit a candle in church yesterday for you – me, one of the fallen. I thought the priest was going to call me a heathen but I told him it was for a dear friend who was ill. He didn’t object, just bowed his head for a moment. Thinking of you, my dear friend. XXXX

    ROMANY – I believe too. I have felt them during really dark times. I really appreciate your kind wishes and I know TBall will too. Thank you.

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  12. Thanks Selma, I think by tomorrow I will be finally feeling more like me and will send you a really really long e-mail LOL I think I have done enough sleeping for now! I can’t seem to find the energy and concentration to sit in front of the computer for too long 😦 I haven’t even designed anything, its just been a lot of zzzzzzzzzz!

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