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.