It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas

It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas

By Christina McLellan

Simon had avoided his elf Louise ever since they had been introduced by the manager of the Christmas Experience.

Oh no he had thought taking in her determinedly jolly demeanour and cheery greeting. I can’t cope with some sad, relentlessly cheerful middle-aged spinster trying to make conversation all day. She looks awful in those tights, not reflecting on his own appearance as Father Christmas.

But on Christmas Eve it had snowed heavily and first thing the mall had been almost empty of shoppers. For once, instead of finding it tawdry and depressing, Simon walked to his ‘grotto’  enjoying the lights and glitter and smell of Christmas.

So, when Louise put her head round the entrance to the grotto to announce,

“The café bar is doing mulled wine. Fancy some?” Simon responded enthusiastically and even accepted a mince pie.

“Pull up a toadstool,” he said and they both laughed.

“I know they need something for the parents to sit on,” she said, “but, when you think about it, it’s quite odd to have toadstools in an ice cave.”

“What I’ve realised,” said Simon around a mouthful of mince pie,” is that children are not at all literal. They’re quite ready to be carried away into more or less any fantasy.”

“Do you have children?” Louise asked, sipping her mulled wine.

“I have two actually,” he replied sombrely. “But I don’t see much of them at the moment. My wife and I have separated and I’m living away from home.” And, whether it was the snow, the festive atmosphere, the fact that he was talking to a virtual stranger whom he would never meet again after Christmas, Simon found himself telling Louise everything – about the marriage break-up, the redundancy from his job, the rationing of access visits to the children, and his miserable flat. She was a good listener.

“How about you?” asked Simon out of politeness rather than real interest. She must have rather a sad life he thought.

“Oh I do temping to make money. When I have enough I take off – Morocco, Spain, Greece. I love the sun and the wine and the relaxed way of life. I went to Seville last January. It was wonderful.”

And suddenly, into Simon’s mind, came memories of a holiday long before he met Jane. It was October and he and his friend had decided to seek some sun, finding themselves, randomly, in Seville. He remembered bright winter light, neat squares enclosing mini orchards of glossy leaved trees hung with small, bitter oranges and tiny, dark bars lined with delicately patterned tiles and enormous hams suspended from the rafters. He remembered salty slivers of jamon iberico and manchego washed down with amber sherry and the feeling of warmth and comradeship and freedom.

“But going back to you,” Louise continued,” I thought there was something like that. I’m sorry. How sad. Were you married long?”

 Fifteen years,” said Simon. It was a shock when Jane told me to go.” He paused and added thoughtfully,” When I first met her I thought she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.”

“Ah,” said Louise quietly,” No one’s ever thought that about me – worse luck.”

She’s a really nice woman, thought Simon.

 And, surprising himself, he added,

“But she’s not actually a very nice person. Quite cold and – yes – selfish, I’ve come to realise.” The thought felt in some way liberating.

“Will you be seeing the children at Christmas?” Louise asked.

“No – well two hours on Boxing Day.”

“What about Christmas Day?”

“Oh, I’m not allowed Christmas Day.” I suppose Nigel will be there, thought Simon. “May go to the local pub.”

There was a pause and then Louise said,

“You could come to me if you wanted. I’m doing spatchcocked partridge this year. And I’m a bit of a cook, though I say it myself. It seems a shame to be on your own. I don’t live far from where you say your flat is. It’s walkable.”

Oh no, was Simon’s reaction. What I have I got myself into?  He didn’t find Louise at all attractive – not in that way anyway.

“That’s really kind,” he said hurriedly,” but I think I’m better off on my own at the moment.” He paused. “It really is very kind.”

Louise smiled and patted his red felt knee.

“I wasn’t making a pass you know. It would be nice for me to have company so there was a selfish element to it.”

“Of course, “Simon responded, flustered. “I didn’t think that.” And then, seeing shapes through the translucent wall of the grotto, added with relief,

“I think we may have customers.”

 And Louise disappeared through the entrance to take up her duties.

“Welcome, to Santa’s grotto. My name is ‘Spruce’.”

“That was a narrow escape, thought Simon, I hope I got out of it without hurting her feelings.

Sitting alone at lunch time over burger and chips, he was struck by how lonely it could feel to be surrounded by noisy, excited people in festive mood.

These thoughts were in the back of his mind for the rest of the afternoon as he boomed his way through his script in his Father Christmas voice and handed out colour coded presents.

By closing time, the buses were running again and Simon caught up with Louise on his way to the bus stop. It was dark and the moon was up, a perfect silver disk shedding a cold light on the icy ridges made by the car tracks which they had to pick their way around.

“Are you coming on the bus tonight?” Simon asked as Louise had said she lived near him.

“Oh no, I like to walk or cycle. Helps to keep my weight down so I can eat cake,” she laughed.

“Well I can’t walk as you can see,” said Simon ruefully, indicating his shoes “Boots still in matrimonial home.”

“I see your point,” said Louise, laughing again. As she turned to go, Simon said on impulse to her retreating back,

 “Can I change my mind about Christmas Day? I realise it would be rather nice to spend it with someone. As I said, it’s so kind of you to invite me.”

Louise turned and smiled with real pleasure.

“That’s great. It’ll be so much more fun than just cooking for myself. I ought to warn you though, I do the works - crackers and all that.”   And she set off, a small, determined figure, her footsteps crunching in the now frozen snow.

“It wouldn’t be Christmas without ‘all that’,” Simon called after her, realising as he said it that it was true.

And as he made his way gingerly towards the bus stop, his thoughts were of spatchcocked partridge with roast potatoes and parsnips, and crackers, and, perhaps, in the New Year, winter sunshine and little bars hung with hams and squares full of trees hung with glossy oranges.


Christina McLellan lives and works in North London and has written a number of short stories about London life. Her first novel 'Almost Human' will be published under the pen name of HC Denham as an e-book and in paperback on the 15th of December.