Christmas with Daisy
“Happy Christmas Daisy, Happy Christmas”. He whispered softly to her, wrapped his arms around her and gazed in to her warm, excited eyes.
They had met in early December; she appeared at his local pub seemingly out of the blue. It transpired that they had a mutual friend who had ‘suggested’ that she introduce herself to him.
A couple of days later she turned up at his parent’s house, once again without invitation although this was not an unusual situation as so many disparate characters were coming and going from the family home in an almost never ending stream. His friends and friends of friends; his brother’s friends, his father’s acquaintances and, very occasionally his mother’s friends. They sat in his bedroom listening to music, she talking incessantly whilst his mother appeared at regular intervals with mugs of tea and coffee.
It had taken a while for the penny to drop, after all he mused later what on earth could such a pretty girl see in someone like him? Their mutual friend soon challenged his thinking. One evening she collared him in the pub and he could see immediately that she was far from happy; this caused him some concern since he was rather smitten with her at the time. She was, at seventeen a ‘woman of the world’ and not someone you would want to get on the wrong side of. She pinned him to the bar room wall and said fiercely “You’re really upsetting her you know” and he, foolishly, simply replied “Who?” Her fury was felt by almost all the patrons, several of whom moved to distance themselves from the unfolding altercation. Grabbing him by the shoulders and clearly determined not to let her carefully laid matchmaking plans go awry, she roared angrily “She really likes you for goodness sake, so do something!!”, and promptly stormed off to the Ladies.
He had always struggled with relationships; the ease with which his young male friends seemed to fall in to liaisons, not to mention beds with girls whose names they could barely remember eluded him completely. Truth to tell he was twenty one and had only ever known rejection in his pursuit of the opposite sex.
A few days later he found himself in the pub chatting to Daisy and wondering what to do next when the landlord called “time at the bar” They emerged into the cold December night and he offered to walk her to the bus stop where they would wait for at least half an hour for the last transport of the day to arrive. Instead she said ‘Can we go back to your house?’ Any other young man would have been only to eager to oblige but he found himself thinking ‘Why does she want to go back to my place now, after all by the time we get there we’ll have to turn round and come back again if she’s to catch the last bus’
They walked off towards his parents’ house and he realised that he would have to ‘do something’, as Jackie, their mutual friend had made so abundantly clear. He tried to prepare himself mentally for yet another rejection; he envisaged that his arm around her shoulder might well, as had so often happened in the past, be removed in the way that someone might remove a slug from a lettuce leaf. If that happened then they would walk back to the bus stop in silence and he would wait dutifully until the bus arrived and it would all be over. Better that he thought than to incur Jackie’s wrath by not doing anything.
They walked slowly and silently along the road, then as they approached the railway bridge he tentatively placed his hand around her shoulder. In an instance her arm was around his waist, her hand squeezing him tightly and all of a sudden a voice in his head kept repeating ‘No rejection, No rejection’.
He had never, not before or since felt more wanted than he had in that moment. The elation swept through him like the breeze on a warm summers night. The feeling however lasted for about thirty seconds; then came the sobering thought, what should he do now? He had never been in this situation before and as they arrived at his door a very real sense of panic was beginning to take hold.
Clueless and clumsy he kissed her, pulling her down on to his bed with all the subtlety of a demolition worker knocking down a wall! She didn’t seem to mind and within minutes they were on their way to the bus stop, arms wrapped around one another.
He sat alone in the sparse rented room writing his Christmas cards which now numbered so few he wondered whether it was worth bothering to send any at all. A couple he sent to old mates who always sent to him; the usual greeting ‘Hope you are keeping well’ or ‘ We really must try to get together next year’; he was certain that they never would. Cards to the two remaining elderly relatives who he knew appreciated them, one to his landlady and another, to be delivered by hand to the family who ran the corner shop and who always treated him kindly when times were hard.
Some years previously he had decided, on a whim to write a return address on the back of all the cards that he mailed. During the following January and February a steady stream of cards were returned to him; most with that Royal Mail ‘tick box’ sticker indicating ‘Gone Away’ , ‘Not Known at this Address’ or worse still ‘Deceased’. The increasing number of undeliverable envelopes had saddened him deeply and now, from sending some forty Christmas greetings each year he only needed to send six.
His thoughts turned to Christmas presents and whilst he couldn’t recall exactly how many gifts he and Daisy had exchanged that year there was one that he would always remember. She had made a little model of a character from a children’s television programme; utilising the ubiquitous toilet roll cardboard tube, recycled wool from an old scarf and a plastic milk shake bottle top. He had treasured that little present, made as it was in love and with love. When he moved house and down sized yet again, he found her gift at the bottom of a box but as he lovingly cradled it in his hands it simply disintegrated, the glue had dried out, the cardboard and wool just fell apart at his touch. So it was that with a heavy heart he had despatched what was left of it to the waste bin.
They had spent Christmas in the bosom of their respective families but as the bus service resumed on the day after Boxing Day she came to visit him. His mother, a diplomatic and discreet soul left them in the sitting room, instructing her husband and his friends to ‘stay in the kitchen’, which they duly did despite a minor protest from his father.
They lay on the well-worn sofa whispering between kisses and he wondered if, perhaps this was love. He hoped that it was love; it felt as though it should be love. The hours flew by in a blur and, at around ten thirty she announced that it was time for her to go. His father’s friend had offered to drive her home but, on opening the kitchen door and surveying the alcoholic debris on the table, a glance at the ‘driver’ slouched in a battered armchair told him it was evident that the ‘lift’ would not be forthcoming.
He returned to the sitting room and explained that, due to unforeseen circumstances they would have to walk the two miles to her home in the next village. She said her goodbyes and thanked his mother as they stepped out into the freezing night heading off across the river bridge, passed the pub and on to the main road through the village, their arms wrapped tightly around each other.
The previous day’s snowfall, which had turned to a filthy slush at the curb had frozen again and crunched under their feet. To him however it was like walking on hot coals, had a winter’s night ever seemed so warm? They passed the shops and the Fire station and on through a residential area where they glimpsed Christmas tree lights glowing in the windows and occasionally a black and white television picture flickering in a dimly lit parlour.
The near silence was broken by a few boisterous youths who, temporarily freed from the tedious constraints of the family Christmas were trying to make serviceable snowballs from the frozen mess at the road side. He knew them of course and they exchanged greetings of a less than complimentary nature; her giggles turning to laughter as their ribald comments echoed across the icy street. Gradually the voices faded and the two of them reached the edge of the village passing the Esso Garage and the sprawling council estate and on to open country; if a couple of meadows white with undisturbed snow actually constituted open country. Eventually the fields gave way to the houses of her village.
Approaching her parents’ home he could just make out the silhouette of her mother behind the glass fronted porch. He kissed her goodnight as the door opened and the older women beckoned her daughter in.
He remembered almost nothing of the return journey, save that it was a good deal colder and seemed to take infinitely longer to complete.
The bedsit had a habit of generating acute claustrophobia so the need to post his Christmas cards gave him the ideal excuse to escape out into the small market town streets, a place more dead than alive in the early December afternoon. The pale sun was sinking rapidly as he walked down the high street towards the nearest post box whilst one by one the shops disgorged their last few customers and lights were being extinguished after another less than satisfactory day’s trading. Shopping was so much easier on line but, he pondered “we’ll miss these places once they’re gone”
He took a circular route, as he often did passing the river which always served to remind him of the waterway close to his parent’s home that he had walked along side so many years ago, the river that he and Daisy had crossed in a winter long since passed. It was never as cold now, snow was seldom seen and the crisp air of a frozen Christmas night was hard to find these days.
He stopped and stood by the water’s edge, how inviting the fast flowing stream looked to him now; he turned away wishing that he had the courage to embrace the rivers invitation and bring an end to this hopelessness. He found the post box and dropped the envelopes in.
The days between Christmas and New Year were a time during which most people returned to work. His job however had come to an end and since Daisy would not be going back to college for a couple of weeks they would be able to spend a little more time together. The idea of a winter’s afternoon spent in his room, or more specifically in his bed with her beautiful hair cascading over the pillows, appealed to him greatly.
She, needless to say had other plans; “Let’s go out” she pleaded repeatedly and so he capitulated and they set off in the early afternoon and took the bus to a small market town not dissimilar to the one in which he now lived. The day was bright, no snow clouds but the air was still bitingly cold. The bus rattled along through hamlets and villages off the beaten track until eventually an hour and a half later they arrived at their destination. The place was almost deserted and hardly any of the shops were open, unlike the larger towns where the post-Christmas sales were well under way and ready to welcome bargain hunters.
As the light faded they found themselves in a narrow cobbled street illuminated only by shop fronts of premises that were clearly shut! Almost at the end of the street they came to a tea shop, not particularly well lit but he observed a couple of pensioners at separate tables and three young, bored waitresses in apron overalls leaning against the counter. She gripped his arm indicating that she would welcome a hot drink and more importantly food! They sat at a table near the counter and ordered tea and coffee but when they enquired about a menu they were firmly informed that “We’ve only got cakes”. Her eyes sparkled at this news so he duly summoned the confectionary trolley which seemed to stir the waitresses out of their earlier inertia. Undaunted by the vast array of cakes and pastries on offer she started slowly with one, then another followed by a third and, after a short deliberation selected a final one for good measure. He was continually amazed that this slender creature had such an enormous appetite and not just for food!
The serving girls had perked up considerably by now and fussed around with serviettes and cake tongs apparently happy to cater for their every need, or more pertinently her need. He hadn’t dared to choose anything for himself having realised that insufficient funds might result in a stint of washing up whilst she caught the charabanc home!
He just about scrapped up the cash for the bill and they set off to catch the bus at which point she told him that she would have to go straight home as her mother was entertaining guests and she was expected to be there. He struggled to hide his disappointment but she kissed him gently and whispered “Come and see me tomorrow my parents are out all day”
Having posted his cards he returned to the room, the last remnants of winter sunshine casting wobbly patterns on the wall. He turned on the ageing electric bar fire, so reminiscent of the one that had illuminated their more intimate moments in the room above his mother’s kitchen. Was it really so long ago, almost five decades ago? Where had those years gone?
Towards the end of January she came to his house, unhappy and, in floods of tears she told him how her family were moving within a few weeks to a new home in Gloucestershire. They cried together, the thought of separation almost unbearable but sadly inevitable. For a while they regularly exchanged letters but gradually these gave way to just Birthday and Christmas cards which eventually petered out all together and he never heard from her again.
Where was she now he often wondered; probably married with children and, no doubt grandchildren? He still had his memories if nothing else and although the mental imagery had faded and become distorted and hazy in the intervening years it was the feelings; the feelings that were still as strong as they had ever been. He only had to close his eyes and he could smell her perfume, feel her hand in his, hear her voice and her youthful laughter. Nothing, not anything nor anyone could ever take that away from him.
As he sat in the ancient firelight he couldn’t help but wonder what if; just what if there were to be a knock at his door and what if he were to open his door and find her standing there as pretty as she’d ever been. What would he do he wondered, what would he say? He knew of course. He would wrap his arms around her and she would gaze into his tired expectant eyes and, as he had done so many years before he would whisper softly to her “Happy Christmas Daisy, Happy Christmas”