[[ Here is a late Christmas story that I got distracted while developing. I hope your new year holds recovery, healing, peace and joy. I hope you don’t have too many unpleasant challenges and when you do that you can see the silver lining, and being unafraid make those experiences part of the wonderful,unique person you are.]]
David did something he hadn’t done in five years. He went to his bedroom window, pushed aside the sheer curtain, and took in the view over the narrow front street bordering the estuary, at the front of his house. He saw a bent lady with silver curls walking along the near foot path. She wore a lavender cardigan that dipped on one side as if it was stretched or buttoned crookedly. She carried a battered basket on her arm. Seeing her made him sadder. He wished he could see kids playing cricket, or kicking a football. Sighing he walked out of his room, and down the hall.
He pushed the door of her room open. The dust motes drifted in the light from the window. The red oval of Carlie’s football, and the black and white round of her soccer ball, along with other bats and balls were tumbled in a big basket by her bed. Her giant fluffy brown bear seated on the end of her bed, stared out of glazed eyes. On her pillow, were two golden strands that looked like hairs. A shiver went down his spine.
Last night after returning home from a Christmas party he was alone like the thousand plus nights before. A well-meaning couple, Dean and Tracy, whom he had met at the camera club a few months ago, had taken pity on his obvious singleness and invited him to pre-Christmas drinks and nibbles at their house. He decided to go and not go a dozen times before Dan came to pick him up. Dan was the one friend left from his youth, the one friend who remained from the time when Dave and Jan were a couple. Dan had come to make sure he went because he was Dave’s self-appointed life-coach and he wouldn’t let up. Dave had run out of energy to keep saying no, and so he went.
It was pleasant enough. He found himself laughing at a couple of jokes. Dan slapped him on the back, and they both knew that meant Dan was happy to hear him laughing. He was left alone for a while but then Tracy decided to introduce him to a couple of her friends. Sally and Tina were attractive with glossy hair and curvy figures. They carried the conversation for an awkward half-hour. In the first ten minutes Tina tried to flirt with him, but he felt like he was watching his own body looking at this attractive woman, picturing the coy words ballooning out of her mouth, a viewer of his own b-grade video. He felt nothing because that was all the permission he had given, show nothing to others, for so long.
My default setting. He frowned.
He was a little embarrassed about standing there like a dummy. Tina was worthy of admiration just for the polite recovery she made from his lack of response, but soon he was left alone again.
He stepped closer to his bed, and looked down at the pillow again, golden strands, two of them. They were so luminous for discarded strands of hair.
He hadn’t thought of that phrase since his daughter Carlie had mocked at the description on the back of the box containing Princess Barbie given to her by Aunty Judy.
Carlie. His heart beat staccato. Carlie.
Carlie who would have found a neighbourhood friend and been in the street playing cricket, or kicking a football, or even a soccer ball. She loved sports.
He stood at the foot of her bed staring at the strands, trembling. He imagined her standing beside him, and looked around at the pictures that hung in groups on the wall beyond the window. Carlie nestled in his arms at six months old. In the next, she was running away from him, looking back at him, aged 2 years. Tiny Carlie holding a soccer ball half her size, with Jan crouched behind her. With her friend Suzie, at age 6, the two of them giggling. Carlie kicking a football.
Carlie who would never be a sassy, wonderful woman with the biggest collection of sport paraphernalia this side of the Murray. She had hair that floated and glistened like spun gold when she ran, though the most she’d let you say was that it was pretty. He missed the youth and the fun of her antics and companions. He could hear his breathing loud in the room. Sadness overwhelmed him, and for the first time since he stood by her open grave, he wanted to resist it.
Carlie was a goer. I wouldn’t want her to think I was a slacker.
He had preserved some good memories through his camera lense. He let his gaze linger on each one.
He had dreamt about her last night, perhaps the hairs were an hallucination, more grief rising from the aquifer inside him. In the dream, the kind of one she might have had, he watched her kick three goals on a field that changed in each scene. First it was a muddy country oval surrounded by wooden benches, then it was the oval at her primary school, with white posts painted at a recent working bee. Rows of parents stood to one side cheering at her high, long kick. Finally, it was the Melbourne Cricket Ground with three men in white jackets and him. When she sent a strong kick from the centre of the field straight between the posts, one of the men had blown a whistle and she had turned and smiled at him the way she had before she fell on the road that terrible day. Her smile had filled his mind, and the sound of the whistle his ears, as if he had been wide awake. He wondered if he’d released the grief from her very last moment with his dream of that final alive smile.
She’d run carelessly, pursuing a ball into the path of the red SUV. He had been 20 metres away. There had been nothing he could do despite Jan blaming him as she beat his chest and soaked his shirt. Then he’d drunk heavily for a long time, and Jan had left.
When he finally managed to live sober, he had moved through days by rote, and wept in the silent early hours. During the long visits to his parents, where his mother grew terse at his half-eaten meals, he trembled at one glimpse of photos featuring his wife or daughter. At the sound of excited children, his throat would tighten. He did some work; the odd joinery contracts which involved the most standard fitting. Most weekends he slept the days away if Dan didn’t come knocking.
Now, it was the 23rd of December five years later, and the well of bitterness seemed spent. He gazed at the strands, afraid to touch them, and made a decision. Leaving the room, he went down the hall to the little room, they had used for storage. Pulling out a stepladder he climbed and got the artificial tree from the highest shelf. Two boxes were stacked in the corner, marked Christmas. He moved the tree and the boxes into the hall. His eyes were streaming from all the dust on the plastic around the tree. Slowly, holding the tree a few inches off the floor, he went downstairs to the laundry. Unwrapping the tree, he shoved the plastic out the door into the yard.
He shook the tree and only a tiny amount of dust floated towards him. He grabbed a silver-coloured bucket from the shelves by the trough. He carried it and the tree into the lounge. Once it was stable he went upstairs for the decorations, and began to attach them to the branches. He finished his decorating, by placing the angel at the top of the tree the way Carlie loved it. He was taking photos when he heard tapping on the front door.
When he opened the door, there was the lady he had seen earlier. In her hands, she held a shiny, leather football with a gold ribbon around it. She smiled, and held it out to him.
“I found this right next to your open gate. I figured you dropped it on the way in from Christmas shopping.”
He gaped, and then smiled back. “It’s not mine. Do you have a grandchild or someone?”
“I do. I have two grandsons, and they love to kick the footy. They’re visiting on Boxing Day.”
She squared her shoulders, and smiled widely.
“Look, I know there are no kids for two blocks. Who’s to say who dropped this? Why don’t you take it, and give it to your grandsons?”
“I could keep it at my house for them to play with.” She hugged the ball to her chest. “Happy Christmas. What’s your name?”
He nodded, “I’m Dave.”
“I’m Elsie, and thanks for the football.”
He noticed a gold strand trapped between the laces.
“Don’t thank me”, he said to her back.
He bent over the pillow and touched the strands.
He lifted one and it sagged. It felt soft and pliable. Like real worked gold.
From then on, he would tell his friends “My Carlie, she was special, a real goer.”
He didn’t talk about her a lot, except on the 23rd of December. He spoke with pride as if she was the star player on the best football team.
football image: https://www.flickr.com/people/121166191@N02, Kerrie
gold ring image: http://www.slaets.eu/jewels/mattioli/tibet/00129-tibetring/000559/