2022 minus 09: The Gift

Posted: 23 December 2021 in 2022 minus, 2022 minus new fiction, fiction, new fiction, writing
Tags: , , , ,

Housekeeping note:

It just hit me.

I mean, I guess it should have done yesterday when we hit the ‘minus 10’ but no, it’s getting down to single figures I guess that counts.

We’re under ten days from the New Year, which acts as a reminder of two things:

  1. I better start preparing the latest A Life In Pictures for uploading at some point before 1st January. (Usually it’s done on 31st December and I see no reason to change that this year… yet.)

  2. I better make sure I have posts planned every day for the next week.

Blimey.

Ah well, on with today’s…


Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

This week, a story about a much needed gift, sparked by the following image.


The Gift

It’s the afternoon before Christmas, and all through the coffee shop, it’s not quiet at all. I can see people laughing, chatting, full of the joys of the season, which pleases me immensely. It fills me with the joy I like to experience before embarking on the long night to come.

I drain my cup, place it down, close my eyes, and then open them, wholly unsurprised to see the hot steaming liquid, with just a touch of milk added. The smell fills the air in front of me, which I enjoy as much as the beverage.

(And yes, of course I pay for the coffee; you just never see me do it. No one ever sees me do anything… unless I wish them to. And it’s been a very long time since I’ve wanted anyone to see me do anything at all.)

Sipping my umpteenth coffee of the day, I continue my personal project: taking enjoyment in others’ enjoyment; my own gift to myself, today of all days: The Day Before.

And then I see them, at a table by the window; sitting, sullenly staring at each other in anger and upset.

I start, actually surprised at the obvious but unspoken fury tinged with sadness. Then I realise what’s happening: I’m watching my first Christmas Argument of the season. And oh, it’s a big one.

Damn. Damnation and buggeration. The last thing I need today, but from the look of them, the last thing they need as well. I cast my eye over the pile of shopping at their feet; good quality but not expensive. Nothing expensive, and – I concentrate for a moment, staring at the shopping, at each item, feeling its history and future – nothing for each other.

Oh.

For a moment, I wish I could still act as in the old days, and give them each a tangible present, something to discover when they get home, maybe. But, alas, my talent for that particular joy faded long ago.

But I remain curious; a blink and I’m siting at the next table, a table which of course didn’t exist a moment earlier. The couple never notice; right now they wouldn’t notice if I shrugged off the glamour the elves had gifted me so very long ago and appeared to them at my full height, dressed in the classic the red and white coat. Oh, and Rudolph and Dasher sitting next to me playing backgammon.

They’d never notice anything outside their own suffering right now. Their world has contacted to just themselves: a love that’s rapidly fracturing, their history that alternately burns and salves.

As I watch and listen intently, they travel through the through the whole history of their relationship, from their first date, to their second, to their first night together, to recovering from that disaster, to meeting each others’ families… and to recovering from that disaster…

And they’re done. It’s obvious to them. They know it, they feel it, they know the other wants it to be finished.

The thing is, it’s obvious to me that neither of them want it to be over. It’s not pride that is keeping them apart, nor anger, not really. They’ve just run out of words. Neither has the vocabulary they need to save nor to dispose of what they have shared. They stare at each other, without the words to finish it irrevocably. I can see the anger withheld, the battle inside each of them, knowing that one phrase, one piece of venom, would… finish their relationship forever, while one expression of unreserved love would mend it.

I’m not allowed to intervene; the rules are clear. From midnight on Christmas Day for twenty-four hours, I’m allowed to visit each home and gift them all something precious, something they wouldn’t get elsewhere, or from anyone else: the strength to go on for a little longer; and the ability to forgive.

I can’t do anything but watch their love for each other splinter.

I can’t do any–

Ah, dammit.

I watch as his hand sweeps in emphasis and push it precisely half an inch on its journey. It connects on the edge of the cup, and instantly, her jacket and trousers are covered in brown liquid. It happens so suddenly, neither of them wonder why the drink is suddenly tepid.

“Oh gods,” he says, utterly bereft at his own clumsiness, his face betraying his embarrassment and self-castigation.

A moment, and then she laughs. It’s a genuinely nice laugh, the sound entirely free from the sharp edge that had accompanied it only moments earlier.

She stares for the very briefest of moments at the fluid staining her, before… “Oh, do you remember when mum spilled the gravy? On their new carpet?”

Another laugh.

He instantly gets it, and laughs along with her. “We could smell it for weeks!”

The venom has gone. The sheer, unfettered fury… is fettered, and evaporates before my senses.

After they’ve wiped up, he holds her hand. “I’m sorry…”

Her eyes light on his. She kisses his hand. “Nothing to be sorry for, ok?”

No, of course I didn’t break the rules, I didn’t give them a present.

I gave me a present. That’s allowed. Probably.

They’ll choose to believe any argument was the result of a misunderstanding, though never agree on what the misunderstanding was.

But they leave the place hand in hand.

And I return to my drink and the preparations for the gifts I am allowed to give later tonight.

I can’t always promise peace and goodwill to all, but I do what I can, whenever I can.

And that’s usually enough. At least that’s what I tell myself.

And sometimes I even believe it. I drain my cup, and check the time. One more, I think. One more cup before the long night’s travels…

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 now scarily rapidly approaching.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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