The children were nestled all snug in their beds

Saturday, three weeks before Christmas;

 

she looks back and forth between the opening line of her novel and the man opposite on the train.

 

He doesn’t seem to notice her, it's 11am and he’s opening another can of Tesco’s own, value lager.

 

She’d looked forward to reading on her journey, she’d hoped for time to herself; stories and poems always brought her escape. 

 

The pitted stains on his coat unnerve her, the blue tinge of his swollen hands bother her. Reading and re-reading the first page is futile, she closes the book then strokes a manicured finger over the title, ‘The Christmas List’ and begins to recite gift ideas in her head whilst staring out of the window.

 

But she can’t escape him. When she can’t see his reflection, she imagines it, she feels him watching her.

 

‘Want one, love?’ he offers a can.

 

‘No, you have it’ she notices it’s the last one in the pack but this doesn’t disguise her disdain.

 

‘Travelling home for Christmas?’

 

‘No’ she shuffles in her seat, retreats to her book.

 

‘These were for me brother’ he half laughs, gesturing towards the empties.

 

‘I was hoping to meet up with him but ....’ He drops his head, falls quiet.

 

Circling his fingertip 'round the tear-dropped edge of where the ring-pull used to be, he raises his sight when he thinks she isn’t looking. He’d seen dismissive, stone-set eyes like hers before.

 

His thoughts meander into memories, back to when they all went to Grandma’s each year, just before Christmas. It was the best time. Grandma tucked them all safely in the big bed, patted down blankets releasing a waft of her lavender talcum powder. His chest relaxes as he remembers the scent. She’d then settle beside them, sing carols, read stories. Things were always different when they were with her, she made things better. But that was long ago, Grandma died when he was twelve. He ran away from the place they gave the name of home the year after.

 

There was a tingle in the air when she began to recite one rhyme in particular. It was magical, they’d gather round, lean on her shoulder, hang on to every word. But it wasn’t until now, on this journey, that he began to realise he and his eldest sister had more in common than he’d believed, he knew now why she never joined in as they chorused the final line:

 

and to all a goodnight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janette Ostle
Nov 14 2021

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Comments:

I’m intrigued to discover what lies in the past for brother and sister, what sadness echoes there, what unspoken demons. Did Grandma know?

Dean Ostle
Nov 14 2021