It’s that time of year again, and I was delighted to be asked to share my Christmas thoughts as a guest on Pauline Barclay’s blog: Click on the link to read the full post.
I’ve never understood why Christmas is traditionally associated with ghost stories, but this was one inspired by a great record recorded by a Rock ‘n’ Roll friend of mine.
I met her at a Christmas party. If it hadn’t been a compulsory work do I would never have gone; the pub was more my style than a swanky hotel. Wearing my hired penguin suit I was directed into the dining room where I was seated at a large, round table with total strangers.
My immediate neighbour was a self-made millionaire, as he explained to me within five minutes of meeting him. On his other side was an expensively dressed lady, and I use the word in its loosest sense, with a low-cut dress and a false, high-pitched laugh.
The seat to my left was empty. I wasn’t sure if I was pleased or not. On one hand it meant I didn’t have to listen to banal conversation, on the other it meant I had no-one to talk to, which would make the hours drag even more.
The first course was served, something cheffy and artistic but not what you would actually call food. I was sorely tempted to excuse myself and leave, knowing my absence would probably not even be noticed.
Just then a waiter settled a lady, and this time I’m not being sarcastic, into the chair next to me. I turned to see the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen in my life. She wasn’t traditionally beautiful, her nose was a bit too big, her hair was windswept and her face was flushed.
Apologising for being late she gave me a smile to melt any man’s heart. She laughed when I said she hadn’t missed much, just as the waiters returned to serve our main course. Glancing at my plate, my expression must have shown on my face as she looked at hers, before we both got a fit of the giggles.
Although we didn’t eat much the evening improved, and we stuck it out for another hour until a really dire band started up. In my spare time I was a singer in a Rock and Roll group, and when they had finishing massacring one of my favourite songs I looked at her and said, ‘I’ve had enough. Follow me?’
In an instant she replied ‘I’ll get my coat. See you outside in five minutes.’
From then on we were inseparable, and the following Christmas my gift to her was an engagement ring. She accepted my proposal and made me the happiest man in the world.
‘I’ve got something for you too,’ she said as she took my hand. ‘Follow me.’
After our night of passion we woke on Christmas morning to the sound of church bells, and decided to get married at Christmas the following year. That winter was one of the hardest on record but we stuck to our plans for our wedding on Christmas Eve. Even if some of our friends were snow-bound, and unable to get to the ceremony, the important thing was that Christmas day would see us as husband and wife.
She was returning from visiting friends up north the day before our wedding, but in keeping with tradition was staying in a London hotel, so I wouldn’t see her until we took our vows in church. Waiting for her call to say she had arrived safely, I switched on the television and watched the news. It was all about the horrendous weather, cancelled trains and videos of cars slipping and sliding on the ice.
Then I caught a news flash about a major crash on the MI, where a coach had skidded causing a multiple pile-up. As more details emerged I sat up all night, until finally they published an emergency contact number. I eventually managed to get through and tried not to snap when they said they could only give news to relatives. Finally my desperation must have got through as I explained we were due to be married the next day.
‘I’m very sorry. That name has been identified as one of the people who didn’t survive.’
I put down the phone as the operator was still talking, giving information about the hospital where the bodies had been taken, and offering her sympathy.
Early on Christmas Eve I woke to find the television still on, and my neck aching from where I had fallen asleep in the chair. I spent the day in a trance, thinking this was to have been my wedding day, but unable to motivate myself to let people know, or cancel the arrangements.
As dusk fell I grabbed a coat and made my way to the local cemetery. The gates were still open although there was no one about. Despite the bitter cold I wandered aimlessly until I found myself in the neglected, older part of the grounds.
The newer graves all held floral accolades, but here there was nobody left to remember the ones who had gone to meet their maker a hundred years or more before. Even the carvings on the tombstones had faded with the years, so the names could no longer be read. I sat down between two overgrown memorials and huddled into my overcoat. The sound of church bells woke me and I realised no-one had thought to check this part of the cemetery when they locked up.
I wasn’t worried. I had nothing to go home to and no reason to leave, even if I was blue and shivering. What did I care about hypothermia if there was no warm body to bring me to my senses? In my semi-comatose state I recognised my darling, dressed in her wedding gown, walking up the aisle of the church towards me. The choir was singing, and our friends were smiling until she stopped, turned, and retraced her steps towards the door of the chapel. I could see snow falling as I watched her leave the church, and glide back towards the cemetery.
‘Wait,’ I called. ‘Please don’t leave me.’
Then I heard her voice saying softly ‘I’m here my love. Follow me.’
© Voinks November 2017