This is a Christmas Story. it might turn out to be one long rambling sentence. or take a more poetic shape. more likely it is snippets of something. pieces of a life that are gathered into a nonlinear narrative. think of it as a bit like the experience of watching a french movie. hopefully it’ll make sense in the end.
I plan to cast a net into the minor pleasures of a single morning. yet it is a particular morning.
An ordinary Christmas morning.
I want to gather up the fragments. to notice the unseen colours. to say in words some of what is felt. and thought. maybe dreamt. to even make a song. a soundtrack that might be heard along a strand of time. catch those small yet significant sensations that sear below the skins surface. follow some soulful associations down that long languid labyrinth of forgetting. then walk once again along unfolding avenues towards the future.
I hope at the end of it you and i will both will have fallen a little bit more in love. with our own simple existence. the ordinary imperfect beauty of it. because this is what we have. all we might ever have. these minute moments. like little pearls we gather them up to thread together along a single string. I would if i could handwrite this for you. because there is such luxury in taking a pen with a nib and real ink out. in more carefully forming the round soft letters. in receiving something made just for you. I would write on japanese calligraphy paper edged with the palest of blush and indigo watercolour. i painted those torn edges one long alone evening not too long ago. there is a curious comfort in the sensation of blue ink scratching and soaking into the surface. so imagine that if you can.
And the singing of cicadas beyond the edges of the deck. a seemingly incessant sonnet of summer. repeatedly rising and falling. a sort of background humming. and in the hazy blue distance the past. almost out of focus. then broken though by the shrill tone of my mother’s voice. she is calling across the dry paddocks. urging us kids to hurry down to the school bus. impervious to her angst we will dawdle along in the humid morning. it is the last day before the summer break. nearly Christmas.
Whatever yelling there was and there was plenty there was always singing as she went about the christmas baking. her sturdy hands kneading the fattened fruit into the batter. now patting the mounds into shape. tying up the muslin wrap with care. us kids all competing for the opportunity to lick at the leftover deliciousness at the bottom of the mixing bowl. like calves jostling for the mothers favour. we learnt early that there would not be enough for everyone. then the softness of her skin pushed against mine as we greet. it was just before the diagnosis that took her. we didn’t know then that she was balancing on that thin line between living and dying. between here and there. then and now.Now there is the softly rising light of a morning breaking though the wooden slats. the brightness splintering and falling into pleasing patterns across our bed. we are soaking in a sort of companionable solitude. the shared ambivalence of a christmas morning without little ones. once we were more than enough for each other. till creating them. now this journey of finding each other again. inhaling deeply the thick amber muskiness of him. like tasting butterscotch. noticing the caress of the antique bed linen. found in a french market. an indulgence. the pillow case dyed the palest madder red. a favourite hue. washing pink residue from my fingers. like the sticky menstrual blood no longer shed.
The swirling shapes and gurgling of running water as it disappears. across ten crimson toenails. like the plump roses in the bedroom. another indulgence. then suppressing a swell of shame caught in a reflection of your ageing nakedness. the sweetness that is only possible in youth. a gentle cupping of handfuls of soapy water dropped across my newborns belly. that first ever bath time. the deep ache within my thighs bruised by the recent birthing. milk from painfully engorged breasts staining my nightgown. the roundness and pinkness of those baby thighs. inhaling the new white scent of the special baby oils. the wordless wonder of a child. one of the most precious gifts.The slightest hint of burnt caramel taints the air as the morning coffee brews. still the cicada song rising and falling repeatedly. a melody of bell birds lifting now. and lawns being mowed. that thick earthiness of cut grass. the pleasures and pains of getting ready for something. the enjoyment found by your tongue as it traverses along the word ‘reminiscence’. and the french word ‘retrovai’. the sensual growl of rolling an ‘r’ deeply down in your throat. singing peace on earth dressed as an angel in the end of year concert. the comforting thought that something once lost can be found again. but what about something that was never given. can you ever make something from the not enough.
Now pouring the coffee slowly. a rose motive clings precariously around the thin lip of the cup. you carried it back from paris. and other unexpected thrills. like that colour world found only in a chagall painting. touching the velvet edges of ancient fat roses in rodins garden. the delight of the bunches of native flowers in buckets on the path. that burnt quality of those australian reds and greens.A blistering hot december wedding day. yet walking towards him hopefully. the bridal bouquets mixed with freshly cut christmas bush. generous bunches are now pushed amongst gorgeous golden grevillea in the blue majolica pot. the almost elegant elongated shapes of gum leaves. their dry crush underfoot. walking together though the tall cool forest once. the two little boys rushing ahead to find the creek. and all the while the air thick with eucalyptus oils as you contain your anxiety that they will be safe.
All hands pushing deep into wet sticky clay. moulding naive pots from the earth dug earnestly from the creek bed. making something that cannot possibly last. still we will carefully carry them home. as we have the collection of pebbles and leaves. and the bowls and cedar buckets from japan. the bathing practise of that place now our own family ritual. a routine time for quiet reflection together. there are things that can only be deeply known over time.Watching water ebb and flow across the black rocks. the taste of a salty beach walk. the thin silver line of the sea out on the horizon. the sting of sunburn on shoulders. and the humidity of days spent up north. the sad stickiness of the grief when my father died. till finally some relief as evening rain pelts heavily against the tin roof.
Now counting time as you wait for them to arrive. all the preparations were made in the days before. till you ached with the effort. a festive hand-knotted wreath decorated with silver foliage and christmas bush. white linen sheets laundered and hung to soak in some sunshine. the odour of vinegar and lemon on the freshly scrubbed floors. a new pot of vanilla salt scrub and citrus bath oil set in the bathroom. beeswax candles and olive oil soap placed beside the beds. while he cleared and organised the back yard. making a story for them that they might tell one day. of all the small and other things that make home.
It is the scent of childhood that is now swelling and dancing though your nostrils. like sucking on a forbidden peppermint sweet once. filling the house with an expectant excitement. the novel energy of every other first time. of all those moments of opening the gifts. hoping to be given just the right thing. what you deeply desire. now the angst of hoping that you yourself have managed to give enough. and of the right stuff. the almost impossibility of it all. as golden light is caught and held in the tinsel hung above a wooden nativity scene. setting it up each year a tradition that for some reason you keep.
And of course there are gifts. wrapped festively and waiting. an expression of an abundance that can be counted on. that there is enough. you have written each a letter. on the hand painted japanese paper. to say something that can be said. while you can. as the lemony kale rolls are baking in the oven. with tangy ginger hummus already poured into the blue and white rice bowls. and the flatbread you made flavoured with shreds of nori and black salt set to the side. even some gingerbread iced with gelatinous brightly coloured sweets.
The hiss of the iron steaming as it heats. the textured pattern of the linen apron. found shopping with his japanese sister in a part of the old tokyo. the deliciousness of brothy noodles in a back alley there. and the many beers shared sitting on the floor around a traditional low table with his japanese father. talking philosophically and tenderly late into the night. a gentle transforming experience of what a father might be. feeling slightly intoxicated. stretching out on the tatami matting to sleep. kissing deeply. the inky blue sky full of tiny stars. lying on your back in the long grass counting constellations. time stretching into forever. like the lines of macadamia trees across the northern hills that roll and fall directly into the sea. the delirious harshness of the light at this time of year. reading to pass time as you wait. the lovely endlessness of the after school time. savouring a slowness found only in these in-between moments.
Now champagne is poured into tall glasses. that particular pleasure in the dizziness of bubbles before lunch. the sharp surprise of submerging under the cool water. the heat of the paving warming the flesh on your legs. ants hurrying somewhere unknown. while nearby a lazy lizard arches his back in a lavish gesture. till the young kookaburra breaks the peace. his laughter echoing around the forest canopy. and the blueness above you expands to infinity.They are arriving. the thrill as the car door opens and then thuds shut. your mother waiting at the top of the stair. you are home from university for christmas. there is more confidence yet you are still seeking something. later she is already bickering with you. it is because you have had chances she didn’t have. of what her own family couldn’t do. but also for what she didn’t give. at some point you realised what you needed was a safer space. it was after her death. you had got stuck in a pit of grief. till unwilling to stay there longer you let go. let it all go. even the guilt. what else could you have done.
There are feet crunching across hot gravel paths. the refreshing lilt of a feminine voice. it is loving and laughter rising up the stairs. putting away the old photograph of her that you took out earlier. there are some broken things that can’t be mended. a final resolution is found. it is in acceptance of what is. you have built a home here now. it is above all a peaceful place. and there is this strong stillness inside you. so there will not be raised voices or hurtful words or regretful tears. just the spirit of christmas. so you call out to him impatiently. quickly they are here.Then moving together though the kitchen. past the shining steel of the bench you cleaned earlier. where you have prepared a feast. for this day. for the family that you both made. that they are making too. of course you know why you put out the wooden nativity figures.
Waiting at the top of the stairs you are holding inside yourself all of of this. decades of small moments making homefulness. all those little and imperfect lumps of love that have piled up. some of it you turned into food and flowers and a simple letter. and chairs around a table. to let them know that this home is a harbour. a little manger for protection from the cold and hard stuff. that it is safe to go. and to return. that coming home in peace is always possible. no matter what.
So here we are. we stand together at the top of the stair. I touch him as they are climbing towards us. I recognise at once the little boys I once nursed. and the young adult men they now are. and open my heart to the partners they bring. our own small circle is a miracle of sorts.
And in that moment it is wonderful. it all feels like a slow motion walk towards joy. because in that moment there was in a moment everything that had ever mattered.