As Christmas 2019 approaches, my thoughts turn to the many different ways in which Christmas is experienced in Australia and around the world. Whether you see it as a religious celebration or an important cultural festivity (or both), each of us has our own take on the ‘season’. For many, it’s a precious time, an opportunity to get together with family, or friends, or neighbours, to share good food, perhaps exchange gifts, and relax as we move towards the end of another year. For others, it is a super-stressful time to be managed, coordinated and even endured, all the while hoping that the gifts bought are suitable, the food stretches far enough, and Uncle Bert doesn’t get too loudly tipsy. Yet others spend Christmas Day alone, whether by choice or necessity.
Which of the above group do you fall into? Or maybe your plans are hybrid – some time with loved ones and some much needed time alone? Or something completely different?
As we travel through the years, our Christmases change as we do. The thrill of Christmas in childhood, of trying to work out which of the mysteriously shaped packages under the tree are for you, morphs into sneaking presents into the house and hiding them in a spot where our own, or others’ children, won’t discover them. Family members come and go, new people are welcomed and others farewelled. And the elders in a family, who once held all the Christmas reins and (expertly or otherwise) guided Christmas activities year after year, become unable to do that because of ill health or other reasons.
So my Christmas post this year is a short story in honour of one of those elders, to whom I owe a thank you for many special Christmas memories of my own. It’s fiction, but I’m sure you’ll get the idea.
‘Please, can someone help me?’ I call for a nurse. It’s the tenth time
tonight. I’ve slipped down the bed and I can’t sit up and I can’t reach the
buzzer for help. Something’s wrong with my legs. I don’t know what happened to
them or when.
My cheeks are wet. I stare out my window at the thin moon just beginning
its rise into the night sky. It’s beautiful but my heart is pattering
strangely. Am I frightened? It’s worse at night. I don’t think I used to be
like this. It’s the spider webs in my head that make me fuzzy and slow and
scared, all at once. Especially when the sun disappears each evening.
There’s a rustle and a nurse appears, wearing a tight, zipped up smile and a pink shirt. ‘What’s the matter, Ida?’ Her heels click as she walks to the bed. ‘I can’t…I can’t…’
Why is she here? Did I call her? I gaze up into her smooth young face, trying to remember. She puts an arm around my shoulder and slides me up onto the pillow. ‘Is that better? You were halfway down the bed!’ ‘Katy? Are you Katy?’ I’m squinting to see her face in the half light.
‘I’m Sally, the night nurse,’ she chirrups. ‘I was here last night too,
don’t you remember?’ She tidies my bedside table as she speaks, picking up a
hairbrush, nail scissors and tissue box and lining them up in a row. I stare at
these things. Where did they come from? I give her a watery smile and close my
eyes. It doesn’t matter. Objects appear, disappear and reappear in my room
every day. It’s very hard to keep track of things as well as thoughts.
I remember Katy, though, with her smooth red hair and soft hands. Katy visits, so the nurses tell me, though I don’t remember the last time I saw her. I strain and push inside my head but my treacherous memory fails me again. I like it when Katy comes. I taste strawberries when I think of her. I have a photo, somewhere, of Katy and me. We are at a table outside, eating strawberries. It must be summer, because I remember flowers in the garden beds nearby. There were eleven different flowers in the garden. I don’t know why I remember that and I don’t remember what type of flowers, but they were pretty. In the photo, Katy is laughing; her hair tumbled about her shoulders and her hand touching mine as we lean together across the table. I don’t know where that photo’s gone. I’d like to see it again. I’d like to see Katy again.
My lashes feel damp as I close my eyes and lay my head back on the
pillow. The moon beckons, a peaceful quiet place where I’m not afraid. Murmurs
drift towards me from the doorway as I sink into the pillowy softness.
Sally, the nurse, is speaking to someone. ‘I’m sorry, Katy, looks like she’s asleep…’