The whole house is fragranced by the bewitching antiseptic fragrance of lilies delivered by a secret admirer or spurned lover. Thinking of you the card says. Ah if only whoever it was could see the humongous spot on your nose: your body still maintaining utter faith in it’s hormone addled teenage self. You feel twitchy. Contrary to the myth your sister likes to perpetuate, you rarely lose things. In your own sweet, chaotic way, you are desperately organised: you never forget things and only occasionally manage to lose great big things like relationships and the cellulite on your thighs.But you have lost your camera lead and amongst everything else rankling your sleep, this is what keeps you awake at night. The world makes no sense if you cannot document the details of your day and so you carry on taking picture regardless. There is much to be remembered. It is Christmas. Santa is coming for breakfast. Your son has taken up spelling everything he says according to the laws of his very own alphabet and you are exhausted. Aching to commit to memory a picture of this exhaustion as a warning to lesser mortals.
Your little boy is a shepherd in the the school Nativity. The very idea of acting in a religious play (It’s the story of Mary and Joe, M.A.R.I AND J.O, Mum. Do you know them?) appealing to the little man inside him planning to be a Shakespearean Priest when he grows up.
You promise yourself you won’t cry. And you don’t. You focus on recording his earnest little face shooing imaginary sheep and save your tears for later. Afterward, a chocolate Oscar in your hand, you help him undress in a classroom full of noisy kings and whiny angels. You cannot find his scarf and the eagle eye of his teacher is on you as your son places a chubby little hand on your shoulder and says “For goodness sake Mummy, will you please keep C.A.R.M.”. You look at Mrs Carr: she looks at you. All the complex unspoken intercourse of the relationship between teacher and parent passes between you. You are of course obliged to try to explain the enigma that is the silent “L”. The words tumble out in a nonsensical fashion and he looks at you blankly and repeats C.A.R.M, Mummy, just stay C.A.R.M…
You wonder if you are losing the battle. (Safe perhaps, in the knowledge that he will win the war).
There is still shopping to be done. On Saturday morning your son’s Father comes to steal him away and in a fit of what you can only term compassion in the face of your glaring PMT and massive family related worries, he insists you accompany them to the retail cathedral that is the Trafford Centre, because rumour has it, you can buy the feel good factor there in spades.
And so out you troop en famille, your child beaming and you, his parents, navigating a whole new dimension in what has always been for both of you, your defining relationship. But “friendship” sails on uncharted waters and there is much dangerous territory to be avoided, territory steeped in silent recrimination and tangly with the comfort of familiarity. You cannot help but say her name, though she is long gone. To watch his heckles rise just for the hell of it. Once you forget who you are and accidentally reach for his hand as you push your way through the tinselled masses.
It is too much. Too little. You leave the two of them sharing a H.A.P.I. Meal and wander around the food hall of Selfridges. Either the madness of frenzied shopping or the quandary of aching for something you no longer want making you feel claustrophobic. There is a whole section dedicated to elaborately decorated gingerbread houses. Sixty different types of olives, a sushi bar, and an area where people are turning taps on little bottle and creating mixes of you don’t know what. Selfridges makes you feel shy. Too under dressed. Too pre-menstrual to investigate. You pay for garlic stuffed olives, an artisan made Christmas pudding and a pile of Wonka bars, and go through the arches to the Cath Kidston concession where you spend enough time there fingering the cowboy print wellies and pretty rosy corsages to raise the eyebrow of the pretty girl on the counter.
(You buy a book. Of course you buy a book. As hungry as ever for the need to know).
Blessed lethargy awaits you at home. You stand breathing ice into the air of your living room as you wave goodbye to your son, then shove the yellow Selfridges bags stuffed with the feel good factor into the Christmas Box. Christmas has not yet arrived here. There is as yet no tree: you being a stickler for personal ritual to the degree that you will not even contemplate decorating it until the 17th of December has passed. Your Mum laughs at you. Her own tree shrouded in nostalgia and fear you cannot take away.
Once again you swallow your tears, avoid the calls of those who want to discuss the X-factor final (something you cannot watch because you can no more bear a strangers disappointment than you can your own), and disregard the texts spelling out the loneliness and boredom of the man you adored as a teenager. Things linger. They never quite die in your world.They linger on and on with all the ugly potency of crumpled dying lilies. You seem to be waiting for the big bang.
That night one of your best friends calls to tell you she is pregnant again. You are thrilled for her yet find yourself weeping as you recount her lovely news to your mum. It’s always all about you isn’t
it? You hate yourself for it. You climb into bed with your beloved Anam Cara to remind yourself that it is OK to be the centre of your own universe. That from this all creativity and certainty and joy will spill. That someone somewhere gets who you are and quite likes your big bum. Your dreams taste of salt and yet you wake up with new vigor.
You package the last of parcels for the post office and turn the house upside down in search of the camera lead. It has gone. You are suddenly possessed to take action and drive the car with the broken clutch into town where you purchase a card reader for a silly sum of money and go home to unpack your little shepherd from his photographic box. And there he is. Though you love him in a daily way, when you see him framed like this, true all encompassing Mummy love courses through your veins.
Because there he is. Yawning his way through his festive obligations and showing you the way to keep C.A.R.M. in a world where silent “L’s” exist and the dusty carpet of your childhood is about to be swept away.