19 December 2008

A Christmas Story

The first glimpse we catch of our hero comes as he leaves his house on a clear and frosty day. The house looks tired and the front lawn is not exactly what you would call crown green. The glass in the front door is cracked and has since been repaired with cardboard. There is no car on the drive. Our hero wears a long blue winter coat, large black gloves and a similarly oversized black woollen hat. As he turns from the door, we see that he wears glasses that almost entirely cover the visible part of his face. The rest is hidden behind the high collar of his coat. He pushes his glasses up his nose and sets off.

We move along quietly beside him, hearing only the clear and satisfying sound of his footsteps as they crunch their way along the pavement. His frozen breath spills out over the collar of his coat. As he passes in front of other houses on his street we learn that it is Christmas, or thereabouts. This is one of those streets that take decorating seriously. At one house there is a man on a ladder securing lights below his roof. At the final house, a woman is in the front garden wrestling with an inflatable snowman. She says something to our hero but her voice it is faint against the sounds of the steps. Our hero does not stop.

He reaches the end of the street and turns down a busier road. There is a long queue of people at a bus stop opposite a post office. Each person watches our hero as he passes. They use that look people save for when they know someone but don’t want to say hello. A group of children start to giggle and poke at each other’s ribs. As our hero walks away, we can see them over his shoulder. They are pointing and laughing, but all we hear is the steady sound of his feet on the frozen concrete.

Without warning our hero turns onto a white playing field. Below the field in the distance, there is a town. We gaze over the town for a moment as our hero disappears off to one side. Momentarily we hear a weary metallic sound, and after a short pause, a smooth sliding noise followed by a thump. Our hero reappears and sets off again across the field. He brushes snow from his rear end as he walks. Eventually he rounds the hill and we are left alone to gaze at the town once more.

The town is heaving with Christmas shoppers, and based on the number of children present it must be one of the days of the weekend. It used to be obvious when it was Saturday but not so much any more. Christmas music plays from one of the many market stalls lining the high street. On a corner, a lady dressed as a reindeer shakes a large yellow bucket. Our hero comes into view briefly. The reindeer lady shakes her bucket at him but he doesn’t slow down. If anything he speeds up.

We catch up with our hero outside a shop with all types of Christmas ephemera in the window. It is the kind of shop that sells Halloween costumes, then fireworks, and then Christmas decorations in that order. For nine months of the year it sells only air. It has an inconsequential name that begins with a ‘Z’. Our hero stands facing the store, staring at the brightly coloured items in the window as the rest of the town passes him by. Suddenly he rushes inside, and then just as suddenly he emerges again. He slams the door hard and the decorations in the window shake. He must have let in some of the cold air. Our hero walks away from the store not carrying anything. Perhaps he bought some air on sale from way back in the autumn.

We set off again behind our hero as he cuts through the dense crowd. A lady passes him with a festive but impractical hat. She looks cold. Above the crowd, we can see that the town’s Christmas lights have been turned on. It makes the place seem a lot darker than a moment ago. In the darkness we briefly lose our hero, then notice him heading inside a hardware store. This is one of those old fashioned places that sell everything: gravy granules, houseplants, welding equipment and fishing tackle. The name above the doorway sounds like someone who has an excellent moustache, and has been hand painted there by someone with talent. Our hero emerges with a large, unmarked white carrier bag. He sets off the way he came.

We see our hero walk past the shop that sells air. The ‘OPEN’ sign in the window has a festive motif and is being turned. We see him pass the empty corner where the lady reindeer used to be, and the high street where market stalls are being taken apart and put back into vans. Above the town we wait for him on the frosted playing field. The town below has a pleasing orange glow. By the time our hero appears it is completely dark. It must have been a long way after all. As he walks toward us, the sound of his footsteps on the frozen grass becomes clearer. His breath is nicely illuminated by the orange glow of the streetlamps.

He walks past us without slowing and we follow behind, past the bus stop and eventually round the corner leading on to his street. This street is anything but dark. On both sides, as far as the eye can see, the houses are lit up or flashing. There is not synchronisation. Our hero stops in the centre of the road, gazing down at the street. He and the carrier bag are silhouetted against it. He walks over to the house by the corner. Strips of light outline the windows and doors, and make it looks as though a child had drawn it in brightly coloured crayon. The inflatable snowman nearly fills the front garden, its arms waggling comically in the breeze. It has a wide and pleasant smile on its face.

Our hero sets off down the street, and eventually comes back to his house. There are no decorations of any sort. As he walks to the door, he looks to his left and notices something. We look to the side and see that the house next door is bare as well. The front window flickers with a faint light. Our hero continues to look that way.

We see him head next door and ring the doorbell. It takes a while, but eventually a light comes on in the porch and a small old lady stands in the doorway. After a brief moment they both go inside. We gaze at the outside of the old lady’s house for a while. With a sudden flicker, a small sign reading ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS’ lights up in the window. It doesn’t flash but the lights are bright red and green. Our hero emerges from the house and closes the door behind him. He takes a wreath out of the carrier bag and hooks it onto the old lady’s door.

The final glimpse we catch of our hero comes as he gazes up and down the street with a wide and pleasant smile on his face. His frosted breath rises in front of his glasses, obscuring the reflection of the brightest street in England.

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