In The Bleak Midwinter

Snowy village scene. Story about man alone at Christmas

… he realised he missed joyful things from the past

As I pushed open the gate, it started to snow; not just little flakes that would melt before they landed, but great big lumps like saucers.

Just then, my new neighbour came out of her house and gazed up at the white sky.

“I hope it settles,” she said. “I love a proper white Christmas. Snow’s wonderful, isn’t it?”

Angela hated snow. At the first hint of a flake, she’d get the broom and shovel. The thought made my heart heavy.

“Huh,” I replied. “It’s not much fun for us oldies.”

Wendy laughed. “Who are you calling an oldie?” She pulled on gloves, her eyes twinkling. “I wonder how much we’ll get?”

The snow must have fallen for most of the night because I woke to find the garden wearing a thick white coat.

Last time there was snow, the grandchildren came round. They were traipsing in and out of the garden every five minutes, leaving rows of icy footprints.

I loved watching them play, I even joined in and threw some snowballs, but Angela went on and on about the mess and it wasn’t as much fun after that.

I’d just cleared the worst of the snow when the letterbox rattled.

It was a party invite… Happy Christmas from the Browns at No 46. You are invited for mince pies and drinks on the 23rd. Pop in anytime between eleven and five.

They do the same thing every year. I missed it last year. Angela didn’t want to go and she would have been upset if I’d gone on my own.

I was doing the washing up when the phone rang.

“Hi, Dad.” It was my daughter, Susan. She chatted away about this and that before asking if I was sure I didn’t want to join them for Christmas dinner.

“You could stay until New Year. David could come and pick you up – couldn’t you?”

A cheery voice called out, “Sure thing, Pop.”

I shook my head at the name. Angela said he should call me Dad, or Douglas. She said “Pop” wasn’t respectful.

Suddenly an image of lemonade came into my head and I realised, that’s how the name made me feel – as if I was full of bubbles and fizz.

Maybe I should go.

But my mood deflated again when I thought about trying to make conversation all day.

“Thanks, but I’ll be fine. I’ll call again tomorrow, OK?”

I switched on the radio for a bit of background noise, but all I could find were carols, until Slade came on, belting out Merry Christmas Everyone.

If Angela had been there, she would have turned it off.

Involuntarily I smiled, turned up the volume and before I knew it was singing along. It felt good.

The following morning, after I’d let Snoopy out, I went back to bed with a cup of tea knowing everyone else would be up with the lark, stocking up on food.

Angela spent the entire year collecting recipes – turkey curry, turkey paella, turkey risotto, turkey à la something or other…

Last year she produced something that resembled a cross between foam rubber and porridge. I tried, but I couldn’t eat it.

Now she’s gone, I suppose I’ll be able to watch the Queen’s speech – she never enjoyed it.

Right. Time to put the dinner on and call the family. Get it out of the way.

“Hi, Dad,” said Susan. “Have you changed your mind about coming?”

“No, but I promised to call.”

“Any idea when we’ll see you?”

I felt a prick of conscience. I knew she was disappointed but I just didn’t feel like company.

We chatted for a few minutes, mainly about the grandchildren, then Susan tried again…

“If you won’t come for Christmas, how about New Year’s Eve?”

I hesitated for a moment then said, “I’ll think about it. OK?”

As soon as I put down the phone, I wondered why I couldn’t just say yes. They were my family after all.

More snow fell overnight so I had to clear the path again. It was gone eleven by the time I got round to taking Snoopy out.

As we walked past Wendy’s gate, she came out, holding a bottle of wine. That’s when I heard music coming from number forty-six. I guessed she was on her way to the Browns’ party.

She came over and started fussing over Snoopy. Of course, he lapped it up.

“He’s so cute.” She smiled. “Are you going to the Browns’ too?”

“No. I need to walk the dog.”

“I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if you brought him along.”

“I’d better not,” I replied, though the music did sound tempting. “Not everyone likes dogs.”

“You could pop round later. It’s an open house.”

“I’ll think about it. Thanks.”

But after Snoopy’s walk, I settled down to tackle the cryptic crossword. I wasn’t really in a party mood.

Angela used to ask me why I bothered with crosswords. “It’s not as though you ever finish them.”

I frowned. For me, it wasn’t about finishing one, it was about having a go.

She’s been gone for six months now. I thought I’d miss her more than I do. I guess I’m getting used to being on my own again.

A little voice inside me said, maybe I was getting too used to it…

I couldn’t shrug it off and that night I couldn’t sleep.

In the end, I gave up and went downstairs. I stood in the kitchen for ages, watching the snow falling.

It really did look beautiful.

Snoopy couldn’t wait to get outside. He ran up and down like a puppy, making criss-crossing paths in the whiteness, kicking up the snow with his back legs, making me laugh.

I swept the front path but I had no idea what to do for the rest of the day. Then the thought that had been lurking at the back of my mind came surging to the front.

I would go to my daughter’s after all. My heart racing a little, I threw some things into a suitcase and called a cab.

“I’m so glad you decided to come,” said Susan, as she gave Snoopy a cuddle. “I’ll put the kettle on.”

I followed her into the kitchen, my heart suddenly lifting. “Actually, I’d rather have a whisky.”

“Are you sure? It’s only two o’clock!”

“I know, but it’s Christmas after all,” I told her with a grin. “The usual rules don’t apply.”

She called up the stairs. “David, Dad fancies a whisky!”

He came running downstairs brandishing a bottle of my favourite single malt. “This do you?”

“Where have you been hiding that?” I asked him.

My daughter and son-in-law exchanged glances. “Ah,” I said. “You were thinking of Angela.”

Susan nodded. “If she’d had her way, alcohol would be outlawed.”

As I sipped the golden liquid, warm memories came rushing back.

My marriage to Susan’s mother had lasted almost forty years. We used to love Christmas.

We ate and drank too much, played silly games and laughed until our sides ached.

One winter, we had a snowball fight in the garden. My wife was a crack shot. Every snowball landed on target.

She laughed so hard, she fell over.

I looked round the cluttered room. Angela, the woman I’d been dating until recently, would have tidied up, Christmas or not.

I emptied my glass. “Any more where that came from?”

“Sure thing, Pop,” replied David. “I’ll fetch the bottle.”

We had a lovely day, doing things we couldn’t do when Angela was around, like playing games, giggling and being ourselves.

I finally felt just that – myself – for the first time in ages.

A bit later, Susan anxiously took me to one side.

“Are you all right Dad? About Angela, I mean?”

“I’m fine. I only went out with her because I missed your mum so much.”

And it all got out of hand, I thought.

“I miss Mum too,” she said, softly. “Are you OK now?”

“Much better, thanks.” I told her about my friendly new neighbour Wendy and the Brown’s drinks party. “I wish I’d gone now.

“Fortunately, they usually have another do for Burns night. I’m thinking of tagging along.”

“That sounds great, Dad.” She gave me a big hug. “I’m glad you broke up with Angela. She was horrible. So grumpy.”

I had to laugh. “I know. The trouble was, she was making me grumpy too.”

I pulled on my wellies and went to find the grandchildren.

“Right, you two. Who’s up for a snowball fight?”

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