Ghost of Christmas Past
December 21, 2009 in Storytime
There she was, across the street. I watched her, boots crunching across the snowy sidewalk, talking on her cell, shopping bag over one arm, curly dirty-blonde hair cascading from beneath her red knit cap.
The day before Christmas, and it was as if five years melted away, and I could smell her perfume and see her lip tremble, sitting there in the coffee shop. Mid-day, and she had called to ask if we could have coffee, and it was a delight, because I wasn’t supposed to see her until that evening, a Christmas Eve alone, together, with good wine and a roaring fire and the ring, residing in my inner jacket pocket.
She sat there, cheeks still rosy from the cold, eyes clear and radiantly blue, hair flung out and down along her shoulders, and I could tell… something…
“Jack,” she started, haltingly, and I could feel my heart sink as her eyes dipped to stare at her coffee, “I’ve been giving it a lot of thought…” She looked back up, and it was clear she read the expression on my face, for in an instant, the 18 months we’d been together whirled through my brain, as if I were drawing my last breath, and I knew it was over. The words hung on her lips, but she could not say them, and I knew what the words were, and I could not acknowledge them. A tear welled up in my left eye, and I could see a matching one forming in hers. We sat there, the chaos around us shrinking away, in a cocoon of our own woe, exchanging no words, only glances, and tears mixed with coffee. The ring, still in my pocket, now attained the mass of a lead weight, seemingly dragging me down into the abyss.
Time passed. Coffee finished, I stood, glanced at her, tears running down her cheek, and a spiteful corner of my brain seized my lips, and I fairly spat out a “Merry Christmas” in the deepest, most profoundly sad tone I could muster, before turning on her and walking out into the biting cold.
I turned, reflexively, half expecting a specter to be standing beside me, intoning how horrible that moment had been, how it was another in a series of disappointments that shaped me. No ghost — only shoppers, mothers pulling children along by the had, packages threatening to burst bags, and the far off jangling of a bell. I turned back, reacquired her, and continued to watch her walk. I saw her laugh, and swore I could her mellifluous tone across the street, over the din of traffic, but knew it was only my imagination. She looked happy, far happier than that day in the coffee shop. My heart was attempting to impel my feet to move, to walk to her, intercept her in her course, but my brain was having none of it. I’d moved on, painfully, and there was no need to revisit the pain. What good would it do?
Her skirt swished as she walked, dipping and dodging shoppers before her, still chatting away on the phone. Who was she talking to — parents, best friend, lover? I could not, would not know, even though I ached to. My heart practically threatened to stop beating, but my brain would not relent. I could only watch, as if looking into a snow globe and wishing to be amongst the tiny people and village inside. She reached the corner, paused to check for traffic, then strode across the street, and I watched her go until she was swallowed by the crowd. My heart gave up, my body shuddered, as if swept by an Arctic blast, and my brain reasserted control, forcing me back upon my original course. As I trudged away through the throng, I said a little prayer to her happiness, then focused on heading home to my apartment, to spend another Christmas Eve alone.