I pulled the car onto the driveway and sat. And sat. And sat. I didn’t really know what I was waiting for, all I was aware of was a creeping reluctance to leave the warm oasis of the car and go up to the front door.
Once I got out, once I went up to the door and rang the bell, there would be no going back. So I told myself I just wanted to hear the end of the song playing on the radio – a plaintive old blues tune, a tale of loss and sorrow. Blue.
But songs on the radio – even blues songs – tend to be short. If you want a long, meandering wallow, you need to listen to classical music or some of that prog rock, and my radio wasn’t picking up any of that. Blues – ma baby dun left me and ma dawg is daid. That’s it, two and a half minutes. Then you’re on your own.
A thin, scrappy snow was falling. It lacked the commitment of real snow. This wasn’t going to keep us shut up in blessed isolation for any length of time. When I was a child it seemed like every winter we had a good heavy fall of snow. Not anymore.
The radio announced a new song by some boy-band. I wasn’t going to sit there and take that. With a sigh I turned off the ignition, grabbed my bags and got out of the car. A few seconds later my husband was opening the door to let me in. He grabbed some of the bags as an ear-splitting shriek rent the air somewhere in the direction of our sitting-room. His sister and her husband had finally arrived with their four small children, I surmised.
“Sorry Sweetheart, I couldn’t reach my keys,” I said as I kissed his cheek. I frowned at the Christmas-red jumper he was wearing. Another little treasure from his great-aunt, it appeared.
“Guess what?” He said in a good-news voice. Hope flared within me.
“My parents missed their train.”
I stared, unable to believe it. “Thank God,” I said with fervour, and I began to wrestle inside with my shopping. “That’s the best possible…”
“But my brother and his family drove them here. They arrived just a few minutes ago. That means everyone’s here. Sixteen for dinner.” He added, but he was no longer smiling, having registered what I’d just said.
“Sixteen?” I gasped. The only child who married a man with what seemed like a gigantic family. I felt like crying. My perfect Christmas, ruined by children and people and noise and mess. I was tempted to go and get back into the car. Shouting came from the kitchen, accompanied by the crash of pans and tinkling of glass. I whimpered. “Sixteen?”
With a sigh I straightened my shoulders and slapped a smile on my face and headed into the chaos, with a cheery “Happy Christmas!”