This is a short story I wrote a few years ago about a time when I lived in Toronto. For the past three years, it’s been told on 99.3 County FM radio as part of their seasonal stories broadcast. I edited it slightly since then and thought I should put it down in writing somewhere to share.
Jwaye Nwel and/or warmest winter wishes,
Drifting on a Christmas Eve
The rooming house has expelled all of the familiar comings and goings, all the voices and footsteps of its inhabitants and their yuletide pursuits. The homesick college students, the old artist, and the part time bartender and sometime busker have all skipped town like thieves in the night. There is only me and the room breathing in time to the blinking of the Christmas lights in my window.
I have a small tree keeping me company. It is an evergreen that smells of the forest and defies the rule about real trees forbidden in the house. On the window ledge, I have reassuring holiday greetings in cards from far away family and friends. The room is otherwise stingy with its comfort. The heat has been intermittent today as so often happens. I put on extra socks and pad downstairs to the kitchen for tea. The cat, small and grey, sleeps on his favourite paint splattered chair.
Snow is falling outside, spotlighted by yellow glow of the back porch bulb. As I stir my tea, I think that maybe I will go to my new city friend’s Christmas Eve party after all.
I take the subway and a streetcar to her place following detailed handwritten directions she’d given me at work. I bring a little something for her tree. It is a Christmas ball that I shaped from neatly cut strips of a recycled card. Glittery gold and red, and wrapped in tissue, it fits in my pocket where I cradle it like an egg in the warmth of my mitt.
My friend lives in a tall building. There is a doorman, also tall. The foyer is a replica of a decorating magazine cover and smells faintly of perfume and leather from the sleek sofa. Towering in the corner, a majestic white Christmas tree stands sentry. The doorman walks to the glass topped reception desk and buzzes my friend’s apartment, announcing my arrival on the intercom. He smiles weakly at me and goes back to reading the open pages of his Toronto Sun newspaper.
On the 12th floor, I find a peephole on the door of #1204 that is partially concealed by a wreath made of pink feathers. It reminds me of a hat in an old Hollywood movie.
My friend greets me before I knock. She is all sparkles and smiles. I am introduced. Someone takes my coat. I venture tentatively into the festivities. I eat savory spreads on oblong crackers and kalamata olives. I drink wine the colour of the hostess’s dress while rootless conversations drift around the room. Words skim the breathtaking view of the city, black and glittering as a starlet’s sequined dress. The sentences weave and dip into the apartment’s arched alcoves, through to the dining room and into the gleaming kitchen where they meet voices and laughter that mingle with ice cubes clattering in half empty glasses.
There is a polished grand piano, but no one plays. Jazz standards and Christmas carols by crooners underlie conversations. An older man drinks too much and an embarrassed woman steers him down the long hallway. A cocktail is spilled and my friend rushes with a tea towel and club soda to save the rug. There is a solitary young girl at the party. She looks about 6 years old and is wearing a lime green party dress with matching tights. Curled in a chair, she is already dreaming. An hour after I arrive, I leave.
Downstairs the doorman is wrapping a scarf around his neck preparing for the end of his shift. We leave at the same time and walk together to the streetcar stop, leaning into the unforgiving wind. After the usual exchange of banalities about the weather, he tells me that he is anxious to get home to his wife and daughter. His little girl has decorated their flat, and she has strung the longest green and red paper chain he’s ever seen he says, chuckling. It is an especially joyful night because his mother has just arrived from Haiti. A shared midnight supper is planned after decorating the tree.
The streetcar rattles on and squeals on the tracks as it makes its way. My stop is next. I withdraw my tissue wrapped decoration, still intact in my pocket, and give it to him. I wish I knew how to say Merry Christmas in Haitian Creole.
Back in my room, snow is falling outside my window. The cat walks on the window ledge and knocks over my cards. I reach out and lift the little ball of fur into my arms and we curl up for a sleep together. The room is still breathing. Tomorrow I go home.