I think it’s Christmas Day.
It looks like Christmas Day. Or like my idea of what Christmas Day ought to look like, based on years of working in TV advertising (TV – Remember that? Ha). The snow is a half a metre deep at my front door and is still falling.
‘No walk today,’ I say. The dog just looks at me. I don’t think he appreciated the joke.
I’ve been counting the days off on the calendar; small marks so that I can use it again. I can’t be sure about the date, obviously. My memory isn’t great; I’ve missed a few days this year.
The dog tips his head to one side.
‘Let’s see what we’ve got to eat.’
I go into the kitchen and move the loose tile above the door. The key falls into my hand.
‘Tadaa!’ I say. I always say that.
I go down into the basement and start moving stuff out of the way. It seems darker than usual. I stand on the dog’s tail and he yelps, loudly.
‘Sorry, boy. I can’t see a thing.’
Finally my eyes adjust enough to make out the door. I feel around for the keyhole. I find it, then drop the key.
I start feeling around for it in the dark. Adrenaline tears through me, making my hands shake and my eyes water.
‘God, where is it?’
Finally my hand closes around its cold metal. It’s rolled underneath an old cabinet. I’m alternating between prayers and curses. I don’t care. I got the key back.
When the door’s open I start to count the tins. I always do this. It’s calming. I still have around 500, plus some dried pasta. I had a bag of oats but mice got in. Rodents are true survivors.
My heartrate is starting to go back to normal. I sit in the doorway for a while, holding the key tightly. Then I reach in and blindly grab a tin. I lock up and push all of the junk back in front of the door.
That’s when I hear it. A sound that doesn’t belong. Outside, I think. I hope. My adrenaline spikes again. My palms start to sweat, despite the cold.
I decide to look out of the bedroom window to try to see who’s there without being seen.
‘Stay,’ I whisper. The dog settles down on the floor. He doesn’t look nervous.
I don’t use the bedrooms much; part of the roof has gone. I nailed some old tarpaulin over the gap but it’s not enough to keep out the bad air and the cold. I just store things here. I don’t even know what I’m storing them for.
I can see her clearly from the bedroom window. An old woman. She’s looking through the crap in the front yard, presumably trying to find food. I begin an internal battle with my conscience, knowing all the while I’m not going to let her in.
Then she looks up. She sees me. I hate it when they see me.
I go back downstairs and sit down next to the dog.
She starts hammering on the door and the dog jumps up and starts barking. She’s shouting something. I curl up in the corner and try to muffle the sound with my hands. Then it stops.
I know she hasn’t gone. They don’t give up that quickly. A moment later I hear a heavy sound. It takes me a moment to place what it is.
I have to stop her. I run to the door.
She’s ready for me. As soon as the door opens she pushes past me. Shit.
‘You can’t stay here!’ I snap, hoping my fear isn’t obvious. ‘You need to leave.’
‘Shut the door,’ she growls, dusting snow off her clothes. I close it. I know her. How do I know her?
We stare at each other.
‘You,’ she says.
‘Carolyn,’ I groan. Christmas Day isn’t shaping up to be a good day. ‘Why were you throwing stuff at the windows?’
‘Knew it’d get you to the door,’ she says.
‘You could’ve broken them.’
She shrugs. ‘You weren’t going to let me in otherwise.’
I’m not going to deny it.
‘You can’t stay here,’ I say, again.
‘I’m not leaving. You don’t own this house.’
That is true.
‘Yes I do.’
‘No, you don’t. I know the man who owns it. Knew him. Bit of a weirdo. Not you. And besides,’ she adds. ‘Even if you owned it, what would it matter now?’
‘I have no food. I was going to leave tomorrow.’
‘You got that.’ She points to the dog.
‘No. He isn’t food.’
‘You’re not that hungry then, are you?’
‘Can’t you just leave? You’re not welcome.’ Why my house? Why?
‘I’m going nowhere. You don’t like it you can try your luck out there. Wouldn’t recommend it though.’
She pushes past me into the sitting room and gives a short laugh.
‘How long have you been here?’
‘Since a couple of days after.’
‘It’s been, what? Three years? And there’s no mess. It’s the end of the world and you’re tidying up.’
‘Don’t say that.’
‘Alright, I won’t say it. Doesn’t make it any less true though, does it?’
She sits down on one of the chairs. A cloud of dust flies from it. The tiny dust particles linger in the air, mirroring the snow outside.
‘Don’t you sit in here?’ she asks.
I shrug. ‘I mostly sit on the floor with my dog.’
‘Does he have a name?’
I shake my head. ‘I haven’t given him one. There didn’t seem much point.’
‘There’s no point at all. That’s why we should eat it.’
‘I’m not eating my dog! I can’t believe I’m actually having to say that to you!’
‘So give me some damn food then!’
I sigh, and stand up. ‘Alright, one night, one meal. Then you go.’
‘If you say so.’
‘I do. Wait here.’
I go into the kitchen and look at the tin I brought up with me. Damn. Fruit cocktail. I really like the fruit tins; they’re like a treat, a little bit of sunshine in the darkness. I hide the tin in a cupboard.
‘Stay here,’ I call to Carolyn. I get the key and go back down into the basement. I start moving the boxes and then I hear a sound behind me.
‘I told you to wait.’
‘You knew I wouldn’t though. I mean, who would?’ She was looking around. ‘It’s very dark.’
I roll my eyes. ‘The electricity got cut off.’
I open the cupboard and reach inside for a tin.
‘How much is in there?’
I lock the door again and pocket the key. I’ll wait till she’s out of the way before I put it back.
The tin contains tuna fish. I already know that from the shape. We can divide it three ways. Not much, but enough to keep us alive.
‘You expect me to share with your dog?’
‘Well, think again. I’ll have half, thanks. What you do with your portion is up to you.’
The thought of bringing the tin down on her head crosses my mind, briefly. I have to remind myself that I don’t do that kind of thing. I’m not one of them.
Of course she’s hungry. I divide the tin into two portions, giving myself fractionally more. She notices and snatches my dish. She starts to eat it with her hands. In less than a minute she’s finished and is looking at my share hungrily.
‘No. You’ve had yours.’
‘You’re not giving that to the dog, are you?’
‘Yes I am. My share, remember?’
She makes a ‘pfft’ noise as she watches me put the fish into the dog’s bowl. I eat my tiny portion silently, then get some water from the bucket to rinse the dishes. The darkness and cold are beginning to creep into the house; evening is approaching.
‘Ever light that thing?’ Carolyn asks, pointing at the stove in the fireplace.
I shake my head. ‘I wouldn’t know how.’
She makes an impatient noise and then goes over to take a look. ‘We need firewood,’ she says, looking at the dining table and chairs. A small part of me wants to cry as she breaks up the first chair. But the warmth from the fire does feel good.
‘Why does it bother you so much?’ she asks a while later, as we sit in front of the flames. ‘Damaging things, I mean. You must know that the owner’s not coming back?’
‘I like things to be normal,’ I say. She snorts.
For a few minutes things aren’t so bad. We sit there and watch the flames and ignore our hunger and each other as the darkness grows around us.
‘It’s Christmas Day,’ I say, eventually.
‘It’s Christmas Day. Or at least I think it might be. I’m using an old calendar.’
She’s silent for a moment. ‘Merry Christmas,’ she says, eventually.
We’re silent for a moment. Then she says: ‘Remember when we were all worried about plastic? We all started using bamboo coffee mugs to save the fish?’
‘And now everyone’s fighting over the old plastic because it’s the only thing that’s survived intact. I always thought the environmentalists were wrong.’
I look outside and wonder how to point out the obvious contradiction in what she was saying. I decide not to bother.
‘This’ll be the last one for me, anyhow,’ she says, after a while.
‘The last what?’
‘You don’t know that. None of us thought we’d survive this long.’
‘I’m pretty sure. I’ve been outside too long, breathing in all the bad stuff. Even if I don’t starve to death-‘
‘Can you please stop? It’s Christmas.’ I’m pleading, now. God, I sound pathetic even to myself. She stops, and suddenly looks a lot older.
‘You were a terrible employee,’ she says, after a moment. I stop feeling sorry for her. ‘We were going to fire you if you hadn’t decided to leave.’
‘You were a terrible boss,’ I answer. She smiles, and I smile back. I make a decision. A small decision, but it seems important somehow.
‘Would you like some fruit salad? A Christmas treat?’
She nods and I fill our bowls. The dog gets some too. We devour it hungrily.
‘And God bless us, every one,’ says Carolyn.
The fire sputters out and the last of the light dies. I curl up under a blanket next to the dog as I always do and go to sleep.
When I wake up a while later she’s gone. I look out of the window; a path has been dug through the snow. I spend a restless hour waiting for her to come back but she doesn’t. I feel strange. As though I’ve lost something. I wish she’d never come here.
I decide to do something I haven’t done in three years. I will leave the house. The trembling starts as soon as I make the decision. I try to leave and change my mind three or four times before I actually make it to the garden.
You can smell the poison in the air: it’s thick with that chemical stench. I visualise it working its way into my lungs and I nearly turn back.
It’s not easy to walk through the snow and the piled up crap but at least I can follow Carolyn’s path.
She didn’t get far. I find her at the end of the garden. She’s already got quite a thick layer of snow on her; she’s alive but she doesn’t look good. I walk her back to the house. She doesn’t seem to be aware of me.
I sit her on one of the sofas and put my blanket around her. I try to remember how she lit the fire; eventually I get a tiny spark to catch on the paper and wood. Little by little she starts to regain consciousness.
‘You should have left me,’ she said.
‘I couldn’t,’ I say. ‘Not on Christmas Day.’
A smile twitches at the corner of her mouth.
One thought on “Christmas Day”
I like this, very much, is there more?