The rain is incessant here today. Great globules of glistening raindrops that hurl themselves in a fury at the windows. An arc of lightning flashes in the clouds illuminating the rain-sodden landscape. Then, a peal of thunder so loud I almost consider diving under my bed until I catch hold of myself and remember I’m not a child any more. I count the seconds till it comes again so I know how close by it is. It’s surely not far. Perhaps as far as the bridge in the village.
I remember being children and hiding under the covers, quaking with fear , attempting to laugh each other out of our terror when the thunder came. He used to say it was God moving the furniture and I used to tell him “Sshhhh” . It felt irreverent somehow. He’d pull a face mockingly but then hold his tongue . We were always close, even though he was younger. I used to pretend he was mine. I never told him that.
This Christmas I am alone. My friends, so steadfast at first, have been slowly reabsorbed into the bosom of their own families and my parents have mercifully died. I don’t mind being alone, truly. It’s easier than pretending I am over it or it doesn’t hurt any more.
I sit by the fire and watch Songs of Praise on Christmas Eve, my one concession to the season. I go to bed early and lay awake for hours, thinking about him. I finally drift off and am woken from random dreams by the clatter of the letterbox.
The wind is always a stealthy visitor to my cottage attempting to gain entrance wherever it can, the gaps around the windows, blowing through the key holes like a desperate invisible guest.
I light another fire in the living room shivering as I do so in my feeble dressing-gown. I open the card that has been lying on the mat and add it to the collection on the mantelpiece. It is from Mrs.Roberts next door. She must have dropped it in on her way to church.
In the beginning, she seems glad to have me for a neighbour until she realises how standoffish I am. She calls me a loner and she’s given up trying to get me to go next door for a meal. I know she is just trying to be neighbourly but I don’t want the commitment of letting her close to me.
Some time later I sit down and get on with the job in hand. No huge Christmas dinner for me. Mine will be a microwave meal. Why go to fuss when there is only me to eat it?
I lay the present on the paper and cut it to size, neatly wrapping it and attaching the tag. I sit and chew the end of the pen for a minute while I think of what to write. In the end I write his name and a kiss.
The first Christmas I spent ages trying to decide on the perfect gift. That was in the beginning when I was hopeful. This year it is just a token gift. I write the card and then balance the present on the top of the pile. Five gifts. One for every year he has been missing.