Her eyes were open in the darkness when he stumbled in, using his cane to steady himself as he lowered himself into a chair beside her bed. They didn’t speak for a long while, both of them staring off into the middle distance, each of them trying to pretend that things were different and they hadn’t grown old and wasted their lives together. A nurse poked her head through the door at some point, asking him if he wanted the light on. He shook his head, then remembered he was sitting in the darkness and spoke with a voice that seemed rusty from disuse: “No, thanks.”
The nurse gone, the body on the bed seemed to stir a little and he finally turned to address her. “Happy Christmas, babe,” he said, reaching out to take her hand in his. She twitched but let him cover her hand with his own.
“Christmas,” she said finally, shaking her head, and her voice sounded as rusty as his own. “You were in the drunk tank again, weren’t you?” Her tone was long past bitterness or even resignation, she was simply stating a fact.
“I dreamed of you,” he said, voice shifting to carry a hint of softness in it. “I dreamed I’d won at eighteen to one and all our troubles were over.”
She just shook her head and sighed a little. He went on. “I want to tell you a story. I call it the Fairytale of New York.”
Over on the bed he could see her smile appear. “Go on, then,” she said. “Tell me about us.”
“Once upon a time,” he began, taking her hand in both of his and drawing close to her side, “there was handsome Charlie Prince and pretty Queenie, the Queen of New York City. And it was a cold, snowy, windy Christmas Eve, as they can only be in New York. She was singing in a club on the Lower East Side and he was there with some mates, and he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Neither could anyone else. When the band finished playing, the audience screamed for more, and she gave them an encore or two but then had to go. Her set was over.”
Her hand tightened around his and she laughed, just a little, at the memory. “Go on.”
“Some young punk called Frank Sinatra took the stage and she headed off into the wind and snow. But Charlie, not caring about anything or anyone else, left the club and caught up with her. Somehow she liked him, and agreed to go out with him. There on a cold corner he promised he would show her all the lights of Broadway, and kissed her.”
“And their fate was sealed from that moment,” she whispered.
“They went dancing, and then they got engaged, and then they married. They had a wonderful son named after his father, but the beautiful Queenie was very ill with a respiratory disease for a long time soon after her son’s birth, and her singing career was gone. Charlie tried dozens of ways to make money for the next several years, because all he wanted to do was help his Queenie but every scheme seemed to fall through. Queenie fell in with a bad crowd, and that made matters worse. They promised her the earth but just delivered smack instead. Charlie went for the drink and desperate times fell on the pair.”
There were tears in both pairs of eyes now, but Charlie carried on, doggedly, haltingly. “One day the state took away their boy when he was just ten years old, the pride and joy of their lives. Queenie was lost now, and Charlie didn’t want to feel anything, so he tried to drown it in getting drunk, getting beaten up, losing gambling bets he couldn’t afford to pay. Years went by like this, the two of them barely scraping by until she was taken to the hospital one evening, drowning in heroin and despair. He was drowning too, and there was nothing left to try.” There was nothing left for either of them, nothing but a slow death, unless he could make it a quick one.
With a gentle gesture, he laid her hand back on the bed, and took something out of his coat pocket. She took a deep breath when she realised what it was, and sighed. “I’m ready, babe, just end it,” she said.
“I love you,” he whispered, standing up, and pointed the gun.
At that moment, the light switched on and a strong young voice could be heard, though through the shock of the light Charlie couldn’t quite comprehend it at first. The gun was taken from his hands and he collapsed back into the chair. “Dad? Mom?” the voice said, and Charlie looked up and saw a face he never thought he would see again.
“Charl? Oh god, Charles!” he found himself saying. “My baby boy!” Queenie too, lifted her head and held out her arms, and both of them were suddenly embraced by their long-lost son, now a grown man who seemed to be all legs and arms. There were other people too, in the background, but they didn’t matter, only their boy who was lost and now found.
“How, how did you find us?” he whispered after the shock died down a little. He was conscious of a great weakness overcoming his body and wondered how long it had been since he’d consumed anything other than the cheapest drink possible.
“My foster parents are on the board of this hospital,” Charles said, drawing back a little and gesturing to the pair of older women in the background, who moved forward at that. “I saw Mom’s name on the roster, and I ran to this room, and I’m so glad I did. I stopped you from doing something horrible.”
Charlie took his wife’s hand in his and put his other arm around his boy’s waist. He bent to kiss Queenie, and their tears mingled together on their lips. Very close to her, he managed to quietly whisper: “And this is how the fairytale ends. The odds were far greater than eighteen to one but their numbers came up when their boy came back. I think I can say, they all lived happily ever after.”And Queenie's hand came up to gently caress his face and together they listened to the bells beginning to ring out the Christmas morning.
Three years later, Charlie sat on a comfortable sofa in a warm house, surrounded by good things to eat, and with Queenie at his side. His son's foster parents, Alicia and Jill Devonshire-Hopkins, were expected any minute and he was looking forward to switching on the television soon for the best Christmas present he could possibly imagine.
The doorbell rang, and he went to answer it with a look of excitement and happiness.
"Merry Christmas, Alicia, merry Christmas Jill, come on in," he exclaimed, hugging them both. Queenie, just behind him, echoed his words and the hugs. Everyone trooped back to the living room and settled in on the sofa as Queenie hit the right buttons on the remote.
"And now, live from California, presenting Charlie Prince Junior and Diana Jones with their hit Christmas single, Fairytale of New York," the announcer said.
And as their boy took to the stage, all four parents raised glasses, and Alicia stood up to clink her glass with Charlie's. "To our boy," she said, and they all drank to that.