The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
-The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock T.S.Eliot
I’m alone for once, not out, not on a trip here or there for any particular reason or to put down any big bad. Just sitting around, not doing anything. On a holiday. On Christmas. I can’t remember the last time that happened. Ever. That’s what having a right shite family life does to you.
Maybe I’ll take a walk. Yeah, a walk. I’ll take a nice brisk stroll, have a couple o’ fags on the corner by the streetlight. Just a quiet night.
It’s snowing. That light fluffy stuff what the tot’s can’t abide ‘cause they can’t make snowballs an’ forts. I trudge through it easily enough. There’s a bench, probably for the bus. Snow’s there too, and the last thing I want is my arse soddin’ wet. Ha. Hand’s are cold already, so’s not too hard done to wipe that white stuff off, make some room for my backside.
The streetlamps are lit up nice an’ bright, but with the snowfall everything looks hazy. It’s that warm yellowish sort like that fella Eliot wrote about in that poem. Something about window-panes and smoke and muzzles. Right sorry bastard that J. Alfred Prufrock. Made his own hell, he did.
I’m sucking on a silk cut when she appears. It’s about half gone and the ash is sitting like a stain on the snow. She’s at the end of the row, walking along. She’s got a file folder in her hand. Appeared outta nowhere, she did. Snow’s so soft I can’t even hear her footsteps. The world’s all muted, like I’ve just left a Pistol’s gig back in ‘77, high, buzzed, and with my eardrums half blown out.
There goes a cat. Little beast plods along like it’s got somewheres to be. None o’ my business. The woman’s getting closer now. I think she’ll walk right on past but I’m not so sure. Not many folks anymore like to sit down next to a regular chimney. Plus there’s the snow.
Her scarf’s fluttering; it’s red, like a caged bird. Cardinal maybe. I’ve heard of people keeping those as pets before. She’s gonna sit. She’s slowed and she’s eyeing the spot by me. I plunked down right smack in the middle, but that isn’t gonna deter her. Bugger that.
I don’t drop the fag, even though it’s about done for. Pure spite. Only me could be pure spite on bloody fucking Christmas.
“Can I sit?”
“Sure if you’re lookin’ to freeze your arse off,”
“For a while. Not too keen on the cold, really, but it’s Christmas, and you’re sitting outside alone. Sucking a cancer stick,”
She brushes off the spot.
“How’d you know I’m not outside just for a smoke then?”
“Cause you’re sitting. That implies you haven’t got anywhere to be,”
It’s fucking bollocks. I wanted to enjoy this alone . A nice quiet puff. Apparently it’s too much to ask on Christmas.
“What’s your name,”
“I’m Ellie Escher,”
“Name’s have got power, you know,”
I don’t know what I say it. I put the fag back between my lips. Clasp my hands together. Wait. She doesn’t say anything.
“What are you doing, sitting here on a bench next to a poor ol’ sod like me?”
“My festivities are over for the night,”
“Your friends abandon you then?”
“I was caroling. It’s something I do every year,”
“Ah,”. Traditions. The only tradition I’ve got is drinking weekend with Chas in the pub.
We sit in silence again. I’m stubbing out what’s left of my silk cut and reaching for another when she looks at me, dead on. It’s uncanny.
“God rest ye merry, John. You look like you could use some good tidings,”.
She stands and walks off then, light like a fucking feather through the snow.
I’m sucking the cig down good when I stand. I can still see her a ways down the road, going in my direction. Past the church. She looks wistfully in through the window before moving on, but she turns and there I am, following her like a sodding stalker.
“If you’re going this way, you might as well walk with me,” She waits while I catch up. My curiosity’s got the better of me.
“Maybe I’m just seeing you home alright. You never know, even in a place like this,” I hedge, shifting.
There’s a look on her face like she knows I’m full of it but we walk all the way to her flat.
“You coming in?”
She turns away and starts up the step.
“Why that one?” I ask as I stand at the threshold.
“God Rest Ye Merry. That one. Why that one?”
“Come up and I’ll tell you,”
“Tell me and I’ll come up,”
She smiles the secret smile of all women. Every single one I’ve known has that look mastered. “It’s my favourite. I thought you needed to hear it,”
“Guess you’re going to have to come in to find out,”
I think about it for a minute before shrugging and following her up. Something doesn’t feel right, but then, not much ever feels right on Christmas Eve. Par for the course in my line of business.
She opens the door to the flat with a jingle of the key and we enter. She walks in, shoes and all, and I follow her lead, sitting down on her couch without and bollocks about it. She comes back out from the kitchen holding two stouts. She hands one to me and sits down across from the couch on a kitchen chairs she’d pulled round.
“Cheers,” I toast her.
“So, why then?”
“Because I want to know,” I’m a right cheeky bastard when I want to be. Pushy too. She’s a nice lady and I’m being an arse but I don’t much care.
“What about it moved you to follow me home?”
“I know the song,” I shrug. “S’not like I haven’t heard it before,”
I shrug again. “Not sure there’s a big difference,” Took a swallow
“ To save us all from Satan’s pow’r lest we’d go astray ?”
When I look up from my beer, she’s gone. There’s no one there. I’m in my own goddamned flat, drinking my own goddamned beer. Alone. I take another swig.
“Comfort and fucking Joy my arse,” I grouse.
The chair she pulled out is still there. Was I in her flat to begin with? Was it an illusion? Is Zee messing with me? Or it is the booze? Have I been drinking longer than I thought? But the chair is there, so I’ll hold on to that.
I polish off the stout and reach for the end table to set it down and that folder she was holding slides to the ground.
Sheet music spills out.
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.
“Merry Fucking Christmas, and to all a good night,”
I pull the chain on the lamp and fall asleep as Christmas morning comes to the world.