They Said There'll be Snow at Christmas

Tom used to love Christmas but the thought of a Christmas without his loved ones has made him bitter to everything about the season.


2. December 4 years Ago

"I remember one Christmas morning 
A winters light and a distant choir 
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell 
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire" 

Greg Lake – I Believe in Father Christmas 

December (Four Years Previously) 

It's amazing the difference a year makes to life. A year ago, although ill, my dad had been here and we had one of the best times I think we'd ever experienced. I guess we knew it might be his last Christmas but in truth we never mentioned it. Being close to death, or being near to someone who was close to death, makes you appreciate everything about life. Arguments are futile, just wasted moments that we have precious few of left but yet that Christmas we managed not to argue too much. 


That weekend we got up late after having had a marathon Doctor Who night watching four hours of classic Tom Baker. Dad took longer than me getting dressed and ready. He was only recently out of hospital and a myriad of drugs had to be taken and digested before we left the house. It was a cold day, the white frost coating the car like a furry rug. The air was crisp with our breath condensing in the coldness. Bright pale blue skies overhead made us realise that the temperature wasn't going to go up much. In all a perfect winter day. 


We set off for a nearby city joining the throngs pushing onto the tram to travel into the centre. There was something about the atmosphere of everyone that raised the spirits even further. Everyone was good natured, happy and pleasant, a far cry from the usual morning crush where it was everyone for themselves, jostling for position with no care for anyone else. The tram journey was short, whisking us painlessly into the heaving bosom of the city.  


A Christmas market stood on the main street of the town, the smell of Bratwurst and frying onions potently wafted over making my stomach jump with delight in anticipation. Crowds were everywhere. Santa hats bobbed along in lines as people made their slow progress around the stalls. Even though I was sixteen, I still felt an acute sense of bewilderment at all the gifts and stalls. Each stall held something I really wanted, couldn't do without until I moved on to the next stall and there was something I wanted more.  


I'm not a fan of crowds but even though it was busy, I felt safe inside my little bubble. It took an age before we reached the other side and escaped into the relative quietness of the street. We sat outside Starbucks with huge red cups of hot chocolate warming our hands whilst the velvety sweet drink warmed our inners as it slithered down. I'd seen a few presents to buy my dad as well as somethings I wanted. 


Revitalised from the drink we plunged headfirst again into the crowds, by now increasing in density. Separating I concentrated on getting the things for my dad before meeting him at the other side again. We grabbed huge bratwurst sausages, smothered in mustard and heaped high with brown caramelised onions which we ate with relish on the journey back in the tram. 


Later that day we went to the local garden centre to pick up a tree. It seemed even more manic there than it had in town. It was like a rugby scrum. Little old women belying their appearance, pushing you aside. Eventually we surfaced with a tree and got it home, the smell of the pine needles filling the car. Decorating the tree was always that first real sign of Christmas and a ritual we observed. Christmas music on the player we placed each of the decs on the tree, the lights, tinsel. Finally the angel went on the very tip. It was old, a relic of my dads childhood, each year lovingly placed to guard over us. Greg Lake's 'I believe in Father Christmas' started playing the music soothing and creating a serene backdrop. 


"Not a bad tree this year" he said, as always. 


"No really good", I said 


He hugged me. Lately little things seemed to get too much for him, as if he was doing them for the last time. He always tried to keep his emotions at bay but this was affecting him. It was if he knew that this was the last time he'd do this. We stood together whilst the song ran it's course. Comforting words from a bygone age that had extra poignancy today.  


"Come on, lets put the lights up outside" he said when the song stopped.  


It was becoming dark when we finished, the cold creeping back into the world. The ever present frost starting to gain an extra layer as the light dropped. We finally went inside and collapsed into chairs with mugs of steaming tea. Dad fell into a deep sleep exhausted by his physical actions. I busied myself making the tea.  


"Not going out with Megan tonight?" He asked when he woke up. 


"No, thought we'd stay in and watch a film" I replied. In truth I was spending more time with Dad than I was with Megan. She understood that I needed to, even though Dad was always insistent that I got on with my life as though nothing else was happening. At times like tonight though, I feared the worst, saw how this once energetic and proud man was struggling to do the easy things, as though his mind was willing but the body could not longer do things.  That night we watched a cheesy Christmas film that made us laugh as well as cry. Dad fell asleep a few times.  


Christmas Day came and with it a welcome thawing in the family tensions. My mum and dad had split up a few years before and my sister had gone to live with mum whilst I stayed with Dad. Over the intervening years the atmosphere had been toxic whenever they met. They tried not to bring Anne and I into it but inevitably we were drawn into the endless disputes. I'd worried for days that it turn out to be a pitched battle over the Turkey dinner but to my relief it seemed that it was almost like the old days. 


We all sat around the tree eating bacon sandwiches and opening our presents. In spite of me being sixteen, I still got a buzz out of getting presents, almost as much as seeing them received. Laughter rang around the house like bells peeling. Dinner went well with dad and I doing our usual double act in the kitchen juggling sprouts and parsnips, producing mounds of food which we all ate with great gusto. Dad didn't eat much, picking at his food but smiling. His appetite was diminished these days.  


It was like the Christmas truce in the trench, hostilities kept at bay throughout the long day. It was never far away though and as the day lengthened so did the tension. Late in the evening Mum and Anne left and it was just my dad and I playing games on the Xbox we'd had as a joint present.  


"Never blame your mother and sister for everything" he'd said quietly 


"OK' I said dubiously. In some ways I did blame them, they weren't around, didn't see the pain he was in some mornings. 


"Seriously Tom, you'll need them one day, I won't always be here for you" 


Looking at him that moment I realised that he knew the end was in sight. Tears ran down my cheeks uncontrollably but I kept looking forward and playing the game. Things at that moment came into sharp focus. I was scared, both for my dad and for me.  


"Did you enjoy the day?" Dad asked eventually, his voice unsteady. 


"Yes, it was the best ever" I said truthfully and it had been. No arguments, an amazing time. 


"Good," he said, "Christmas is a time to come together and be happy, not to fall apart. Always remember that that's why this time of year is so special." 


I looked at him seeing the tears in his eyes. We both struggled to get our emotions under control. I didn't want to lose him. Sure we argued and fought like anything but the love that existed between us kept that strong bond that nothing could part. The rest of the Christmas holidays passed by peacefully. Dad and I spent time laughing and playing games. 


A few months later Dad lost his battle against Leukaemia. Cancer in any form was horrible but the way he wasted away after that Christmas was terrible to watch. A bit of the joy that is Christmas died that year. 

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