Christmas Eve in New York

Entry into the Christmas Competition.
Most Christmas stories depict happy memories although I wanted to show grief around this time.


1. My Sweet Caroline

 New York city is always a joyful place at Christmas with many ice skaters in Central Park and the small families that wander the colourfully lit street of Park Avenue for their perfect cup of Eggnog. Although the sky is dark this Christmas Eve, hundreds of thousands of lights that circled the trees and frame the shop windows illuminate the snow-covered road ahead. Upper East Side was filled with the delicately sweet songs of children and other carollers who marched their way down the street, with little red mittens and thick white scarves keeping them warm.

High above the bustling joy below, Matthew Solway sat alone in apartment in Park Avenue. His living room was dark and no decorations hung from his walls. There was a small Christmas tree that stood next to the large window overlooking Central Park, although it was barren and plain. The Christmas decorations remained in cardboard boxes against the wall next to it, and Matthew had no intentions of unpacking them.

Instead, he continued to sit in his armchair, swirling his whiskey around in its tumbler glass, staring at the liquid as the moonlight streaming in through the window illuminated it ever so slightly.

 For the most of his life, Christmas had been Matthew’s favourite time of year. He loved the joy it brought and the capability for even strangers to show kindness to one another. With his drink still swirling in its glass, Matthew thought of Christmas time two years prior. He’d rushed through the door of Delilah’s Coffee and Cake Bar, rubbing his hands together to numb the icy pain the cold had brought him. Behind him, came his daughter, his sweet Caroline, dressed in a large red coat that was too big for her but she’d loved it anyway.

“Daddy!” She’d called cheerfully, grabbing his hand and cupping it in hers. She gently blew into his hand to warm it for him, bringing a smile to her father’s face.

“My beautiful girl,” Matthew replied with kind eyes and a widening smile as he picked up his little girl. “Hot chocolate with all the marshmallows in the world on top?”

“Not too much sugar!” A voice he recognised all too well, had said. Claire, is wife appeared next to Matthew, and kissed him gently on the cheek. She laughed as she caught sight of her daughter’s bobble hat hanging forward over one of her eyes. Claire pushed her daughter’s hat back into place and pushed the stray strands of blonde hair away from her eyes.

“But it’s Christmas!” Caroline demanded, pumping her fists gently against her father’s arms. “Daddy said, at Christmas time, I can have all the sugar I like!”

“Did he now…” Claire said with a raised eyebrow, looking her husband dead in the eye.

“She tricked me into making a Christmas promise…” Matthew said, shrugging and slightly bemused. “I can’t say no to that!”

The three of them made their order and sat in a booth near a jukebox that played all of their favourite Christmas songs. Matthew, by this point, had heard all of the Christmas songs at least a hundred times each throughout December. Nonetheless, he didn’t care. He sat happily, with his arm around his wife, and watched his child with such a deep love warming his stomach.

Caroline, with a mouth covered in chocolate, grinned up at her parents, her eyes radiating her own love for them and for Christmas.

“Do you want to know why Christmas is my favourite time of the year?” she said, placing her hands enthusiastically on the table.

“Except for all the chocolate and sweets?” Claire laughed, taking a napkin and wiping her daughter’s mouth.

Caroline shooed her mother’s arm away and cleared her voice.

“Because I get you both all to myself! And I love Santa, of course…I hope he brings me that doll I asked him for,” Caroline replied, her smile changing into a frown as she pondered over Saint Nicholas.

“Let’s get you to bed, missy,” Claire said as the song finished and took her daughter’s hand in her own. Matthew followed suit and they left Delilah’s Coffee and Cake Bar for the last time.

Memories like these found Matthew most of the time, and more so when he was alone in his apartment. He finally slugged the whiskey from his tumbler glass and placed it on the glace table beside him.

Opposite him, on top of the fire place, were photos of his family. One of them was a photo from that very Christmas that traumatised him the most. It had captured such a wonderful moment in a day that soon turned into something that would forever haunt him.

Staring at the photo, his memory materialised once again in his mind’s eye.

After leaving the coffee bar, the family had continued down Park Avenue with Caroline jumping playfully as the carollers sang on into late evening. The ice skaters had since left the rink in Central Park and the streets were even fuller than before. Matthew quickly lost sight of his little child who danced on down the street.

“Caroline!” Matthew shouted, his heart starting to pound in his chest. “Come back here!”

Claire pushed through the crowd in search of her child, and she too disappeared from Matthew’s sight.

The loud sounds of gun shots echoed along the street of Park Avenue, causing civilians to scream and run, trying profusely, to push their way past Matthew. He, however, pushed forwards towards the sound of the gun, urging for his sweet wife and child to emerge safely.

An opening appeared, and before Matthew could step further, a nearby police officer grabbed him in his arms.

“Let me go!” Matthew screamed as his eyes fell upon the limp bodies of his family on the frost street floor of New York City. “Caroline! Claire!”

The tears welled in his eyes and fell instantly, blurring is vision. However, the image of his family’s bodies lying still and bloodied on the cold floor refused to leave his mind.

With all the force and might he possessed, he pulled free of the police officer’s grip and crumpled at the floor next to his family. As he reached out to touch his child, a paramedic scooped up Caroline’s still body and hastily placed her on a stretcher and pushed her into a nearby ambulance. The same happened to Claire, whose face was ghostly white and her tan coat was stained with her own blood.

The evening had passed in a blur, within seconds, his family had been in sight, happy and content with the events of Christmas unfolding; the next, they were inside an ambulance on the way to the New York City Hospital.

In present time, Matthew remained in his armchair, contemplating whether or not he should unpack the Christmas decorations his family had loved so much. His heart ached tremendously, for the family that were taken from him and he felt no joy at this time of year.

With a heavy sigh, he lifted himself from the chair and settled down next to a box against the far wall. He lifted the flaps of the cardboard box, revealing baubles, lights, ornaments and photos of his child dancing in the snow that very winter she was taken from him.

With his eyes fixated to the beautiful picture of Caroline, he placed it on the mantelpiece of the fireplace, alongside the other photos. Tears streamed down his tired face and his heart seemed to break all over again. In an urge to honour his little child that died too soon, he unravelled the warm light lights and wrapped them around the naked tree against his apartment window.

One by one, he placed the baubles onto the tree and thought of Caroline and Claire every single moment. When the tree was complete, and filling the room with light, he stepped back for a long moment and gazed upon it. Although Matthew knew Christmas would forever be the hardest time of year for him, it was also the time to remember his family the most.

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