There was no one about. No one. No one walking at 4.30 am except me. One or two taxis went by, their lights off, no longer taking bookings. No wonder. The world, except me, is asleep.
The tide was coming in. It had been high the night before for the road was strewn with shale. Early breakfast then off to Llanbadarn Church for early Communion. We were the first there. The curate was shy, diffident. Are you visiting? he asked. We sat in the Lady Chapel. He knows his way. Altar boy, choirboy, Head Chorister. So many years. Years before I knew him. His brothers did it too. Traditional. Welsh families. Not now. Not now. There were five of us in all, including the curate. I liked the silences. I could hear a robin in the churchyard chirruping.
The tree over his parents’ stone is leafless now. It is gnarled and thorny. The stone is wet with rainwater. He bends down to pick off a slug. Next year I will plant some snowdrops, I say. Yes, he says, his voice catching. Yes, that would be nice.
It is so quiet. I can hear the ticking of my clock in the bedroom.
We listened to the Kings College choir while I prepared the meal. No big fanfare. Cold cuts for him and sprouts for me. The Puritans banned turkey and all that spicy food. Did you know that spicy food was an expression of wealth? They had to come from the Indies back then. The things one picks up. I like it. I am a magpie for it.
The communion wine makes me feel a little heady. The other members of the congregation were two men. One middle-aged, the other quite elderly. The elderly one had a hearing-aid, it whistled. He read the lesson. We all came in jeans and waterproofs. The rain is cold and hard. Bless them in Cumbria. I think of them.
I called them yesterday. My sisters and then her. She said she loved me and that she was tired. Spring will come soon, she said. Is there snow? I asked. No, not yet she said. Do you have a tree there? I asked. Yes, she said, and stars, lots of stars. She said she loved me. I hope it was me she was thinking of. I hope so. I hope so.
An etiquette specialist on the radio talking about when posh people open their presents on Christmas Day. In the interregnum, he said, between breakfast and luncheon.
There are still some students left in town. Stragglers with no homes to go to. There were two lights on in Alexandra Hall. I remember at my boarding school the girls who had to stay behind over Christmas. One house-mistress between them, or they had to shift their things into the San. I felt so sorry for them. A coldness. A left-behind-ness. The other day there were four boys walking along Llanbadarn Road as I set out. They were noisy, walking fast, if a little chaotically. I walked into the road to give them room. They walked on. One called out Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas, I replied, smiling at being noticed. It was enough, that. Then later coming towards home. Another four students, three boys and a girl. One of them was peeing in a grate. I could hear the stream in the dark. Then a tall boy in a t-shirt put his hands in the air as I approached. Don’t stab me, he said. I smiled to myself and keep walking. I thought he was going to stab me, he says to his friend. The girl is saying, no Steve, I know exactly where they live. To your right, they live over there. Later, I could still hear them shouting. One of them had had a whole chicken in a plastic covered tray.
‘This Barret Meeks, is your work,’ thinks the main protagonist in Michael Cunningham’s novel The Snow Queen, ‘you witness and you compile. You persevere…….the building of a high-profile career is not required, not even of those gifted with greater-than-average powers of mind…God…does not need you…to arrive, at the end, in the cloud field, with its remote golden spires, bearing an armload of earthly accomplishments.’ No. It is enough to witness. To bear witness. As I do now. Paying attention.
I like the rituals. The ritual of sharing bread and wine. Drink, eat and be merry, my loves. I think of you, all of you. Merry Christmas, Nadolig Llawen, God Jul. x