She lights up when you turn up, he said as we were getting into the car. I think it perplexes him that she appears to be more at ease with me than him, it is usually the other way round. And I must confess I like hearing her talk. I like to hear about her family, her life. I can picture it. I am in it as she talks.

As she ran my apples through the scanner, I brought the subject round to Christmas once again. I asked her about Christmas Eve. Do you do anything special? No, she said, I’m working, so I usually bring a sandwich platter home from work and we all help ourselves. No one has to do any work then. And we watch a film or something. Do you give the kids stockings? No, boxes, she replied. We all go out to see the space station. Space station? I ask. Yes, it flies over at about that time. And we pretend it’s Santa and then when they come in the boxes are out. You know, just some pyjamas, fruit and sweets. Do you put out a glass of sherry and a mince pie? I asked. Not sherry. No one drinks sherry. A glass of milk. A glass of milk, a mince pie and a carrot. What about Christmas morning? Do they wake early? No, I’m awake before them. I lie there longing for them to wake. She laughs. A lovely trilling sort of laugh.

I am an observer of other people’s lives. Other mothers, other children. How is it to live like that, or like that, or to be loved and nurtured like that? I want to step inside be warmed by another’s experience.

And here’s an early Christmas present for you, she said, pulling a card out of her pocket. I’ve a spare one. And she’s given us a staff discount card. Ten per cent off for life. What a star. I am touched. I hope it’s OK. I wouldn’t want her to get into trouble. No, its fine, she said. And then we are talking of marzipan. Oh, I love it, she said. Me too, I said, but the Norwegian stuff not the British. He pulls a face, I can’t stand it.

He tells me I am a lovely person. What have I done? I am warmed by her, by what I see as a simplicity of love, of family, of order, of rightness. It is my fantasy that I am projecting onto her, I know this. But it warms me nevertheless. Thank you, I say. Knowing that I don’t deserve it. Not yet.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.