why Christmas is sometimes the hardest time of the year...
She looks around, she is doing the last mental check making sure that everything is done before finally going home. Display fridges clean, dishwasher emptied, food covered, coffee machine turned off, floors swept and chairs pushed in. She sighs; relieved her day is finally over. She flops onto the couch by the door waiting for him to finish counting the day’s takings. He looks up at her "Only five days to go" he says. She closes her eyes. SHUT UP she screams in her my mind, SHUT UP. Five days until what? Until Christmas? What to have a day’s grace, only to return to the murderous Boxing Day slaughter, where all goodness will have flown the coup. Then its 365 days until next Christmas where this same repetitive, soul breaking experience occurs again.
Hardly seems like it’s been 365 days since last Christmas. It’s been 1460 days since the first Christmas when this all began, this repetitive, drone existence she now lives every day. If only he knew this was her last Christmas here, doing this. Opening her eyes she feels dirty and grimy, her hair messy and greasy from cooking kilos of bacon and dozens of eggs, the food to feed the hungry. It is midnight but the heat is still lingering in the air. It’s predicted that the heat wave will continue to mid January and this plagues her mind. This is day eight with temperatures into the high thirties. It’s her 6th day straight working 14 hour days with less than four hours sleep a night. She feels as though she is under a blanket of heat. Objects are starting to increase in size before her eyes, noises are louder, minutes seem longer, yet there is nowhere to lie down and sleep. Sleep is a distant dream.
She looks out through the glass, people still loitering out the front of the shopping centre. GO HOME she screams at them in her mind, GO HOME. Other retailers begin to leave for the night, some looking in giving her forced smiles, she watches them make their way to their cars, dragging their feet and heads hung low. The remains of today still with her, smelling stale sour milk on her clothes, she made coffee after coffee. It didn’t stop all day.
She is hungry for sleep, deep restful sleep. As soon as she opened her eyes this morning she was longing and desiring for today’s darkness to come and greet her. She feels her head get heavy, resting on the back of the couch, her mind wanders seeing images of herself walking in a tunnel and ascending a flight of stairs from St Michel train station in Paris, where she is greeted by the breath taking sight of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Her heart begins racing, keeping score between dreams and reality. How will she tell him? How will she tell him that today she booked a flight to Paris? She drifts back to her dream seeing herself step into the daylight, feeling the sunlight on her face, breathing in, no longer wanting to hurry, no longer worrying, and no longer trapped. Soon this dream will become reality.
Where does the brain find spaces to hide these kinds of thoughts? Such a small place, but full of thousands of tiny little compartments to tuck away thoughts and urges, little draws, with little handles that close and lock away all her desires. This is to protect her. Words to a song come to her mind, repetitive words “Dream catch me when I fall, or else I won’t come back at all.....” She wonders are dreams the place where she goes to feel free, no rules, no expectations, where she is protected. In dream land there is always light, warm light, and freedom.
Suddenly, something pulls her from her hazy dream like state, life protecting her from slipping out of reality. But opening her eyes she realises that this dream was soon to become reality, the little draw containing this thought was now open and the dream released. Finally he has finished counting the money and she can leave. She pulls herself from the the comfort of the couch, feeling her legs throb from standing on them all day. She looks up catching her reflection in the window, darkness around her eyes, dry cracked lips, and pasty skin, pale, vacant. She locks eyes with the reflection for a second wondering who is it that she sees? She looks away. She opens the door and is met with a wave of heat, mixed in with the stale smell of deep fried chicken and rubbish overflowing from the bin and scattered all over the ground. It is midnight but the shopping centre is still piping Christmas carols throughout the car park. 26 days ago they began playing The Twelve Days of Christmas. The same compilation on repeat hour after hour, the same music they played last Christmas and the four Christmas before. She wonders when this nightmare will end?
Lights off, alarm activated and he closes the door behind them. They walk to their cars, which are parked at the very back of the car park; a warm wind blows on her face. Another day finally over. She says goodbye to her father. He smiles at her. “See you in the morning”. She gets into her car and watches as he drives off. She sighs; there is no escaping hard work even when darkness falls. Thoughts of tomorrow already begin to flood her mind as she starts her car and drives from the car park. She makes a mental note she must remember to go and buy some spinach in the morning, place a cake order, buy some ice and get change from the bank. She also must find time to tell him she is leaving for Paris after Christmas. Her mind goes numb as she drifts back over the day’s repetitive routine, feeling her eyes go heavy, she repeats the same monotonous tasks over and over in her mind, seeing herself walk back and forth, her soul almost imprinted into the lino covered floor that she walked upon. Why me? A repeated, re occurring question she keeps asking herself. She relies on the almost rehearsed routine, where she uses familiar faces as a reminder. Glum faces, pained faces, ones full of distrust, anger and hatred. Faces belonging to people who sit in the same spots to read the same magazines, ordering the same things, wanting the same simple, empty conversations. Today was the day Scooter lady scooted in on her motorised scooter to escape the heat to have her repetitive half a toasted-tasty cheese and tomato sandwich and an extra hot cappuccino, she was the reminder that today was Thursday. Never changing her routine. She sighs, feeling dejected, dirty, drowsy but mostly disheartened.
How is she going to tell him? It will then be he who will then feel dejected and disheartened. She feels her eyes close, unable to keep them open any longer; she slumps in her seat as she approaches the intersection as the traffic lights change from yellow to red. Her mind drifts back to Paris, thoughts of the Moulin Rouge, cabaret shows, feathers and sequins and flashing lights and she is amongst it all.