In response to WP Weekly Photo Challenge – Graceful.
In response to WP Weekly Photo Challenge – Graceful.
The key didn’t turn and she opened the unlocked door without giving it any thought. She often forgot to lock it, so… Clickety-clack, clickety-clack on the hardwood floor and then the high heels flew in a corner, preceded only by the laptop case, which landed with a thud. Oh well, it’s just the work computer – what are they going to do if it breaks anyway, give her a newer and better one?… Her personal mobile phone was another story though, that one found a nice, cosy resting place when carefully placed on the hall table. Curling and stretching her toes happy to have escaped the restrictive pumps, her feet started blindly feeling around the cold floor, reaching for the comfort of those favourite slippers. They weren’t there.
Her heart was throbbing faster and faster. Could it have been with admiration for that man some would call disturbed, who had put such passion in finding out what she had been up to of late? Or was it just fear that he might have discovered it all, thus making it impossible for her to pose as the innocent, shy, heartbroken victim next time they inevitably got back together?…
She liked it enough, she decided. And she was as good as engaged. Another container covered in velvet made its appearance from the depths of a large box filled with shiny, fashionable costume jewellery. Smaller and more modest looking, set carefully on the bed next to the other one, it shed a brighter, more optimistic light on Boyfriend’s choice… on her choice.
With a gentle, elegant movement, the young woman extracted what had once been another engagement ring from the older box and placed it on her finger, on the other hand. Then and now… that one and this one… and as past and present merged in one emotional instant, the big blue eyes filled with tears again… tears of regret… tears of frustration… Alone in her room, in one of the happiest moments of her life, Regina couldn’t fight the tears and for one ephemeral moment she couldn’t fight the truth either.
You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!
I blinked a few times. There was nothing wrong with my eyes. It was still early and having gone to sleep very late in the night / early in the morning, my eyes were heavy with dreams and exhaustion. The hauling wind outside must have been what woke me up. The “breeze” often became an angry gale, but that was worse than usual.
My warm, sleepy feet found the slippers and I left my cocoon. I hadn’t completely closed the shutters and a blurry, milky light was sipping in through the uncovered part of the window. A thin, frozen layer of white was covering the glass, making it impossible to distinguish anything. It had started off as heavy rain, then it became heavy snow – heavy snow that covered everything in only a couple of hours, curiosity and an odd kind of excitement led me to discover.I left my bedroom, but none of the other windows were more revealing.
The cold wind blew in as soon as I opened the kitchen window. A mad flurry of flakes had taken over and for a moment, I felt like my building was alone in the middle of a snow storm, cut off from the world, away from everything and everyone else. I could barely distinguish the shapes of the trees right outside the window, heavy with snow, leaning in the wind, but the nearby buildings were nowhere to be seen.
I closed the window as abruptly as I had opened it, and I was pleased… pleased with the warmth of my home, contrasting with the new day’s first shades of cold, blurry light… pleased that the cold madness out there was so beautiful… but most of all, pleased that I didn’t have to go out if I didn’t want to, I could just go back to bed and sleep, and sleep, and sleep.
I crawled under the warm, cosy duvet. Great photo opportunity, that blizzard out there, I thought to myself, eyes already closing. Oh well, others will take advantage of it, good for them… and I pulled the duvet over my head, falling asleep immediately.
There’s something so cosy, so decadent in staying in your warm bed while the world outside is buried under heavy snow. Just one of those small selfish pleasures of life…. I would have hated it if I had to go out; that way, having the choice not to do it, I also had the chance to enjoy it later in the day, when I eventually emerged from my hideout. Funny… how such a small moment can be representative for much more relevant situations…
In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Ambience.
In response to WordPress Daily Post One Word Prompt – Exquisite.
In response to WordPress Daily Post One Word Prompt – Unseen.
In response to WordPress Daily Post One Word Prompt – Cling.
I gave the car mat a good shake and put it back where it belonged. I had dragged so much snow on my boots, getting in and out the car, that I couldn’t just leave it. That was that, no driving anywhere for the day. I finally turned the key to stop the engine, grabbed my bag and my gloves, locked the metal igloo on wheels, and walked away.
I could actually walk to the park… Hmm… It hadn’t even occurred to me, I was so stuck on the little itinerary I had established for myself, that nothing else registered. I was going to drive to this spot where the sea would be spectacular, with all the snow and disturbingly low temperatures we’d been having. Then back to the park, for a nice walk in the snow and some more seasonal photos. Sure, I was going to brave the cold, spend some time outside, in the snow (mostly shovelling it off my car), but I wasn’t going to walk there… Remember Lorelai Gilmore’s “love affair” with snow? Well, I’m nothing like that. It is just frozen water falling from the sky at inopportune times, and pretty as it may be, it is just a nuisance, the annoying cause of bad traffic, countless broken limbs and stupid car crashes. (Fine, I watched Gilmore Girls, you can stop rolling your eyes now. What, don’t you have any guilty pleasures?).
Walking through the snow to the nearby park and thinking back of some pictures I recently found, an old, almost forgotten sensation started defrosting my soul. Since the first snow this winter, something has been nagging me; and when I found those photos and started going down on memory lane with my childhood friend, I couldn’t deny what used to be… Just as I once used to run in the rain, I also used to like the snow.
We had real winters, cold and white, in the little corner of the world where I grew up. There was always snow in December and we often got the first flakes in November. As the winter progressed, we got sick and tired of the frozen intruder, but for a while, it was the centre of our childish existence. What sort of mysterious energy did we possess, what kind of superpower drove us? We spent all our spare time building snowmen and snow forts, and plotting snow fights. Even as teenagers, we weren’t above snow fights; and much as we pouted and complained about wet clothes, messed up hair and smeared mascara, we secretly loved them. Unless, of course, the person(s) you really, really liked didn’t throw one single snow ball at you, that’s when the drama began…
Something miraculous happened. I stopped feeling angry about all the difficulties snow drags along. I stopped thinking about stuck cars, blizzards, bad traffic, icy roads and a myriad of other depressing things. They’d be there tomorrow as well… and there was nothing I could do about all that, except give myself worry lines. If I could detach myself from all that noise in my head and just enjoy something as simple and natural as a snowy day in the park, why shouldn’t I?
You know you’re getting older – no, let’s call it “more mature”, it sounds better – when you realize you’re feeling like a child. You recognize that sensation, you can associate it with specific moments, and you welcome it, because in some cases it can be such a joy to relive a version of it. The wind had calmed down a bit and the snowy park was beautiful. Narrow paths had been carved across the thick layer of snow. As soon as I strayed from them in order to take some pictures, I was really glad I had decided to wear my over-the-knee boots.
A few steps sideways and I could get the perfect photo of a tree bending to the ground under the heavy burden of snow… or I could have got it, had my behind not hit the snow at that very moment. Half a second later, I was back on my feet as though nothing happened – after all, I know how to fall. I immediately got rid of all the snow I had picked up during my unexpected incursion while worriedly looking around for members of younger generations. I was ready to smile at my own lack of grace, hoping they wouldn’t make too much fun of the thirty something woman with the crazy hat. But there was nobody around… my fall had slipped unnoticed.
Then it sunk in. There wasn’t anybody around… In fact, there weren’t too many people in the park, even though as far as snowy weekend afternoons go, this one was a lovely one… and most of them were adults. You know you’re getting older growing more mature when you feel like starting a thought with “when I was a kid…” I’ll take my chances. When I was a kid, we spent hours and hours outside, in the snow, in the cold, playing, sledding, having fun; we had to be dragged back home. Then, when we got a bit older, we did our best to spend as little time at home as possible; even being outside, at disturbingly low temperatures, was preferable. The parks were always full of children and teenagers. Now, almost everybody was over 50.
It was something along these lines that my friend and I were remembering, looking at old pictures of us in a snowy park, from our high school days… And we could not figure out how we managed to do that, spend all that time in dreadful cold, and not mind it. We didn’t just grow older and jaded, we also became overly sensitive – and it’s not only an age related matter, it’s a state of mind. That strength, that resilience, that mystical superpower, I think we drew it from being able to enjoy every little thing, regardless of all discomfort and inconvenience that also came with it. Was it madness? Was it recklessness? Perhaps it was – up to some point – but it was also a type of simple, instinctive wisdom, which we outgrew.
At least I can remember it, therefore I know that as a human being, I am able to feel it – and if I focus and dig deep enough in my soul, I can even overcome my jaded, cynical self. My toes were starting to freeze in my boots, but I could stand it, it was a good feeling, just like so many years ago.
I could hear laughter in the distance and I could see somebody making a snow angel. Then I walked closer. He helped her up, laughing as well. They were having a snow fight and they were still laughing, yelling loving threats to one another. As I was walking towards the park exit, I met them again. She was throwing one last snowball at him, while he was picking up her designer bag. He came close to her and brushed some snow off her elegant coat. She broke free and they started laughing and running through the snow again. They were feeling like children too, even if they seemed to be in their forties. They had their own memories, their own impulse to feel like children. Too many don’t create such simple memories that might rescue them later, not anymore…
I was frozen, tired and exhilarated when I got home. So I can still occasionally enjoy snow, even if I still hate winter cold. Who knows, maybe I can still run in the rain as well.
In response to WordPress Daily Post One Word Prompt – Infinite.
Damn it, it’s all his fault… But the person Regina had in mind in her state of shock was not the driver of that other car. Now I won’t get to see him again, not this night… Or will I? An idea occurred to the woman as her trembling fingers were fishing for her work phone in the purse on the seat on her right. Involved in an accident on my way to your place. Need you. Pls. This should get him to come over and see her…
It doesn’t look like there was anybody else in that car, just the driver… and he seems fine, just terrified, the same way she feels right now. But he’s a man… I can work with that. I can get out of this and keep my driver’s license. And the insurance will pay for that piece of junk of his… Regina’s big, innocent eyes fill with tears and the shawl on her shoulders opens up, revealing her beautiful cleavage while she finally decides to emerge from the shelter of her somewhat damaged vehicle.
Taking a quick look at the two cars and at the two shaken drivers, Boyfriend cannot help but feel somewhat responsible… she will certainly blame him. He was the one who left after their fight; he was the one who took her phone, because he wanted to read all her emails and messages, suspecting that there might be more to be discovered about her so-called friendships with other men; and he wanted her to come running, asking him to go back to her. That was their game, they had played it so often! He just hadn’t expected her to be so careless and stupid. Look at her, she left wearing that house dress and flip-flops, speeding down the road to get to his place as fast as possible… His heart filling with pride when understanding how desperate she was to see him again, Boyfriend feels he can be generous and overlook the fact that she dares wear another man’s jacket.
Regina’s perfectly contoured lips part and then close again. For once, she has decided to think before speaking. Five minutes later you finally reach your destination. You and everybody else on the streets are finally safe, as Regina is neither a driver, nor a passenger… for the time being. Perhaps it’s you who’s exaggerating the importance of certain things. After all, the rest of the drive to her place was uneventful… if you don’t count being stopped and fined by the police, because she simply refused to inconvenience herself by wearing the seatbelt. Of course she’ll pay the fine, she mentioned in a very offended tone. But whether you like to admit it or not, experience has already taught you otherwise…
You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!
In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Resilient.
Mistakes are unavoidable. Sometimes, they can even be the result of good intentions. If we’re lucky and wise, we manage to understand what went wrong and try our best to avoid repeating those actions, perhaps we can even try and succeed in fixing what was broken. Unfortunately, wallowing in regret doesn’t help much; all we can do is pick ourselves up and move forward, remembering the past, but not allowing it to control the future. So let’s hold our heads up high, take responsibility and step confidently into a brand new year, full of opportunities for wonderful achievements and glorious mistakes, all of which build who we are.
Happy New Year, everyone! May 2017 be a better one for you and all those people you treasure!
Where to next?…
In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Path.
“You treat that kid badly, that’s all. I’m not jealous, I’m just curious, you know. But you treat him badly and it gets to me to know that he just lets you be a bitch to him.”
“Maybe I do treat him badly, but as long as he’s happy with it, it’s nobody else’s business. I don’t pretend to be outraged by the way you treat your wife; nor do I get enraged with her because she allows you to get away for a couple of days with another woman, and meanwhile she pretends not to notice what’s going on right under her nose. It’s not my business to decide what should make other people happy; and when they do get what they go looking for, then they’re the only ones to be blamed if they don’t like the outcome.”
“You are something else…”
“I’m not sure that’s a good thing this time.”
For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169
…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂
I had to admire their stubbornness, resourcefulness and shamelessness – once I had refused to meet any of these so-called suitors, they found a loophole and came up with one I had already met before… moreover, they actually snuck him into the living room when I literally wasn’t looking. Who was I not to appreciate the humour in it?
To be fair, they had done worse in the past… This one might actually make for a fun fling. A good sense of humour, not hard on the eyes… She was right, we did get along well, there was some chemistry there, from the moment we had met a couple of years earlier; it never went beyond innocent flirting, we had never been single at the same time… until then.
So much for being comfortable around each-other… they’re singing my praises. Isn’t that a nice tree? She decorated it, you know… here, have some more cake, she baked it. She’ll make somebody a great wife someday. I chocked on my food instantaneously – they’d gone too far with that one. Oddly, our guest didn’t even flinch.
Poor thing… how he suffered after the break-up… But I know you’ll find someone right for you, you’re such a great guy. So my mother was in charge with talking him up. If only I didn’t know what she really thought of him, the disposable boy toy… I knew that if I wanted to get back at her, all I had to do was to seriously get involved with him… or any other guy like him. Hmmm… she would deserve that, wouldn’t she? Let’s see how the night goes…
Strike one – he’s all of the sudden intimidated by my mother; he’s even afraid of her! A man in his thirties, who’s been friends with her husband for about a decade… that’s simply unacceptable. Oh well…
On the bright side, at least this one wasn’t gay, like the one they had in store for me the previous year. Casual dinner with some friends, they said. Yes, a married couple and their son… their clearly gay son (clear to everybody but his parents and my stepfather). And playing the part of the jealous party crasher, none other than the son’s “best friend”… Come to think of it, this was actually an improvement.
Somehow, dinner crawled to an end and we, young folk, were sent out in the world to have some fun. The guy thought we’d go see a movie, he had already gotten the tickets. I rolled my eyes – strike two. Predictable and boring. I hate going to the movies on a first date. I would rather spend that time getting to know the person, not in a movie theatre where we can’t talk. Family holiday, that’s what Christmas is, how could you not come and spend it with us? Of course it is… I had flown thousands of kilometres the day before so I could spend Christmas Eve in a cinema, watching a movie I didn’t feel like seeing with a guy I barely knew, surrounded by strangers. Merry Christmas to me!
It was all too ridiculous and harmless to be angry, really… And I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the innocent victim he was in our family antics. I could just see him as he was approached earlier that day and told I would really like to spend the evening with him, but I was just too shy to ask him out… so the date might come as a surprise to me, a really pleasant surprise… he hadn’t thought they wouldn’t tell me… but he couldn’t waste such an opportunity, could he?… Poor, poor, poor guy – he’s expecting who knows what sexy vision of a woman and instead he gets me in all my messy, domestic glory. Yet, he’s still happy to go out with me, even after that charming appearance and my parents’ behaviour. That says a lot (most likely, that he’s crazy and/or desperate)…
But he’s slowly becoming the guy I used to find quite attractive, so the walk to the cinema turns out to be just what we needed. After all, an outlet, a refuge from my family during my stay with them is always beneficial. And we are both consenting adults, perhaps later – if things go well – we could openly discuss the rules and limitations of short term dating. Aren’t I the romantic one?…
Let’s see what he suggests we do after the movie and how he behaves. Dancing the night away in a club was the perfect antidote to that evening (if fun I was supposed to have, fun I would have, and they would end up regretting it). But introducing me to his friends as his girlfriend halfway into our first date… well… strike three! That’s not to say he didn’t make for a fun escape that holiday season… But best of all, the way I simply – and apparently insensitively – said goodbye to him when leaving, according to the initially set rules, hurt his little boy toy heart, becoming a great source of gossip for their entire group of friends and acquaintances, thus insuring the end of all attempts to set me up with various individuals.
It was shortly after lunch when I started looking forward to the comfort of a hot shower, a fluffy bathrobe and a pair of soft slippers . I made it back from the local shopping centre frozen, hungry and somewhat scarred for life by the madness of last minute shoppers – one of which I had unwillingly become that year. But at least my frozen claws were clenched, holding on to their sought after and fought over prey – a not too big cardboard box containing a brand new artificial Christmas tree and a plastic bag with a few decently looking ornaments.
She could’ve at least checked to see what state it was in, I couldn’t stop thinking somewhat resentfully, because my mother’s old Christmas tree was beyond redemption, as I got to find out earlier that day. But after fighting tooth and nail with the cat in order to recover each and every one of the bobbles my mother so gracefully spread all over the floor for the little animal to play with, after figuring out where the tree could be safely set, out of reach of the spoiled four-legged menace, after some pre-Christmas cooking and baking, the evening ahead seemed promising. I was exhausted, but it looked like we were about to have a nice, calm, peaceful family Christmas Eve for a change.
Fluffy robe and cute slippers on, hair in a messy ponytail, all relaxed and reinvigorated, I’m making my way to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee before I decide on something nice and comfortable to wear – and all of the sudden I feel like I’ve forgotten how to breathe… and utter words. I don’t blush. I never do. But I feel my face burning, it must be red this time. There he is, the family friend… all dressed up, looking festive, uncomfortable and equally speechless. And there’s my mother urging me to be polite and hug the man – after all, we hadn’t seen each other in such a long while. And there’s her husband, grinning smugly, whispering to me, I couldn’t fit him under the Christmas tree, but you can thank me later.
I really should have known better… both of them had been on their best behaviour the entire day, occasionally exchanging amused glances or leaving the room in order to make various phone calls. But I fell for the mirage of that simple, tranquil, boringly normal Christmas Eve dinner, and you just don’t question a miracle if you feel it’s about to happen.
I needed help with my outfit, so the gentlemen had to excuse me, while my mother had to explain herself as soon as we were out of the room. It was really all his fault – she would blame it on her husband, as usual; she would have preferred someone better. But this one would have to do on such short notice… it would have been nice of me to let them know I was single at least a few weeks in advance. What’s the harm in it, anyway? He’s a nice guy, I had met him before, we always got along well… and you have to admit he’s hot, she tells me. And he broke up with what’s-her-name, now you two can finally have some fun.
I really should have known better. It was all about the perfect package – and as long as I didn’t have a date for Christmas or for the New Year’s Eve party or for any of the other holiday related events, I was not the full package. I had once again forgotten that everything I had accomplished held value only if there was a man there to hold my hand. And since I was in my mid-twenties, I was practically an old maid already. It didn’t really matter if I was dating somebody at home or not – as long as I didn’t bring anybody with me to introduce to them, I was fair game and they took it upon themselves to set all sorts of uncomfortable dates for me. I had no problem getting dates on my own, thank you!
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
(Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol)
Merry Christmas, everyone! 🙂
A few weeks ago, I jokingly threatened someone to reveal their age in a birthday post. It’s generally assumed that women are the vane and sensitive ones when it comes to this delicate subject, but from what I’ve noticed, men are equally touchy. One enjoys one’s birthday to be acknowledged and celebrated, but one hopes one’s age be forgotten. So don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me 😉 .
There’s a very special gentleman out there – one very important to me – who’s one year older today, yet just as young at heart as he was the day we met. To him I’d like to wish a very happy birthday! May all your hopes and dreams come true! And don’t forget, the best men are like fine wine – they get better with age 😉 .
There’s something special about the first snow… that day when it doesn’t only smell like winter, but it also looks like winter. It always takes me back to some of the nicer days of my childhood, to snow fights, and snowmen, and sledding. Coming in from the cold, enjoying the warmth and comfort of my home, it reminds me other moments as well…
That warmth and comfort I now take for granted haven’t always been quite like this. Maybe I should be more grateful for small things. Something a friend told me many years ago comes to mind – happiness can be the relief of not having to be out in the cold, struggling, on a day like this, and instead just be in a warm, safe place you can call home… Coming from a kid, this statement left an impression. My childhood may have been far from perfect, but others had it much worse. So for a short while, I enjoyed this winter’s first snow on the beach, putting up with the frozen air; knowing that warmth and comfort were within reach only made it better. Besides, I only like the first snow, so I might as well take full advantage of it, right? 😉
Come December, I see her photo pop up on my phone and I know we’re going to have the same conversation over and over again. Sometimes I don’t even answer, because I’m already too irritable to put up with the depressing rant. I’d rather be the one calling her, when I know I can take it and perhaps even help.
The hypocrisy! Those two hate and trash each-other all the time, and today they were hugging in the middle of the town! They were talking about the holidays and inquiring about each other’s families. As though anybody believes that act!
They only give presents to receive more expensive ones. They’re not fooling anyone.
Please… they only decorate their homes to show off and make everybody else feel miserable. Like we don’t know…
Sure, they’re suddenly humanitarians! They only give to charity to have something to brag about
By all means, devour everything in sight and call it tradition. As though they’re not fat enough already….
I already know all the highlights of holiday cheer.
The lights are just too bright, that’s in poor taste.
These lights aren’t bright enough, you can barely see them. Why even bother putting them up?
All those decorations… that’s just too much. So tacky!
Only a few decorations… that’s not enough. What’s the point?
No Christmas tree for me. No, thank you, I can’t stand the sight of it.
No Christmas tree for me… Everybody has one, but me. I must not deserve one, according to you.
There are always surprising new twists. Somehow, the snow is always whiter under other Christmas trees. Nothing and nobody could make my mother allow for the possibility that somewhere, in the midst of all the exasperating holiday madness, there might also be something real, someone honest and decent.
I used to visit her every year I was invited, regardless of what it cost me – emotionally and financially. I would try to make her happy and proud, never quite succeeding. I’d decorate a tree, if she wanted me to, or I’d pretend not to want one and not to think of all the festive decorations in my empty home, as the trend may dictate that year. I’d listen to her bitch about her husband, and to him, moan about her. Each of them would get upset with me, believing I’m taking the other’s side.
I was one of those people who dread spending the holidays with their parents, yet they masochistically go back for more the following year. I kept hoping something would change. And it did… for the worse… Every Christmas with them became more unbearable than the previous one. I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d come home a nervous wreck and it would take longer and longer to pull myself together.
I decided to take a break for a year or two. It was not well received, so I visited once more. I wasn’t really surprised to see that not only was my gesture not appreciated, but my mother’s Grinch-like behaviour had got worse and her general attitude was atrocious to one and all.
It was what it was, and I finally stopped caring. So instead of ignoring my own needs yet again, I went out and bought a small artificial tree, new decorations, and managed to dig up some of her old Christmas stuff. By the time they woke up from their afternoon nap, it was all nicely decorated and Christmas lights – more than she found acceptable – were sparkling all over her living room. I was ready to growl and defend my Christmassy rebellion. It was my holiday as well. Her husband’s too. Not only hers.
The holidays passed, filled with deception, depression, neurosis, hurtful, reproachful arguments and insensitive comments. Before I left, I informed her of my decision – that was it, no more family holidays for me. There was no happiness, no contentment, no appreciation when we were together.
I had to do what was right for me. Call it selfish behaviour, if you will. But I stuck to my decision; and that was finally the beginning of peaceful, calm and pleasant Christmas celebrations at home – my own warm, festively decorated home.
I’m not a positive person by nature. It takes constant effort to see and appreciate the good parts of my life, rather than obsess over the bad ones. More often than not, I’m a cynical creature and as a realist, I am well-aware of forced holiday cheer, consumerism and hypocrisy. I’ve seen people trying to use this time of year to play on others’ emotions and take advantage of their naïve nature, just as I’ve seen people falling prey to depression, loneliness and despair. Sometimes, it’s hard to keep my head above water and focus on the pretty lights, so that’s when I can’t answer her calls. But I also believe in appreciation and trying to do something nice for somebody.
Sure, many of us get so caught up in our lives, that we need special occasions to remind us that perhaps we should do more. But isn’t once a year still better than not at all? Should that earn us the hypocrisy label, even if that one nice gesture comes from the heart? Just because I’m not too forgiving a person, that doesn’t mean others can’t be. I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the holiday spirit and appreciate the human values behind Christmas…
Had I decorated my home yet, she wanted to know this month. Was my town all festive and Christmassy this year? She was looking forward to her town being all lit up for Christmas and she wanted to see photos of my tree. I had to tread lightly, I thought to myself, the way you do, not to scare a wild animal. A few days later, when I called her, she told me about the lights and decorations she put up – the ones I had bought her several years ago. She sounded… cheerful! She went on and on about nicely decorated store windows, Christmas presents and how she hoped it would snow. I haven’t heard speak that way in well over two decades.
Who’s the little hypocrite now, and many other sarcastic remarks were on the tip of my tongue. But I said nothing, I am not that bitter yet. I wasn’t joking when saying I wouldn’t visit on Christmas and she had to eventually acknowledge that it wasn’t my duty to decorate her home or prepare her holiday feast. It’s up to her to find some contentment in her life. I’m not deluded, I know this wave of good intentions can disappear in the blink of an eye. But for now, I’m glad my own personal Grinch managed to see some Christmas lights… And I hope it lasts.
December is rapidly slipping away and taking stock of the year about to end is something most of us tend to do. Here’s yet another reminder – a nice one, this time. Three years on WordPress… Thank you all for putting up with me for 12 more months! Thank you for your support and encouragement! And thank you for sharing your wonderful stories and opinions, for drawing me into your worlds each time I read your posts.
It was this third year of blogging that gave me the opportunity to put together and self-publish a collection of short stories, which started off as posts on this site. It was also this year of blogging that led to a very interesting collaboration (more on that and the book that resulted at a later time). So thank you for reading and since Christmas is near, here’s my small gift to you – you can download Parallel Lives and Glass Slippers and Stilettos for free until the end of the year.
and on iBooks.
On a different note, I took a quick look and these are the three posts that people were most interested in during this third year on WordPress:
1. Vicious Circles
As soon as that much desired snow covered everything, it seemed that those to complain about it most bitterly were the very people demanding it the loudest a week ago. Who would have thought?… Forget about that white fairytale-like magic so craved over Christmas, now it’s all about freezing cold, snow and ice covered roads, impossible traffic… and the cold, oh the cold… and did I mention the cold? I must have – after all, that’s what everybody keeps talking about.
We’re children at heart, really… we must be, since we constantly trap ourselves in the same vicious circles, even if we know better by now. Read more…
2. Glass Half Empty, Half Full, Or No Glass At All?
I may be able to come up with quite a variety of words to describe myself, but ‘optimist’ is not amongst them. I’m a realist. And as a realist, I cannot help having my moments of stifling pessimism, just as I also cannot help having hopes and dreams from time to time. As for that one person of the two who know me in real life, and have also been told about this blog – no, I don’t suffer from multiple personality disorder either… Or if I do, the one typing right now certainly has no idea about it. But we’ll go back to that later.
If you believe yourself to be a realist, then most likely you have often been accused of negative thinking and you’ve been labelled a pessimist more times than you can remember. Read more…
3. Down To Earth Or Up In The Clouds
As children, many of us are often told we can do anything and become whoever we want, when we grow up. Then we start growing up. With every year that passes, more and more of those options are stricken off that imaginary list. We discover ourselves, we understand what doesn’t suit us, we figure out what we don’t want to or cannot do. Whether we like it or not, we learn that wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean we can find a way to get it, contrary to urban legends and positive thinking myths. Yet we keep going, we still plan ahead and we find new purposes every day, because the present and the past are not enough, we also need some sort of hope for the future we can hold on to. Read more…
I hope it’s been a decent year for all of you. Happy Holidays!
Sometimes, perspectives shift right in front of us, radically and so fast, that we are rendered breathless, speechless, utterly unable to react. Sometimes, the change is discrete and gradual, until we lift our eyes one day and no longer recognize what we see on the horizon or what’s brewing behind that image. And sometimes, we can just tell something’s coming, something needs to and is about to undergo deep metamorphosis. However, we cannot really tell whether our horizons will be broadened or simply turned upside down, becoming an incomprehensible mess.
in response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – New Horizon.
Part Three – My Own Christmas
I didn’t know it then, but that Christmas Eve would stay with me for as long as I would have memories to hold on to… not because it was fabulous, but because it was the first time I felt and understood what it was all about – what I needed it to be all about.
It was just the three of us listening to Christmas songs and staring at the flickering lights in the Christmas tree… my Christmas tree, as I felt the need to point out several times that year. We were 16 or 17 and it was the year that my grandmother had decreed that I was too old to have a tree. Well, if I was too old for a tree, then I was certainly old enough to do things however I saw fit when it came to Christmas in general. Faced with a minor family drama and a harsh blow to her perfectly loving grandmother image, she gave in and allowed the tree. That concession, however, would cost me all my Christmas gifts, I was warned. I didn’t mind, a few pairs of socks and another ugly scarf were definitely worth giving up.
It may not have been the most beautiful Christmas tree that I ever had growing up, but to this day it remains the one I treasured the most. We were all somewhat sad and ashamed sitting around that tree, my best friend, my boyfriend and I, that year… Yet we were also so very happy, so very content, finally so very peaceful. My best friend and I had gone shopping for the tree the day before and then he helped me get it home, spending hours and hours in the December cold and snow, trying to find the greatest one I could afford. That was as fun and pleasant as it should have been, the way both of us had forgotten it could be.
Once I finished decorating it, once my home was finally calm and quiet after my grandparents went to visit some of their acquaintances, the three of us had the unbelievable, unexpected chance to simply feel it was Christmas. Presents – small, thoughtful and amusing tokens of appreciation – discretely found their way under the tree, when the others weren’t looking. Between the carols, the smell of the tree and the Christmas wrapping paper torn open and spread all over the floor, we could laugh and be light-hearted, we could forget that uncomfortable sadness; we felt relieved, because somebody had thought of and cared about each and every one of us that year. We had each other, and that was all that mattered. We understood each other, we knew each other’s stories and we supported each other. It was as safe, calm and blissful a moment as any of us could have. We shared hopes and dreams; we shared painful stories of Christmases past and present and for once they didn’t hurt. We didn’t know it back then, but we were already forging our own traditions, we were deciding what we would never become, because our families had taught us what we hated most about human beings.
That’s how my grandmother found us, lying on the Persian rug near the tree, wrapping paper spread everywhere. Were we drunk, she wanted to know. No, we were not. Well, good, then it was time for us to clean up and go to wherever we were heading that evening, because she was expecting guests and we were in the way. But not before she opened her own Christmas present from me. I don’t remember what I got her that year, but after making a face and muttering a thankful ‘I suppose it’ll have to do’, the gift was deemed worthy to be seen by her friends. I adjusted my extremely short dress, I put on my extremely high heel boots and my nice coat and off we went, to wherever we were going to go. Apparently we were the cool kids, so we were going to attend a fun party and/or go dancing with our equally cool friends and acquaintances, whose parents weren’t particularly interested to know where and how their children spent Christmas, as long as they weren’t in the way.
We cannot chose the family we are born in, but we can chose the family we make for ourselves, the people who are closest to us, with whom we share the most intimate moments, memories and experiences. Yes, I believe that Christmas is a family holiday; but what I have learnt is that family is not always determined by DNA, not for all of us. My family are those very few people who have always accepted and appreciated me for who I am, those people who have always been there for me, offering their support in hard times and sharing my happiness in joyful ones, those people who have appreciated my doing the same for them. As it happens, none of them are related to me. And it’s all right.
Like I said, I make my own traditions. I choose when and how I decorate the Christmas tree. I choose to bake those delightfully delicious goodies every year – in spite of her countless flaws, my grandmother did manage to teach me some of her baking secrets. I choose to get nice, meaningful gifts for my dear ones, and sometimes I will buy them months before Christmas. I also choose not to judge or appreciate people and measure their affection only based on the presents they offer me. And for the past few years, I have also chosen to spend Christmas at home, nowhere near any relatives.
For years I have frantically chased all sorts of unattainable holiday goals, only to end up being disappointed, only to end up thinking of that bittersweet Christmas Eve, wishing for that sort of peace and acceptance. I decorate my home early in December and for years I’ve left this cosy place in order to try and gain acceptance and appreciation from people unable to accept or appreciate anybody. I refused to be alone on holidays, fearing I would be unhappy, only to learn the same lesson, time and time again – the worst kind of loneliness is the one you feel when you’re surrounded by people you don’t like. For years I left behind the people who cared about me so I could be with my… family. No more.
I have people who love me. In spite of my cynicism, I have reasons to be thankful and celebrate on Christmas, and I will do it my own way. I am not perfect and I have long ago given up trying to be, so I have accepted that there are people I will never be able to forgive, just as I will never be able to be nice and good to everybody. But once in a while I need to try to be especially nice to those I hold dear; I have to appreciate myself and the beautiful parts of my life. For me, Christmas is such a time… because I get lost in my own life and I need a reminder to stop and offer all these small pleasures to myself and those close to me. I will not apologize for who I am. I will not deny my own values, no matter what others may believe. And I will feel and celebrate Christmas the way I find it appropriate, allowing for bittersweet happiness and relinquishing all guilt and disapproval. You see, I no longer care about what the world or my family expect from me.
Have a nice December, everyone! Whether your celebrate Christmas or not, make sure it’s your own choice and not one forced on you by family or society.
I can be such a dumb fucker sometimes… Robert looked at Amalia, trying to smile apologetically, hoping for an opening to explain himself. Come on… But her sunglasses covered her eyes, her head turned away from him and her thoughts lost god knows where. She probably regrets this trip now; I just became one of the crowd of idiots she undoubtedly considers men to be. He hadn’t intended to offend her in any way, after the night spent together he felt as though things could be talked out openly between them. So what if he wanted to know every little detail of her sex life? So what if he needed every little fact to paint a picture of her? He was going to ask her for details, he would’ve shared some of his own, but then that dismissive look of hers shook him, the past refused to stay buried and words took over.
For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169
…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂
Part Two – The Reality
The choir started singing all those beautiful carols we loved. That was the best part of it and I didn’t want her to miss any of it. I’d go get her, I told my grandmother. I was handed my coat and scarf and in a low voice I was warned there would be trouble if I caught a cold, thus ruining everybody’s holidays. I snuck out as discretely as possible, but disgruntled looks from some of the older ladies could not be avoided.
There she was, on the bench in front of the church, just where I expected to find her, smoking a cigarette. Her face was cold, sad and pale, and her fingers trembled slightly as they moved the cigarette back and forth. We could hear the choir from the bench outside the church and that’s where we stayed and listened to the carols that year. Pieces were falling into place – even if I was still very young, even if I couldn’t quite explain it, I was starting to understand why my mother didn’t want to be there in the first place and why my grandfather kept his distance, refusing to take part in that charade every Christmas.
I was the cute grandchild and my mother was the beautiful, independent, accomplished daughter. Our sole purpose on this world was to make my grandmother proud, I was starting to understand back then. What better time of year than Christmas for the entire community to envy her for her success as a mother and grandmother? What better time of year for the entire community to console her for the shame her ungrateful daughter put her through, refusing to get married? What better time of year to throw her to the gossip hungry wolves, thus punishing her for refusing to present her with a doctor or lawyer son-in-law she could brag about to all her friends?
We listened to the carols from outside, so the cold winter wind could protect us from the cold, vicious, judgemental ‘Christmas spirit’ inside the church. It had gotten particularly festive that year, when my grandmother brought the priest over, so he could better threaten my mother with eternal damnation for not being married… Words no man should ever address a woman, especially in the presence of her child, were uttered. Sharp, bitter, cynical, yet polite comebacks eventually left him speechless and with a proud demeanour my mother said goodbye, turned away and left, still holding my hand as I was struggling to keep up with her fast pace. She knew him as a child, I later found out; they used to play together and be friends; they were the same age, they were still so young, both of them under thirty, yet it all seemed so old and ugly…
Christmas is a time of giving, my grandmother taught me. Christmas is a time of giving, because that’s the only way to prove to those around that you have plenty to spare, maybe even more than them, therefore you are better. There was great bliss in discovering other ladies’ Christmas feast was by far not as rich or as well prepared as hers. It was her personal victory if another woman’s household wasn’t immaculate as hers; she really didn’t pay any attention to the fact that many of those women – her relatives included – also had fulltime jobs to worry about.
Christmas is also a time when you need to know how to receive, my grandmother taught me. It took a while for me to understand that from the many presents there were to be found under the tree on Christmas morning, none was actually from her. She was to receive presents from her family, not to offer them; and they had to be nice, expensive ones, the kind that would trigger her friends’ and acquaintances’ envy. ‘Why… you shouldn’t have…’ was the usual response… but god forbid you hadn’t done it. You were going to be in trouble for it until the following Christmas, when out of the goodness of her heart she would give you a chance to make amends for it. Proper etiquette had to be observed – no matter how nice the gift offered to her might have been, it would lose all its value had you offered something more valuable to someone else. Thus I learned about another Christmas essential – gratitude…
Christmas was about the tree as well – after all, it was the first relevant thing our guests would see, so it had to be nicer than the one any of them might have had at home. She would dramatically collapse on a chair next to it, sipping some wine from one of her crystal glasses, complaining about how exhausting it had all been for her. All the preparations were meant to make her family happy, but did she ever get anything in return? Did anybody ever show her any gratitude? Of course not… No matter who the listeners were, they were always quick to console the poor, unappreciated lady, and to praise her splendidly decorated home and her extremely delicious cooking.
From one Christmas to another, the mirage of that ideal family was more and more difficult to maintain. My mother started finding more and more reasons not to visit over the holidays. My grandfather finally retired. Times were changing rapidly and all of the sudden, she had to live with the idea that her social status would never be what it had been. There was no need to pretend to care about the less fortunate anymore. There was no need to have a wonderful Christmas tree, since there were no relevant guests to envy it anymore. There would still be baking for several days before Christmas, because much as she liked to pretend she was sacrificing herself for all of us, baking was something she actually enjoyed doing, just as she enjoyed the taste of those delicious treats.
Most of her Christmas traditions were still observed, especially when it came to giving and receiving gifts, but the situation became increasingly ridiculous as time went by. While somehow managing to maintain her aura of innocence and goodness to the outside world, the old lady was not able to forever frighten her own family into submission. One by one, most of us managed to break free and live our own lives…
I was presented with so many facets of Christmas over the years, both within and outside my family… so I could only do one thing, since I wasn’t going to deny the holiday and its positive symbolism: I had to make Christmas my own. I had to chisel my own traditions, if I was going to survive it; that’s what I learnt and struggled to accept early on.
Like any other long-term couple, they had discussed marriage. The fact that they had spent more time apart than together, bickering and disparaging each other was generally an irrelevant matter to both of them. They’d swear to never reconcile again, professing their mutual loathing and would occasionally yell out their indifference in hurtful, offending words. But everything would be forgiven and forgotten in a few weeks, when they’d be back together again. Behaving as though nothing had happened came naturally to both of them.
A fresh breeze of confidence carries her dreams and hopes even further, as Regina receives the most pleasing news from the jeweller’s where she has her ring appraised first thing the following morning – for insurance purposes only, of course, material matters are inconsequential… But who could ever suspect her of anything remotely resembling greed? She even manages to make it back home before sweet, dear Future Husband gets a chance to arrive – he insisted on taking that beautiful token of affection and have it resized for her delicate finger. It’s his mistake, after all… so why should she waste any time and effort because of his carelessness? As soon as the jeweller provides her with the pleasing information, Regina can finally give in to her engagement bliss and share the happy news with anybody willing to listen.
Just thinking of trying on weeding gowns makes her giddy with excitement, her heart beating faster, her cheeks blushing with anticipation. She already knows what she’s going to choose, what her heart is set on, but what’s the point in getting married if you’re not going to make the best of all the fun that comes with these preparations and bask in your friends’ jealousy? Torturing these women with her remarkable beauty, reducing their self-esteem to nothing and having them take care of the more exhausting parts of planning a wedding is something Regina has been dreaming of for years… And now the time has come for her to live her fairy tale.
Yes, that is the endpoint and she will not lose sight of it – after all, she already knows even how she’s going to redecorate Future Husband’s beautiful house. Regina will do everything and anything necessary for the accomplishment of this vision of marital bliss. Isn’t marriage all about compromise? Well, at least until both parties sign the marriage license… She is, after all, one to think about her man’s needs first. She will still smile while reluctantly agreeing to the number of guests he wants. She will wear the dress he chose for her, even if she would have preferred another; and if he wants to wear that hideous suit… well, what can a woman do but love him with all his flaws?
You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!
Part One – The Illusion
The house was filled with that delicious smell of baked goodies. Vanilla and a variety of other aromas I was too young to know or recognize conspired with my grandmother in creating that warm, heavy, divine, mouth-watering smell that could mean only one thing: Christmas was only a few days away.
It was the final element in that trilogy of olfactory sensations that I have associated with the winter holidays from a very early age. The oranges were the first harbinger of the impending festivities and as I stood by the big fruit bowl, scratching at one of them with my little nails so I could carry its perfume with me, I knew there wasn’t long to go ‘till the much expected moment.
Then came the tree. My grandfather was never too involved in all the preparations, but getting the tree was always his job and I was his trusty sidekick. It was our little tradition: we would scour all the Christmas tree markets until we found the perfect one, I would choose it and he would carry it home. I don’t know about him, but that intoxicating fir tree smell would make me completely forget about the freezing cold wind, about the icy patches on which I really needed to watch my step and about the snow, which somehow managed to find its way into my boots each and every time. The serious, respectable, stern man became a child again, analysing fir trees, laughing more than I would see him laugh during the entire year and always indulging me, all the while knowing that the one I chose would inevitably be too tall. He’d be the one severely reprimanded as soon as we got home, but little did he care.
So when the baking also started, I knew it was time for my mother to arrive and for a long time that was what Christmas was all about for me. Once that finally happened, the two of us would decorate the tree and do the last of the Christmas shopping for that year. Among all those activities, she would work on answering all my questions about Santa and trying to convince me he was real. You see, that was a story I never fully believed, so each year she struggled to convince me, until her patience invariably reached its limits, resorting to the so very effective argument, “Because I said so.” As soon as that was taken care of, we could continue decorating while listening to carols. New decorations got lost among the older ones, my mother would share Christmas stories from her childhood and we would conspire on playing all sorts of silly little harmless tricks on my grandparents, the way she used to do back in those days she recollected.
Come Christmas morning, there were presents under the tree for everybody. At that time, I had no idea that not all families could enjoyed the same pleasures we did. I didn’t grow up to be a religious person, but in those days both my mother and I indulged my grandmother, dressed up as elegantly as we could and joined her to church. I was to be quiet and well-behaved, but most importantly I was to be thankful for everything my family was offering me.
Some of what we had, we were supposed to share with others on Christmas. We had relatives and close friends come by our place and we would return their visits. Everybody would wear nice, festive clothes, gifts would be exchanged and there was laughter to be heard around the tree. The good china, the fancy silverware and the expensive crystal would make an appearance, as we were going to always share a delicious home cooked meal with our guests. As the impeccable baker that she was, my grandmother always had little goody bags ready to be trotted out and handed out when our guests were finally heading home or for us to take to all the homes we were visiting from Christmas Eve until the New Year’s.
Our friends and neighbours behaved in a very similar fashion, from what I can remember. We often knocked at their doors, offering little packages of homemade goodness and in their turn, they would share some of their feast with us. My job was to help wrap up everything and small branches cut off our too large Christmas tree or bits of mistletoe were my special touch. Old clothes, washed and carefully packed, were being taken to some destination unknown to me, where others needed them; I wasn’t sure why or how, but I didn’t spend any time wondering about it during those early years.
Christmas was a time of magic, of dreams come true, of love and sharing, it was the time of year when I felt cared for and safe more than at any other given moment, it was when that which I desired the most became reality. For the innocent child I was, that trilogy of smells was the promise of bliss. That trilogy of smells still makes my heart beat faster… even now, so many years later… even now, when I know better…
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as Dickens said it so wisely… and I would eventually understand it clearly.
Amalia was dizzy. Why? Why are these comments always a must, no matter who the guy is, no matter how evolved he might appear at a first sight? Inevitably, disappointment strikes and one’s self-defence system will overwrite all previous reason. He may be a man, but he is mainly a male and he cannot help but being human; he will push the limit and he will refuse to accept things for what they are, so one needs to assert one’s will in order to remain on the same level with him.
“Come on, don’t be silly. It was just a joke, I know how you see things, but I also get his side of the story. And from his point of view, he’s in love with you, he’s trying to have a relationship with you, and you’re the bitch that’s screwing anyone but him. By the way, are you still screwing him? When was the last time the two of you did it?”
“It’s been a while. And it’s also going to be a while before this bitch screws the likes of you again… I’m spending a couple of weeks with my family and I’m leaving the day after tomorrow.”
For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169
…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂
I have my little ritual every year after I decorate the Christmas tree. Once I tidy up and the empty boxes go back where they belong, I switch off all the lights in my home. Only the Christmas lights are on, the ones in the tree and those decorating the windows. I listen to sappy Christmas songs, just as I do while decorating. I just sit on the sofa, enjoying a well deserved glass of wine or perhaps a cup of hot coffee, whatever I feel like, and I think of past Decembers, good and bad alike. It’s just that calming tree and I, and even if I am practical these days and no longer get a real fir, it serves its purpose. Every year, it brings some joy and pleasure into my life, rewarding the child in me, awakening the child I once was. I… we… put such effort into setting the stage for Christmas, so we might as well relax for a moment and enjoy it, remembering how those lights seemed magical to the children we once were.
And sometimes my mind just wonders off and I can’t help thinking of warmer days… 🙂
It was a particularly beautiful summer when they met, one filled with sweet poetry of hope and unrequited dreams, when the remains of old loves become the seeds of new ones and the magic of a sunset can make everything seem possible… even for a beautiful, intelligent and independent young woman like Regina to fall in love with a Nice Guy like him. Tall, with deep, dreaming blue eyes and a kind smile, elegant in his middle management suit, he couldn’t resist consoling Regina right after she presented her resignation two days into the trial period for a new job. Who could have resisted those beautiful doe eyes of hers, mystified by tears of despair she was trying so hard to stop from rolling down her pale, silky cheeks?
True to form, Regina promptly fell in love – so she said – with her new leading man, not one week after proclaiming her undying affection for Bad Boy, who so carelessly and unjustly shattered her dreams of a happily ever after. Yes, Nice Guy is the way to go, the key to open the door to that much sought after realm of marriage. He is that reliable shoulder a real woman like her needs to cry on, he is the sweet puppy she thinks she wanted as a child, forgetting for a moment how much she really hates dogs and how these loving, loyal creatures cannot stand the sight of her either.
In a matter of minutes, Regina glues back together all her shattered dreams involving Bad. Nice Guy may be nice, but does that make him right as well? After all, he seems stuck in a dead end job, he has no money and no ambitions, he might very possibly be the most boring man alive and sex with him is… let’s just say it, a yawn. Honestly, the dullest date or sexual endeavour with Bad Boy are far more interesting than the best moments with Nice Guy. Besides, how can she pursue her career as a victim next to him? Anyway, whenever things go wrong with any of those she considers real men, Regina can always go back to Nice Guy. He will always be there, waiting quietly for her return, hoping she would not leave yet again. What better match could there be?
In his elegant expensive Italian suit, the tall, athletic man is the epitome of calm and self-control, his blue eyes focused on the couple checking into the five star hotel. The woman adjusting the shoulder strap of her designer bag hasn’t seen him yet, and Nice Guy is happy he can chase away that wave of emotion building inside him, that strange vulnerability he hasn’t felt in years. But Regina’s big, bored eyes wonder around the hotel lobby, looking for something entertaining to annihilate her ennui, so when he meets his gaze and inexpressive smile, surprise, hopes and memories jolt her back to a present full of unexpected possibilities. The man accompanying her doesn’t notice the exchanged glances, but the truth is, he hardly ever notices anything besides his reflexion in the mirror.