I marched down the street just around 1 pm on Christmas Day. The air was filled with the energy of repose: People, at home, doing not much more than eating, drinking, talking, loving. You could say that it was ‘quiet’, but that wasn’t strictly true. You could hear laughter from this or that balcony, courtyard, backyard. The electric trains still hurtled past north and south every fifteen minutes. But there was a hovering, a pause, a sense that every single house was occupied, and with people who had nowhere else to be.
In front of me was a pram, and in it a little boy who hadn’t slept since he woke at dawn. He was pale, curious, desperately wanting to stay in the world. He’d slept poorly the night before, was in bed late due to a European-family Christmas. The two nights prior were fitful, and nap-time during the day more akin to an hour-long skirmish with some skittish sheep than a proper sleep. He was fighting sleep. I grated aloud about everything that was wrong in my life until, right down at the bottom of the hill, we turned and headed towards the oval, the pines, the school. I realised the cadence of my narrative, and cut it off at the knees. I looked around: I was the only pedestrian on any street I could see. There was no traffic. There was nobody in any of the parks. My little boy was staring at me.
Shuffling the angst into deep pockets, I took a breath of the warm, pine-musky summer-desert air and composed myself. I bent down so that my face was in the pram, level with his. I smiled a big smile, looked straight into his gorgeous blue-grey eyes, and murmured conspiratorially:
‘Look at you, my little sleepy man.’
He beamed at me.
Then he closed his eyes and relaxed. He drifted off, but not into sleep until we were well past the school. He kept his eyes tightly closed until sleep came and kissed the tension away.
So then it was just me.
I pondered aloud to him, even though he was asleep.
I talked about how Christmas wasn’t Christmas this year: No sit-down dinner, no family time really, just loads of scattered people. Not even lunch with us three.
I talked about my business, and how every sales offer had fallen flat for eight months and I didn’t know what to do.
I talked about moving on.
Moving on seemed right.
Moving on felt like the thing to do. The question was: What does it look like? Who knows? The brand is old, the company name tired, the entire picture meaningless to others. Maybe I could trade as… myself?
The deep blue sea rippled through the gulf, capped with little white peaks presaging windy, cooler weather. The buffeting breeze cut across us sideways as we turned down the hidden laneway back to our home.
Tinkling laughter greeted us at the top of the street, where the newest neighbours were hosting Christmas lunch in their new digs. Amber, the thirty-something who bought it, was ecstatic that they’d be there for thirty-something years. Nice to know they’re all long-termers here; even the crazy, alcoholic woman in the housing commission place next door. The family to the right of the newest neighbour has been there since the house was built; its second generation is being raised within its walls.
The little man stayed asleep as I parked the pram and opened the door.
He stayed asleep as I wheeled him inside.
He stayed asleep as I turned to hug the man I married, overcome with wracking sobs. Not enough sleep; not enough Us; not enough of anything working out. Too much of not even knowing where I am or who I’m being. It flowed out and over the top; the catalyst: His serving me lunch perfectly kept and warmed in the oven.
He held me for five minutes.
‘Eat your lunch,’ he commanded gently, before pulling out the bag of cooked prawns his mum had given us the night prior. He sat opposite, shelling, beheading and eating. It was the first meal we’d eaten together without also feeding a rambunctious baby in what felt like a lifetime. The bub slept… and slept, and slept. A gift of three luxurious hours in which we were able to eat, talk, and then go our separate ways to read, sleep, watch, do whatever we each wanted to do.
The waters welled up, emerged, splashed down the overflow, and disappeared.
And with them washed away all the stones that were filling my shoes, removed all the hooks that kept my shoulders hung, and cleared the internal beach of debris.
It wasn’t the kind of Christmas you dream about.
But maybe it should be.
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