‘The Two Ronnies’ played silently on the television in the corner. ‘Last Christmas’ on the record player provided the soundtrack. Sharon’s new pink leather trousers lay neatly folded on the drum stool whilst beneath the duvet Marc imagined her legs warm and smooth.
‘Pickled onion?’ asked Sharon, passing the jar across the width of her double bed.
Marc nodded, said ‘sure, one, why not?’ in reply and plucked a silverskin. The vinegar made his hang nails sting but the onion was good: sharp and spicy.
‘It’s not Christmas without pickled onions in bed.’
Marc didn’t quite see what pickled onions in bed had to do with Christmas, but knew too that his lack of understanding didn’t matter. After all, our own personal traditions are worth a million of those worn thin by time’s passing. He reminded himself to listen to Cristina when he got home.
Outside the window the moon hung over the snow clad trees at the end of the garden. In the hedgerow beneath those trees lay piles of empty bottles and cans from surreptitious summer parties; an epitaph to dwindling youth and to glimmers of those impossible loves that flicker and fade in an instant, never to be reclaimed.
Marc sat on the edge of the bed, letting the moment seep slowly into his memory so that he might feed from the warmth in years to come. An envelope rested between his fingers. Sharon said she didn’t have any more cards to give, but he could have an envelope. She had written some of their favourite nonsensical words and phrases in her loping hand. Some festive cheer. Four crossed ink kisses. And although those were the closest he would ever come to the touch of her lips on his, in a quarter of a century they would seem physical enough amongst other x’s and o’s lost to digital decay.
Downstairs the front door crashed. Heavy steps on the stairs sounded beneath bellows of laughter. Then Robert’s grinning face at the door, flushed from vodka and the cold. He held up a large christmas bauble. ‘Mentl!’ was all he said, eyes flicking quickly between the bauble, Sharon and Marc. Sharon rolled her own to the ceiling and groaned.
A belch escaped Robert’s alcohol soaked stomach. Another grin. ‘We’ve been on a Commando raid’ he said, staggering to his feet and grabbing Marc’s wrist. ‘Come and see!’ Marc stumbled up from the bed and allowed himself to be pulled. He turned to Sharon and shrugged an apology, attempted a smile. He thought that Sharon smiled softly and sadly in return and would swear there was a breath of disappointment to the waggled fingers as she waved farewell.
Robert steered Marc back in Andy’s bedroom, where on the floor lay five more Christmas baubles.
‘We went through the woods and climbed the church wall’ said Andy, pausing briefly from swigging the contents of an angular bottle whose label said ‘Bezique’.
‘We raided the Christmas tree’ grinned Chris, pointing somewhat redundantly to the treasure laid on the carpet.
‘Came back through the woods too, to avoid the pigs’ nodded Robert, another belch making the word ‘pigs’ sound elongated and drenched in echo.
Marc nodded and tried to look serious; didn’t dare suggest the real reason his friends had walked back through the woods was more to do with avoiding the war memorial Punks than the Police.
Robert threw an empty Tennents lager can across the room. ‘Put on the Redskins!’ he called, and Marc slipped his single onto Andy’s record player. He joined in the communal singing, though secretly he knew he would rather still be hearing Wham!
Marc looked at the snowy residue that fell from his friends shoes as they stomped in time to the beat. In years to come he would sometimes wonder what might have happened if the three of them had not returned at that particular moment. What if they had not been content with six baubles from the village Christmas tree and had returned for more? What if the churchyard wall had been higher and had taken longer to climb? What if the snow in the woods had been deeper and their progress through the drifts much slower? Would Sharon’s inky kisses have transformed to reality? Would the looping circles have transformed themselves to embraces beneath the duvet?
He knew however that his shellshocked, skinny self-consciousness would have conspired against any unlikely opportunities that Sharon might have presented. Knew too that all he would then have remembered from the night would have been the disappointing taste of pickled onion kisses.