The Santa Picture

1977
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When her boyfriend dumps her on Christmas eve, Lyn wonders how to break the pattern of bad luck in her life.

The Santa Picture

 

She watched him shuffling through the exit and thought again how the thick overcoats and heavy boots robbed her people of the natural rhythm in their steps. Winter turned them into furry, furtive creatures scurrying against the cold which bit noses and ears and lungs, spitefully angry at their invasion.

And she sighed. It was more than just a broken heart. It was fear and disappointment and hopelessness. How would she get through this first Christmas in a strange land?

Why, oh why, had they chosen to come to school in this far- away- from- everybody city? The friends she had made had happily abandoned her because they thought she would rather spend Christmas with him. They'd come to college in America, together, and everybody expected that somewhere in the studying there would be a wedding, when the right time came. Now he was gone. Suddenly. On Christmas Eve. No warning signs. No excuses. Nothing. Just: "We always knew this day would come. It's over."

How cruel. She had never thought of him as cruel before.

She opened the notebook which she had so cheerfully put aside when he had joined her at the table. She had been trying to come up with a good topic for her writing class – a story or a poem was due after the break. They said that sadness caused writers to create masterpieces. Maybe she should write a poem about him leaving her. It would be a very sad poem.

Why did you leave me?...

She wrote one line, then writer's block set in. Half an hour and two coffees later, she still hadn't written anything more. She had spent the time watching the people who came into the diner, wondering how many of them were as unhappy as she was. Many of them looked just like her. Seekers after a warm place to rest awhile, a place to think about the next move. Drifters.

She added one word to her line

Why did you leave me, drifting......

Then got stuck again.

What was it her tutor had said last writing class? To move writer's block, free wheel. Write down anything that comes to mind.

Another half an hour. Still nothing on the paper but circles. She always doodled circles when she was unhappy. Somebody had once told her that concentrating on circles could help to lift the spirit, for the circle ends exactly where it begins. She couldn't remember who had said it, but it was a very profound thought.

"Are you alright, honey?" the waitress asked. "Maybe you should eat something. Food always helps."

"No thanks," she replied politely. Then thought – only if it was some stewed peas and rice, or a patty and coco bread, or some ackee and saltfish. Food from home. Food for the soul.

And, as luck would have it, the background music, breaking from Christmas cheer, as if to taunt her, started playing Whitney Houston singing 'Where Do Broken Hearts Go?' It was too much. She sighed. Time to leave the diner. Time to start facing the world without him.

She tried not to shuffle as she went out into the cold, her heart as heavy as the layers of protective garments weighing her down. Nothing to do now but wander through the streets looking into shop windows. This was her first day off campus. Her writing elective had been so onerous, she had spent all her time reading or writing in an effort to keep up with the class. Now she wished she had not decided to stay just to experience a wintry Christmas. How she wished she were at home, sunshine warm and safe.

She mingled with the crowds bustling about like mad ants, then turned aimlessly into a large department store. The escalator seemed to offer escape from the throng on the ground floor, so she got on and rode it to where it ended on the kiddies' floor. A line of impatient children and weary parents caught her attention.

Then amid the tinkly music she caught sight of Santa, looking so real, much more real than the fake ones ringing their bells on the streets. Santa, ho! ho! ho — ing! on a golden throne surrounded by elves and reindeer and Christmas trees and shiny toys and red, white and green decorations.

Time suddenly reversed to her own childhood. She had never had her picture taken with Santa. Every December she would get a severe cold and be so sick that she was always absent when Santa visited her school's Christmas party. Her brothers had pictures from two years of sitting on Santa's knees, Robbie with a front tooth missing one year and a very young James with his face screwed up in terror, although in the next picture he was smiling and confident.

Grown-ups were always looking at these pictures on the piano and exclaiming "How cute!" long after the boys had stopped being cute, and then they would ask: "So where's Lyn's picture?"

One year, Mummy had taken her to the plaza in Half Way Tree on the afternoon that it was advertised that Santa would come in a donkey cart laden with gifts. In the tropics that was probably the best way for Santa to arrive. But although they waited a very long time, he never came. She had cried and cried.

Tidal waves of self-pity washed over her as she thought how this first big disappointment had set a pattern for her life. The things she wanted most would continue to elude her. Like the parish spelling bee finals which everybody had said she would win, but, at the last minute, she couldn't remember how to start the word eucalyptus, and came in second. Then she hadn't got into the high school of her choice. On and on the memories flooded her. The first date when the boy had not turned up. The returned manuscripts. "Loser! Loser!" she whispered to herself.

"Hey, lady! Move up! Where's your kid?"

Lyn looked around, at first bewildered, then embarrassed. She was at the head of the Santa line! She didn't even know when she had joined it.

Then she got a crazy, wonderful idea. Maybe if she undid that first big disappointment, it would break the pattern. She would get her picture taken with Santa. If she was too big to sit on his knee he could hug her. And she would send the picture home, framed, and ask Mummy to put it on the piano where everybody would see it.

"Ho! Ho! Ho!" Santa beckoned.

(This is the first story in my ebook collection, My Darling You on amazon)

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