Christmas without Crackers



There was no snow on the ground as Freya stepped out of the car on to Ash Street for the first time. There were however, a few berries of different sizes hanging from the the bare branches of the trees on the street, giving an effect of baubles this Christmas Eve. All the windows in the street shone bright with decorations and Christmas trees. Freya scanned the houses and worked out that the odd numbers were on the side she had parked on, so number Seven would be the fourth house along.

She had met Andrew in the local library where they had got talking about contemporary fiction, and from the start and they had made a strong connection. That first casual conversation had led to them meeting regularly in coffee shops, and she learned that he was the father of a young boy. He had taken to reading in the evenings to occupy himself since his wife Mavis had died. Freya was the first woman he had spent any time with since then. Now he had taken the big step of inviting her to come over on Christmas Eve to meet his young son.

The closer to the house she got, the harder her heart beat and the old anxiety returned. How would tonight be? Almost automatically her feet took her up the path to the neat bungalow with it’s well kept garden. There were toys strewn about the garden and she noticed a child’s swing in the centre of the lawn. Just as she was about to ring the bell, the door opened and Andrew stood there beaming. Normally he would give her a massive big hug, but tonight she knew they must be careful.

A small blonde boy of five appeared at Andrew’s side and looked at her suspiciously.
“Say hello to Freya, Tommy” said Andrew. The boy said nothing and hid his face in his father’s trouser leg which he was clutching tightly.
“Never mind, you’ll come to life later I’m sure. Let’s go in and have supper.”
Tommy  ran back indoors leaving them alone for a moment. As they entered the hallway Andrew helped her off with her coat, a small but reassuring gesture. They did not kiss as they usually did when they met. She noticed some family pictures on the wall and guessed that the pretty blonde lady in them was Mavis. 

Freya handed Andrew a package. “I brought you a cheese for after the meal, some cheddar, but I am so annoyed with myself as I bought some crackers to go with it and accidentally left them sitting in the kitchen back home. It must be the nerves!! But I did bring some chocolate for Tommy. ”
“Why!”  he said “That is so kind. We both love cheese and my goodness, look at the size of it! That will surely last a while. ” 
He then passed her gift of chocolate through a door on the right and a little hand came out to take it. “Say thank you to Freya. ”
“Thanks” said Tommy who appeared at the doorway, but still kept his face hidden.

“Come through” said Andrew, hanging up her coat on the rail in the hall. He led her into the  brightly decorated living room. There was a large blue sofa in the centre with cream cushions and a dark wooden sideboard against the wall. The Christmas tree was by the window and was covered in various small coloured decorations. A cosy coal fire was burning and fastened to the side of the mantelpiece was a large empty red stocking which would no doubt be filled with toys in the morning. There was a dining alcove where the table was set for three. They sat down and Andrew went into the nearby kitchen and started to bring the supper through.

The meal was nice, he could cook well. The chicken was tender, and so too were the vegetables. They had fruit juice as Freya was driving. Normally she would have brought a bottle of wine, but felt unsure about that  with Tommy there.

And that was what made her anxious. As an only child she had not had other children to play with and had often looked enviously at those interactions she had seen between siblings. She had been loved and had plenty of toys to play with, but when she saw even her friends playing with their children she sometimes felt a bit lost, a bit inadequate. Quite simply she wished she could join in but didn’t know how. She did however, like children and felt that Tommy, although silent was a sweet little boy. During the meal she tried to make conversation with him,  but felt she was asking too many questions  such as which school did he go to, and who were his friends ? He said little in return, looking instead at his Dad each time she spoke.

As Freya looked at him she wondered what it must have been like for him to have lost his mother so young. Two years ago, Andrew had told her. Did the little lad remember much about her? And what was it like to have strange lady come into this little bubble of two which was all that he knew? She felt compassion for him, but also for herself.

After the meal, Andrew went through to the kitchen returning with the large cheese Freya had brought. He had placed it on a board with some bread and butter to make up for the forgotten crackers.

“You two start on the cheese and I will go and wash up” he said and went through to the kitchen leaving Freya and Tommy alone together. She hoped she could start a conversation with him. She buttered some bread and absent mindedly cut a small triangular piece of cheese.

Suddenly the little face lit up. “That looks like a Christmas tree!” said Tommy pointing to the first cut of cheese.
“Why so it does!” agreed Freya.

In the kitchen Andrew was taking his time washing the dishes. After about ten minutes he heard loud laughter from the other room. He peeped round the door and saw Freya and Tommy deeply  engrossed in some strange activity. 

“Look Daddy, we are making cheese Christmas shapes !”

 Freya looked up at Andrew and smiled. She had hit on the idea of cutting lots of little shapes. There were circles, triangles, squares and other odd bits. She had discreetly put the sharp knife high on the dresser and taking the random pieces they began joining  them together. They had snowflakes, a rather crude Rudolph with a bright red cocktail cherry for a nose, a sleigh (with a little help from a butter dish) and four or five tiny Christmas trees to add to the first one. They were having such fun and who would have guessed that a block of cheese would provide the bond she had hoped for! They proudly showed their handiwork to Andrew who was well impressed.

The pudding came and by then Tommy was the one who did all the talking, chattering about Santa and Rudolf and all the toys he hoped they would bring.

It had been agreed that Freya’s visit should be a short one, just long enough to break the ice with Tommy and to pave the way gently. She stood up ready to go. “It has been lovely to meet you and I wish I could stay longer but I have to get home before Santa starts his rounds.”
“Night night Freya ” said Tommy unprompted. 

Andrew saw her to the door and helped her on with her coat.  Just as he was about to open the door Tommy appeared at their side clutching a small piece of cheese in his hand.
“Look Freya, I made you a mistletoe!”
“Why so you have, you clever boy!” exclaimed Andrew “and tell me Tommy, do you know what to do with mistletoe?”
The boy nodded and his Dad picked him up and held him level with Freya’s head.
“Now hold it high Son!”
Tommy did, and then with a giggle he gave Freya a big smack of a kiss on her cheek. Arthur then lowered him down.

Tommy then looked up at Freya and asked “Are you going to come back tomorrow? Santa is coming tonight and bringing me presents. Would you like to see them?”
“What do you say that Freya?” Andrew gave her a wink. “Would you like to come and share in our Christmas fare tomorrow?  I brought in a large goose which is far too big for just us two.” 

Freya was glowing with happiness. She no longer felt like an intruder, instead she was pleased that she had been able to bring a long absent female presence to the home. 
“I would absolutely  love to” she said.
Tommy reached up and took her hand. 
“And will you be bringing more cheese?”  he asked , hopefully.

“I am pretty sure I can arrange that ” she said, grateful that she could still catch the supermarket before it closed “And when I come tomorrow I will remember to bring the crackers this time.”

“Can’t have Christmas without crackers!” said Andrew. 

And they all laughed.

  1577 words   C  Jean A Callender