by Eva Moer

Walter stands by the window that is edging with fern frost. Old Man Winter’s calling card.

Below is a bustle of townsfolk, their faces reddened with a mix of cold and anger, as they clip elbows laden with over-stuffed bags in the crush of shop doorways. He closes his eyes; remembers Christmas stories, told by an open fire, the crack of a walnut, the smell of an orange fresh on his fingers, a spark of something wonderful inside; a belief in magic, miracles, love and goodwill. He holds that within him, delicate as a butterfly, as he closes the curtains, lest it should fly away.

He straightens his tie and hides his moth-eaten V-neck beneath his suit jacket. He will meet his guest in his Sunday best. They had been good friends, after all, back when Walter was a boy, when he had skated on frozen ponds and built snowmen in the garden. The Old Man had nipped Walter’s cheeks like an affectionate uncle whenever they met; but he was feral, make no mistake. Mother had kept him at bay with woollen jumpers, hot broth and china pigs. She’d allowed Walter the rose tint of the Old Man, the childhood romance, whilst always curtailing his cruelty.

Walter lowers the creek of his bones into his chair by the barren fireplace, its mantelpiece stacked with red-letter envelopes, and tucks a blanket over his lap. He watches the sky softly bruise and collapse into night behind the threadbare curtains.

“Hello, old friend,” he whispers through a pained smile, whilst his fingers numb in Old Man Winter’s firm handshake.

As the shiver in him stills, he finds the heat of the hearth, the hush of his mother’s voice.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.”