Here is a seasonal tale taken from my collection of short stories and poems entitled JUST A MOMENT.
Christmas baubles, the symbol of joy, peace, goodwill – or are they?
The Sinister Bauble
I am ambivalent towards Christmas. It is stereotypically the time of love, joy, peace and goodwill, the time of merriment, but is it? There is a darker side: loneliness, illness and I always find if I dare to look forward to it, it only ends in disappointment, yet fool that I am, I joyously get out the decorations every year.
I only have a tiny tree, a fibre optic tree, but lots of decorations so I have to be selective as to which ones go on, but he/she must go on, I can’t risk upsetting evil forces. She is an angel – or is it he? It is sexless but it is not angelic. No round bellied, chubby cheeked cherub this one. I’d call her – him – IT – Lucifer if I dared, but I dare not for fear of him manifesting himself from the mere association. I secretly think of it as The Fallen Angel.
At first glance it looks like any average angel ornament: the white gown, the soft feathered wings, it’s only when you look at its face and see the evil, twisted expression that you feel a chill – at least I do. I feel its eyes on me as I sort through the other baubles with their special memories, a new bauble for each year, some more special than others.
I pick it up gingerly. Even the memories associated with The Fallen Angel are unpleasant. I feel fear whenever I think of them, as I do when I handle it.
“Buy it,” he’d said when I’d picked it up in the garden centre’s Christmas department several years ago, and the joyous voices of the children queuing to see Santa in his wooden cabin grotto were blocked out by an all encompassing blackness as I looked at the twisted features of the angel.
“Look at its face. It’s evil.”
He’d given a twisted smile which mirrored that of the ornament. “Only in your eyes.” He’d given my arm a heavy handed, proprietorial squeeze and against my better judgement I’d put it in my basket with the gifts I’d selected.
He’d frightened me, Cameron. Nothing I could put my finger on except maybe an air of control and I just didn’t feel comfortable with him. I’d got to know him through a friend’s party soon after my divorce. He wasn’t the type I usually went for, pretty boys with soft, floppy hair; he was muscular, shaven headed, big. I hadn’t been looking for a relationship, it had just happened and I’d gone along with it. I hadn’t even found him particularly attractive but he’d been complimentary and my battered pride had been soothed, pampered even by his flattery. The biggest turn on had been the fact that he’d found me desirable. I seemed to bloom like a spring flower after having been crushed by my ex husband’s indifference. Yet he frightened me – and excited me!
I remembered the first time we’d made love, if it could be called that. There was no tenderness, it was pure lust. His blue eyes that could flash like chips of ice as the mood took him had burned into mine. It had been in my house, my lounge.
“I could just overpower you, here on the rug,” he’d said, his eyes never leaving my face, and he had.
It had been wild, passionate with a hint of cruelty, but I’d never been so excited in my life!
That was what kept me with him for so long. Well, I say so long, it hadn’t lasted until the following Christmas. I was glad and I wasn’t. I missed the wild sex but I was relieved to be rid of his overbearing presence. He was a predator, always on the hunt. It was the thrill of the chase for him and once he’d made me submissive he lost interest and I breathed easy again, but The Fallen Angel always brought back his memory, those mingled feelings of fear and excitement.
I put it aside and select a bauble with happier connotations, the little white sparkling reindeer that we’d got for our eldest daughter’s first Christmas twenty years ago. She’d been ten months old and her baby hands had marvelled at the rough texture of its sparkling body. Her father had helped her put it on the tree whilst I had watched proudly and operated the camera. Such a special decoration and I hang it right at the front where I can see it.
Equally special is the one bought for her sister’s first Christmas two years later, a carved wooden elf dressed in green with a tiny jingling bell round his neck. She had only been four months old so hadn’t been able to hang it on the tree but her eyes had watched our every move and she’d loved the sound of the bell. Eyes watch me now as I hang it below the reindeer so that I can see them both together, the eyes of The Fallen Angel.
“Pick me,” they say. “Choose the best position.”
“No,” my mind responds and I force myself to look away from its malevolent gaze.
Why don’t I get rid of it, you’re thinking. I can’t. There’s something about it that compels me to keep it. Whether it’s the feeling of passion it evokes I don’t know, but it has to have its place on the tree.
I select another favourite decoration, this time from my childhood. It is a tiny sleigh made of even tinier baubles like little silver beads, and Santa sits in it on a seat of cotton wool.
“Oh me Dad please!” I hear my child’s voice call out from across the years. “Please let me hang that one on,” and with an indulgent smile he always did.
It’s a tricky business getting Santa to stay in his seat and I balance him carefully, all the time aware of The Fallen Angel’s eyes.
The chickenpox bauble comes next. When my eldest daughter was four years old and in nursery school the whole class came down with it. One half of them had all attended the same birthday party and had caught it together; the rest of the class caught it from them and were affected two weeks later. In turn it was passed to her younger sister so that year it was a very itchy, scratchy, spotty Christmas and the bauble was a large silver one with snowflakes embossed on it, making it as scratchy as our two girls.
Then comes the saddest bauble, the one purchased the first year after my husband Malcolm left. He’d outgrown me he said. We were two different people he said, and shrugging, well, there was someone else. I’d been sad but not devastated. He’d been right; we’d changed but not together and our love had run its course. We get on well when we see each other; we are friends, and we’ll always have our girls.
The ornament I chose reflected my mood that Christmas, one of feeling sorry for myself, just a simple, small tree bereft of ornaments with only a light dusting of snow. I hung it on the back of the tree where I wouldn’t have to look at it and be reminded of my life, bereft of ornament or any other light hearted, joyful trivia. I felt guilty to the poor, tiny tree, hanging it there out of the way, unable to show off its simple beauty to all who entered the room. As I hold it now I give it a better place. My emotions are no longer raw, it can come out and share in our Christmas.
“There little tree, look out over the room in your mantle of snow,” I tell it as I secure it to a branch.
And all the time The Fallen Angel watches. I feel its glare all the more forceful for my having left it until the last.
“Come on you demon,” I want to say to it, “where shall I stick you?” but I dare not speak the words.
I know it is only a figure, an inanimate object but to me it’s symbolic of evil. Why I always get this feeling I don’t know, it has never brought me any harm, any ill fortune, it is just its face, its expression. I don’t like to think myself shallow in only liking pretty things but its look doesn’t please me.
I pick it up and stare at it defiantly. I can feel its presence emanating from its very fibre as it challenges my glare. I remember the time I first saw it at the garden centre. What on earth drew me to it, made me pick it up? Had it dared me to do it? Was it the expression that was so alien to the spirit of the season? Then there had been Cameron, forceful, persuasive. If it hadn’t been for him I might have put it back. Maybe it’s his bauble. Then why am I clinging on to it? Why can’t I either decide to like it or get rid of it?
I wonder where to put it on the tree. It defies me to choose an obscure position so I put it to the side of the tree, near the top. There, that should keep it happy.
“Will that do you?” I ask rhetorically. “You can see enough from there.”
It stares back with its silent glare.
The light is fading on the short December day. I switch the lights on on the Christmas tree and stand back to survey my festive display. They blink and flash and I am pleased with the effect. Their gentle glow even softens the harsh features of The Fallen Angel, but there is one more bauble to adorn the tree, one which is yet to arrive.
I go to the wine cabinet and get out two glasses and a bottle of Irish Cream liqueur. I pour it into the glasses and take them back to the table beside the tree and sit down to wait.
A key sounds in the front door.
“Only me,” calls the voice that I love.
Robin, my fiancé walks into the room smelling of cold, fresh air. I stand to greet him with a kiss.
“Did you get it?” I ask.
“I did.” He hands me a small package wrapped in white tissue paper. “I hope you’ll like it.”
I unwrap it to reveal a delicate porcelain cherub.
“Oh Robin it’s beautiful, thank you! This year’s decoration.” I lift up the golden thread secured to its shoulders. “Where shall we hang it?”
He inspects the tree. “What about here in place of this frosty faced angel? You don’t want that miserable looking thing staring down at us do you? If it was mine I’d stamp in its face.”
I laugh at him and hand him the cherub to hang on the tree. “No I don’t, get rid of it.”
It will be all right if someone else gets rid of it, not me.
He unceremoniously removes The Fallen Angel and dumps it in the waste paper bin, hanging the cherub in its place. He steps back and takes my hand.
“There,” he says, “that’s perfect.”