A Christmas PlaybyStarlight©
“All right, and thank you, it’s very kind of you.”
Chapter 4: Getting to Know You.
We walked back in the direction of the church where my parents were still waiting, the others having gone on ahead. Sam and I had come in my parent’s car, so taking Sam back from my father, Aine and I got into the back of the car.
Somehow Sam had continued to sleep and once in the car Aine said, “Could I hold her again?” I passed Sam over to her and she drew her close to her breast. “She’s thinking of Jamie,” I thought.
Tomorrow morning there would be gifts. Sam would be laughing as she opened her parcels, and we adults would be delighted with her pleasure. Probably there would be no child for Aine to take pleasure in. I wondered about Gloria. She had sent no gift, not even a note or a card. Would she also miss the joy of a child on Christmas morning? Had Aine sent a gift to Jamie that she would not see him open?
Arriving at the house poor little Sam was handed over once more. I took her straight to bed and Aine, coming up behind me asked: “Could I…could I…I won’t get in the way…if I…”
I knew what she wanted, so I said, “Of course. You can help me get her into her nightie.”
We went to the room where Sam would be sleeping that night and I undressed the half awake half asleep little thing. Aine was holding the night dress, so I made no move to take it from her, but allowed her to put it on Sam.
I said to Aine, “Just wait here a minute,” and I went to the room I would be using and got the small Christmas stocking to put at the foot of Sam’s bed. The main gifts would be given out after breakfast in the morning.
When I got back to Sam’s room Aine was sitting on the edge of the bed softly stroking Sam’s hair. As soon as she was aware of my presence she quickly withdrew her hand saying, “I just wanted to touch her again.”
“I know how you feel,” I replied, smiling. “She has that effect on a lot of people.”
I placed the stocking at the foot of the bed and kissed Sam on the forehead. I saw Aine make a move as if to kiss Sam, but pulled back. I smiled again and said, "I’m sure Sam would love you to, if she was awake to know.”
“Thank you.” She bent and kissed the child.
As we left the room I said, “By the way, you thanked me in the church.” I gave a quiet laugh. “Was that because Sam had fallen asleep on your lap or because I loaned you my handkerchief?”
“Neither, although it was lovely to hold her. I thanked you because I felt you praying for me in church.”
That did startle me. How on earth could she know that a near hardened agnostic verging on atheism had so far betrayed himself as to pray? I hadn’t the courage to ask at that moment.
The little group of friends and relatives had gathered in the lounge and were chatting and laughing as they sipped on their drinks and ate the little sandwiches mother had made. This would be the difficult moment, I thought. How will they receive Aine?
Thank God for my mother – there I go again, thanking the non-being – she has a beautiful non-patronising way of drawing people in and making them feel welcome. She took over Aine and having ascertained what she would like to drink, I was sent to get it. It must have been a brandy and dry because…well, more of that later.
I returned with the drink plus my own whisky, and was told by mother to go away and make myself pleasant to the company because she and Aine were talking female things. In a minor way I have always been grateful that mother never used that immature phrase, “Girl talk.”
I wandered around talking to various people until they began to make their way home. Eventually there were only my parents, Aine and myself.
“Derek will drive you home, Aine,” mother said.
“Oh no, I can…”
“No you can’t, not at this time in the morning.” Then peremptorily to me, “Derek!”
“Yes of course, mother.”
Aine turned and said to mother and father, “Thank you for inviting me, it’s been lovely.”
Mother kissed her on the cheek and said, “We’ve loved having you. Perhaps we shall see more of you in the future.”
“I’d like that if…”
The poor woman seemed to be for ever getting cut off before she’d finished a sentence as my father shook her hand and rumbled, “Been delightful to have you, my dear.”
I drove Aine home and found that she lived in a rather run down part of the town. She said very little as we drove and tried to persuade me to drop her off at the corner of her street. It seemed clear that she did not want me to see where she lived.
I was not having that, so she gave in and let me drive up to the house where, as I was later to discover, she rented one room.
From first seeing her at the play I had been fascinated by Aine. The fascination initially had not been about sex or lust, or any of those usual things that are supposed to draw a man to a woman. I suppose it was an intense curiosity that had led me to read the back numbers of the newspapers. Now my feelings had become something else. Perhaps compassion best describes them.
Aine made to get out of the car, but I touched her arm and said, “I’d like to talk for a moment.”
“I don’t want to be pushy, Aine, but would you like to join us tomorrow morning, when Sam opens her gifts?”
I knew it was a dangerous question. She would have Jamie in mind and seeing another child’s Christmas pleasure might be shattering for her.
It was a relief that she did not refuse outright, but asked, “What about your parents?”
“You heard what my mother said. She never says what she doesn’t mean just to be polite. She said she’d like to see you again.”
“Thank you Derek, I should like that very much.”
“I’ll pick you up about nine, then?”
“I shall be ready.”
I drove home for some reason singing.
Chapter 5: Mother has a Talk.
Late as it was mother was clearing things away when I arrived and was geared up for a talk.
After enquiring if Aine had got home all right, she went on, “I had quite a long talk with her, Derek. We did not talk about her past, it was mainly about Sam, but I could work out that she has been very, very deeply hurt by life.”
“Yes, I know. Look mother, I’ve invited her here for tomorrow morning, is the okay?”
Mother looked t me long and hard, and then said, “Yes, that’s all right, she will be welcome, but there is one thing. I don’t know what you have in mind, Derek, but be very gentle with her. I’ve got the feeling that there’s a lovely person inside her wanting to get out, but she’s afraid.”
“She was very good with Sam, mother.”
“Yes, but that’s because she feels that Sam is safe. Sam doesn’t know about her past, and can accept Aine as she is. We do know, and it’s hard to put that aside. But I tell you this, Derek, I read all the newspaper reports about her arrest and trial and listened to all the media nonsense at the time, but I can read between the lines, and what I read was that this woman has been badly hurt, hurt physically and emotionally.”
“You’ve been hurt yourself, not in the way Aine has been hurt, but you are vulnerable. She’s an attractive woman and if you are thinking of trying to get involved, be careful with her. And if you’re not thinking of getting involved, do nothing to give her the impression that you are. There’s enough pain in the world without adding to it.”
She rose and kissed me on the cheek and said, “Good night, darling, and be careful.”
“Good night, mother, and thank you.”
She smiled and departed for her bed. It was four in the morning and I was nearly asleep standing up, so I staggered off to bed and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Chapter 6: “On Christmas Day in the Morning.”
I was awakened by Sam shaking me and saying, “Daddy, look what Father Christmas left me.”
She was holding the little Christmas stocking, her mouth already smeared with some chocolate it had contained. In addition there were the usual small things, a doll, whistle and what could have been a Dalmatian dog or a spotted cow, it was rather hard to tell.
It was one of those deeply touching moments when a child is so delighted with such little things. They have not yet learned to demand vastly expensive gifts of their distraught parents with such blackmailing phrases as, “All other girls (or boys) have got…”
I looked at the bedside clock and saw it was eight o’clock. Giving Sam a kiss and getting a taste of her chocolate I said, “I’ve got to go and get the lady.”
“Are you going to get Jamie’s mummy. She put my night dress on last night, didn’t she? Can I come with you to get her, please, daddy?”
“All right, I said, but you’ll have to hurry, I don’t want to be late.”
There was a flurry of showering and breakfasting and two minutes after nine o’clock we were outside Aine’s house. She must have seen us arrive because before I could get to the door she came out and walked to the car.
Sam was jumping up and down on the seat and before Aine had a chance to get into the back of the car Sam called out, “Can I sit on your lap again Mrs. Lady?”
“If you wouldn’t mind,” I said.
She smiled and said, “Of course,” then lifting Sam out of the seat, she sat in the front and placed Sam on her lap.
There are situations where a male and female relationship is in the process of being formed, and where one or both adults have a child. They make an exaggerated fuss of the other’s child. They are trying to convey the impression that they really would make a good substitute mother or father.
The exaggerated attention and affection usually makes it easy to pick that sort of situation, and often the affection does not extend much beyond the first entanglements of the adult pair. With Aine I got no impression that she was pretending to affection she did not really feel. She was what people call “natural” with Sam. She simply listened to her chatter about what she had found in her Christmas stocking and made appropriate comments.
The thought flashed through my mind, “If only Gloria could have…” I put the brakes on that one, recognising the futility of “If only’s.”
As soon as we got back to the house, it was present time. Aine looked embarrassed and I heard her whisper to mother, “I haven’t got anything.”
Mother whispered her reply, “You are here, and that’s enough, my dear.”
I could see that Aine looked puzzled by this response, but began to visibly relax.
We all got our Christmas present from under the tree, including Sam, but her special present from me had been hidden away. It was her first little two wheeled bicycle and on seeing it she was reduced temporarily to silence. Then she was all over me with thanks and kisses and requests to be taken out and taught to ride it. Then she suddenly paused in her exuberance and whispered to me, “Mrs. Lady hasn’t got a present, do think Father Christmas would mind if I gave her the little dog?” We had agreed that it was a dog.
I whispered back, “I think he would be very pleased that you are such a kind little girl.”
Sam rushed from the room to return almost immediately with the dog wrapped in what looked like toilet paper. She went to Aine and handing her the ragged parcel said, “I’ve got a present for you.”
Aine hesitated for a moment, and then took the gift and unwrapping it exposed the dog. She stared at it for several seconds, and then holding it to her breast she gasped, “Thank you darling, its lovely.”
Her shoulders began to shake, and mother said to father, “Arthur, will you take Sam outside and start teaching her to ride on the garden path?”
Father may not be as sensitive as mother, but he took the situation in and said, “Of course, my dear. Come along, Sam, let’s ride.”
Aine had been fighting back her tears, but as soon as Sam had left with father, she broke down. I think it was one of the most agonising moments in my life, to witness someone so broken, so open, releasing what must have been the pent up misery of years.
The tears streaming down her face and sobs shaking her body, she looked up at my mother and said, “Oh Mrs.Mack, it hurts so much, so very badly. My heart is broken.”
Mother went to her and sitting beside her on the sofa and took her in her arms. She rocked Aine in her arms saying, “Cry my love, cry it all out. You can say it all because you’re safe with us.”
Out it poured the pain and suffering of her marriage. The imprisonment and her separation from Jamie. People’s rejection of her, their suspicion and whispers behind her back. Her loveless existence.
That austere, remote look I had observed on first seeing her had fallen away completely, I saw a human being in all the beauty and ugliness of raw suffering. She was one of life’s little ones hiding in the comfort and protection of my mother’s breast. All her strength had gone and she was utterly fragile and defenceless in the face of her own grief, and she hugged the little dog to her.
“A happy Christmas, Saviour of the world,” I sneered silently, “You didn’t save her, did you?”
I was shocked at what happened next. To this day I don’t know if I had a moment of madness, but as clear as if someone was in the room speaking the words, I heard in my head: “No, I didn’t save her. You prayed for her so I knew that I could leave it up to you.”
Aine had started to calm, and mother looked across at me to ask something and stared at me for a moment, then said, “Derek, are you all right, you’ve gone as white as sheet.”
Poor mother, she must have thought she had another lost soul on her hands, so I pulled myself together and replied, “I’m okay.”
Mother stared at me with that suspicious look mothers have when you’re a child, and they have asked you if you’ve opened your bowels that morning and you say ‘yes’ to escape being given a laxative.
Mother apparently decided to accept my declaration of all rightness and said, “Get Aine a drink, Derek.”
I went to the drinks table and remembering Aine’s drink of the previous night I poured her a brandy and dry.
Taking the drink to her, I could see that Aine’s body was still being shaken by intermittent sobs, and she was shivering.
“Go to the cupboard in the hall,” mother ordered, “and you’ll find a woollen rug. Bring it here, would you?”
I did as ordered and returned to find Aine stretched out on the sofa, her head on a cushion. Mother took the rug and draped it over Aine saying, “Sleep now for a while, and we can talk more later.”
She signalled me to leave the room, and followed me a minute later.
“Well, Derek, you’ve seen a woman at the end of her resources. We’ll let her sleep until lunchtime, and then see what’s to be done. Now why don’t you go and take over from your father and teach Sam how to ride her bicycle?”
Chapter 7: A Cycling Interlude.
Again I did as instructed, and took Sam out to a nearby park to run up and down the path supporting her as she wobbled along on her first velocipedic adventure.
By lunch time I was exhausted but Sam was exuberantly demonstrating her new found skill of balancing on two wheels. We had achieved this with no more than a grazed knee and a breathless father, and I think both of us were ready to eat.
Aine did not join us for lunch, but mother took her something on a tray.
Sam was rather puzzled by “Mrs. Lady’s” absence, and wondered aloud if Mrs. Lady would come and see her ride in the park that afternoon. Mother told her Mrs. Lady was not feeling very well, and would need to rest, but she might be able to see Sam later.
I was once more denied access to the lounge, and was told to take Sam back to the park to ride her bicycle. Thus a large part of the afternoon was spent watching Sam gain riding confidence while I sat on a park bench under a tree.
It’s amazing how much pleasure a parent can get from their child’s delight. Watching Sam and hearing her cries of glee at her success, the afternoon passed quickly. It was not until my father came seeking me that I realised I had been sitting on the bench for nearly two hours.
“Your mother wants you,” he said significantly,”I’ll stay with Sam for a bit longer.”
I hastened to obey the summons and was met by a thoughtful mother.
“Derek, I want you to drive Aine to her house and help her pack some things, and then bring her back here.”
“What’s happening?” I asked, puzzled.
“Aine will be staying with us for a while,” she replied. “She must not go back to that place to be alone, not for the next few days, anyway. We’ve had a long talk, and if it’s all right with Aine I’ll tell you about it later. Just go and help her get her things now.”
I turned to head for the lounge to get Aine, and mother added, “And Derek, she’s in a very delicate state, so no careless remarks or comments. Be sensitive.”
Chapter 8: The Lady of the House.
Aine looked pale and drained, and although she was not especially short, probably about five feet six or seven, she seemed diminished, smaller.
“I’ll take you to collect your things,” I said.
In a hoarse, almost inaudible voice she said, “Thank you.”
We drove to her house, or rather, her room. It was dim and sparsely furnished, with a single bed, small table and a wardrobe. Aine opened a drawer at the bottom of the wardrobe and began to take out various items of underwear and put them in a suitcase. I noted how worn and tattered some of the garments were.
Opening the wardrobe door she took out the linen suit she had been wearing at the church and one dress. Apart from a top coat there was nothing else in there except a large box wrapped in Christmas paper.
Aine packed a few other items from around the room, including a photograph of a child that I recognised as Jamie.
“That’s all,” she said.
As we left an aggressive looking woman came out from a room near the front door and stood before us. Addressing Aine she said, “You owe me two weeks rent, when am I going to get it?”
“I’ll give it to you as soon as I get my social welfare cheque,” Aine whispered.
“Not good enough," the woman said, "I want me bleedin’ money now.”
“I haven’t got the money,” protested Aine.
“Then I’d better hang on to yer things,” the woman responded belligerently, as she made a grab for the suitcase I was carrying. “Thought yer could sneak off with yer fancy man without payin’ did yer!”
I held fast to the case and asked, “How much is owing?”
“She owes me a hundred and twenty bleedin’ dollars, and she ain’t pissin’ off with you until she’s paid up.”
I took out my wallet and handed the woman the money saying, “There you are, and Mrs.Thorogood won’t be coming back.”
“Oh, it’s ‘Misses Thorogood’ is it? We are coming up in the world, ain’t we!”
Ignoring the woman I turned to Aine and said, “We’ll take the rest of your things now, you’re not to come back here.”
We returned to the room and collected what was left, which was not very much. As we left the house the woman was waiting by the front door.
“Think she’ll make a nice screw do yer? Just wait until yer get a knife in yer ribs one of these nights.”
I was about to make some retort, then changed my mind. What was the use? The wretched woman was probably only trying to dump some her own pain on Aine, so why reinforce her troubled mind with a pointless comment?
Aine had been almost totally silent since we had left my parents’ home, and she made no response to the women’s abuse, in fact she hardly seemed to hear it. I hurried her to the car and we put her belongings in the back. As we clambered into the car the woman shouted out, “An’ if I find you’ve taken any of my things, I’ll have the law on yer.”
As I drove away with a bowed Aine beside me, I wondered what I was going to do with her, having decided for her that she wasn’t going back to that room. Mother had implied a few days for her stay at their house, how would she respond to the idea of a longer period?
Chapter 8: A Sister?
I needn’t have worried. My mother, with her seemingly boundless compassion for Aine, simply commented, “She can stay as long as necessary, Derek. We need to bring her back into life. I’m going to put her into the room Sam slept in, so I’ll go and help her unpack, then let her sleep again if she want’s to.”