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Christmas (even)

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It was snowing the night that Maccabeus Finch died, flat on his back in an icy puddle, his overcoat spread wide, an ink blotch on his lips. His life had been a bar fight that lasted 300 years, but now he got to sleep the sleep of the almost dead, under a yew tree, in St Bartholomew’s graveyard. Next to his ex-wife, Lilith.

Peace.

Kind of.

There were arrangements in place at least.

This Christmas fell on an even year. That made it his turn. His daughter Aurelia should arrive, with the sound of the bells, just before midnight. Aurelia, Aurelia. The light of his life. The thorn in his ghostly heart.

He cocked his head as the bells clunked to life, then picked up momentum, the chimes stumbling and rolling over each other, like the bell ringers were drunk. Or incompetent. Or old. Maccabeus glared at the bell tower, and then fixed his eyes on the gate.

There she was.

Aurelia. Aurelia.

She was carrying an LED lantern in one hand, and a basket in the crook of her other arm. She paused for a moment, just inside the church gate, in the spill of the yellow streetlights. She was just wearing a dress, no coat, no cape. Wasn’t she cold? Wasn’t she freezing?

She swished down the church path, a confection of pink and lavender, frills and lace. His pretty little girl.

Maccabeus felt his arm rising up, but forced himself to lower it down, before it turned into a wave. He reached for the top of his gravestone, and leaned towards it, in some semblance of casual… waiting. But he was tall, and the gravestone was short. He righted himself.

“Hello Aurelia,” he said, nodding once. Nodding twice.

Aurelia stopped, almost within touching distance and nodded back. They’d never been huggers, and now was not the time to start? He didn’t want to spook her.

“You’re not cold? You’re not freezing?”

Aurelia smiled….in a slow, even way that turned his empty stomach. She looked just like Lilith did, when she’d wrangled herself some kind of victory.

“Hello father,” Aurelia said, and swung the lantern, then set the basket down. “I’ve brought you chicken this year, not turkey. Time for a change.”

“Chicken’s fine. Chicken’s great,” he said.

The last thing he wanted to do was pretend to eat some, but Aurelia had gone to all this effort. She reached into the basket and handed him a chicken drumstick.

“Thank you.” He took it, then swapped it to his other hand, and rubbed his right eye. His eye was twitching, his nerves alive enough right now to fire. He could even feel the chicken grease slick from his fingers onto his eyelid. He noticed Aurelia watching him, still as a deer. He dropped his hand down and wiped his fingers carefully on his coat.

Aurelia wrinkled her nose.

“How’ve you been? How’s tricks?” he said.

He looked at his watch, feeling the dread of time going faster than he could handle. He had less than an hour with Aurelia. His watch had long stopped, but the habit remained.

“I won’t keep you,” Aurelia said.

“No, no, no,” he said. “It’s good, it’s good. You don’t want to get cold though. Where’s your coat?”

She wrinkled her cute little nose again. He’d said the wrong thing. She wasn’t a child. She’d be insulted.

“Stop worrying. I’ve joined the club.”

The club?

Maccabeus reached for his gravestone again.

“So this will be my last Christmas. With you.” She reached down into the basket, and handed him another chicken drumstick, which he took reflexively, and regretted. Now both his hands were occupied, out of commission.

He stared at her so hard it felt like his eyes might turn to dust. And still it was hard to tell, for sure…in the dark of the churchyard, with only the lantern.

“Yes, father. I tapped out.”

“But you could…live another hundred, another two hundred…you should have…did you talk to your mother about this? Does she know?” He felt his voice rising and his words falling all over themselves. He felt his arms rising up too, and pressed them down in front of him, the chicken drumsticks laid flat to the grubby fabric of his pin-striped trousers.

Aurelia shook her head, and folded her pale arms. “I’ve arranged it so that you can wake next year, and tell her yourself.”

Next year was an odd year. It was Lilith’s year. They never crossed over.

“If you really can’t manage it, you can give her this.” Aurelia leant forward and tucked a note into the pocket of his coat.

His jaw dropped. He let go of both chicken drumsticks and they rolled into the grass between them.

“What about you? Where are you going? Aurelia?” His voice whined into the darkness.

Aurelia chewed her lip and swung the lantern. He saw the inkblot on her fingers. And on her bottom lip.

“Paris. Père Lachaise.”

“Wait, wait. We could make room for you here.” He gestured frantically to the space between his grave and Lilith’s, where the two drumsticks lay.

“That’s ok.” For the third time that night Aurelia wrinkled her nose, and then straightened her froth of a dress. “Thank you though.”

Maccabeus nodded, and then took a step forward, like he was trying to advance on that deer.

Aurelia brought the lantern up between them, and patted his shoulder lightly.

“At least you’ll get an extra Christmas this way. Odd and even,” she said.

His brain raced with a hundred years of things he should have said to her.

“Thank you for the chicken. No really.” That was the best he could do?

The bells had stopped. It was so, so quiet.

“You’re welcome,” she said flatly.

“Paris? You’re sure.”

He scuffed at the grass between them with the toe of his cracked, leather boot. The silence hung, heavy as lead in the night air.

She picked up the basket, her fingers still solid enough to manage the weight. But for how long? Soon she’d be a sleeping wreck like him, waking for an hour of the year…if she was lucky.

“Who’s going to wake you? Who’s going to…”

“Ah, you know,” she shrugged. “Happy Christmas?”

“Happy… Christmas… Aurelia.”

He watched her bob through the darkness and back into the light of the path. His ghostly fingers curled around the note for Lilith. He folded it out carefully.

FATHER.

TELL MOTHER YOURSELF.

IT’S TIME YOU TWO HAD A TALK.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS, FOR NEXT YEAR.

NO MORE NOTES.

AURELIA.

Week 23

It’s a week until Christmas Eve. I was trying to recall different Christmas stories – Scrooge and the ghosts. This has a little bit of Christmas and some ghosts…and some chicken…you know.

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