Alex’s paper chain was folded neatly on the bed. The small note attached by way of a paper clip informed me that the decoration was a fire hazard and best not strung across the ceiling.
The bed-sitting room reverted back to its plain but adequate appearance. Life sapping shades of grey and fawn spoke a constant reminder that this was not our home, that we were just visitors.
Downstairs, the communal sitting room, there was a tree of sorts. It was an artificial tree, the endings of each branch turning various shades of blue, green and yellow every few minutes. A twisted wreath of holly leaves and winter greenery marked the centre of a deep mahogany table, polished like glass and smelling of beeswax.
Alex and I had been assigned a room in the Bed and Breakfast until a flat became vacant by the council. We had been homeless for the last three months, shuffled from one place to another, like unwanted cards in a poker game.
Uninvited memories of home haunted me. Had we owned such a table, I could have imagined my mother, clearing away the clutter of books and letters. She would have spread out pages of newspaper. Pots of coloured paints, gold and silver stars of sticky paper, spilled tubes of glitter and an old pile of the previous year’s cards would be strewn everywhere. She would be directing operations, spreading praise as thickly as we would spread glue made with flour and water.
My mother knew how to do Christmas. Not cleanly, with artificial trees and green twists of holly leaves and conifer branches.
She would have sat beside Alex licking the strips of paper, making the paper chains and balancing precariously on a chair, reaching with the drawing pin to the corner of the room, in much the way I had done last night.
A prickle of guilt shivered at the edge of my consciousness. I had sent my mother photographs of Alex when she was born, but she had never had the opportunity to meet her grand-daughter. I had told myself that she had no desire to meet Alex, but I knew deep down that I was lying to myself.
I was just a teenager then, pregnant and afraid. I hadn’t looked for concern, or listened for worry in my parents’ voices, but seen only judgement, and heard only anger. I hadn’t waited for the dust to settle after the earthquake of the announcement. I was so sure the Billy, Alex’s father, would look after us both.
He tried for a while, but the sharp teeth of reality bit through our dreams. The long hours we spent apart during the day in tedious jobs, to make enough money to pay the rent on a small two bedroomed flat, became long hours apart in the evening as Billy went out with his friends. The end was always waiting in the wings, looking for the cue to take the stage. There were no arguments, no hostilities or no sharp words to make an end of it. We just silently slipped away from each other, like a boat slips away from its moorings.
I couldn’t say that Alex and I managed on our own. We wouldn’t be doing the rounds of various Bed and Breakfasts while waiting for a council flat to become available if we were. I had made a failure of my life, pretty much the way my parents had predicted I would, except that I could never look at Alex, my beautiful girl, and think that I had failed. She was my one success. She was the one thing in my life I was proud to have created.
I looked around the bedsit, slipping a finger into a link of the paper chain. This was not what I had wanted for Alex. This was not the Christmas that she was entitled to.
A longing for home, my real home, a home full of warmth and welcome, swamped me. home.
A paper chain was only as strong as the glue that held the links in place. I felt an assurance that the love that linked me to my family had survived my teenage tantrum.
I fished the mobile phone from the pocket of my jacket and began tapping in the number to phone home.
Melanie.. yet another of your beautifully crafted pieces. I loved the phrases about slipping the moorings etc.. Your writing never disappoints.
I am using a variety of forums now. My e-mail address is Anne.firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to get in touch as time permits.
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A beautifully written memory. The paper chain tie-in to how strong love is was poignant. A couple of my favorite lines: "We had been homeless for the last three months, shuffled from one place to another, like unwanted cards in a poker game." and "The end was always waiting in the wings, looking for the cue to take the stage."
I'm so sorry you missed the early deadline! This is a great story - and I LOVE the hope at the end.
A well written and very touching story which offers courage and inspiration to readers who may be in a similar situation. I liked the deep bond the mother held for her child above all the harsh realities of her situation and the final healing phone call to her family. 'Paper Chains' was well worth reading.