Late rays of the descending sun suffused the snow with a faint pink glow as Geoffrey settled himself into the worn armchair. A fire snapped in the grate, and he smiled at his small indulgence. He took a deep drink of tea, grateful for its warmth and comfort on the winter’s eve.
The tiny parlour was his favourite room, for it was here that he felt embraced by his memories, comforted by the fragrance of pipe smoke and furniture wax, lamp oil and dried rose petals. He drew a lap rug over his legs, the blanket’s dulling colours bringing to mind other evenings as he’d watched Emily’s swift hands dipping and pulling up yarn, the blanket growing from her nimble fingers, as surely as new life had swelled under its folds.
Emily had turned demure eyes to his. “April, my love.”
The arrival of their firstborn son. Was there anything to equal its wonder? Halcyon spring days, scented with lilac plumes and linens waving in gentle breezes, matched by restless nights of rocking in the fading firelight.
In the chair yonder. Geoffrey smiled again, seeing Emily with wee Andrew, his downy head nestled against her shoulder, a shawl enfolding them both.
Geoffrey peered closer. Ah, yes. And that’s where young Elizabeth had stood for the first time, and the place where she’d left tooth marks. Shallow dents marred the wooden arm of the chair. Elizabeth had chortled with glee at her accomplishment.
It grew dark suddenly, as winter nights do, and the lamp sputtered and flickered. Geoffrey’s arthritis aggravated him, and he tucked the lap rug closer, hoping to ease the ache. He sipped his tea, and his hands shook as he set the cup back on the tray, and he spilled, the drops swiftly absorbed into the threadbare carpet.
There’s nought to do about it, he thought. Scanning the floor, he saw where Andrew had had an accident with his paintbox, and another stain that was the result of Elizabeth’s exuberance whilst carrying a pitcher of lemonade. And I believe that faint discoloration is from an over-watered bromeliad.
Geoffrey shifted, momentarily relieving the torment in his hip. Must be the cold. He glanced at the window, where a few snowflakes fluttered against the windowpane.
Nearly Christmas again. He remembered Christmases of old, walking to church, trees limbs sugared and gravestones dusted with freshly fallen snow. Andrew and Elizabeth would be anxious for the service to conclude so they could return to their gifts, dollies and trains, books and puzzles. Emily would oversee the turning and basting of the goose.
What merry times we had, gathered around this very hearth. Such lovely times they’d had around the table, too. Geoffrey could hear the bright laughter and chatter. Geoffrey pondered how long it had been since he’d had roast goose, the skin crisped and golden, the meat succulent with savoury juices. Too long. The laughter faded; the room was still.
Time for bed. Geoffrey thought of his snug bed beneath the steep roof, and as he did every evening, dreaded the moment he’d climb the narrow stairs. He’d lie beneath the embroidered counterpane, chilled, willing sleep to arrive quickly, before he lose himself to sorrow and loneliness.
He sighed heavily. He’d enjoy a few more moments before the dying embers, to gather the final vestiges of warmth and comfort. The winking embers swelled and paled, and Geoffrey watched, closed his eyes.
A noise at the door disturbed his reverie, then the door blew in with a flurry of snow and cold air. “Father?”
“Andrew?” Geoffrey pushed the woolen blanket away. “Why are you here?”
“Christmas, of course, Father. It’s snowing heavily in the city, so we left University early. It was trial catching trains with the storm. Why are you sitting in the dark, Father? The lamp’s sputtering. The fire’s nearly out.”
Geoffrey gestured weakly at the chair, the carpet, as if to explain that he hadn’t been in the dark or cold at all. The family had been about him all the while.
“I’m home, Father. What do you say to a small tree or, perhaps, cooking a goose, not as good as Mother’s, of course, but...”
Geoffrey grinned as Andrew threw a log on the fire, still chattering about plans for the coming days.
And Andrew’s words echoed again, I’m home...
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