June 2018 | Written by Keshia Sophia Roelofs
Thick and heavy snowfall suffocates the forest floor. The familiar cords of snapping twigs, alarmed rustles, and fluttering wings now mute beneath the frosted canopy. For a moment, I scarcely believe I am breathing at all but for the steady stream of steam that escapes my mouth. Nothing before me but a dense blanket undisturbed in its disturbing actuality. Except for the prints desecrating its landscape of singular purity, like a scarlet stain on white Egyptian cotton. A voice whispers through the trees. Come back to me.
"Come back to me."
I turn to face the figure reflected in the red Christmas bauble that absorbed my thoughts. A portraiture flawless in the hue of the glowing fire stares back, its blood-stained lips blooming against porcelain skin, blemished only by the furrow of mild concern. The flower gently parted again, "are you there?"
"I'm here," I say, my fingers interweaving with her's in feigned reassurance, "I just stepped out a moment. Where were we?"
"Christmas," she replies, her flower in full bloom.
"Notes of pine, hot chocolate stirring. Heated wine and frost enduring."
"And little mice who dare not make a sound?"
The red bauble glints in my eye-line. Amusement shines in hers.
"We were speaking about Christmas memories?"
"Yes," she sighs, snuggling closer, her pale hand clutching a glass of Merlot, "your memories, specifically."
"Those are my memories."
"Those are everyone's memories. Universal, collective memories conjured up from fragments of childhood advertisements, Christmas cards, and Coca-cola inspired nostalgia."
"What is in this wine?"
"I'm looking for evocation of the convoluted persuasion," she coaxes, replenishing the petals of her mouth with crimson red.
"Are you sure I'm the writer in this relationship?"
"Sometimes I wonder the very same thing.'"
"A low blow, even for you," I say, confiscating her glass in mock punishment, "refill?"
"Jack, you complain incessantly about lacking inspiration and the mythological beast that impedes your words with writer's block and yet," she gently pokes my temple as I steal the remaining wit-laced liquor from her glass, "you refuse to delve into where it naturally resides."
Her words ring true and sure, like they always do, cascading through my thoughts like the aged Merlot that replenishes her glass, threatening to subsume to murky recesses even I dared not enter. But it was 'beast' that struck out in her string of words like a shiny new bead. Or that damn red bauble.
"Bauble?" She inquires, her fingers gently releasing her glass from its captor.
"You muttered something about a bauble. Is this verse two of Yuletide renderings?" The rose flourishes in subtle curvatures across her face. "With dreams of sugar-plums and clattering reindeer?"
"You called it a beast," I reply, perplexed by the verbal slip. "It struck something."
"So, the mythological creature has sprung from the depths in all its dissuasion to reign you back in. Do you acquiesce, Jack Cox? Or do you defend your words with honour and weapons of the bauble variety?' She says, clinking my glass.
Our eyes lock in mutual mirth when suddenly a chill raises up my back like frozen fingernails trailing from my skin.
"Was it always this cold?"
Was it always this cold? A twig snaps, catapulting my meandering subconscious back to my frozen body. The illusion of isolation instantly dissolves into fear of unsolicited human intrusion. Temporary consternations meet with a heightened awareness of my surroundings, fusing into a mess of human frailty struck bare in a rogue environment. Silence swiftly follows as if, having been caught in the shameful act of abandoning its post, is attempting to re-establish its authority. My senses welcome it, keening for another foul act to reveal the position of a predator or prey. They fail, engulfed instead by the dizzying smell of pine cones and the familiar sight of red-stained snow.
I step forward, betrayed by a second snapping of wood beneath my feet. Cold realization sweeps over me, replacing the chill with ferocity as I note the distance my subconscious had taken me. Was I closer or further? There lay no clue except the fading crimson becoming victim to falling snow. We're almost out of time.
"We're almost out of time."
My eyes draw away from the wood beneath the faux red flames of the electric fireplace. I long desperately to hear the crackling sounds that so sweetly accompany a roaring fire. A familiarity which echoes memories of-
"Christmas," I say, making eye contact with the lean figure across from me, pinioned in crisp, black starch. "We were speaking about Christmas?"
"We were attempting to, Jack," the figure smiles gently, smoothing an imaginary crease from her crossed legs, "but I'm afraid we are almost out of time."
My eyes flicker to the ticking clock amidst a library of hardback psychology. I wonder if Freud lies among them and if he shares the same shelf space as Jung. I wonder if one is shelved higher.
"Do you like poetry?" I venture as I face her again.
Her glasses fail to hide the impervious creases that accentuate her warmth. I hope she never attempts to smooth those in the same fervent manner as her pencil skirt.
"I know this is difficult for you," she continues, the starch now spreading to her eyes "but we cannot make progress until you are willing to delve a little deeper."
Where the beast resides. My eyes drift back to the pastiche wood fire. The red hues absorb my attention like lipstick, baubles and crimson snow.
"I would like to try something with you," she leans forward, "for our remaining time together."
I shift expectantly in the leather chair. It was becoming clear that Carl Jung was perhaps on the lower shelf.
"There is a conscious resistance to your memories," she offers, her voice beginning to morph into the moulding of her suit, "one that exceeds beyond mere unconscious repression. Hypnotherapy is perhaps an unorthodox approach, but I feel it could serve some credence here. Perhaps enough to facilitate the initial penetration of those 'murky recesses' you feel unwilling to explore."
Scratching my head, I feel the cold chill of the metal cuffs encased around my wrists. "I have all the time in the world."
"I have all the time in the world." Her voice trails down the wooden steps, echoing through the poorly lit cellar; its affecting impatience pulling me from the cold aged bottle chilling my fingers. My thumb sweeps across the red embossed lettering illuminated by a white backdrop.
"Still Christmas?" I call, my eyes never wavering from the bottle.
"I hope so, but the year is becoming more debatable," the voice fires back, accompanied by the sound of elegant footsteps descending towards me.
In the glow of the hanging ceiling light, she emerges, lips as stained as ever, complimenting the burgues script adorned bottle in my hands. A lace, black dress hugs her body. Her stature as a classic forties dam as fitting as her hemline clinging demurely to unblemished knees.
"Have I ever told you, you were born in the wrong era?"
"Only as much as I have implored you to pick the wine within this one," she smiles.
Her grey eyes fall away from my own to the Merlot that remains coveted in my hands. My distraction betrays my grip as she slips it from my grasp, the red disappearing into her porcelain fingers and blooming to life in the curve of her lips.
"My favourite," she muses. "A fine choice from the eclectic mind of Jack Cox. I hope it was not the attempts at remembering the bottle which stole your time from me."
"I guess I just stepped out a moment... refill?"
"With company like this," she leans closer with a wink, "always. Now please hurry. I'd like us to enjoy the rest of our night within this era." Leaving an imprint of frozen pollen upon my cheek, she turns and leaves me empty-handed in the lingering sweet scent of perfume.
"It really is a beautiful dress."
"I should hope so," she calls back from the top of the stairs. "The man who chose it has a tendency for meticulous deliberation. But he always did have great taste. Some might even say timeless."
The ceiling clicks and groans above me. From somewhere close, a slow ticking begins to grind to a slower melancholic rhythm, resembling a hypnotist's metronome. I check my wristwatch, shaking it close to my ears. From the cellar door, a voice reaches out once more. "Follow my voice."
Follow my voice. The trees whisper to me again, their voice distorted through disquieting arthritic limbs, twisted painfully in defiance of the frost that renders them bare. I am reminded of the life that was suppressed here, the journey which had ground to a halt and lay frozen like a snapshot in time; a photograph of a bygone era saturated in monochrome, except for the blushing stain that rendered it into something akin to pastiche noir.
The distinct sensation of cold metal presses against me, the barrel of the revolver in my waistband. Familiarity precedes its gap in my memory, and I am suddenly poignantly aware of my body, shrouded in nothing more than a dishevelled suit. My hand drifts past the revolver exploring the rip across the back of my shirt. Her frozen fingernails. A dull ache springs out from the depths of my mind, like the lurching of a mythological creature free from its prison. And with it, the guttural sound of an unrestrained beast intermingled with the echo of a scream,
"Let go, Jack, please let go..."
"...and just follow the sound of my voice..."
Wooden fire all aglow, crimson beneath the mistletoe. Baubles of red on decorated pine, the smearing stain of aged red wine. The broken glass that glistens and gleams, the faded sound of a starlet's scream.
"Acquiesce, Jack Cox..."
The warmth of Christmas displayed in tokens, the abject fear of a mind that's broken. Memories she had wished to discover transform him into a bestial lover. A final fight in a red-stained struggle, fleeing the scene as he found the muzzle.
"The memories beginning to flow after all..."
The faded chord of a Christmas band, the running of a woman who can hardly stand. A forlorn attempt to hide in trees, the blood betraying her place with ease.
"Daring not to make a sound..."
A glamour shot of a moment in time, with tears that drown her final lines.
"Come back to me..."
The unfortunate sound of a hemline snapped, and all through the trees, a gunshot clapped.
"All the time in the world..."
Beneath the trees that surrounds their house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
"Now that's a Christmas memory," I think I hear her whisper as I gaze out the window, watching the final stains of red disappear beneath the falling snow. Some might even say timeless.
The ticking stops.
© Keshia Sophia Roelofs