Without the shadow of a doubt, it was that unique period in the year. Christmas was approaching, like a living thing, a behemoth, resistless. In fact, its approach had been made quite plain by the litter of advertising and Season-specific items piled on the shelves of shops for more than two months before the great day itself. Here, in the northern climes, the weather had turned cold and wet, with even worse promised before Spring arrived the following year, as usual. The one thing that wasn't promised, of course, was a white Christmas.
David Lomax was not exactly overwhelmingly eager about the Season. At thirty-something and with no family within a thousand miles, and few friends, he saw no great cause to celebrate. Besides, he wasn't religious and the overcooked plastic glitz just seemed tacky to him. He preferred to keep his head down and dodge the outpouring of cheerful Yuletide greetings and the swapping of greetings cards. His attitude had earned a background hiss of whispering at work, where he had refused to get involved in the annual Secret Santa. His colleagues had made a point of his not being invited to the office Christmas party, but that suited him anyway.
Arriving home, at the small flat in what had once been the basement of a four storey house, he let himself in and shut the world out behind him. He kept his coat and gloves on until he got into the little sitting room. There, he switched on the ancient and rather decrepit electric heater and tossed coat and gloves onto a chair. The faded blue walls made no difference to his mood, with the clock and a mirror as the only adornments. A low power bulb failed to light the corners of even this tiny room and a dark cloth covered the single, small window.
He lit the gas ring that occupied a small table near the heater, shook the battered kettle to check its contents, and placed it on the hob. A chipped mug, two big spoonfuls of sugar dumped into it along with a tea bag, waited for the water to boil. David lumped down into the old armchair beside the table and closed his eyes. He was tired, worn down by the insanely lengthened hours at work, where it seemed that three months worth of work had to be accomplished in the three weeks before Christmas, just to ensure that the bakery produced sufficient bread and cakes for the whole two days that the major supermarkets would be closed.
The kettle rattling noisily on the hob brought him back from the brink of sleep. He poured the steaming water into the mug and sat contemplating what to do about food. He went through the same routine most evenings, usually ending up with either soup or a takeaway. Chances were that it would be the same again this evening. He stirred his tea and sipped it carefully. That wonderful elixir began its magic, to let him slowly unwind. It would have worked, too, but his world was suddenly invaded by clashing noise.
David went and peered out of his window. Outside, a lowloader truck sat, its engine mumbling, while music blared out tinnily from giant speakers. A man garbed as Santa Claus sat upon a mock-up of a sleigh, waving and ho-ho-ho-ing at kids dragged out into the cold to witness this visitation. Young men and women hurried about, each carrying a bucket tackily wrapped in Christmas paper, expecting the spectators to pour money into the plastic receptacles. David sneered at the fact that the spectators were all too ready to hand over cash. It was so easy, at this time of year.
One of the helpers was scurrying towards David's door. He let the curtain drop back across the window and then went and seated himself firmly in his armchair. He ignored the two attempts to attract him to the door. Shortly afterwards, the noise diminished, as the cash-trawlers moved on down the street. Eventually, he couldn’t hear them any more.
Much happier with his isolation restored, he opted for soup for his evening meal. It was just a matter of minutes to bring the canned soup up to heat and to saw off a thick chunk of bread from a loaf rapidly going stale. He ate in silence. The meal, such as it was, done, he relaxed. He was considering reading a book when he drifted into sleep.
He was in his sitting room, that couldn't be doubted, but things weren't right. The walls were now occupied by a few framed photographs, of people he didn't know, and his mirror and clock were gone. The electric heater was absent, too, with a small coal stove in its place. The small table now held a tall pitcher, stood in a large porcelain bowl. The gas ring was gone, but a black kettle sat on top of the stove, the first wisps of steam rising from its spout. The naked floor he preferred was now covered partially by a thin rug, worn and its pattern almost invisible under the grime which coated it.