It was the first Christmas of the millennium, and the older officer sighed as he explained it would be his last in the police. The younger man whined, “So why are we here?”
“Just wait. Open your window. It won’t be long now.” The older policeman turned the key. The engine spluttered with a final cough and died. “Hear the singing? That must be the last hymn. It won’t be long now.”
Despite the freezing temperature and the drizzle which had persisted throughout that damp and dreary day, he wound down the window and listened. His colleague, working Christmas Eve for the first time in his fledgling career copied the motion and the icy chill of winter crept between them.
Marion Chester hated Limeys. Well, some Limeys at least. He’d married Joan and wasn’t she a Limey? Brits teased him, claiming that he had a girly name. It was his father’s name, and his grandfather bore it before him. Even so, after losing a fight or two in the odd pub brawl, he had dropped the Marion from his name. He was just Chester nowadays. It was quieter that way. “Joan,” he thought. It was the same every Christmas Eve. He’d pass the church where they had wed, and remember Joan. She was pregnant so the wedding was rushed. Hardly anyone came along to their special day. Every Christmas Eve was the same. Would his pain ever go?
As he passed the church that year, Chester saw the police car. There was something familiar about the driver. He had seen him there before. Chester could hear the singing. “Of course,” he whispered glancing at his watch. “It will be the carol service.” As usual, there was no companion to answer, but just recently, Chester had taken to giving a voice to his thoughts. It was a habit that annoyed some and amused others, but for Chester, his own was the only voice he had heard for almost a year. He had heard it somewhere that the British bobby was always friendly, but he had no desire to put that to the test. He’d had dealings with the police back in Baltimore, so he avoided looking directly at the younger policeman, whose elbow rested on the car door. But that older officer, he looked so familiar that Chester was tempted to speak, but the guy hadn’t turned his way, so he passed the police car by.
For a moment, Chester wondered whether she might be in the church. It amused him to picture Joan on her knees, begging forgiveness from a God that neither had faith in. He dismissed the idea as quickly as it came. Joan had never been one for religion. And besides, Joan would never admit to being wrong!
Their last Christmas had been a simple affair. It was her way. “If you turn up,” she’d say, “There’ll be no presents, no party, no welcome.” Joan wanted it that way. They didn’t swap presents, or cook anything out of the ordinary for dinner. Joan had said there was nothing special about Christmas, not for them. Not anymore. She didn’t want to remember Christmas. Not after what he had done. But he would turn up. That was all he did these days. From one year to the next, he’d just turn up. He never said he would come. He would just appear, and she would be there waiting. “Oh, Joan” he sighed.
He turned the corner into their road. He could see the house which stood conspicuously as an oasis of despair amidst the Christmas cheer. “Nothing changes,” he mused. Some houses seem to have excelled in the recent craze for adorning their gardens and gutters with lights and figures. One even had a full crib with a plastic Holy Mother tending a plastic Holy Child in a plastic manger, but the others seemed to have intentionally omitted any reference to religion in their eagerness to illuminate their prolific fairy lights, Santa, reindeers and the like.
A group of teenage louts hammered repeatedly on a nearby door. As soon as it was opened, they squawked in unison, “We wish you a merry Christmas, an’ a happy new year. Now give us a quid.”
They were too boisterous to hear Chester say, “Tykes, love to see you try that one on Joan.”
Chester smiled as he touched the white painted gate. Even after all this time, it still hung from one rusted hinge. “We wish you a merry Christmas.” The boys had reached the house next door and sung with added gusto, determined to wrest another pound from this hapless neighbour, but the shriek of rusted metal silenced them. Chester slammed the gate behind him and the startled youths dispersed, yelling and whooping into the darkness. They were laughing now, teasing each other over the fright he had given them. “I’ll never fix that gate,” Chester surmised. “It’ll keep them out of the way.”