Chapter 13

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December lingers on, clings obstinately with its ice, reaches deep into houses and bodies and bones and freezes them up like rusty pipes. My window looks like it's growing frost. I think about that as I lean against my radiator and trace over the crystals, pulling away when my fingertips get too cold. 

December falls into a lull after a while, when the energy settles like snow outside. It's temping to knock your head against a wall just to feel anything, even when your nerves are fried from feeling far too much recently. I'm haunted by Christmas, I want it over with, but the day looms ominously far from reach - and yet still too close to forget.

"Natty! It's starting now!" My dad's voice doesn't slice through air like my mother's, whose tone diffuses in clouds of ice and whose words are just as transparent. I don't respond, but on my way downstairs I push down a palm onto my keyboard, relishing in the discordant blare. I do it again in a lower octave. I want to do it again, but the precious moment is ruined by the chime of the television. 

My dad said the way to get a feel for music again is to learn to enjoy it again. To enjoy the sounds of it rather than the act of making them. I try, and it starts small - tinkles in the highest register which flood into middle C and collect like puddles around the lowest pitch. I dance between the minors and the majors and try to forget myself in the sound of the Fur Elise, oscillating notes hovering in the air about me. I learn in snippets which stay with me while I revise, that loop in my brain when I watch TV. I begin to think maybe fragments are all I will be able to manage for the foreseeable future, and my letter to Mercury Orchestra sits half empty on my desk. 

I switch the keyboard off, and tuck my hands away under my sleeves as I pad down the stairs ready to watch another Christmas film that my dad has lined up. Last week it was Jingle All The Way, and I am strangely looking forward to the opportunity to turn my brain off for a while. December falls into a lull, and so do I. 

I slump onto the sofa, my eyes already blinking a sleepy rhythm. The opening credits to Die Hard run even though my mum is curiously absent. Perhaps once I would have called out to her, but something about the cold, unforgiving air makes me feel as though speaking is pointless, that the words would only be sterilised into another language by the time they reached her. Settling into the cushions, I let my eyes blur into firing guns and Christmas lights. 

***

No one has realised I fell asleep. I slip back into consciousness too easily; one second my eyes are closed and the next they're too awake like nothing happened. I think for an uneasy second that all I did was blink, and that somehow the world around accelerated while I did. 

It's my phone that restores me to my senses, vibrating against my hip bone. Pushing up from the sofa cushions I press it to my ear, too eager, before realising I haven't even picked up the call. 

"Hello?" I mumble, once I've sorted myself out. I take the stairs two at a time, stretching the distance between my family and his voice. 

"Natalie, what year did the French Revolution start?" Oscar's tone is windy as it blows out of my phone, rearranging the thoughts in my brain like papers on a desk.

"Oh, um, 1789." I stutter down the line, baffled but obliging nonetheless. "Why?" 

He laughs in my ear, and for some reason now I'm smiling. 

"Christmas quiz night." 

"Isn't this cheating?" I'm met with an indignant snort. 

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