Mist is drifting off the lake while the December sun consoles the crest of the snow-capped hills with its golden hand. The rabblerousing spaniel, bored and housebound, who may or may not have tipped over the frozen compost bucket outside, hops up on the couch beside me and pins me with woebegone eyes. I offer him my own benediction—a kiss on the sweet, soft, flat of his brow, which smells of celery.
A lifetime ago—actually, Thanksgiving—I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon and woke the next morning to a sharp pain in my foot that only grew worse after a day spent wandering Manhattan and a night that petered out at an East Village Karoke bar. A stress fracture, apparently, although it has eluded X-Ray confirmation. Just so long as I’m better by Christmas, I thought, and that seemed a sure thing.
Ten weeks into the most niggling of injuries, I am back on crutches and tussling pitifully with inactivity. This is, after all, how I keep winter melancholy at bay—by keeping active, getting outside, the cold air needling my throat. It’s been a decade since an injury has hobbled me like this, but I was younger then, invincible, and my mother was coming for Christmas.
Oh, we did Christmas so well.
Layer on the disbelief and nausea over Trump’s election win; a mild and dry November not spent riding and running in the hills; a grueling travel schedule; a too-busy husband; another looming birthday; chlorine-chapped skin from the drudgery of laps in the pool: mix all those together and December darkens. Today, feeling a million years old and trying to peel off my swimsuit in the YMCA change-room, a well-meaning woman asked me if I’d had a hip replacement. Cue the desperate scrabbling to make everything feel just right for Christmas.
- The cedar swag on the door.
- A tree this year, a real one.
- Staying home, not dashing around to other people’s idea of Christmas.
- Handel’s Messiah.
All of our Christmas traditions, my mum’s and mine, stubbornly reinstated.
Which were what, exactly? Twinkly lights. Rituals around high-cholesterol food and hand-written Christmas cards. Homemade projects and surprises stashed in closets. But everything is harder on a throbbing foot. Self-pity roars unexpectedly into the most innocent minute then stomps around picking fights and making a mess of everything.
But I’ve hung my mother’s ornaments on my tree, the first tree we’ve had since she left us. I’ve baked her shortbread. I’ve hobbled to the edge of the patio and thrown snowballs for her dog, the snow leopard, pouncing in the drifts. Because Christmas goes on, doesn’t it? And she’d want it done right.