A big thank you to everyone who attended our final creative writing session for 2019 at Ferrari Caffe und Pasticerria in Vienna. Being the final session for the year, we tried something a little different and made it a collaborative writing session. From Christmas cards to letters to long-lost friends, the session proved to be memorable. We look forward to seeing our writing friends and many new people early in the new year.
The year isn’t quite done with yet: Check out our 24 Hour Writing Challenge coming up this Sunday at 9.00pm. Fame, glory and prizes are up for grabs. Don’t miss all the writing fun.
I Know What You Did Last Christmas…
By Jennifer Cornick
I am wrapping yet another unwanted gift. I did not want to purchase it and the recipient probably won’t like it. It will be re-gifted to someone they like less than I like them, donated to their least favourite charity, or left to moulder in their least used cupboard.
Pulling a length of sello tape from the dispenser, I try to ignore the sound which I think is akin to nails on a chalkboard. It claws at my inner ear. The paper my partner chose to wrap these gifts is an affront to the senses: its neon green Christmas trees decked with primary coloured ornaments which leave negative after images on my retina as the photoreceptors in my eyes react against the garish colours. I refuse to waste ribbon on this. It might ruin my family reputation for giving nicely wrapped and well-coordinated gifts. The paper which is an assault on my senses might be worth the endurance required to use it.
I will post these gifts by the end of the week and they may arrive on time to disappoint people on Christmas morning.
I never expect phone calls and my phone ringing, disrupting the relative peace of my flat, still causes me to jump. My specially selected ringtone blasts into the room. Well, blast is a relative term, given my phone is set to the lowest volume. I say it is a social anxiety alarm, callers expect me to speak to them, and I do less well over than phone than I do in person. My partner says it is more a testament to how infrequently my family makes the effort to call.
There is no hello, or other standard greeting; no preliminary conversation about the weather, time difference, not even a discussion about minor health complaints like the corns on my sister’s feet. The last time she called we had a forty-five-minute conversation about them. No. Today, she gets straight to the point. And today, it is evident she has one to make.
“Well, I know what you did last Christmas, and it sounded terrible. So, this year I think you should come home,” her voice is like mine, except louder. Her brash and brusque personality, which my mother declares is ‘no nonsense’, makes her seem louder and shriller. Even over the phone.
“We liked our Christmas last year. It was quiet,” my response seems meek; small and quiet. I am standing up to her but it doesn’t sound like it. Especially to her.
She makes a noise, almost like a humming, it tells me she disapproves of me and is disgusted by me at the same time. She doesn’t like the semblance of a spine I have found living away from them.
“Christmas is meant to be family time,” she says, in an eerie echo of my mother the first time I didn’t come home for Easter over a decade and a half ago. My mother never enjoyed my independence, or so my aunt would say.
“My family is here,” I say. “When I got married, we became a family.” It is an argument I have made for almost a decade but it is no more effective now than when I first used it. While the years have marched on, my mother and sister still view the claims of biological entanglement as taking priority over my own feelings; over my chosen family. I tug at my wedding ring, slipping it on and off my finger, twisting it; preparing myself for a difficult conversation.
“You are just a couple. You don’t have kids. You should be here to watch your nieces and nephews open their presents. You should be here at Christmas, with the rest of us, like it was before; like you used to.”
She doesn’t intend to make it sound like a punishment for my defection, I am sure. It sounds like we will all be prisoners in my parents’ house. Forced into familiar roles dictated by our place in the family and my mother’s idea of our inherent value.
I shift in my chair at my dining room table, the cushion slipping underneath me. It doesn’t hurt anymore when she says my partner and I are not a family. The addition of children will not make us more of a family than we already have made ourselves. Children do not automatically confer legitimacy. I don’t bother saying it as I would seem to be questioning her life choices. And it would be a conversation I do not wish to start.
“We enjoy spending the day together. We have adopted the Icelandic custom of giving each other books and chocolate on Christmas eve. We wear pyjamas all day and eat cookies.” I toy with a bit of ribbon I am still refusing to use on the presents, threading it through my fingers.
“You can do that just as easily here as there.”
I know we cannot. All our traditions we have established as a couple will be shoved aside to make way for the needs of family. Our own needs and wants forgotten in a tide of wrapping paper, sugar tantrums, and wine induced arguments.
I do not need to have this difficult conversation. “I liked my Christmas last year,” I find myself saying, with more conviction than I usually have. “I will post the presents this week.”
I take perverse joy in pressing the little red circle on my phone’s screen and pulling another piece of sello tape from the dispenser.
Christmas Greetings (A Christmas Card)
By Connie Phlipot
Hope this finds you well. I’ve thought of you from time to time, most frequently since the workmen started to put up the wooden stalls and began stringing lights in the advent markets. I saw they’ve changed the design on the mugs this year. Too bad, because I wanted to buy one last year …. to remember. But, well, then things didn’t got quite as I planned, and I didn’t want a remembrance. So, maybe after all it it’s good they changed the design.
That’s in the past. New beginnings as they say. I recall you were planning to start a new job, maybe even one that would take you somewhere else. Italy, was it? I heard, though, and I can’t tell you who told me, that you were still in Vienna. I’m glad, otherwise I wouldn’t know where to send this card. And really I did want to send you some greetings. After all we spent a long time together. Good times, they were, weren’t they? Yet, last yeart at Karlsplatz it seemed you were determined to let me drop… down like the Times Square Ball on New Year’s Eve. There, I’m doing it again. You said I was always making illusions, references to events, movies, customs you didn’t know and that when you complained, I would get huffy and not bother to explain.
Maybe that’s true. But I didn’t understand all you had to say either. I’d be confused, not sure whether you were making fun of me. I often thought that was what you were doing. Or maybe you were even mad at me. I would swing from delight to despair in moments. And then you would smile. That smile that seemed to start somewhere deep inside you, growing like an ember catching fire and lighting your whole face.
I miss that. I miss even the uncertainty. The first days without you, I felt relief. I have to admit that. I know where I stood, finally. You didn’t want me and I didn’t care. The whole world was out there for me. I went to a New Year’s Eve party and I didn’t care if I drank too much and flirted outrageously with someone’s spouse. No one to criticize me.
But also no one to comfort me when I tripped on a slick patch of sidewalk. I picked myself up, removing shards of stone from my knee.
I’m sure you have moved on… though, I have heard, again I don’t remember who said it, that you are still alone. The source saw you standing by yourself late at night at the tram stop and something in your stance, your head titled downward the way you held it when you were disappointed in your work and I (scratched out) he knew you were alone.
Every time I pass the Karlsplatz market and you know I do it everyday on the way home I glance at the stall where we parted. Last year they were selling those brightly painted glass clocks. I admired them, you told me they were gaudy. Maybe you were right. Now the stall is selling products from pine. I sampled the pine liquor. It tasted like sorrow.
I keep looking for you. To buy you a gluhwein and toast the holiday. And say let’s be friends, or let’s forget and start over.
About Connie Phlipot
Connie is a retired U.S. diplomat, who has recently completed a novel based on her grandparents emigration from what is now Belarus. She is now working on a novel or linked short stories focused on her fascination with Central and Eastern Europe.