In the years that came after their respective eighteenth and twenty-first birthdays, Giles and Sarah Harrow invariably had a kind of reunion a few days before Christmas each year (though how one can call a meeting between a brother and sister that live only two miles apart a reunion is open to question). This reunion took the form of a few glasses of rum punch round the open fire where their strange and fantastic story (as some people might think of it) took place. Giles had always made a speciality of this drink: consequently, there was always plenty to go round, served in the florid crystal bowl in which he had often seen warm, glowing reflections of the fire: the flames formed all kinds of creatures in its glistening shudders; elves, goblins, sometimes stars and comets; in fact, anything his imagination would provide.
Twenty years on, and Giles, standing on the hearthrug, recalled the effect as he swirled his punch round and round in its glass, its faded red softening the fire’s bright glow. He turned, with a nostalgic smile, to Sarah, who was in a daze of warmth and sleepiness, startling her somewhat with the loudness of his voice cutting through the crackling logs and the gentle swish of the snow brushing against the window.
“You know, Soz,” (his pet name for her since those days), “we were sitting here, weren’t we? Or was it over by the table? Help me out with this one, please! My memory’s going. And at such a tender age”, he added, with his usual attempt at roguish humour, which rarely impressed. This year was no exception. However, this gambit was enough to drag Sarah’s attention away from the reverie by the fire, and she smiled with recognition in spite of herself. He never got it right, even though they talked over this story in the same place and at the same time every year. She did not hesitate to remind him, as ever.
“It was over at the window seat! You always get it wrong.” Sarah cast her eyes over the little room, from the burnished oak door with the dent on the right hand bottom panel (just below the slight crack that was all that was visible of the repaired lock); to the deal mantelpiece framed with holly and berries, where she had first seen the vision; to that scrubbed kitchen table, replete with carving knives, cutlery, and the skeleton of the goose they had recently devoured; to the window seat, at last, with its dull velvet cushions no doubt carrying some of the same dust as they had done all those years ago…yes, each feature of the room, each piece of furniture, had its own resonance, its own memory, some painful, but most leading to that bright, shining ending they experienced all those Christmases before, and which set their seal on their own happiness.
Giles blinked, frowned, then he too grinned and said, “Yes, you’re right. I’ve got a good memory for a lot of things, but details like that tend to elude me.” Sarah laughed. “Details? I would have thought something like that was very important. It was the seat where I first saw it…I mean, Him…in that fireplace…on Christmas Eve…” (To be continued).