Last Christmas

The snow is perfect, unbroken, stretching from the window to the edge of the sky. From the window seat, she stares out across it, her breath misting the glass. Kit’s kids are screaming and Jessica’s soft indulgences tell them they shouldn't really, they shouldn’t, but oh, isn’t arguing so much harder?

She slips from the window seat, a silent half smile to tell Jessica that the children are fine, no really, they’re fine, not annoying or in the way, just that she needs some air, some time outside is all. She’ll be back.

At the back door she pulls on a pair of wellies far too big, but it doesn’t matter. The air outside is cold and hard as glass, crackling against the soft skin of her face as she pulls the wool wrap around her shoulders and pressing through the unbroken palimpsest of snow, into the cover of the trees.

Kit is where she knew he would be. She pulls herself up into the branches; she is taller now, her legs grazing against bark, head ducking through the doorway their father built for them twenty years before. They say nothing. So much is different in the familiar trappings of their childhood.

She cracks it, the silence. “Jessica’s tired,” she says.

Kit toys with the plaster on his thumb. He doesn’t speak. When she looks at him, she sees last Christmas smeared across his face; the locked bathroom door, the graze of crimson on the kitchen tiles, the flip flop, incongruous on the carpet of white snow, flecked with fresh blood.

Their father, nowhere to be seen.

She and Kit had had to act fast. Jessica was on her way with the children and the others could arrive at any moment. Kit coaxed their mother from inside the bathroom, calmed her, cleaned the blood from her hands and told her that it was alright, she did what she had to do and now they had to act like it was any other Christmas. He had helped her into a long sleeved cardigan to hide the bruises on her arms and unscrewed the childproof cap on the bottle by her pillow.

By the time the other cars had pulled up, Mum was shaky, but smiling, the lights strung around the tree and the house a picture of perfect Christmas, happy families. By the end of the evening, even Mum seemed to really believe that dad was away for work. The hot, heavy, bloody drag into the woods existed only for Kit and herself now. A crimson secret to preserve Christmas spirit for the family.

“You shouldn’t come here,” she tells him. “We need you up at the house. Otherwise what was it all for?” A brief flicker of a smile behind Kit’s eyes; he knew she was right. He followed her down and back through the woods to the house, the blanketing snow, a co-conspirator, wrapping the story in clean, white magic.