by Hannah Retallick
alcohol-free mulled wine
We must ask her where she’s from. Kevin’s certain it must be somewhere exotic. That skin, that hair, more Spanish than British, he says. We tut-tut. Everyone comes from everywhere these days, Kev – you can’t possibly tell. We’re all thinking it though.
The chapel is dark today. It’s raining hard outside. Kevin suddenly remembers something and off he goes, scatty as ever. We wind lights around our tree at the front by the alter, decorate each window sill, removing the cobwebs as we go, and try to find the tall candles from last year. It’s always us who does these jobs. Our hands are busy, but our minds are free to wander – our thoughts rest on the new girl, whom we’ve only met once but she was keen to help. She’s bent over a box of decorations, hitching up her grey jeans and pulling down her red jumper to cover the gap, takes out some gold glittery baubles, and eyes up the table with the hymn books near the entrance. We don’t decorate that. Someone should tell her.
We know her name; Seren. We had to lean in to catch the word. Welsh for star, apparently. Similar to ‘seven’ but an ‘r’ instead of a ‘v’, she told us that first Sunday morning.
Maybe she’s just Welsh then, Deborah says. Welsh Celts can be dark, you know, just like us Cornish. Have I ever told you that my great-grandfather was Welsh? Yes, Deborah, you have. Many times. You’re not Cornish though. Neither are we.
I’m going to ask her, says Carol, dropping the end of the tinsel that Deborah’s wrapping around our tree. Carol walks up to Seren, who has finished placing clusters of baubles on the table (not a bad idea really) and is now balancing on a step ladder – that girl is a brisk completer-finisher. Kevin hands down the giant nativity figures to her, which are for our outdoor crib. We usually leave that job to the men, most of whom are unblocking drains and putting up the outdoor lights. Deborah claims that heavy lifting and standing in the rain aren’t jobs for women because we’re too delicate. Speak for yourself, we murmur. She’s only Delicate Deborah when it suits her…
The nativity figures are rather heavy though. The Virgin Mary has a cracked nose from when she was dropped last year. They ought to be kept on the ground floor, we always say; it’s ridiculous to have to lug them up and down. And yet they’re always returned to the heavens in January.
We’re done with decorating, so we all drift towards the ladder too, encircling Seren. The Virgin Mary is safely on the ground, thank goodness, and Joseph is being placed into careful arms. Seren squats to the floor to put down the figure. Carol judges this a good, safe moment to say: Good job, lass. Where you from?
Abrupt as ever.
Seren laughs, passing the back of her wrist across her face, smudging a fallen speck of mascara into her cheek. Hmm, good question, she says. Difficult answer.
Where were you born? we ask.
Wales, she says; I’ve lived there all my life.
We smile and say, Well, then, you’re Welsh!
She frowns a little, wobbling on the ladder. Well, I’m only a quarter Welsh by blood – Mum’s mother was from South Wales, Mum’s from London, as is my Dad, but Dad’s father is from Devon and his mother from Cornwall.
We’re sorry we asked.
Kevin hands Jesus to Seren. Done. They both seem relieved to return to the ground. Kettle on? says Carol, trotting off to the kitchen before we can reply. Deborah delegated the window displays to Carol but is now rearranging the holly in her absence, because it was wonky. And now it’s getting wonkier. There’s no use saying anything.
The men return to the safety of the chapel, dripping wet. The Reverend Michael flicks soggy hair off his forehead. He’s Cornish. As Cornish as pasties and jam-before-cream teas, from St Ives. Right, he says; carols. Yes? says Carol, suddenly appearing in the kitchen doorway, leaning against the frame. She loves saying that. Every single year.
Rev shakes water off his hood and manages a smile, trooper that he is. Which carol do ‘ee want? She can never think. The rest of us put in our bids; Silent Night, Good King Wenceslas, Hark the Herald…Falalalalaaalalalala.
Rev nods and makes notes on a soggy-edged notebook, too big to be fully protected by his raincoat pocket. Right, he says, We be alright for they now. And finish as usual?
We nod. Seren looks puzzled.
We always sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas at the end, says Deborah, but in Cornish.
Oh! How does that go? she asks.
Re bo dhywgh Nadelik Lowen, says Rev.
It sounds like Welsh, she says. Only pronounced wrong.
Rev draws himself upright. Excuse me, the Cornish is the proper version. It’s the Welsh that’s pronounced wrong!
No, she says, crossing her arms.
Yes, says Rev.
See, you are Welsh, Seren! Deborah announces. Completely Welsh. Just like my great-grandfather!
Tea or coffee? Carol asks her. She doesn’t need to ask the rest of us – that woman is more gifted in the memory department than in Christmas creativity. She returns with a tray of mugs and mince pies.
We should practice Re bo dhywgh Nadelik Lowen, says Rev. Quick run-through, else it could be embarrassing in the service – not everyone do know it.
Mugs gripped between our hands to make up for the limited heaters, we begin. We still trip over the tricky words. Seren joins in, sounding as if she’s singing a slightly different language, but we don’t mind. It’s Christmas.
Re bo dhywgh Nadelik Lowen
Re bo dhywgh Nadelik Lowen
Re bo dhywgh Nadelik Lowen
Ha bledhen nowydh da.
Seren is from Anglesey, Wales. Kevin is from Edinburgh, Scotland. Carol is from Yorkshire, England. Deborah is from goodness-knows-where, England – but her great-grandfather was Welsh don’t you forget. The Reverend Michael is from St Ives, Cornwall. The baby Jesus lies on a blue chair, born in Bethlehem, displaced. We are from everywhere. And while the singing goes on, we are all natives.
About the author
Hannah Retallick is a twenty-five-year-old from Anglesey, North Wales. She was home educated and then studied with the Open University, graduating with a First-class honours degree, BA in Humanities with Creative Writing and Music, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. She is working on her second novel and writes short stories and a blog. She was shortlisted in the Writing Awards at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2019, the Cambridge Short Story Prize, and the Henshaw Short Story Competition June 2019. https://ihaveanideablog.wordpress.com/