Tuesday 1 November 2022

First Night of Winter by Sue Cook, Midnight Mint hot chocolate


'Sleep well my lovely,' I say to Siân and drop a kiss on her fine dark Celtic curls. She wriggles deeper beneath her magical unicorn duvet. 'Grandma will be up soon to read you a story.'

'Gamma!' she yells. 'Gamma,' she repeats when there is no reply.

'Have some patience! She's gone outside to put some food on the windowsill. It's Nos Galen Gaeaf, the first night of winter, and she's very traditional is Grandma.'

I trace a finger along my daughter’s forehead as though I could tidy already well-brushed curls. 'Traditions are important, Siân. They connect us to our past lives, where we came from, where we are going.' I tell her what my mother told me as a child. I tell her how Welsh women always put morsels of food on the windowsill at Halloween so that ancestors will keep the family safe from evil spirits in the coming year. I don't tell her that I used to think it was just another one of those fairy stories, like Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, or that I didn't do it when I left home. Well you don't, do you? Until, your own mother dies.

These things become important then. More important. When my mother wasn't there any more, I suddenly missed the things she did, felt the need to do what she used to do and her mother before her. I came to understand the fragile links across generations, how this one joined all the women in our family that had ever been and how easily it could be broken. From that time on, I always put food on the windowsill on Nos Galon Gaeaf. Except the year I was away.

'And that's why Grandma is putting one of those lovely sweet and spicy Welsh cakes you baked today for Daddy on the window, ' I continue out loud. 'If you don't put out food on Halloween, then your ancestors won't protect you against, well, they won't keep you safe and sound and tucked up in your bed like good girls should be.' I smile and run my hands over the duvet around her tiny, vulnerable form.

She closes her eyes and smiles and snuggles just a little bit further into her matching magical unicorn pillow and mutters, 'Snug as a bug.'

'She'll be here soon,' I say. 'Listen. There's her feet on the stairs now.' And I retreat from the bedroom thankful for all the help Pete's mother gives: I don't know how he'd cope without her.

We exchange glances on the landing, mine a pale shadow of what it used to be, hers sharp but strangely unfocussed. No words are said, and she disappears quickly into Siân's room.

I wonder what she knows, if she really sees all or just suspects. Either way I hover, listening behind the bedroom door until I hear the lilting tones of her reading voice, soothing and low, before slipping into our bedroom and under the duvet next to Pete. He stirs briefly in a fitful sleep. It isn't easy for him I know, working shifts.

I drop a kiss in his hair too, slip my arm over him until he settles. 

Snatched moments like these are rare now. So I'll lie here a short while, staring into the dark, comforted by the sound of his breathing, wishing I could feel his warmth, and tell him it's alright, I'm still here. I wish to tell him that when Siân hands him a spring flower and tells him that these are Mam's favourites, she speaks from knowledge and not from longing, that he need not have tears but only smiles.

But I can't. There's a Welsh cake waiting on the windowsill and a year's worth of work to be done.

About the author

Sue writes short and long stories for the women's magazine fiction market. She has a number of large print books in libraries, and romance ebooks on Amazon. 


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