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Abbot Peter: The day after Boxing Day

Posted by Simon Parke, 29 December 2017, 4.29pm

‘I had my parents to lunch,’ says Sarah, taking off her coat.

‘That’s nice,’ replies Abbot Peter, in time-honoured fashion; a script written for him by polite society. He’d asked about Christmas day.

‘No,’ she replies simply but firmly. ‘It was as festive as a murder in the woods.’

Peter laughs, grateful to be so quickly free of polite society.

‘There’s nothing like Christmas day for exposing fault-lines in relationships,’ he says.

‘My mother would say the fault-lines are all in me.’

It is the day after Boxing Day – a day still searching for a name of its own - and Sarah, at Peter’s invitation, has driven down to Stormhaven from London; having met each other at the funeral last spring.

‘Well, you must sit down and I’ll put the kettle on,’ says Peter.  It would be good to get into the kitchen for a moment. And he’d bought some short bread for the occasion.

Sarah stands by the wood burner contemplating the miracle of fire. The Christmas tree glows in the corner, and carols play. It’s ‘In the bleak midwinter,’ her favourite.

And she is glad to be by the sea today; it clears the mind, blows away cobwebs, expands horizons.

‘Did Rosemary ever come here?’ she asks, as Peter returns with shortbread and two steaming cups.

‘Er, no,’ says the abbot, slightly tight in the throat.

Sarah makes a face.

‘For two people who were very close, you weren’t very close,’ she says.

Peter doesn’t know which part of that sentence to challenge; but it’s Christmas so he challenges neither.

And maybe Sarah is still grieving. Indeed, it has crossed his mind he may be hosting nothing more nor less than a pilgrimage of grief today; a return for Sarah to the place of Rosemary’s death; that difficult first Christmas…

‘She’s such a narcissist.’

‘Rosemary?’

‘My mother. I mean, she didn’t behave too badly this time; but it’s such a rare event, you can’t relax. I’m just waiting for the barb.’

‘That’s the trouble with Christmas. The headline is all light and hope - so when someone arrives and denies us both, it somehow hurts the more.’

‘So how was your Christmas?’ She’d like to get away from her own.

‘Well, I made it to the stable in the end, which was good. It occurred yesterday, when sitting here with some coffee. I mean, I was a bit late obviously – but earlier than the magi.’

Sarah goes quiet as the wind lashes the house.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever made it to the stable,’ she says. ‘I’ve made it to carol services, but never the stable. Is that bad?’

‘Bad? Hardly. No one ever helped you there.’

And then Sarah sits back and laughs.

‘I can’t believe it!’

‘You can’t believe what?’

‘I can’t believe I’m sitting here in the home of an abbot, discussing the meaning of Christmas!’

‘An ex-abbot. The mere wreckage of a once seaworthy vessel.’

‘But still – given my past, the things I’ve done, the choices I’ve made. Who’d have imagined it?’

‘Things change,’ said Peter, getting up to throw a couple of small logs onto the fire.

‘They do, don’t they?’ She pauses a moment. ‘Do you have any port?’

‘Port?’

‘I feel this is a port moment.’

‘It is, isn’t it? I think there’s a bottle of the stuff at the back of the cupboard.’

With the bottle found, (behind a long forgotten bottle of Baileys), and two glasses filled, Sarah leans forward, beaming.

‘Happy Christmas, Peter!’

‘Happy Christmas, Sarah!’

Their glasses clink together. Port at midday. It must be Christmas…

They drink, enjoying the instant warmth in the belly. Silence. Sarah’s listening to the wind and looking at the swirling yellow-tongued flames. It’s as if everything has been leading to this; this is what she feels.

‘I just think I’ve made it to the stable,’ she says quietly. ‘On the day after Boxing Day.’

Peter’s eyebrows rise a little, but he remains silent. Speech would intrude on the hopeful silence.

And then she adds, speaking to no one in particular, and maybe mainly to herself: ‘I’m glad I came. I almost didn’t, almost rang you with an excuse.’

‘Well, coming here was entirely mad.’

‘But I’m glad I did. And as you say, things change.’

A seagull’s cry pierces the peace.

(Their first encounter can be found in the most recent Abbot Peter mystery, ‘The Indecent Death of a Madam’. Abbot Peter’s desert years, ‘Another Bloody Retreat’, will be out some time in the New year. Watch this space…)

 
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