A Christmas Eve story by Hilary Orme.
The moonlight was so bright that she had not needed to switch on the kitchen light and now stood washing her supper dishes in the half-light, enchanted by its ethereal beauty. She hummed quietly as she washed her cup and placed it on the draining board. By the time she had reached the knives and forks, the sound had grown, until finally, the words had burst out of her and she turned her face upwards to address the moon directly: “Ah pray make no mistake, we are not shy. We’re very wide awake, the Moon and I.” It was what she did — sing songs, that is. Her voice had become slightly more breathy with age and it sometimes cracked on the high notes, but singing still gave her immense pleasure. After all, there was no-one to please but herself.
Every room of the house had its own collection of songs, each linked to a person or a memory. As she walked up the stairs at night, she would be one step behind her husband as he had carried the children to bed. ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’ had always extended their journey from the foot of the staircase to the top step. He had marched up and down in time to the rhyme, as the children had giggled and begged for more. She would sometimes repeat the actions as she went to bed now, pausing halfway up to smile at the photograph of her son and daughter on the wall.
They had been caught in time: her son a chubby cheeked school boy in short trousers, and next to him her daughter looking like 51 a puppet master who was very much in control. She had always pulled the strings, that one. In the end, she had pulled them so hard that she had whisked her son-in-law and grandchildren across the sea, all the way to Canada, where they had lived for the past forty years. Dutifully, her daughter rang once a week. Her son was less than fifty miles away but her contact with him had diminished to a card at Christmas, and occasionally one on her birthday.
Memories were the best company. She had carefully preserved them in her songs. Each night when the Grand Old Duke’s journey was done, the tempo would change as she passed the empty nursery. There her voice would soften and ‘Brahms Lullaby’ would carry her to her bedroom. As she got ready for bed, she would sing ‘Beautiful Dreamer.’ It had been her husband’s love song to her when they had first met. She would touch his empty pillow when the song was done and wish him goodnight.
The washing up was finished and she glanced at the whey-faced clock above the kitchen window, a pale imitation of its celestial counterpart. “Dead on ten,” she noted. Routine had become almost as important to Mrs Murgatroyd as her songs. It would have been so easy to drift through her days without purpose. Each day, she rose at six and each evening, retired at ten. The time between the two points was filled with activities, which were either related to her house or garden, and once a week, she would walk to the shops at the edge of town...