Suzanne finished work and tidied her desk, it was the last day of work before Christmas and almost everyone had disappeared early. She was getting the train straight to Oxford to spend the festival with her father. She wasn’t looking forward to it, the first without her mother. She arrived at the house to find it looking dark and neglected. Letting herself in she called out to her father, and heard his footsteps coming to the hall to meet her. He looks old she thought as he approached, his arms held wide for a hug. She smiled hello and kissed him, returning his embrace.
‘I hope there’s some food in the house’ she said, ‘I’m starving.’
‘Yes’ he responded, smiling ‘I remembered you were coming darling and I went to the covered market and got an assortment of things. I knew you’d be clever enough to do something tasty with the ingredients.’ Suzanne looked in the fridge with some trepidation as making a recipe from some of her father’s previous purchases had proved a little challenging. However on this occasion she saw eggs and cheese in the fridge and potatoes in the vegetable basket and she knew there were some frozen vegetables.
‘How about an omelette with a jacket potato?’
‘That sounds perfect darling, would you like a glass of wine?’
‘Yes please, Dad. Silly question!’ she rolled her eyes at him. He poured wine and sat at the table watching his daughter as she deftly produced a delicious plate of food with minimum fuss and effort, chatting to him as she worked.
‘We should go out to eat tomorrow. It’s not fair that you work all day and cook all evening’ he declared out of the blue. Suzanne was pleased; he hadn’t suggested anything remotely sociable since her mother died.
‘That would be nice’ she responded, ‘Here dinner’s ready’ she placed the food on the table and handed a bottle of wine for her father to pour. They ate in comfortable silence.
The next day, the 23rd December, Suzanne rose early and set off for a shopping spree. It was a lovely though chill morning and she enjoyed the brisk walk into the city where she planned to start food shopping in the covered market. She walked along Cornmarket and entered the market through Golden Cross admiring a few shop windows as she passed. Suzanne had shopped in the market all her life and knew several of the traders. Today she was intent on stocking up the larder for the Christmas holiday; she wanted to make the time as festive as she possibly could.
She roamed around the market stopping to greet traders and a few shoppers as she pushed her way through the milling crowds, all jostling for last minute purchases. First she selected a capon, thinking that a turkey would be far too big for two, bacon and sausages followed. The fish stall produced smoked salmon. Fresh cod for this evening, prawns for Christmas Eve. Leaving bags of purchases in her wake to be collected later she amassed a variety of vegetables, fruit fresh and dried, and nuts. The cheese stall was next; she selected Stilton, Cheddar and some French varieties. The wine shop and delicatessen came last, here she chose a mixed case of wine and stocked up on tins and jars of exotic ingredients to inspire her cooking, artichoke hearts, anchovy fillets, stuffed olives, pesto, pate, duck rillettes, and chestnut puree. Bread, cheese biscuits, crisps and nibbles completed the food. Retracing her footsteps Suzanne picked up all her bags and boxes and complete with a retinue of helpers exited onto the High Street and took a taxi back to the house.
Once everything was unpacked and stored it was time for lunch. She put out the fresh bread and cheese and called her father through from his study. He marvelled at the transformation of the fridge as he extracted the dregs of last night’s bottle of white to pour Suzanne a glass,
‘A holiday treat, and for all your hard work’ he excused the lunchtime drink.
‘Thanks Dad, mm lovely!’ she responded, taking a sip, ‘This is just the start, I’m going back again this afternoon to get a few decorations to brighten the place up a bit and to do some last minute shopping. Do you want to come with me?’ she ventured, knowing that he had become something of a recluse. To her surprise and delight he announced,
‘I’d like to and don’t forget we’re going to eat out tonight. I thought you might like to go to the carol concert at Christ Church and then we could go to the pub in Walton Street on the way back?’
‘That would be lovely’ beamed Suzanne, ‘The Jericho or Jude?’ she asked, wondering which one was her father’s current favourite.
‘Or maybe you’d prefer the Bird and Baby?’ he asked, alluding to the Eagle and Child pub on St Giles that local wags had renamed.
‘Any one for me’ Suzanne replied, ‘I’m out of the loop these days. You know best.’
Suzanne decided on reflection to postpone the further shopping trip until the following day. Even though Oxford would be hell on Christmas Eve heaving with shoppers, it would also be fun. She preferred to spend the afternoon doing some food preparation and getting ready for the carol concert. Her father concurred without hesitation. He seems to be coping with life much better Suzanne thought with relief.
Bathed and dressed she joined her father in his study; he was also spruced up and ready to leave.
‘You look smart Dad’ she approved, taking in the dark blazer, shirt and tie and grey flannels; again feeling a sense of relief that her father seemed to be more pulled together. They strolled into the centre glad of the topcoats and scarves they had donned. They entered the magical world of Christ Church through Tom Gate joining a gaggle of visitors heading across the quad to the cathedral. There was a crush to enter and queue for a seat in the nave, preferably one from where you could see the choir.
Jack and Suzanne got lucky, squeezing on to the end of a pew near to the choir stalls resplendent with Christmas flower decorations. The serried ranks of candles in the wrought iron candelabras placed next to each chorister creating a pool of soft light. The singing was exquisite the pure voices soaring high to the vaulted ceilings and swelling to the blast of the organ. Suzanne was transported with delight and began to feel lighter of heart than she had for many months. As though communing wordlessly her father chose that moment to squeeze her hand and smile sideways at his daughter. Her heart swelled with love for him and relief that he was making a recovery at last.
They decided on the Jericho as they ambled back through Oxford. So cutting across from St Giles through Little Clarendon Street and passed the Oxford University Press they arrived just in time for last food orders. They decided quickly on Bangers and Mash for Suzanne and Pie and Chips for Jack and chose a bottle of burgundy to go with it. He elected to drink a pint of beer while they waited for their food, pouring a glass of the wine for Suzanne. They chatted amiably together, first the concert then the plan for the following day. Suzanne had presents to buy and also wanted to get some decorations to make the house more festive. Her father suggested looking out a box of old decorations that they’d used for years,
‘I think they will be up in the loft’ he said, ‘some are as old as you!’
‘That’s an idea. It won’t make you too sad will it?’ she asked.
‘You can’t stop the memories haunting you so may as well enjoy the best ones’ he replied philosophically.
They agreed to this plan and decided also to take a walk down to the river in the afternoon to see if they could find some holly.
The following day flashed by. They completed their shopping, separating for an hour and then meeting up to return home together. After a snack lunch Jack went in search of the decorations and Suzanne wrapped presents and prepared food for the evening and the morrow. They had a successful foray for holly even managing to find a few sprigs laden with berries. Early evening was spent decorating the kitchen, as it was more cheerful than the dining room for their Christmas meal. The hall and her father’s study also received a modicum of attention, as they were the most used parts of the house.
Suzanne then prepared a sumptuous repast, smoked salmon, capers and cream cheese with bagels followed by cheese and biscuits. They had a glass each of champagne with the salmon and red with the cheese.
‘I’ve been thinking about the house’ Jack began ‘I hardly use any of it now. I’ve been thinking about selling it.’ He looked across at Suzanne trying to gauge how she would feel about this idea, ‘Not if you mind though’ he added, ‘the place has lots of memories for you too.’ Suzanne could hardly believe what she was hearing; she had been wondering how to broach the very subject to her father.
‘It’s not up to me Dad. It’s what is best for you, and anyway I wouldn’t mind at all. Memories last wherever you are’ she smiled encouragingly, ‘Have you thought where you would go? Is there somewhere near here that you’d like?’
‘Not really’ he replied ‘I just need a small flat or maisonette really’ he paused and then hesitating slightly elucidated, ‘I wondered about getting a place in London to be nearer to you. That is if you wouldn’t mind. There are lots of things to amuse me there; the library, museums, and concerts. I wouldn’t want to be a nuisance though.’ He paused, ‘It would save you feeling that you have to come home to see me here all the time too; which I love and appreciate.’ He finished, all in a rush.
‘Actually Dad, I think that’s a great idea. I’d love to have you nearby as long as you feel sure you won’t miss Oxford and your friends here too much?’ Suzanne had long been thinking of this move as a potential solution and had consequently discounted the Diplomatic Service scenario that had seemed so tempting, at least for the time being.
Contrary to their expectations Jack and Suzanne enjoyed their Christmas day. Suzanne had found for her father a leather bound copy of ‘The Pickwick Papers’ one of his favourite Dickens novels with which he was mightily pleased. In turn he had bought for her a very attractive satchel style brief case in a conker brown hide, which was perfect she declared with a hug. Christmas Lunch was a great success and they spent the day reminiscing without tears and planning for the future. Jack would put the Oxford house on the market in the spring after it had received a bit of a spruce up, a lick of paint and some de-cluttering should do the trick they thought. Meanwhile Suzanne would explore possibilities in London to buy a house that they could readily convert into separate living areas, or two flats located near to each other. Suzanne would start their search around Pimlico.