Monday, 21 December 2009

The ghosts of Christmas past (a winter ficlet)

It’s just starting. Indecisive flakes are lazily making their way past your apartment, then thinking better of it and peeking into your neighbors’ windows before continuing their descent.

You love the snow, but for now you’re content watching it from indoors. The dog will need walking soon enough , and you’d like to wait until New York City’s fresh white coat is draped over its shoulders before you head out. You’ll take your camera and your snow boots and go exploring.

For now, though, you’re happy in your fluffy holiday sweater and your big thick socks. You flick on the TV and busy yourself warming some milk on the stove (no, who I am kidding, probably in the microwave) for that hot chocolate you are going to curl up with.

Your lurching stomach responds before your ears consciously do. You recognize immediately the Pavlovian reaction to that theme tune: that gut-level knot of nostalgia, pride, and frustration.

Frustration? Yes. There’s so much more to you than this one role. You are not her, and everyone seems to forget that – even those crazy fans who like to send you Facebook messages in the vain hope that you’ll one day respond; even those, very few and far between, who have worked out that your name is, in fact, a stage name. They forget that your character was created, that you breathed life into her, that although you may love her like a twin sister, she is distinct from you .They seem not even to be aware that you have played other roles. It shouldn’t get to you; you owe so much to the genius of this show, and to the wonderful character you were given to play. But it ended three years ago, and you want to move on. You think everybody should. All those websites are a little creepy.

And yet – those years were some of the happiest of your life.

Usually you flick the TV straight off. It’s simpler than trying to untangle all of that. But they’re showing the Christmas episodes (really? Could they not think of anything more original?) and those are some of the happiest memories of all. So you settle down with your hot chocolate and an enormous box of tissues with one eye on the snow that seems to be getting heavier, in sync with the episodes.

The phone rings at the end of the second one. Why are you not surprised when you see my name flashing up?

“Hey.” Even without caller ID you’d have recognized my voice with one syllable.

“Whatcha watching?”

A playful sigh makes its way down the phone line. “What do you think?”

You know the drill. “Yes, you were wonderful in that episode. Yes, you totally deserved that Emmy.”

“Thank you.” I like to think that was graciously uttered. “ But you know, you made me what I was.”

I say this so often that I don’t think you really hear it anymore; but I mean it every time. Do you remember when I got you to babysit my Emmy? I wanted it to sit on your shelf for a while. So much of what I was on the show was a product of my relationship with you; it seemed only fair.

You’re not the only one with conflicting emotions. “We had it good, didn’t we?”

I can almost hear your thoughts. Are we really going to do this every time they put on re-runs?

But you have no choice but to agree with me. You do add, though: “if by good you mean twenty hour days and forgetting what our friends and family looked like and being stalked in the street by hysterical people who have forgotten to take their medication.”

I know what you mean, although that seems to still be happening to me, with frightening regularity. I remind you of one perk you seem to be conveniently forgetting: “You also got to flirt with me every day for seven years.”

I can picture your broad, beautiful smile. “Well, yes. That was fun.”

“We were good together, weren’t we?”

The pause tells me I’ve overstepped the mark, as I am prone to do.

You say my name, a one-word scolding, in the same affectionate but exasperated tone your character used to take with mine.

I know what’s coming. Why must you always break the spell?

“I’m married,” you remind me. “And we’re happy.”

I know. And if you think I don’t kick myself every day...

You sigh again, this time not so playfully. You remember now why those emotions curdle inside you like benign poison, make you feel slightly nauseated. Why normally you flick straight onto another channel.

“You missed the window. Deal with it.” It would sound cold, but I know you. I know you don’t mean to hurt me, that it’s friendly advice, that I, like those crazy fans, need to move on, that it’s what’s best, for me, for our friendship.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Old habits die hard: it’s the same adolescent tone of voice I would use with my mother when she nagged me about getting a real job, in case, you know, the acting didn’t work out. So much of me is still a petulant teenager; that part of my character I had no problem identifying with.

“It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, though.” I'm glad you clarified that.

A line from Notting Hill pops into my head: in a depressingly asexual way... But for once, I choose to keep my mouth shut. See how I’ve grown?

“Or that making out with you wasn’t a lot of fun.”

Aha! Now, was that so hard to own up to?

“We were good together, weren’t we?” Just a little more reassurance is surely not too much to ask...

“Amazing,” you concede. “Now go away and leave me alone.”

“Okay,” I say, but there’s no click, and we both sit watching the snow with one eye and hours of us with the other, tissues in one hand, curled up with our hot chocolates.

1 comment:

me said...

DISCLAIMER: Should you recognise the people who inspired this ficlet, please note that I am in no way implying that anything romantic has happened between them, or that any marriage breakup that occured was related to this friendship. The implied "window" relates to a (purely hypothetical) period when both may have been single.