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Christmas Solos

During 1990 and early 1991, I did date several women, including a six-foot tall blonde policewoman (I met her through a lonely hearts notice I placed in my local newspaper). Sadly, none of these progressed past a first date.

I still had plenty of work, but also found time to write a few short stories.  Some of these follow.  The first of these is mostly autobiographical, although the names have been changed. Within a short space of time of returning home from spending Christmas, 1990 away, I had written “Christmas Solos”:

Christmas Solos

Copyright J. S. Raynor 1991, 2016

 

Steve Mason’s secretary, Sue, was quite insistent.  “You really should go away for a holiday, this Christmas.  Just go away, forget about the business for a few days and enjoy yourself for a change.”

“I know that I don’t want to stay on my own again this year.  But where could I go?”  Steve had been divorced for two years and frequently felt depressed by his loneliness.

“I’m sure I saw something in the free newspaper.  Just a minute.”  Sue searched through the pile of newspapers and, after a short while, triumphantly exclaimed, “Found it!  Yes, listen to this.   ‘Enjoy a luxury Solos’ break this Christmas.  Travel in comfort by coach to Shropshire, deep in the English countryside.  Stay at the four‑star Nightingale Hotel for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.  Be wined, dined and entertained in absolute luxury.’  There, how does that sound?”

“It might be alright.  Does it say anything else about it?”

“It says that there will be a treasure trail , fun and games and a sixties night fancy dress and dinner dance.  I wish I could go on something like that, but I can’t afford two hundred pounds.”

Steve now began to look interested.  “Two hundred pounds? It sounds quite reasonable and if they are having a sixties fancy dress, then they must be expecting people in their thirties and forties, so that would be alright.”  Steve was forty four, but only looked about thirty one or two.  He was very self‑conscious about being middle‑aged and had tried, as far as he could, to retain his youthful looks.  “I’ll phone and find out a bit more about it.”

A few minutes later, Steve had booked the holiday.  He had been convinced that it was worthwhile when the organiser had told him that most of the places already booked were by people in the thirty‑five to forty‑five age range and there were twice as many women as men.  He felt that ratio would suit him nicely.  Thirty‑two of the forty‑five places had already been booked, so he did not want to delay any longer and risk finding it fully booked.

Although she was a little envious, Sue could not help but be pleased that Steve had taken up her suggestion.  “What about the fancy dress?  What are you going to go as?”

“I’m not sure.  Beatle or hippy, perhaps?  See if you can find a place not too far away where I can hire a costume.”

Sue enjoyed this type of diversion from the usual office duties and had soon found a suitable hire shop.  A few days later, Steve was looking through many costumes, trying to find something suitable.  He eventually chose a hippy costume with bright red trousers, waistcoat and flowery shirt.  He tried the costume on and gave the assistants in the shop a laugh. “They must see some awful sights in here”, thought Steve.  To complete the outfit, he bought a long, flowing wig.  He was really determined to get into the Christmas spirit in an attempt to overcome his past, staid and stuffy image.  He did want to meet someone on the holiday who, hopefully, would end the loneliness he had endured since his divorce.  If he could find a woman about ten years younger than him, this could, potentially, be a great Christmas break.

When he arrived at the bus station pick‑up point on the morning of Christmas Eve, his face dropped when he realised that most of the people there where in their late fifties or sixties.  He could only hope that some younger women would arrive.  A good‑looking woman, probably in her mid‑thirties did arrive and Steve’s hopes were raised.

A coarse voice interrupted his thoughts.  “I hope it’s better than last year.”  Heads turned in eager anticipation of hearing some interesting information.  The voice, which sounded as though it had been trained on fifty cigarettes a day for the last forty years, belonged to a small, elderly woman with short, grey hair.  She continued, now that she had captured the attention of all around her.  “My coach was nearly involved in three accidents ‑ if we had been a few minutes earlier, we probably would have been killed.  There was petrol all over the road, you know.”

It was impossible to make any sensible comment in reply to such doom‑ridden statements.  A silent sigh must have been made by everyone present as they realised that they had just been introduced to the obligatory Job’s comforter.  Steve exchanged a knowing look and a smile with the as‑yet un‑named younger woman.

By the time the coach arrived, there were still no other younger people in the group.  The cases were loaded into the coach and everyone took their seats.  Steve had hoped to sit next to the only younger woman but, unluckily for him, she chose to sit next to a woman who was probably in her fifties.  Steve did begin to wonder if this holiday was such a good idea, after all, as he made the entire journey on his own.

His hopes were raised slightly when he saw the hotel.  It was modern, set deep in the heart of the English countryside and surrounded by forests and lakes.  The rooms were comfortable and the staff friendly.  After unpacking his clothes and changing, Steve, still feeling rather apprehensive, made his way to the room where a sherry reception was to be held.    A few elderly men and women were already there, sipping sherry and speaking quietly.  Steve looked anxiously around for the young woman, but there was no sign of her.  He took a glass of sherry and sat next to an older woman.  To his delight and great relief, the young woman entered the room and took a seat next to Steve.

They had only just exchanged hellos when the walking cigarette once again interrupted the conversation.  “Now, everyone, I’d like to introduce myself.  I’m Hettie.  I think it would be a good idea if we went round the room and found out everybody’s names.  Then, at least, we’ll all know each other.”  All Steve wanted to know was the name of the young woman sitting on his left.

Sarah, as she was called, whispered “We seem to be the only youngish ones in this hotel.”

“Yes, I understood that it was to be for mainly thirty and forty year olds but, apart from us, they all seem to be in their fifties and sixties.”  Sarah and Steve chatted happily for a while over their sherry and then retreated to the cocktail bar.

As they were leaving the room, they heard Hettie describing, in great detail, a gory operation to the unfortunate person who happened to be sitting next to her.

For Sarah and Steve, it was an instant friendship and both seemed very similar in ideas, habits and way of life.  Steve now knew that he had made the right decision, after all.  Both of them felt obliged to be sociable to some of the older guests and struck up a conversation with a small, silver‑haired woman in her late sixties, called Nora.  She had arrived at the hotel with a different group but, for some unexplained reason, wanted to remain separate from them.   She did have a noticeable habit of repeating her conversation several times, in particular relating how many times she had travelled on the QE2, the luxury of the liner and the numerous places she had visited.

When the time arrived for the evening meal, she asked if she could stay with Sarah and Steve, although, officially, the tables were organised according to the different groups.

They managed to avoid Hettie and found the other five people at their table to be quite amiable.  Sarah, Steve and Nora shared a bottle of white wine over their meal and generally began to know each other a little better.  After their meal, they returned to the cocktail bar and Steve asked what Sarah would like to drink.  “You know, I’ve always fancied, but never had, a Buck’s Fizz.  Do you think I could have one, please?”

“Of course you can, Sarah.  It’s something I’ve not had myself.  I’ll try one, as well.”  He knew that it could be an expensive friendship, but, for a few days, he might as well enjoy himself and hang the expense.

“Why did you come on this holiday?” enquired Sarah.

“I was divorced just less than two years ago and so last year was the first Christmas I’d spent on my own.  I was thoroughly miserable and depressed and really did not want to go through the same again.  I must admit, though, that my secretary helped me to make my decision.  How about you, Sarah?”

“Very similar, really.  I’m twice divorced and my second husband walked out on me eighteen months ago.  He left me at the time my daughter was just two years old.  It was completely out of the blue ‑ he just told me that he had another woman and wanted to live with her.”

“That must have been one hell of a shock,” Steve sympathised.  “Where is your daughter at the moment?”

Sarah’s voice trembled as she replied.  “Karen’s with her father and his new wife.  He has occasional rights of access.”

Steve realised he had touched upon a sensitive subject and made a determined effort to keep Sarah’s spirits up.  He enjoyed her company and felt happier than he had for a long time.  At the end of the evening, they went to their own separate rooms and agreed to meet for breakfast the following morning.

After breakfast on Christmas Day, an adventure trail had been organised by the hotel.  Sarah and Steve joined forces to answer the fairly trivial questions for the trail and, once again, enjoyed each other’s company.  They did not win the trail although they answered all questions correctly, but this did not bother then unduly.

That afternoon, the weather was fine and the now inseparable duo decided to go for a walk.  Near to the hotel was a large lake with gravel path around its perimeter and through a forest.  They walked, hand in hand, chatting happily for most of the afternoon, arriving back at the hotel just after dusk, their cheeks flushed by the chilling wind.  By now, the other hotel residents had become very much aware of the closeness of their relationship and were exchanging knowing looks when they entered the dining room together.  Both Sarah and Steve did converse socially with others at the table but, all the time, there was an aura of magic and happiness surrounding the two.

There was meant to be some form of entertainment on the evening of Christmas Day, but nobody knew what form it was going to take.  It turned out to be an amateurish copy of the television quiz show, ‘Mr. and Mrs.’

When the compere was asking for three married couples to volunteer, Steve turned to Sarah and said, “Hey, let’s volunteer for a bit of a laugh ‑ no‑one’s going to check.”

Sarah giggled.  “It could be fun.  Okay, I’m game if you are.”  They held hands as they walked up to Tony, the compere.

“Ah, here’s a nice young couple, Ladies and Gentlemen.  What are your names, please?” Tony asked with just a bit too much enthusiasm.  When they answered, he then said, “Sarah and Steve ‑ thanks for helping us with our little game.  Tell me, how long have you been married?”

“Three weeks” answered Steve, but at the same instant, Sarah said, “Five weeks.”

“That’s a good start ‑ they can’t even agree on how long they have been married.”

“Five weeks,” Steve capitulated.

“Great!  A pair of newly‑weds, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Give them a big hand, please.”  Tony then greeted the other contestants and, once they were all assembled, he asked the women to go into another room where they could not hear their spouse’s answers.  “The first question I would like to ask is, which does your wife prefer ‑ tea or coffee?”

“Neither” Steve answered.  “Sarah prefers drinking chocolate.”  The other two men both said that their wives preferred tea.

“Good.  All very positive answers, there.  Now, perhaps something a little more difficult.  I’d like you to tell me your wives’ shoe size.

Steve was relieved that he wasn’t the first to answer this time.  He was trying to remember what Sarah had told him.  When it did come to his turn, he said that she took size four shoes.

“Now, for our last question, we are going to get a bit more personal.  I’d like you to tell me your wife’s bra size.  And I mean in inches ‑ not hands” Tony said with a cheeky smile.

Steve was relieved at this question.  He answered, “Sarah doesn’t wear a bra at all.”  His reply created amusement among the audience.  Sarah had offered this information only a few hours earlier that day.

When the women returned, only Steve had answered all questions correctly. The bra size had been the cause of the difficulty for the other two men. It was then time for the men to disappear while the women took their turns to answer the questions.

“Now, Ladies.  If the sitting room needed decorating, who would choose the wallpaper?  You?  Or your husband?”

Sarah was stuck on this one.  She did know that Steve was a bit colour‑blind and so, guessed she would do the choosing.  She hoped he would agree with her answer.

For the second question, they had to say whether their husbands preferred to lie on the beach when on holiday or see the sights.  From what Steve had said, she knew that he much preferred to see the sights.

“The last question, Ladies, is what colour are your husband’s pyjamas?  That is, the ones he was wearing last night.”

There was an air of humorous anticipation when it came to Sarah’s turn.  She did not disappoint them.  “He doesn’t wear any pyjamas at all ‑ in fact, neither do I.”

When the men came back, Steve’s answers agreed with Sarah’s.  In fact, all the women answered their questions correctly.  Sarah and Steve were the only couple to answer all the questions without any mistakes.  It created great amusement and a few knowing looks among the people who knew that Sarah and Steve weren’t married to see that they had won the contest.

When they met for breakfast, the following morning, Steve noticed a change of mood in Sarah. She wasn’t her usual cheerful self and Steve wondered if he had upset her in any way.  “Are you not feeling very well?” he asked, anxiously.

“I’m sorry, Steve.  I … I”  She burst into tears and buried her head in his chest.  She sobbed gently but found herself unable to speak.

“What’s wrong, Sarah? Tell me what’s upsetting you?” Steve’s eyes filled as the woman, whom he had only known for two days, held her sobbing body close to his.

“I’m sorry,” she repeated. “It’s Karen.  I can’t stand being without her. The thought of her being with her dad and his new wife is just too much to bear.”  Once again, she sobbed uncontrollably.

“I understand, Sarah.  It must be awful for you.”  He paused, trying desperately to think of some way he could ease her agony.  “Look, it’s fine outside.  Let’s go for a long walk.”

“I … I can’t.  I’m sorry, Steve, but when I feel like this, I’m not good company.  I think I’ll just stay on my own and read a book I’ve brought with me.”

“Are you sure?” Steve said in obvious disappointment.

She nodded in reply and gave his hand a little squeeze of encouragement as she turned away to return to her room.

Steve felt sorry both for her and himself.   He did not know what to do but decided to take the long walk he had suggested, although it would not be the same without Sarah.  It wasn’t actually raining, but it was a very cold, bleak wintry day as would be expected on Boxing Day.  He was wrapped up against the cold and did not meet anyone else on his solitary walk.  The strong wind whipped up the waves on the lake and the trees bent under its relentless pressure.  Steve really did not notice anything around him at all.  He could have been walking on the moon for all the difference it made. How could a woman he had only just met affect him so much?

When he returned to the hotel, he spent the rest of the morning in his room, listening to the radio and feeling very low.  After lunch, he went into the cocktail bar and ordered a whisky and Canada dry.  He sat near to some of the people he had become friendly with over the past few days.

“Is your wife not joining us, Steve?” one elderly man asked.

“My wife?” he asked, incredulously.

“Yes.  You are newly‑weds, aren’t you?”

Steve suddenly remembered their masquerade from the previous evening’s quiz and felt amused and heartened by this misunderstanding.  “She’s not feeling very well, this morning, so she’s resting in her…our room.  I’m hoping she’ll be better, later on.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.  I hope that she’ll be alright for the fancy dress party, tonight.  You make a lovely couple ‑ it’s obvious you’re both very much in love.”

“Thanks for the compliment.”  Steve smiled, at this ego-boosting comment.  “I’m hopeful that she will be better for the party.”  Steve’s spirits had been raised but he still felt apprehensive about the evening.

“What are you coming as, tonight?” the man asked.

“Ah, that’s top secret ‑ not even Sarah knows that” Steve answered with a smile.  “Let’s just say that I’m entering into the spirit of the occasion.”  The fancy dress was due to start at seven thirty and, just after seven, he telephoned Sarah’s room.  “How are you feeling, Sarah?”

“A little better, thanks.  I’m just getting ready for the party.  Are you ready?”

“Nearly.   Would you call on your way and give me a hand with my costume, please?”

“Yes, of course.  I’m intrigued to know just what your costume is.”  She was obviously feeling in better spirits, now.

When Steve opened the door to Sarah, she fell about laughing at his bright red hippy outfit and long, blonde wig.  “Why, that’s great!”  She could not stop giggling.

“What would you like me to do?”

“See if you can improve this wig, please.  I don’t know if it will help to brush it a bit, but it does seem rather tangled.”  Every time Sarah tried to brush the nylon wig, it started sliding off Steve’s head and they both collapsed into uncontrollable fits of laughter.  Eventually, they abandoned the exercise and Sarah tied the headband in place.

As they were leaving Steve’s room, he realised that there were no pockets in his costume to store the credit‑card sized electronic key to his room.  “I’ll keep it in my handbag, if you like” Sarah offered.

“Thanks, Sarah.  You’re looking great ‑ I love your dress.”  She was wearing a very short, bright green mini‑dress, fishnet tights, big ear‑rings and a headband.  They held hands as they walked to the hotel restaurant and were the source of great amusement amongst the hotel staff and residents.  Steve had great difficulty in keeping his wig out of the soup at dinner time and was offered all sorts of advice from the others at the table on how to control his golden locks.  A few people, including a waitress mistook him for a woman.

After the meal, a group played sixties style music and the small dance floor was filled with people, trying to revive dances such as jive, twist and other dances of the era.  Sarah did not feel up to dancing and just wanted to listen to the music and talk.  Although he was a little disappointed, Steve was grateful that he at least had her company.

When it came to the time for the judging of the fancy dress, he had great difficulty in persuading Sarah to enter the competition.  As Steve paraded in front of the audience, he could not believe what he was doing.  If his ex‑wife could have seen him, she would probably disown him and suggest that he had lost his marbles.  The truth was that his ex‑wife had been a rather domineering character who had made him retreat into his own private shell more and more over the years of marriage.  At last, he had emerged from his shell and really felt alive again.  It did not help him to win the contest, however.  Judging was done by comparing the applause of the audience and, since they were part of just a small circle of friends, they weren’t loud enough to help either Sarah or Steve.

He still kept in the spirit of the night, though and kept the wig on for the rest of the evening, even though it was hot and uncomfortable.

Realising that this was their last night at the hotel, Steve said, “Sarah, I’ve really enjoyed this holiday, but without you, it would not have been anywhere near as good.  Can I see you again after the holiday?”

Sarah looked troubled.  “I … I don’t know.  I’m unsure of anything after the divorce.  I’ve been hurt too much to make new relationships easily.  Please just give me time to think about it ‑ I’m sorry, Steve.”

“I understand, Sarah.  All I know is that I’ve enjoyed myself too much to go back tomorrow and not see you again.  I will never forget you, whatever happens.”  He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, which conveyed his feelings better than any words could manage.  Her eyes moistened as she understood the depth of his feelings for her.

One of the other people at the table interrupted their conversation by asking Sarah to pick something they had dropped on the floor.  “Ah, you can’t catch me out as easily as that” she smiled.  “I’ve had plenty of practice at picking things off the floor without exposing myself.”  She bent at the knees and, although the close‑fitting dress stretched itself over her shapely thighs, she retained her modesty.

Just after midnight, Sarah said “I think I’ll go to bed, now.  I’m feeling a bit tired.  Thanks for a wonderful evening, Steve.”  She opened her handbag and handed Steve his room card‑key.  He thanked her for it and wished her goodnight.  He had an awful feeling that he would not see her again after their journey home, the following day.  He stayed and had one more drink and then excused himself.

As he walked to his room, he was feeling thoroughly depressed.  Why had such a beautiful relationship to end so soon?  He knew she had enjoyed their time together and Steve just did not want it to be a brief holiday romance.  As he reached his room, he inserted his card‑key into the lock and waited for the electric ‘click’ before pressing the handle.  When it did not operate, he cursed himself for putting the key in the wrong way.  He tried again but, still with the sane result.

He was just telling himself that these electronic locks were not as reliable as the old‑fashioned type when, slowly, the door opened.  Standing there silhouetted against the dimmed lights of his room was Sarah.  She smiled as she took the key from him and said, “I do believe that’s my key.  But I think we can manage without it for tonight.”  She put her arms around him, pulled him close to her and gently closed the door.

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