Christmas beckons in the full, ripe solstice moon shining like a beacon across the snow. This winter moon is so proud and strong and white. It rises early and remains low in the sky; it doesn't have the bravado and showmanship of the harvest moon, all golden orb pinned to a paper sky. No, this winter moon fills our bedroom with light as strong as day, sharp and clear to lead Santa on his way.
I am trying to not miss Christmas for the trees that sparkle so shiny in my eyes. Distracted by loose ends of tinsel stuck to my pants by static electricity, by tags that fall between the cracks, cards that fly through the mail slot like snowy owls, and twinkly bits of sprinkles and snow tracked in by four-legged elves.
The sky is low and dark and threatens perpetual snow. Satin sheets of clouds wrap round the sun and my head is stuffed with taffeta and meringue. I bleed sugar and spice when pricked by pine needles and the sharp points of starfish wriggling to be hung.
By candlelight I look for the promised land: symmetry and bows and silent nights, raffish reindeer and mercury glass mirros that crack my reflection into a million points of light. I search for misteletoe to shoot from trees and rummage through closets for tins laden with gingerbread and pfefferneuse. I spray powdered sugar into the air and dust myself with bennies and cinammon drops. I string myself along, hoping crystals form if I keep very still, giving me a rope to climb on out of this sticky morass.
It is here but not. Yearning for tartan and velvet in a landscape scoured into rusty brown. The steel of ocean and fawn's ridge of sand, the arms begging stark naked imploring into a sky so low that it will soon weep with pain. I want to be foolhardy and gambol in the meadow like spring but itis time for herding and brooding and gathering thoughts in tight knots that defy untangling amidst the carols and jingling bells.
So I pack a carpet bag and travel far away, walking paths lined with Aubusson, browsing walls lined with Dickens, windows peeping into marzipan landscapes and pink kitchens and tables spread from porch to foyer, damask cloths, china plates and crystal glasses, tinkling bracelets on arms, woodfire crackling, gifts piled at my feet, eyes sleepy with raspberry tarts drizzled with marscapone, sugar cubes for the taking, nuts to crack, oranges to peel, until I slip under the tassels and sleep at the feet of them all.
And then my word! The dream is here! L ook - snowflakes as big as comets, tasseled beams of ice, waterfalls of fairy lights, and as many silvery shades of white as icebergs calving into the Bering Sea.
Off in the distance I see it, the nest of dreams, the house of houses, the nugget, the stone, the bare heart beating, the point of all my yearning.
A crown of candelights, a necklace of crystals, trees illuminated from within, clouds weaving through the roof, paper lanters spinning themselves silly, mortar to lick and shingle to bite and I race to it with shoes made from the feathers of white swans and lined with lynx and sprouting wings of ermine.
I try to run past white-clothed moutains but slip off a rock candy cliff and become airborn, gathering speed like a snowball shot from the arm of Hercules.
I am light as an ember floating to ash in the Arctic sky, rushed up and up to the firmanents to Orion and Jupiter and Mars. I soar amidst snowflakes and shooting stars and dancing bears and flying fox with coats of crimson red.
Down below, the world spins on, my absence a vacuum where the sound of melancholy disappears.
I grab at candy canes and lollipops, laden my skirts with caramels, and adorn my hair with marshmallows. I dip silvered ladles into chocolate lakes and drizzle it across the Alps. I string ropes of ribbon candy across the Grand Canyon and spin candy floss from clouds, aloft with a puff of breath to float along the Yangtze River. Showers of peppermint crunch stud the the Eiffel Tower and I light afire a crackle of brulee across the surface of the Great Lakes.
And then arises a rush of wind and water, the ocean a morass of whipping cream afloat with ships of Charlotte Russe. Teddy bears buzz by in prop planes and dolls cry "Mama" as they skip across Floating Islands in the Sound. The moon pops through a slit in a velvet curtain drawing back, and speed skaters link arms with mine and I am whizzing now on skates of fire to the center of it all.
I tremble with anticipation, then suddenly become afraid. What if no one will let me in? What if no one is there? I look for a door, a knocker, a bell but can only peek in windows lined with gumdrops as big as fists and wheels of licorice whips and thick molasses sticks.
What if I cannot, like Alice, fit through the door?
What if the room is empty - or worse too full - with sticky hands beseeching for more, faces covered in marshmallow fluff, eyes glazed as they stare at the fat man in the red suit that in fact looks nothing like Dad?
With a feeling of dread that this nest is but a cardboard box, I take a full breath to expel the treacle from my lungs and plunge like lead past seven lords a leaping and six maids a milking and dive into five golden rings.
I awake in my bed to the sound of a velvet dog barking, and spring to the window and open the sash.
There is no sound but of the present. The light of memory is gone. My hands are empty and my feet are bare. There is no "Merry Christmas" being called as guests pile out the door and pipe smoke rises up the stairs.
The night is ordinary and cold; the sky is dark.
I am alone.
When, to the east a star appears and I hear what sounds like the softest bleat of a lamb.
I am led by a light as pure and enchanting as any comet in the viewfinder of an ancient mariner's glass.
In bare feet, I run across the dirty, rutted snow of my backyard, jumping over the holes dug by dogs and circling round the rubbish bins aflutter with tattered shred of wrapping paper.
But how can this be?
The gates are locked. The hour is late. The dogs did not awake.
How there be a baby and a stable and an angel, donkeys and lambs, a mother and father and shepherds on high?
How does no one else hear the bleating lambs and mooing cows or smell the hay and dung? Who are those three distant figures wearing crowns coming into view? Is now one else aware of the beating of the wings of an angel hovering right there?
My breath cannot sustain me; my lungs threaten to collapse.
This is it: the nest of dreams, the house of houses, the nugget, the stone, the bare heart beating.
This is the cave that will shelter me when the undertow of memory threatens to drown, the breath of love that fills my lungs until I reach the surface.
This is the star that never sets, the star whose light illuminates the sleeping bodies of those I love, those given to me to love, placed under the tree of life with a big fat bow. Those who are yet flesh and blood and not projections on the wall, but silly and sad and fierce and cowardly and tender and gruff. Those that I can reach out and touch, trace their crow's feet with my hands, smooth the tangled strands of hair, and quiet their own quickly beating hearts. Those that are utterly mine and mine alone.
Dawn breaks the sky, the eastern star begins to dim, and though my feet are burn with cold, I slip and slide across the snow to reach the magic of my heart of hearts, but all for nought.
I wake with a start in my own bed, and frantically chasing in my mind try the last lingering sweet memory of that star's light.
I turn to rise and see there, on the nightstand, a battered shoebox on its side. I pick it up and it is light; I shake it but hear no sound. I lift the lid and glitter dusts my pillow, so I hastily sit up to look inside.
A faded yellow construction paper star, a tumble of popsicle sticks glued into a crib, an empty spool of thread with two ink dot eyes, wrapped round with lace. Cardboard figures kneel askew on either side, and dusty cotton balls of baby lambs patiently keep the baby warm.
My manger, my creche, made 50 years ago and not seen since! The handkerchief lace my mother snipped! The glitter I shook into yellow mucilage! The faded box from the discount store, bearing shiny black patent Mary Janes on Christmas morn!
I look around but there is no note, no one else home but me.
There is nothing to explain it but the Christmas mystery.