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"Emily's Christmas", by Meritta Koivisto

Emily’s Christmas

Emily watched the slowly floating snowflakes through her kitchen window. It was just past four o’clock, at the dawn of Christmas Eve.

The herbal tea warmed nicely her fingers that were wrapped around a mug of tea. Rooibos. That’s what she had made, so that she would have something to do, because she was not able to fall asleep. The newspaper she would still have to wait, for a while, maybe till five – or if it took more time than usual for the newspaper delivery to get through the blanket of snow that was growing heavier and heavier, it could be even six o’clock.

Emily had been diagnosed with breast cancer in October, and in November she had been operated. Now she was in chemotherapy. That was not what was keeping her awake, it was the cortisone she had been given before, during and after being on the drip. It made her alert, no matter how hard she tried to imagine the calm sunsets and other serene scenes, to push away those other thoughts.

The darkness outside was like a long shadow cast by that one evening, Emily thought as she sipped her tea that had become lukewarm by now. John had been on a seminar cruise, and she had found herself thinking how lucky she was to have met someone so nice after many years of being single. After taking a shower she had – with a smile on her face – applied body lotion first onto her décolleté and then – this time – also lower, when she had felt a bump under her skin. Paralyzed. And she had looked at herself in the mirror, seen the halted look in her eyes, the hand. Tried again. Something hard. The size of an almond.

A cyst, women have mammary glands, and all kinds of glands in their breasts, lumps are not always dangerous, had her friends consoled her while she was waiting to hear the news about her labs. And men, they don’t like to talk about illnesses, had her friends said when her phone calls to John had ever more often been picked up by his voice mail. Then came the phone call, and she was asked to come to the doctor’s office to hear the results. She had prepared herself. “John is not picking up his phone”, she had told her brother. And he came. Drove almost 300 miles. And sat in the waiting room. “It is malignant”, was what she heard from behind the desk.

The next day she asked John to come over and told him the news about the diagnosis – he was sitting opposite to her across the kitchen table. She saw fear flashing through his eyes, but his voice did not revealed it. “Then you go to the chemotherapy”, he had said very calmly looking straight into her eyes.

There you go. What did we say, he is a good guy. He was just busy. He will stay by your side, her friends had said this time.

After that day she never saw John again.

“I will be going on a vacation”, John had told her over the phone. “For a long vacation.”

“Have a nice trip”, she had replied.

“You too.”

That kind of man who doesn’t stay by your side, you don’t need. That kind is not much of a man at all. In that kind you have nothing to lose, her friends had consoled her this time. In these circumstances there was no one else to be found either, she had thought. Not a shoulder to lean on. No one. Just a pillow to grab in the darkness of the night, when the fears sneak around the corners and line up around you like guardians.

To Horror. To sweat and screams, she had awoken. Tonight. There was no one in the room. And the walls, they had been there, straight up, also the table, and the cabin. Only the small alarm clock, that John had left, had been ticking in the silence. There she had been sitting, quietly, alone, bold headed and fearful. The glowing numbers of the clock telling that it was five past three. At that moment, right then, she had thrown the blanket aside, picked up the alarm clock, and opened the window. “Emotions know NO TIME!” she had cried into the frosty night, throwing the clock into the darkness. After that she had put the teakettle on.

Now she looked through the window down to the cars parked on the small side street. They belonged to the people living in her neighborhood. They were putting in long hours at work with no time to plow their driveways. Five soft lumps. From their shape one could tell what type of car’s they were but not much more. “You will sleep again at some point, after you have been awake long enough. That is just what the cortisone does to you”, the nurse had said while pulling out the needle from her vein. “It’s indeed a good medicine. Made me even less nauseous”, she had answered and heard a sad tone in her voice, no matter how hard she had tried to sound brave like the other patients. And that had been something that had taken her by surprise: the surroundings. She had – and why deny it – felt fearful terror stepping through the door under the cancer clinic sign. What was waiting for her there? What was it going to be like? Would everyone be lying in their beds or arm chairs ever so quietly, while hooked into the IVs, so that they would not disturb others, or could you perhaps exchange some words with someone next to you?

Everyone had it rough, fighting their own battles, but no one complained. Not the young mother whose two little daughters sat and waited quietly by the wall drinking from their juice boxes and browsing through the picture books – and occasionally running up to their mother to show the amazing creatures in them: look this, mommy! Neither did the old lady, who was lying on a bed next to her own, show what she had buried inside of her, as her silver headed husband read newspaper headlines to her with a soft voice. And who every once in a while went and adjusted the pillows behind his wife’s back: is it better now? Do you want me to get you some ice cubes? So, that you don’t get sores in the mucosa?

But there she, herself, lied alone. With the IV in her arm. Somehow she would have the strength.

The nights were the hardest ones. She couldn’t even call anyone, she thought and checked the time on her cell phone. It was 4:17. The tea cup was empty. What would she do now? Her eyes wandered back to the row of cars – she listened for a moment to the distant clatter of the snowplow on the main street – and got up and walked over to her closet. In a few minutes she had gotten dressed up in a warm winter overall and disappeared into the stairway with her stuff.

As she made the brush swing around and the crystalline snowflakes flied onto her face, she smiled. How wonderful, how refreshing! When the first car turned out to be her neighbor’s red Honda, she went on to the next one; it was a Volvo, the same model she had once fancied for herself but had given up the thought: where would she drive it anyway? She lived in a city that had good public transportation to take her everywhere, the busses, the trams and the metro – and her family, she visited them only three times a year: Christmas, Easter and thanksgivings. She spent those with her brothers’ family. But this Christmas she would be alone. To avoid the risk of infection. Her ability for fight infections was almost non-existent. She had to avoid the crowds.

The last car was an old Mazda. Eaten up by rust. When its green surface was all cleared and the windows free from snow, Emily dug a card from her pocket. She wrote on it:


Emily slid the card under the window wiper, just like she had done with the four other cars.

Soon after when she went to the kitchen to re-heat the tea water, she glanced through the window, smiling: a serene pink glimmer was making its way through the line of white crystallized trees. It will be a beautiful day. A new morning – it always arose from the darkness.

The End.