If you have just come across this blog, then you are most welcome! You have joined us in the midst of a Christmas story. If you would like to start at the beginning, then scroll back to December 23. But for now, we are on:
The age-old woman waited until all the relatives and all the hangers-on had departed the bedroom. It was early afternoon and they were going off for their Christmas lunch.
Campion climbed out of the bed and, picking up her blackthorn walking stick, went through to her dressing room - or her “boudoir” as somebody had once used to describe it. Though actually, she never sulked there. What she liked to do was sit in the armchair and gaze out of the window at the rolling open countryside. And as she stared, and as she dreamed undreamable dreams of a man who could not be kissed and could not be touched, she would brush her her silken hair.
She had not been in the dressing room for some time. The reason was that, for many years now, she had forgotten what was in there. Not just clothes, but - much more importantly: memories.
Campion knelt on the floor and flicked up the carpet. It was from India, swathed with animals.
This was the part that she was not quite sure about. She knew that there was something under the carpet. But she did not know precisely what.
Campion examined the floor-boards, her fingers tracing over the dark oak. When she looked more closely, she saw what it was that she’d been hoping to find. There was a small notch in the wood. She pushed it down slightly and the end flicked up. The plank of wood was only a couple of feet long - and hidden beneath it was a small space between the floor-boards. She placed the board on the carpet and delved into the cavity under the floor.
It did not take her long to find the jewellery box. It was handsome, made of red leather, and covered in dust. It had not been touched in years. Was this really where she’d kept her jewels?
But from the shaking of her hands, Campion had already half-guessed what was inside.
Still kneeling on the floor, she clicked the clasp. Opened the top. And there they were. Just as she had hoped.
The letters. Kim’s letters from half a lifetime ago.
She held them up to her cheek and inhaled their scent. Was there… could there be… a scent of this sprite who still stalked her heart?
Campion’s hands were shaking so much that she could barely tug the letters from their envelopes. For the truth was this: she had thought, hoped, believed that all of these letters had been long destroyed. She had read them, every one of them - over and over again. And then, with all the steely resolve that she had once used to possess, she would heave an unfathomable sigh and she would delete them. Every one of them was excised - from her head, at least, if not her heart.
And now… and now here they all were. It was like coming across a cluster of old friends who she had thought were long dead. And as she read through the the letters, they conjured up exactly the same images and emotions that they had created all those years ago. Tears, love, laughter and this overwhelming sense of sadness at what might have been.
She laughed again as she wiped away the tears. Who would have thought?? Who would have thought that, far from being deleted, these letters had merely been put into cold-storage - quietly biding their time until the day when she could act upon them?
One of Kim’s specialities had been what he used to call: the Scenario.
He would go off on these extraordinary flights of fancy, dreaming up the most far-fetched endings for how things might perhaps turn out between them. And - of course - all these scenarios were so utterly ludicrous, outrageous, that none of them had ever come true.
They were like little fairy-tales. But still… she remembered how she’d liked them.
She came across one letter. And although she could not remember it, she could feel this visceral tingle, as if knowing already of the chord that it had once struck within her.
And it wasn’t for the memory, and it wasn’t for her lost love, and she didn’t know why she was crying but suddenly she was in floods of tears for this man, this strange, bizarre creature who she had once so nearly allowed into her life.
But rather than just tell you about it, dear reader, I will show it to you. For this was the scenario that Kim once wrote to his Campion:
“A party. A birthday party in the late summer. And Campion has been both looking forward to it and dreading it in equal measure. It’s the birthday of a very good friend - Estelle is her name. And Campion knows that quite a few people are going to be there. And amongst the guests there is almost certainly going to be this guy. This guy who she first met about six years. Did she really love him? Even now, all these months afterwards, it seems like this dark dream. She can remember kisses; and drinking red wine; and lying on top of him once on a sofa in red ruby room. But… it was complicated. And life was simpler, easier, if they didn’t write, didn’t call, never once saw each other. And so she would swing, too and fro, this way and that - because of course… do we necessarily want life to be simpler and easier? Or do we want to grab, seize, everything that life has to offer?
So these were just some of the different things going through her mind as she dressed for the party. And what should she wear? A dress, a beautiful dress - blow him clean out of the water? Or maybe jeans and a jacket? She dreamily applied her mascara, staring at herself in the mirror - did she even want to go to this party any way, because the guy was going to be there, and she may have kidded herself for the past six months that she was sooo totally over it - but the very fact that her stomach was churning, churning, meant that she was soooo totally not over it.
Easier, simpler, not to go.
But how could she not go? She has to go! She has to see this guy! Christ - this sickening churning in the stomach, and she’d believed that she was done with it all. And now she feels like this and she hasn’t even seen him yet!
So she goes, jeans, silk top, tight jacket. She looks lovely. And the moment she walks through the front door, she can feel the air being sucked from her lungs - because she knows that somewhere, somewhere in this house, is lurking: The Guy. Now he may or may not be The One. But he’s certainly the only guy on the planet who makes her feel this queasy.
At first she plays it cool. She gets a drink, a Pimms, and she goes into the main room. As she kisses the birthday girl and hands over her present, she scans the room. He’s not there.
After 15 minutes, she disengages. She goes down to the kitchen. Could he be there? But he’s not there either. She goes out to the garden. It’s cool outside, but there are a few people chatting. She has a glimpse of a man at the back - it could be him. Her heart is now drilling in her chest. She walks over to see him, she puts a smile on her face - but actually she is absolutely melting inside. Campion walks round a bush - to find a guy talking to a woman. The guy is a little like The Guy, but it is not him - and suddenly she feels this ineffable disappointment, and she realises that, more than anything else in the world, she wants to kiss The Guy.
She goes back into the house. She has cased every room. He is not there. And now the whole thing feels like this damp squib, and although people are talking to her, she has no idea what they are saying. Where is he? Will he even come?
And then… and then… Campion is getting herself another drink, when a hand slips round her waist and she can feel warm breath on her neck and a kiss on her cheek.
It’s the guy.
“Hi,” he says.
She smiles and you would not believe this but she is all but blinking back the tears she is so thrilled to see him.
“Hi,” she says.
She has been over this scene so many times - and now here she is in the moment and she can think of nothing to say.
They gaze at each other, so happy. Immediately there is that connection. She longs to kiss him.
But instead, he puts his finger to his lips, takes her hand. “Follow me”. In a trance she leaves the house and they go out to the far end of the garden. With this mesmerising man holding her hand, she would walk to the ends of the earth. She wonders what he’s going to do. But she trusts him.
They walk behind the bush at the far end. Will he kiss her? She hopes he will. But no - he pulls out a knife from his pocket. A wickedly sharp knife, the like of which she has never seen before.
“Put your arm round my waist,” he says. Then with a flick he seems to slice through the very air itself. She can see a slash of shimmering sunlight. He steps through and she follows him. And… the garden has gone. The house has gone. They’re in a public gardens. It might be Edinburgh. But the whole place is different…
“Come with me,” he says. And gradually, very gradually, she realises that they are walking through the New Town – but it is nothing like the New Town that she knows.
He takes her to a house, an opulent house. “This is our home,” he says. And inside, there is the most lavish bedroom and a fire is roaring in the hearth. He turns to her, holds her. “I love you now more than I have ever loved you.” For the first time in eight months he kisses her. She feels faint.
The love-making is just as deliriously intoxicating as she ever dreamed it would be. But after a day, two days, she asks him - “shouldn’t we be getting back?” He smiles. He kisses her - and he tells her that there is no hurry at all. For every YEAR in this ethereal new world, it is just but one single minute back home…
At the party, Estelle is concerned. She’s trying to get all the guests together for the cake cutting. But where’s Campion? Where’s Kim? They disappeared half-an-hour ago!
The guests are all assembled outside, are about to start singing happy birthday, when, from the bottom of the garden, a couple emerge holding hands. They are dressed rather strangely - and they are not young. Does the woman… does the woman have a passing resemblance to Campion Sweet? Her skin is still lovely, but she has a trace of grey in her hair. And as for the guy… a bit like Kim, but actually more like his father. And then from behind this couple emerge seven other people, four young women and three young men - all obviously brothers and sisters.
Estelle does a double take at this old couple. She stares at their hands. They both wear matching wedding rings, made of thin white gold. The couple stand there in front of the guests, they smile and then they turn and kiss each other – still as much in love as they were when they first kissed 31 years ago.”
To be continued… (perhaps tomorrow)