Here’s a small chapter from “The Distant Shore” that ended up on the cutting room floor. It was actually one of my favorite scenes in the book. Maybe it will inspire you to do a little Christmas decorating!
Standing in the blustering, wet gale as it drove white-capped waves into the bay, Jon watched a flock of geese fly over the town in a tidy formation, calling to each other and chatting busily—late travelers on their way south, flying low under the dense, grey clouds and against the wind. They caught his attention and made him forget the evil weather.
He imagined they were talking to each other, discussing the proper route, or bickering over the best place for their next rest, or who got to fly next to whom, or if the flight was too slow, or too fast, and would they make it across the sea in time before the next storm. He idly he tossed his cigarette away, and crossed the street to the newspaper shop to pick up his New York Times. It was really just a ritual, something he did to please Naomi and the store owner who thought it was an enormous thrill to have him drop by daily. He rarely read it.
He had settled into an inner calm—a quiet, contemplative mood that made him aware of his surroundings and many little things that he would have ignored otherwise. To his surprise he found that he didn’t want to go to New York for Christmas at all, but preferred the still, Scandinavian way of celebrating the holidays.
It seemed almost like a slow, festive dance that Naomi and Solveigh performed on the last November weekend, walking through the hotel and decorating the rooms with things he had never seen before, made mostly from painted wood or felt, garlands woven from evergreens and red and white candles in simple glass holders.
The thing that fascinated him most was the crib they set up under the large Christmas Tree in the lobby. There was a scenery with dried moss as a foundation, hand-carved and lovingly clothed figures, a camel and an elephant loaded with little parcels, no larger than his fingernail, and kings robed in brocade and embroidered silk. He liked Mary’s cape best. It was made from midnight blue velvet and fell around the small female figure in tiny folds, painstakingly arranged by Solveigh. The baby Jesus had the cutest diaper around his rosy body, and his face was graced with a radiant smile and the bluest eyes.
He watched with almost painful tenderness how Naomi decorated their apartment, seemingly unaware of his presence, doing something that she had done for so many years in a slow, ritualistic manner. She had brought forth a large battered carton that was filled with Christmas things and unpacked it on the floor, holding some pieces in her hands for a while before she laid them out, ignoring others completely.
There was, he sensed, a meaning here, but it did not reveal itself to him until, seemingly unconnected, she said, “Joshua’s first Christmas.”
It made him rise from where he had been lounging on the couch and crouch next to her on the carpet. She was unwrapping a wooden horse, or rather the shape of a horse, that had been painted with a motif reminding him of tattoos. It was well used, its contours smooth and rounded from handling and the wood darkened where grubby baby fingers had held it too often. There were even the marks of teeth on its rump.
He took it from her gently and held it, trying to grasp that elusive image, Josuah as a baby, crawling through the room and banging the little horse around. It must have been lacquered red, but now there were only traces left. It had been loved to death by a lively child.
Naomi was peeling the tissue from another piece. It was an angel in the same rudimentary shape, a staff with a golden star in its hand, a light blue robe painted on the white wood, a trace of a mild smile on its face.
“This,” she told him in a low voice, “I got when he was three. He called it Lolo, don’t ask me why. He refused to part with it after the holidays and carried it around for weeks until something better came along. I’m still surprised the little stick never broke.”
Again, he took it from her hand and fingered it, seeing a lively little toddler who kept his mother on her toes. No; toddler was not the right word. At three, he had been ready to enter kindergarten.
Naomi was rising from her place amid the unpacked things and grabbed his hand.
“Come,” she offered, “I’ll show you something.”
There was a room in the attic—right next to his studio—that he had never noticed before. The door was unlocked and stood slightly open now, but it was dark inside and smelled faintly musty.
“We store stuff in here,” Naomi explained as she switched on the light, “Like the decorations for the holidays. But also…”
In a corner there was another door into a small chamber which she opened.
He stood rooted to his spot, staring at the vista that she had provided for him.
A cradle, a pram, shelves filled with baby and children clothes, boxes.
“I kept a lot,” she was saying, “Sentimentality, I guess, and maybe the hope that someday… sometime there might be another.”
It was all there, he realized, like a testimony, a shrine, and it gave him the eerie impression that it had been laid out for a moment just like this, deep in the peace of a solitary spell for them, for him to discover, for them to browse through and bring back the past.
The tiny suit Joshua had worn coming home from the hospital. His lovely white christening gown, the same one Naomi had worn, his first winter jacket, his first toy car, a teething ring, silver, sent by her uncle in Toronto, a very battered teddy bear, a blue bunny with an ear missing, children’s books, well used, more clothes. School reports, and boxes filled with snapshots.
Joshua romping in front of the hotel in the mud; his little fat legs still unstable, learning his first steps, Naomi guiding him, laughing at his antics, her hair falling forward as she bent over him, in shorts and barefoot, out in the meadow by the sea.
Christmas, and Joshua with a toy train, fury in his dark, little face for some reason, and Naomi, holding out a locomotive to him, dressed in a flowing red dress, her braid over her shoulder, imploring.
A brooding boy in his school uniform, a radiant boy at the Steinway in her living room, a thoughtful boy holding a guitar, and laughing at his mother, his hands proudly on a new bicycle.
“I want to see,” Jon said, his voice breaking on the words, “Don’t you have any pictures of you, pregnant? I so want to see you like that, heavy with the baby.”
She looked at him pensively but took another flat box from a shelf and opened it slowly, begging, “Please, Jon. No more heartrending. Look all you like, but please.”
Overcome with shock, he settled down on the dusty floor and gazed into the trove she had handed him.
There were pictures of her, alright, but not only of her pregnancy.
Some of these he had taken himself and completely forgotten about, on the beach, in the garden, one even in their bedroom, Naomi, sitting on the edge of the bed, nude, in the morning light, her head turned towards him with a soft smile, so young, so sweet.
Pictures of them together in Los Angeles, and he had no idea who had taken them, on the stage at the Greek, Naomi shouting at him, her fists on her hips, and he, hunkering on the high stool he had used for some songs, smirking at her around a cigarette, Sean in the background laughing at them.
During a break, sitting in the first row of the auditorium, drinking coffee, his arm slung around her shoulders, at the studio, while he was recording, headphones on his ears and eyes closed for concentration and she sat, watching, listening, smiling gently.
And Naomi, hugely pregnant, the smile gone from her face. She was beautiful, her breasts full and round, her body ripe and heavy and yet fragile, and her eyes never found the camera. So young. So long ago, and now lost forever.
“Baby,” he sighed, but she stopped him.
“No. You can have them, if you like, and moon over them in your studio, but spare me. I know what I look like, and I want the reality of here and now. I’m done crying over the past.”
“I would have been with you,” he replied, “I would have been there for you, if only you would have let me. Look, love, all that sadness, for nothing.”
She walked out leaving him sitting there in the corner, the box on his knees.