Then, the house started shaking. Cupboards shook open and plates fell on the floor. The light flickered on and off. Yet Carol knew this was not an ordinary earthquake. In front of her, black smoke appeared intermingled with dancing shadows, and from it, a pale woman stepped out of the shadows, so decrepit and boney she might as well have been a skeleton. Pitch-black eyes gazed upon Amy from above a pointed nose. Carol was taken aback by this ghost’s appearance. ‘Are you… the ghost of Christmas Future?’ she asked.
The ghost merely nodded and extended its hand, comprised of long clawed nails. With some hesitation, Carol took them. Around them smoke and shadows appeared in loud, crackling waves, surrounding them in blackness.
The blackness rolled back and they were sort of standing in the house Carol was supposed to be that evening: her mom’s. But it was not like Carol was physically there; it was like she was watching a dark red movie with twists of smoke erupting from everything on the screen. Perhaps there was something about the uncertainty of the future that made everything so blurred? She could vaguely make out the company at the table: her mom, her sister, Eric, her uncle and his wife… And Carol in the near future, looking as stunning in the cocktail dress as Carol had hoped. She couldn’t make out the conversation, just shreds of it…
… So good to see you, how ARE you?…
….So the intern says: 500 mg of Eplerenone right? So I say: exactly right… If you want to kill him that is!’…
… More wine please…
… Isn’t Mason growing up fast!…
… Haven’t you had enough wine?…
Black waves engulfed the scene, then subsided again. They were in their mother’s bathroom. Eric had just flushed the toilet and was clumsily washing his hands. The door opened. Carol entered. She locked the door behind her. A vague sound in the distance: I don’t know if we should… Then, the sound of kissing, moaning. The sound of a zipper. A groan.
Eric appeared in the living room, hands in front of him, red lipstick on his pants. Then, the dinner table with its guests: shocked, in denial. Back to blackness.
Where were they? Must be Amy’s house… She could Eric and Amy… Amy was shouting… ‘how COULD you? With my sister for god’s sake!’… The sound of breaking plates… ‘Honey I don’t know I was drunk it happened so fast I really had no intention to’… ‘NO I’M SURE YOU JUST TRIPPED AND OOPS YOUR DICK FELL IN HER MOUTH FOR FUCK’S SAKE HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO US’…. More breaking plates…
…Amy sitting on the toilet, head in her hands. She is crying. In her right hand lies a pregnancy test. It is positive…
… Eric leaves the house with suitcases. Before entering the cab he turns back one last time… ‘how could you be such an idiot’ he mutters to himself…
Now where was she…? Oh she recognized this place al right; Saint Jude’s Hospital, in her medical office…. Future Carol sits behind her desk. Patients come and go in a blur, years fly by, Carol never leaves. Carol sits, listens, prescribes medication, all with a cold gaze in her face. Years go by in seconds, wrinkles appear in her face, her beauty fades and is replaced with an emotionless stare… Carol is now in a wheelchair. She is now in a nursing home. And next to her stands present time Carol, with red lipstick still on her lips.
And suddenly there was no more smokey red blurriness. Everything was in full color and sharp image; Carol was physically in the nursery home. It was so… Quiet and peaceful. Sunlight shone through the big glass windows. Birds tsjirped. Carol was standing in front of… Herself. Her old self, in a wheelchair. Old, wrinkled Carol. Young Carol hesitatingly dropped to her knees. She waved her hand in front of Old Carol. No sign of response. Then, Old Carol coughed, looked young Carol in the face and with venom in her eyes cracked: ‘whatdo you think you’re doing? Leave me alone you hag!’
– ‘I… I didn’t mean to…’
‘I don’t care what you mean, get lost, whore!’
Shocked, Carol stepped back, but just as she was about to turn around and run she felt a hand on her shoulders. It was a nurse.
‘Don’t worry about it, Ms. Andrews is quite the personality!’
– ‘Ye… Yes, I guess she is.’
‘Don’t fret yourself, it’s nothing personal. She’s like that to everyone.’
– ‘Is she?’
‘Afraid so…’ The nurse’s voice dropped to a hush: ‘life has a way of turning some people bitter and angry. Ms. Andrews is a prime example.’ She smiled. ‘Don’t worry though, we take good care of her! Are you related?’
– ‘Something like that, yeah…’
‘How nice. She hasn’t had a visitor in a long while! Last time was over a year ago, I think it was some patient whose life she’d saved, but he left in a rush after she started shouting at him. Such a shame.’
– ‘Yeah… A shame…’
The nurse observed Carol closely. ‘Well it seems you have a lot on your mind, I’ll leave you alone for now. If you need anything I’ll be at the counter.’
Back came the shadows, eating up the nursery home. They receded to reveal a cemetery. Carol now stood in front of a gravestone. On that gravestone was etched: here lies Carol Andrews. Nothing else. No beloved daughteror beloved sisteror beloved mother.
Why would there? She was none of those. She had only brought pain to those around her.
And as Carol fell to her knees, everything she had been through finally caught up with her: she cried. She cried like a baby, her entire body shaking, until all her carefully applied make-up was irreversibly ruined and she had no more tears left.
Next to her the ghost of Christmas future silently watched. Carol looked up to her and pleaded: ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I want to make things right. Please tell me I can still make things right.’ The ghost said nothing, but extended her hand. Carol took it. The cemetery disappeared. Carol found herself back in her bedroom. No sign of any ghost. On her make-up table lay the lipstick. She picked it up and took a long look at it. Then, she looked at her run-out face in the mirror. She laughed. She laughed louder and heartier than she had in a long time. There is still time to make things right.But I can’t show up looking like this! Carol rushed into the shower cabin.
Amy curiously inspected the pan with poaching pears. ‘Looks good mom!’ Mother lighted up. ‘They do, don’t they? We’re almost ready for the first dish!’
Amy looked around. ‘Yes, once Carol has arrived. It’s nothing like her to be late.’
– ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure she’s just around the corner.’ The bell rang. ‘Ah’, said mother, ‘if you’re talking about the devil…’
Amy opened the door and there was her sister, dressed in jeans and a green Christmas sweater with built-in lights. ‘Oh my god Amy it’s so good to see you’ Carol blurted out, and Amy was given a long hug she had not expected. ‘Yeah it’s good to see you too sis’ she meekly replied.
When Carol entered the living room she was all smiles and warmness. ‘Hey Eric, hello uncle Will, hey mom, heeey little Mason how are you doing big man!’ Amy was very surprised; her sister had never taken an interest in their son but now she was kneeling next to him, playing with him! Amy joined them. ‘… Is everything okay sis?’ she asked.
Carol giggled. ‘yes everything is great actually. I think I realized that my priorities in life have been slightly off… I want to spend more time with the people I love.’ Amy was stunned. ‘… Has… Has something happened at work?’
– ‘Let’s not talk about work. Work is overrated anyway. I work way too much. I’m going to work less. Let’s talk about fun stuff!’
‘Who are you and what have you done with my sister??’ Amy demanded.
Carol laughed. ‘Come here sis, I want to give you a hug’ and she pulled Amy close. As their upper bodies were interlocked, Carol said: ‘I’m sorry sis.’
– ‘sorry for what?’
‘For everything… For not being there for you, for being a bitch… I’m sorry.’
– ‘…’ Amy’s eyes teared up. ‘I don’t know what to say.’
‘It’s okay.’ Carol closed her eyes. It was only after a minute or so that they separated. ‘By the way’ said Carol in a conspiratory tone, ‘I have a feeling Mason won’t be only child for much longer…’
– ‘What?? What makes you think that?’
‘I don’t know… Call it feminine intuition.’ Carol winked.
Their mother’s voice sounded throughout the room: ‘everyone, to the table, first course is served!’ Happily, everyone acquiesced.
And so it was that the family Andrews, for the first time in a very long while, spent Christmas eve together in laughter, joy and love.