Figure of Eight by Marcie Winstanley

Chapter 5

November fades into December and as winter arrives, so does the Christmas season. I will start with advent and the calendar.

It is the same every year, a handmade calendar with soft felt pockets in shades of red and green. They are numbered one to twenty four and every day something new and often unexpected comes out of the pocket. Whether it’s the first or the last day of advent, there is always something waiting by the sitting room fireplace.

This year it is Frances who opens the first pocket on the first of December. Next year it will be me because I am exactly four minutes older than Sophie.

Today the gift is a tiny notebook, bound with a piece of crimson ribbon and a spiralling embroidered pattern that creeps across its silken surface. Its pages catch the light of the fire, a warm glow on the texture and grains of the paper.

I look at the orange flames of the fire and I hear it crackling as the logs burn in the stove. I watch the sparks flicker, bright in the dark of the chimney and try to guess what could be in pocket number two.

Chapter 6

Pocket number two brings the same as before, only deep orange not crimson. When I was watching the sparks of the fire I didn’t know that a gift to match its colours lay hidden in the second pocket. I smooth the palm of my hand over the silk of the cover and trace the threads, spiralling like twisted branches on a tiny scale. Laying it next to my older notebook, I notice the cover is ragged and aged, compared to the beauty of this one.

But there is beauty in each of them for different reasons and I place them side by side on my bedside table where I can keep them safe.

I begin to help my sisters write their Christmas lists and to make paper chains to hang up in the kitchen, scatterings of brightly coloured paper will now be found amongst the pots and pans after the Christmas decorations have been put away and after the New Year has begun. Gold and silver glitter sparkles amongst the wool of the sitting room rug and seems to have been spread as far as the eye can reach, perhaps beyond.

We order the turkey too, and as I hear my dad make the phone call it gives me an idea.

Chapter 7

Every year we seem to add an animal or two to our steadily growing number of pets and the latest additions are mine and Sophie’s Christmas presents; two live turkeys called Sage and Onion.

I can imagine them, even before they arrive, scratching in the garden and pecking at the same corn we feed the hens. I imagine the sound they make, and the mottled grey of their feathers.

The first few flakes of snow begin to fall as Sophie opens pocket number three. She finds a deep blue notebook that matches my own.

Again, I sit at the window seat but now, instead of the boredom the early November rain has filled me with before, I am filled with excitement and the sensation that the Christmas season has really begun.

The next few days of advent show my younger sisters opening pockets of the advent calendar. The calendar continues to reveal something new as the four of them took turns yesterday, open the pocket today and will continue to do so for the rest of advent.

Night falls and the evening blue gathers outside the window; I ruffle Greta’s hair playfully as we settle ourselves around the fire.

Chapter 8

Holly grows, just beyond the garden wall, green amongst the winter brown that pokes its way above the fine layer of snow that has gathered on the ground. The green is dark against the pale sky and the snow even paler, whiter than the clouds in the winter’s sky. Red berries splash the leaves with colour and I watch our winter visitors, fieldfares pecking at the holly’s fruit. I watch the flock’s blurred wings beat as they fly, away to the snow-clouds and towards the moors and the woods on the other side of the train line. This place I see around me is my home and my world and it inspires me every day; it gives me an idea as I begin to make cards for friends at school, cutting green and red circles and tying lengths of ribbon until there is a perfect paper wreath for each one.

Staying up late in my moonlit attic bedroom, I watch the stars in the winter’s sky. Paper is heaped on the floor, the actual presents become buried somewhere underneath.

In the end I am so tired I bring my duvet down onto the floor and sleep among the off cuts of wrapping.

Chapter 9

Christmas Eve morning arrives as I wake up and I scoop my gifts up into my arms, then I lay them in around the base of the decorated tree, with the slowly falling pine needles, ready for tomorrow.

The smell of pine needles drifts towards me now; I have always loved the way the tree drops only a few of its many needles and the way the pot casts a shadow on the carpet.

I have always loved the deep brown of the branches and when dad first brings it in the way you can see the rings of the trunk, imagine it growing where it once stood in a forest.

This year is the first I’ve been able to reach the top without standing in a chair, it may be because I have grown or because this is a smaller tree, or perhaps a mixture of both.

I look up, and see the star on the top branch. The lights are on and they twinkle in the evening light as the winter sunrays glint on the snow- topped cliff side where the snowflakes are falling still, from the purple haze of the sky.

I see the caves from my window, in a different way from the way I ordinarily do, with snow on the beach and the lights of Christmas Eve nearby, somehow I can’t resist their calling. I slip out onto the front porch and we look at the stars then stand for a while in the snow, my wellies making footprints on the white of the ground.

Once inside again it is almost time to rest before Christmas begins but first we hang up our stockings. Even Juliet has a stocking that we will give her tomorrow. Every Christmas, we hang the eight stockings in a row by the fireplace.

The stockings are all different and the tradition carries on with Juliet’s at one end and Mia’s at the other with everyone else’s in between.

I look up at my own stocking, soon to be filled, and I sit with my sisters facing the fire, the younger ones watching their letters drift to the North Pole, carried on a wisp of warm air. I wonder where they will really land, somewhere between here and there.

Chapter 10

Scattering the carpet are the wrappings of nine people’s presents. I look at the line of my own presents, from bottles of perfume to join the neat row on the bathroom windowsill, to books with unopened pages to be added to the never-ending pile on my bedroom floor.

What I like most about Christmas presents are the little things with the most meaning. Foxy’s presents are always like this; one year she sent me a tiny box and a stone encased in its silver frame.

This year her present is a bunch of dried flowers tied up with a sun-yellow ribbon and for Sophie the same but the ribbon is blue. I imagine Foxy picking them in the garden I remember well, and imagine these flowers growing through the bars of the white gates or on the path leading passers-by to the sea. I imagine the people who come and go with the summer now faded and the wind that blows across the ocean. I imagine those who stay, all year round in Foxy’s village and the snow that will be falling on the hills by now.

I think of Foxy now, opening her own presents surrounded by her brothers and sisters. I hope she likes the brooch, an amber stone set in a silver surround and, as always a charm for her bracelet. I wonder if she has found the scrapbook yet and which photos she will like best.

Unpacking the rest of the box that Foxy has sent me, I find a dream catcher and a charm for my own bracelet. A starfish, silver and shimmering, it won’t be long before it gets its first swim in the sea.