Friday, 27 December 2019

Silver's First Christmas - Part 5 (Final Installment)

Silver was a slave. When he was less than 12 years old, he was kidnapped, tortured and 'conditioned' to be the perfect plaything. What he doesn't know about bringing pleasure isn't worth knowing, but he knows nothing about being free. Since being saved and falling in love, Silver has a lot to learn and it's hard. All he knows is how to obey. Where once he was terrified of the world and everything in it, now he's beginning to see a life beyond his front door, but it's small steps.

Writing Silver was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Seeing the world through eyes that can't remember ever having seen it before was so refreshing, so thought provoking. I've jotted down some of the thoughts it provoked in a series of stories about Silver's First Christmas, and I'm going to share them with you over the next two weeks. I hope you enjoy.

If you do, check out Silver's journey to get to this point in the Enigma series.

I don’t understand Christmas. River has tried to explain many times but gets frustrated. I think this is because he doesn’t understand it himself.
The Nativity is very confusing. There are pictures and little models everywhere of a baby, with animals and angels and men dressed in bright clothes, with gifts in their hands. River has tried to explain what it means and it’s a pretty story but he seems to think it’s real. Lots of people do.
I find religion confusing. There are too many questions with no answers. When I get to a hard one, people say things like ‘It’s in the Bible’, or ‘You just have to have faith’. I’ve read the Bible, but it’s a horrible book. They kill babies and destroy whole civilisations because God tells them to. God seems to be cruel and harsh and the whole situation reminds me a lot of when I was a slave. You obey your Master in all things, no matter what you might think of them, and if you don’t you’re horribly punished. To me, faith is fear - you have to do it even if you don’t want to because if you don’t something bad will happen.
As far as I have discovered, most religions are the same. You must accept things are true when they can’t be true. It’s the ‘must’ that scares me. I have a lot of trouble with ‘must’. There’s still such a strong compulsion to obey unquestioningly that I need to remind myself I have a choice. And that’s another thing that scares me; having to make that choice.
River and I talked about this one day. It was a time when I was reading about religion a lot. I got upset because I was torn in different directions.  I knew in my heart it was wrong but the compulsion was so strong I couldn’t let it go. I read all the ‘Holy Books’ and went to different churches, trying to find a way I could comply with all the commands but not compromise my heart. It was a horrible time and I’m still not easy with the whole thing, which is why Christmas scares me so much.
I’m trying very hard to listen to my inner voice, as River taught me, but it’s not easy, especially when the world is full of commands I have to struggle with every day. What do you want is a hard one and I get asked that a lot. Even River asks me, and I try my best to listen to my inner voice, but most the time I just say what I think he wants because it hurts me to make decisions like that.
Then there is the whole thing about Father Christmas. I see him everywhere; a big fat man with a beard, dressed in red. He’s supposed to come down the chimney on Christmas Eve and leave presents underneath a tree that grows inside. I can’t see how a man that big can come down a chimney, or how he could give presents to everyone in one night. At first, River told me it was ‘magic’ and that worried me a lot because I was being told to ‘believe’ again and I was torn between the compulsion and the inability to comply.
When I told River I was having a hard time, he admitted none of it was true. It was just a story, but not like the Nativity. People truly believe the Nativity is true, but no one except children believe in Santa. Parents tell their children the story about Father Christmas is true, even though they know it isn’t. I tried to tell River it’s wrong to lie to children but he said it was an okay lie and warned me that if I told anyone’s children Father Christmas doesn’t exist I’d get into trouble. Thank goodness Ben is old enough to not believe the stories anymore.
Not everything about Christmas is hard, though. The lights are pretty. Lots of people have them in their windows and on the outside of their houses. Some of the houses in the streets with front gardens have lit up reindeer, or moving Father Christmases, and there’s lots of snow everywhere.
I love snow. It makes me feel shivery inside, but not in a cold way. I was so excited the first time I saw snow. I danced in the garden and felt so light, as if the snow swirled me up and made everything new. Of course, it doesn’t because when the snow melts everything underneath is still the same, only muddier, but for a while the world sparkles and is still and silent. I like that. I like it a lot.
In the art shop where I work. they have all kinds of ‘seasonal displays’ which can mean two things. First, are the things that are decorated to be Christmassy—sparkly and glittery, or with Father Christmas and elves. Apparently red and green are Christmas colours as well as sparkle. I’m not sure why. Second, are the things Rusty, the manager, hopes people will buy for Christmas presents. For example, we stock craft kits and Rusty ordered in lots of Christmas related things, like little houses and snowflakes. I made River get some and we did them with Ben. It was a lot of fun.
We each have our own decoration hanging on the Christmas Tree. Ben’s is all black with silver squiggles. River’s is red and green with real holly stuck on it and mine is frosty silver with snowflakes. Did you know that no two snowflakes are the same? So many of them fall and they all look the same, just soft white feathers falling from the sky, but they’re not the same, not at all.
I made another tree decoration as a surprise. I worked on it at the shop. It has miniatures of Ben and River on it; Ben on one side and River on the other. It was a surprise. They were very excited.
We also made a snow scene for the window. I don’t know why people do that, and neither does River, not really, but they’re so pretty we did it anyway. I brought some kits home from the shop to do the tiny houses, and some fake snow that came in a glass tube and got bigger and bigger when we put water on it. Ben painted glitter on the roofs and some of the snow to make it look like real snow when it catches the light. River and I made tiny trees and roads and a river and… well, let’s be honest, I did it. River was supposed to be helping but he just sat and looked at me most of the time. I like it when River looks at me with that dreamy expression on his face. It makes me feel warm inside.
All in all, Christmas is quite a stressful time. River has been running around like a crazy man and getting cross all the time. I hope it will get better when Christmas is over.
My favourite parts were getting the tree—it makes the house smell so lovely—and, of course, the presents. I don’t have much money but I had so much fun shopping. Ariel came with me and I laughed the whole time. Ariel’s like that. He makes me laugh no matter what and I can’t be scared when he’s around. It’s not that I’m scared of being out in the world anymore. Well… Actually, I am still scared but I can control it now. I’ve told River I’m not and that’s the closest I get to lying to him. If I told him the truth he’d worry, and he’d get protective. My independence is too important to jeopardise by confessing how hard it is to maintain.
Today, is Christmas Eve. The whole house is glittering with lights and decorations, the presents are wrapped and under the tree and there’s a saucepan of mulled wine keeping warm on the stove for when Ben goes to bed. He’s pushing things with River. It’s already an hour past his bedtime and River’s getting impatient for our time. They’re squabbling. I’ll go over in a minute and sort it out. Ben always listens to me. I don’t know why, but he never argues with me like he does with River. I guess it’s because they’re brothers and I’m not.
It’s snowing. The white flakes are soft and silent. I like to follow them down from the sky to the ground. They’re not like rain. Rain is fast and makes a lot of noise, at least when it’s this heavy. Snow doesn’t make any sound at all. In fact, it seems to suck all the sound out of the rest of the world. It makes everything soft, white and silent. Oh boy do I love snow.
“Watcha looking at?”
I can’t believe I got so caught up with the snow I didn’t even notice Ben going to bed. “Snow.”
“I thought so. That’s what I told Ben.”
“He wanted to say goodnight, but you looked so beautiful with that misty expressions on your face, we decided we’d let you stay there for a while.”
“You should have called me, River. You know Ben likes to say goodnight to me. I wouldn’t have minded.”
“You were far away, darling.”
“Not that far.”
“Far enough to not notice that I’ve been sitting here for almost five minutes since Ben went to bed, watching you.”
“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are when you’re dreaming?”
“I don’t, but you keep telling me, and I trust you so I guess I have to believe you.”
I turn in River’s arms and look down at him. He hates that he’s shorter than I am. I like it. It means he can tuck himself into my chest and I can put my arms around him and feel protective. River protects me so much, sometimes it’s nice to pretend I’m protecting him.
River’s eyes are shining and he raises his head to kiss me. River’s kisses are wonderful. They’re not slick and accomplished like many I’ve had, but they’re full of love and very, very sweet.
“I’ve got something for you,” River says in a husky voice. “A very special Christmas Present.”
“You have? Where is it? Can I have it now?”
“Yes, you can have it now. I want to give it to you when it’s quiet, just the two of us. Tomorrow is all about Ben, but tonight is just about us.”
“I have something special for you, too. I was going to give it to you with all the others tomorrow but I’ll give it to you tonight. It won’t be fair if I have one and you don’t.”
“Okay, I’ll get mine and you get yours. Meet me in front of the fire with glasses of mulled wine in five minutes.”
A thrill of excitement shoots through me. I love surprises and this one sounds so lovely.
My present to River is under the tree and it only takes seconds to grab it. I put it carefully on the floor at the side of the sofa and hurry to the kitchen to pour some mulled wine. It smells delicious. On a whim, I put it into some nice crystal glasses. I hope it’s not too hot. I didn’t realise quite how hot it was. How hot does something have to be to break crystal glasses?
I carry them very, very carefully to the living room and put them on the low table, then curl up on the sheepskin in front of the fire with my back against the sofa.
I look up and smile when River appears. I’m so excited. I wonder what his gift is. I hope he likes mine.
River sits next to me and cuddles up. For a moment, the presents are forgotten, and I’m lost in my beautiful River. He keeps telling me how beautiful I am but he’s the one who’s truly lovely. In the flickering firelight his hair shines with an almost metallic sheen, a kind of dark red, with flashes of gold. I have to touch it. It’s getting long and curling at the ends. I think it’s growing because he can’t be bothered to have it cut but I hope he keeps it this way. I wind one of the curls around my finger and tilt it so the hair catches the light from the fire. It looks like I’m holding a flame in my hand.
“Earth to Silver.”
“What?” I glance up at him, feeling warm and cosy and kind of mushy inside.
“You were far away again.”
“I was just thinking how beautiful your hair is. It looks like fire.”
“Nah.” He takes his hair back and examines the end of it. It’s just long enough to bring round into his line of vision.
“Hold it up to the fire, like this.” I tilt his hand until the hair catches fire and he laughs.
“I guess you’re right.” Catching me around the waist with both arms he draws me close and kisses me in that way he has, the one that makes me feel special and breathless.  “Only you, my love. Only you could make it a good thing that my hair catches fire.” He kisses me again, gently. “I shouldn’t be surprised. You’ve already lit a fire in my heart.”
“Oh, that’s a beautiful thing to say.”
“I’ve had a great teacher for making beautiful things.”
That makes me blush. I know he means me.
“Speaking of beautiful things,” River says. “I have one for you. At least I hope you’ll think it is.”
Handing me a large, flat package, River gazes at me hopefully. I’m going to tell him this present is the most beautiful thing in the world no matter whether it is or isn’t.
The wrapping paper is so lovely, silver with snowflakes all over it, I can hardly bear to remove it. The snowflakes are raised up and if I close my eyes when I run my fingers over them I can imagine they’re real; except they aren’t cold, of course.
“You’re getting lost again.”
“But it’s amazing. If you close your eyes the snowflakes feel real – except for the cold.”
“The paper isn’t the present. You have to take it off to see the present.”
“I know.”
Very carefully, I slip off the silver ribbon and loosen the tape.
“For goodness sake, Silver, just rip it off.”
“I can’t rip it, it’s too pretty to tear.” Under the paper is a white box. I fold up the paper and lay it to one side then stare at the box. It’s perfect. Smooth and white with crisp edges and a raised part in the middle that looks like a curled up dragon. I run my fingers over it and––”
“Silver, if you don’t get on with it I’m going to open the present myself.”
“Oh. Sorry.”
Inside the box is some tissue paper and when I push it aside I can’t believe my eyes. It’s amazing. The smell of leather tickles my nose and the touch of it under my fingers is silky soft. In the middle of the book is a dragon, curled around two silver letters, an S and an R.
“It stands for Silver and River,” he says unnecessarily. I raise my head, feeling stunned and fuzzy. I forget to say thank you. It’s just too much. No one has ever given me anything so beautiful before. I have very few possessions and this is worth more than all of them together. “Take it out.”
“Can I?”
“Of course you can. It’s yours. You can do whatever you like with it.”
Running my fingers over the dragon again, I carefully lift the book out of the box. It’s quite heavy.
“Open it.”
“Oh, I can’t do that. It’s too beautiful to open.”
“Silly. What good is a book you never open?”
I think about it and realise he’s right. The book is filled with thick, creamy paper. I can tell it’s the highest quality. I could use this for all kinds of things – sketching, water colour, acrylic maybe. Inktense would look lovely in here. No, the book’s just too nice to spoil.
“I thought you could use it for special paintings, maybe make a collection just for us – you know, grown up ones just for us.”
I don’t understand what he’s saying – until I catch the expression on his face. “Oh.” My imagination starts racing. I’ve done a few sketches of River naked. He has such a beautiful body and it gives me a lot of pleasure to render it on paper, although I’m not good enough to really do him justice. The thought of making a whole book full of pictures of River’s naked body in different positions and mediums makes me shiver and my body tingle.
I can’t help giving him a dirty look, it’s the way I’m wired. He certainly doesn’t complain. “You’re going to have to learn to lie still in all kinds of weird positions.”
“I can manage that.”
“Hmm… We need to practice. Maybe we could try right now.”
“Can I open my present first? I have a feeling if we start practicing, I’ll forget all about it.”
“Oh, yes, I forgot. Go on then.”
I’m excited all over again, nervous too. What if he doesn’t like it?
River doesn’t unwrap his package carefully. He rips off the ribbon and the paper, throwing it into an untidy pile at the side of the sofa. I didn’t put the present in a box so as soon as he takes off the paper he has it in his hand.
River stares at it for so long I get nervous. What if he doesn’t like it and he’s trying to think of a way to tell me that won’t hurt my feelings?
It’s very simple. I made it at the shop. I’ve been experimenting with porcelain sugar sculptures. It’s a particular kind of sculpting where the porcelain is hand rolled and pulled until it’s very thin, like spun sugar. This one is a picture frame formed by two trees. The trunks are the sides. The spun branches spread out, meeting in the middle to form the upper edge, and the roots form the bottom.
On one side, a squirrel climbs the tree, while on the other an owl sits in the branches. There are birds, perched and flying,  and weaving through the roots. All the extra details have been hand painted with a tiny brush. Inside the frame is a photograph of me, River and Ben. It was taken in Sam’s garden, with the oak tree behind us. None of us noticed at the time that there was a squirrel in the branches. It looks as if it’s about to jump on Ben’s head. It was the photograph that gave me the idea for the frame.
“It’s amazing,” he says at last, sounding breathless. “How did you do it? Where did you fire it?”
“Rusty has a friend. He let me experiment. He wouldn’t normally, but Rusty told him I was trustworthy. I tried a few things that weren’t right, but none of them exploded.” I’m really proud of that. Many novices use the wrong clay and if there are too many impurities they can explode. In the worst cases it can damage the kiln. Most professionals wouldn’t dream of letting a novice use their kiln. I don’t know what Rusty said to him to make him trust me but he was very nice, even about the ones that didn’t work out. He has a shop and wants me to make more for him. I don’t know if I will. It was fun to do, something new and special for River, but I’m not sure I want to do it again.
River hands me the frame and for a moment I think he’s giving it back. A pang of pain shoots through me before he gets to his feet and holds out his hands for it. Taking it as if it’s the most precious thing in the world, River places the frame on the mantle, moving candles and photographs to make room.
“That’s better. I was scared I’d break it but it looks perfect there.”
“Thank you,” I whisper, getting to my feet. “Do you know what else looks perfect?”
“No, what?” From the smile on his face, I know he knows what I’m about to say.
“You,” I breathe and this time when we kiss it such a different kind of kiss.

Hours later, we’re lying in bed, tired, sated and content. I’m wound around River in the way I like best and he’s stroking my hair. I love it when he strokes my hair. It’s one of my favourite things.
“So,” he says, sounding sleepy, “what do you think of Christmas so far?”
“I think it’s very stressful,” I say, thinking about it, “There’s so much to do and everyone seems to be doing it at the same time. There are too many people and too much glitter. Shopping makes my head hurt, and if Ariel hadn’t been there, I don’t think I could have done it. I’m glad we’re going to Sam’s for dinner tomorrow because it seems to me that’s the most stressful thing of all. There are so many television programs about it, and different ways of doing it, and… well all kinds of things. Hannah’s a really good cook and I’m looking forward to it.”
“It was nice of them to invite your parents, too.”
“Yes. I can’t wait to see them again. It’s been ages.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t get to go up in the summer.”
“You can’t help it if your car was broken. Besides…I wasn’t… I couldn’t have…” I sigh. Even now, there are times when something scares me, and I can’t go out again for ages. That place inside my head where I go to be safe is still there. Fortunately, I know my way out again, and River knows how to help me if I get lost, but it takes time.
“Don’t worry. You can’t help being ill and you’re getting better every day.”
“I know.”
Is it an illness? Really? Fear? That’s what it is, I think, fear. Fear of everything. Fear of being free. Is that an illness? I don’t know.
“I like the sparkle,” I need to change the subject. Thinking about how different I am, how River sees my struggle as an illness, is making me sad. “All the glitter and lights. Some places are beautiful. Rusty let me help decorate the shop. I’m glad about that because if it had been up to him there would have been nothing but glitter and holly.”
“That might have been nice.”
“Not as nice as the forest I made. We used some of our kits so people can see how nice they look when they’re made up.”
“No one who buys one of your kits will be able to make it look as nice as you do.”
“But it doesn’t matter. As long as they make it look as nice as they can it’s worth it. It brings beauty into the world, so it’s beautiful.”
“What’s your favourite part?”
I have to think about that. I have so many favourite parts. Going shopping with Ariel. Choosing presents. Making River’s surprise. All the pretty things. But none of that is my favourite.
“My favourite part is that everyone’s nice to each other. People smile at me, even when they don’t know me, and say Merry Christmas. It makes me feel happy inside whenever someone does that. Usually, people don’t talk to me at all, so that’s special.”
“Yes, yes it is special. Just like you.”
“I’m not special. I’m just…”
“Unique, that’s what you are. My very own, unique, enigma.”
I feel sleepy but find enough energy to kiss River’s shoulder.
“Merry Christmas,” I whisper and hear him echo it as I slide into sleep.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Silver's First Christmas - Part 4

Silver was a slave. When he was less than 12 years old, he was kidnapped, tortured and 'conditioned' to be the perfect plaything. What he doesn't know about bringing pleasure isn't worth knowing, but he knows nothing about being free. Since being saved and falling in love, Silver has a lot to learn and it's hard. All he knows is how to obey. Where once he was terrified of the world and everything in it, now he's beginning to see a life beyond his front door, but it's small steps.

Writing Silver was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Seeing the world through eyes that can't remember ever having seen it before was so refreshing, so thought provoking. I've jotted down some of the thoughts it provoked in a series of stories about Silver's First Christmas, and I'm going to share them with you over the next two weeks. I hope you enjoy.

If you do, check out Silver's journey to get to this point in the Enigma series.

The tree is very pretty, much prettier than the one in the shop. Ben, River and I decorated it together. We laughed a lot and drank wine, then laughed even more. Ben didn’t have any because he’s not old enough and he complained a lot until River put a tiny amount in a glass of lemonade.
 River almost knocked the tree over when he tried to put the star on top. I told him to let me do it because I’m the tallest, but he said it was traditional that the head of the family did it. Is he head of our family? I suppose so, but I never looked at it that way before. River has always told me that, now I’m free, no one has power over me, but isn’t that what being the head of something means? Maybe I should ask him about it. Maybe I won’t. River can be naïve about this kind of thing. He often doesn’t understand what’s really going on in situations we find ourselves in and gets upset when I point it out. He says I only think this way because of what happened to me, and he’s probably right, but is that a bad thing?
 We have other decorations, apart from the tree. Red and white stockings hang on the fireplace, big garlands of tree branches decorate the shelves, and there are tablecloths, coasters and all kind of bits and pieces in red, green and gold, mostly covered with tiny lights.
Not everything is decorated, though. River has left the windowsill for me. I think I might have brought too many of the little houses and trees that the art shop, has set up in their window. River says I don’t think things through, and I didn’t this time because their window is so much bigger than ours. I got excited and couldn’t choose.
Ben is supposed to be helping, but he isn’t really. In fact he is getting in the way. He’s already broken two of the houses. River gets cross with him, but I don’t mind. I like to see him so excited. This is his first Christmas since his parents died, and River was worried he would be sad. River is hiding how sad he is, but I catch him sometimes, dreaming with his eyes open. I know he’s thinking of them. I don’t know my parents very well, but I would be sad if they died.
When the houses are finally built, Ben helps me arrange them, with the tiny trees and sparkly cotton stuff that looks like snow. Ben has the idea of putting some of the tiny lights in the trees and around the houses. It’s very pretty.
River puts his arms around my waist and rests his head on my shoulder. “You look happy.”
“I am.” I really mean that. “I’m happier than I can ever remember.” That’s not entirely true, but I can’t tell River I was happy when I was a slave, too. I know it was a bad thing to happen to me, and all the people who did it to me are bad, too, but… Life was simpler then. For the last four years, my Master treated me well. I was quite famous. I rode in limousines, wore beautiful clothes, and had the best cosmetics. Alright, I wasn’t free. I was still a slave, but I felt pride in what I did, and when my Master was pleased with me, I was happy.
River would never understand. He thinks everything that happened to me was bad, and I can’t blame him, considering how it ended. My Master was good to me – until he discovered I had fallen in love with another slave and ordered us both beaten to death. With David, they succeeded. With me, they almost did, but of course, ultimately they failed.
I am not going to think of that now. Although I have been free for well over a year, it’s my very first proper Christmas. I wasn’t really aware of Christmas when I was a slave, and last year I was in a coma, or the dark place inside my head where I lived for a long time afterwards. Maybe I would still be there if River hadn’t found me and rescued me.
I’ve heard a lot about Christmas miracles, although I’m not sure why they’re different to any other miracle. It took a lot of miracles to get me where I am now, and I haven’t even had a Christmas yet.
“Where did that frown come from?”
“It’s not a frown. It’s my thinking face.”
“Oh really? So what are you thinking about?”
“Just that this is my first Christmas. I know it isn’t; not really, but it’s the first I remember.” I turn in River’s arms and gaze into his beautiful face. He looks sad now, and I know why. He’s thinking about the same things I was, but in a much worse way. “There is no one I would rather spend my first Christmas with. You make my whole life light up, like the little lights on the tree. Everything is sparkly, and pretty, and bright. Just like the way you make me feel.”
“Sparkly and pretty and bright?”
“Yes.” I lean in to kiss him, but he pulls away and draws me across the room.
“Kiss me over here.”
“Why? Why does it matter where I kiss you?”
River looks up, and there’s a little bundle of green twigs hanging over our heads, with pretty bow–shaped leaves, and little round berries. I’ve noticed it before, and I thought it was a different kind of holly. Holly is much prettier, because the leaves are shiny, and the berries a lovely, bright red.
“This is mistletoe,” River says. “It’s traditional for everyone to kiss under the mistletoe. It’s just for kissing.”
“Absolutely everyone.”
“Even Ben?”
“No, not Ben. Not for a few years, I hope. Just for grown–ups.”
“Oh. Well, it sounds like it’s quite important. The kissing thing.”
“It’s a tradition. Do you remember what I told you about traditions?”
“Yes, something that’s passed on, from one generation to another, over and over, right?”
“That’s right. And traditions have to be honoured.”
I’m not so sure about that, and I don’t think River exactly means what he says. I don’t always know when he’s teasing me. “I suppose, although I really don’t need tradition to kiss you. Maybe we can start a new tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, and under the tree, and in the kitchen and…well all over the house, and in as many places outside as I can persuade you to try.”
“That sounds like a good tradition to me.” River’s eyes are very bright. He has the prettiest eyes, and they shine brighter than the Christmas lights. I glance up at the mistletoe and wonder how many times, over the years, people have used it as an excuse to kiss someone they really want to kiss. We don’t need mistletoe, but it’s nice to think about all those other kisses, as our lips meet and the mistletoe, the lights and everything else fades into one absolute certainty – I love River, and he loves me. That’s enough of a Christmas miracle for me.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Silver's First Christmas - Part 3

Silver was a slave. When he was less than 12 years old, he was kidnapped, tortured and 'conditioned' to be the perfect plaything. What he doesn't know about bringing pleasure isn't worth knowing, but he knows nothing about being free. Since being saved and falling in love, Silver has a lot to learn and it's hard. All he knows is how to obey. Where once he was terrified of the world and everything in it, now he's beginning to see a life beyond his front door, but it's small steps.

Writing Silver was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Seeing the world through eyes that can't remember ever having seen it before was so refreshing, so thought provoking. I've jotted down some of the thoughts it provoked in a series of stories about Silver's First Christmas, and I'm going to share them with you over the next two weeks. I hope you enjoy.

If you do, check out Silver's journey to get to this point in the Enigma series.

All the way home, I struggled to remain present, to stop my mind slipping back into the past, and into the safe place where I used to hide. It exhausted me, and I would have liked to rest, but Ben was so excited about decorating the tree, what could I do?

My hand shakes as I lift the lights from their box. River takes them from me and steers me to the sofa. “Sit there for a while. Ben and I can do the tree.”
“What’s wrong?” Ben stops bouncing around the tree and fussing with the soil in the big bucket the tree stands in.
“Nothing. Silver’s just a bit…”
“Was it me?” Ben sounds so anxious. It makes me feel bad. “Was I too excited?”
“I like it when you’re excited.”
I don’t like it when my voice shakes, though. I wish it didn’t because it quenches the light in Ben’s eyes.
Ben sits down and cuddles in to my side. River tries to stop him, but I don’t mind. The solid, living presence grounds me, makes me feel better.
“Were you scared? Did it make you remember things?”
Sometimes, Ben is too perceptive. “Yes, something like that.”
“It’s okay. We’re here. You’re safe now. It’s okay to be scared out there. It’s a scary world when you’re not used to it. When I was little, I used to cry when they cut down the tree, but my father said it’s what the tree was born for, and even though cutting it down makes it die in the end, we allow it to fulfil its life’s purpose when we decorate it.” Ben sits up and grins at me. “Of course, that’s a load of bull, but it helped me when I was little. Does it help you?”
Strange, but actually it does. Thinking about little Ben crying over the tree, and his father telling him stories to make it better… I’m sure my own father used to do that. I don’t remember, but he’s the kind of man who would have. Thinking about my parents always makes me feel better. I haven’t known them for very long, at least that I can remember, but I like them a lot. Maybe I even love them, but not like River.
“Yes, thank you. Can I help with the tree?”
“Of course.”
Ben jumps up and pulls me to my feet. I’m the tallest so I’m nominated to put the lights at the top of the tree. Left up to Ben we would just wind them round and round without thinking about how they look. I, on the other hand, care a lot about how they look and keep twitching them until they’re just right.
Then, River hands out little shiny balls. They are light as air in my hand and must be very thin. I should be careful not to drop one. Oops, there goes one of Ben’s. Yes, just as I thought, it shatters. Ben doesn’t seem upset. Why? These are beautiful things and should be cherished.
“Don’t you care that it broke?”
“What? Oh. No, we have loads. And if there’s not enough, we can get more.”
I lift the globe to my eyes. It is silver. Part of it is frosted and rough to my fingers. The other half is shiny and bright. It’s beautiful. Truly beautiful. “But it’s beautiful. Everything beautiful is precious. There’s not enough beauty in the world to be so careless with it.” I pick up another ball. This one is light purple, with a swirly pattern. “Can’t you see? Look how it catches the light.”
River and Ben are staring at me with wide eyes. Then River smiles. “Yes, I can see,” he says.
I don’t think he’s talking about the globe.
“I never thought about it like that,” Ben says, holding a ball in front of his eyes. “I’ll be more careful, I promise.”
I help Ben clear up the pieces of the broken bauble, then we go back to decorating the tree. When it’s finished, it really is beautiful, with many coloured balls. When the lights are switched on, it will be amazing; so much prettier than the one in the shop.
“Just one more thing,” River says.
“I don’t think we can fit on any more balls.”
“It’s not a ball.” Reaching into the box, River brings out something that sparkles. He hands it to me. “As you’re the only one who can reach without standing on something, you can have the honour of placing the angel this time.”
“Angel?” I take the sparkly thing carefully, and hold it up. I have never seen anything so beautiful. It’s a doll. She’s wearing a dress made of stiff gold net, and sparkling crystals on wires bend to make her dress look as though it’s floating around her. From her back, two wings rise that can also bend so it looks as if they’re fluttering and she’s hovering above the tree, rather than sitting on it.
“She’s beautiful,” I breathe. “So beautiful.”
I’m so lost in the angel I forget about everything else until Ben tugs on my arm. “Put her on the tree,” he prompts and I’m sure my smile is dazed. With a glance at River, who is gazing at me with an expression of wonder on his face, I turn and place the angel on the very tip of the tree which bends and sways until her weight settles. She’s perfect.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Silver's First Christmas - Part 2

Silver was a slave. When he was less than 12 years old, he was kidnapped, tortured and 'conditioned' to be the perfect plaything. What he doesn't know about bringing pleasure isn't worth knowing, but he knows nothing about being free. Since being saved and falling in love, Silver has a lot to learn and it's hard. All he knows is how to obey. Where once he was terrified of the world and everything in it, now he's beginning to see a life beyond his front door, but it's small steps.

Writing Silver was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Seeing the world through eyes that can't remember ever having seen it before was so refreshing, so thought provoking. I've jotted down some of the thoughts it provoked in a series of stories about Silver's First Christmas, and I'm going to share them with you over the next two weeks. I hope you enjoy.

If you do, check out Silver's journey to get to this point in the Enigma series.

Ben used to hate us picking him up from school. I think we embarrassed him. I don’t really know why. River tried to explain, but it’s hard to understand why anyone would hate us, or even hurt us, just because of who we love. I’ve never really thought about it; it’s easier not to.
Today, Ben is excited to see me, and that makes me happier than anything but River.
“Where’s River? Are we going to get the tree now?”
“He’s borrowed a thing from Sam, and he’s going to drive us.”
“A thing?”
“Yes. It’s around the corner. I wouldn’t let him bring it too close because I know you get embarrassed about us picking you up.”
Ben bites his lips and looks at the ground as we walk. I’ve come to recognise this as Ben being upset about something, and I wonder what I’ve said or done. I can’t think of anything.
“I’m sorry.”
Ben looks up. “Sorry for what?”
“For whatever I said that upset you.”
“You didn’t upset me. Why would you think––Oh. No, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I ever said I was embarrassed by you. I didn’t mean it. Not really. I could never be embarrassed by you. I love you too much.”
That floors me. Ben’s not one to express emotion. River says he’s a typical teenager. That’s not my experience. When I was a teenager, I was a slave, and I didn’t have the option of expressing emotion. Still, it’s the first time Ben’s told me he loves me, and it makes my eyes sting. I don’t know why people cry when they’re happy. It never used to happen to me. I never used to cry at all. It’s surprising how quickly you can stop doing something when you’re hurt every time you do.
“Will it embarrass you if I hug you?”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Ben says, his voice gruff.
We exchange a glance. That’s enough.
We hear the engine before we see the…thing. It’s like a car, but it has a long, open back. I think Sam called it a truck. River says I’m spoiled because, before I met him, the only vehicles I can remember travelling in were limousines. I was quite famous, and only rich men could afford me. My masters almost always treated me well. Other slaves weren’t so lucky.
“What the hell is this thing?” Ben asks, climbing into the front. I can ride in there with them, because they have three seats. Well, more like a long bench. I’ve never seen a car like this.
“It’s an old American truck Sam’s doing up. He hasn’t got to the engine yet.”
“I can hear that,” Ben says. “Let’s get going before anyone sees us.
“Still embarrassed by us?”
Ben shoots me a glance. “Not by you, but definitely by the truck.”
The journey isn’t pleasant. Enough said. Leave it at that. Eventually, we arrive at a place in the middle of nowhere, with a cabin, a fence, and lots of trees. I don’t have time to look around before I get out, because Ben’s bouncing with excitement. He almost pushes me out of the…truck, then bounds off toward the cabin. River is slower.
“My parents used to bring us here,” River says, his sadness shining in his eyes. He hardly ever talks about his parents. It’s been less than a year since the accident that stole them from him. Ben seems to have recovered much more quickly. “We’d come out the first weekend in December every year, no matter what. Dad would tie the tree to the roof. He was always complaining about it marking the paintwork.”
“That would be interesting. Why haven’t we tied ours to the car?”
“Because it did mark the paintwork, and we’d lose half the needles before we ever got home.”
“Needles?” The word makes me shiver. I don’t like needles.
“The little green leaves. They’re called needles because they’re thin and sharp.”
“Oh. Okay.”
By this time, we’ve arrived at the cabin. A man is talking to Ben. He is smiling and he seems friendly.
“Come on.” Ben grabs my hand and drags me around the side of the cabin. I glance back, but River is talking to the man. I suppose he’d stop us if we weren’t allowed.
Behind the cabin is a little yard, then rows and rows of little trees of differing heights. Ben starts to run up and down the rows. His enthusiasm is contagious, and I run after him. He pauses before one of the trees.
“No, too big, we won’t fit. River’s ceilings are too low.”
He races on until he finds another one. It’s as big as he is.
“Hmm. Almost, but it’s not fat enough.”
Three trees later, he finds one he likes. By now, River has joined us, along with the man, who tells me his name is Rob. I think he owns the trees.
“This one,” Ben says firmly, pointing to the tree.
River gazes at the tree, with his head tilted to the side. “Isn’t it a bit too big at the bottom?”
“Stop fat shaming. You’ll hurt its feelings.”
“You won’t be saying that when you have to help us move all the furniture to fit it in.”
“I don’t care. You won’t have to move much. We can put it in the corner next to the window.”
I try to picture the room in my head. I can’t imagine what it would look like with a tree in it. The one in the shop is much smaller than this and it’s not real, but this tree would probably fit next to the window, if we moved the sofa over a bit. “That would be a good place. The lights have to go in a plug, don’t they?” River nods affirmative. “There are two plugs next to the window, so we can put one string of lights on the tree, and one around the window, like at the shop, to light the little houses.”
“What little houses?” Ben asks.
“The little houses Silver’s going to bring home from the shop for us to build.”
“Oh wow. Can we do it today?”
“I haven’t got them yet.”
“Tomorrow, then?”
“Maybe tomorrow.”
“Okay. So, can we have this tree?”
River glances at me. I smile and nod. Ben’s excitement is contagious, and I so want to see this tree in River’s house.
River tells me it’s our house, but I can’t think of it like that. It’s too big. When I was a slave, I was not allowed to own anything, even to share. I was owned. I was a possession. How can one possession have ownership over another? I wasn’t sad about it. I wasn’t anything. It’s just the way it was. River says I’m too accepting, but what else was I supposed to be? What else am I supposed to be? Since being free I’ve been told all kinds of things that I must or mustn’t do “to fit in” and I’m still having a hard time understanding how that is different from what my masters did to me. There’s not so much pain this time, but I still don’t really have a choice.
Rob goes away, then comes back with an axe to chop down the tree. That makes me sad. Trees are beautiful, and although I want to see it with pretty lights on, I can’t help thinking that this is where it belongs and my brain makes uncomfortable comparisons with a child, torn away from its roots and dragged off to be decorated and used, then thrown away.
It takes all four of us to get the tree on the truck, even though Rob has put a green net on it that hold the branches closed and contains the needles. Traumatized and bound, the tree is thrown onto the truck bed, then the door at the back closes and we walk away. Part of me stays with the tree.
I’ve seen so many things, and many memories have been shoved down and out of the way. If I let it all in, I won’t be able to live here, in the present, with River and Ben. There is a place inside me where I go when things get too hard. I was living there when River found me. He brought me out, but I slip back sometimes. It happens less and less but it’s harder to come back every time. There are so many things I don’t understand in this new world, so many things that scare me. And then there are times, like now, when it’s not the present but the past that threatens to send me running for my safe place.
The sound of the axe chopping the tree had been like the thud and crack of bones being broken. I’ve seen that often enough. I hear the crack of gunfire in the silence over the trees. I glance at the truck and see a body lying there. Once, it was me. Not in a truck. It was big car. At least that’s how I remember it. Leo was dead and I wanted to be. I wanted the pain to be over, but it never will be.
River touches my arm and I actually jump. He looks worried.
“Are you alright?”
“I…” I want to talk to him, to tell him about everything, but I remember that this is the place where I’m supposed to lie. If I don’t, River will get that expression that’s part anger, part fear, part I don’t want to hear this, but mostly anger and this isn’t the right time for that. It’s not fair on Ben. So, I smile and nod.
“I’m fine. I’m just cold and it’s a strange place. I don’t remember ever doing this before. I didn’t even know that people put real trees inside their houses.”
Ben bounces and chatters about how we’re going to decorate it and how lovely it will smell and real Christmas trees are so much better than fake. River just looks at me quietly, and I know he knows.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Silver's First Christmas Part 1

Silver was a slave. When he was less than 12 years old, he was kidnapped, tortured and 'conditioned' to be the perfect plaything. What he doesn't know about bringing pleasure isn't worth knowing, but he knows nothing about being free. Since being saved and falling in love, Silver has a lot to learn and it's hard. All he knows is how to obey. Where once he was terrified of the world and everything in it, now he's beginning to see a life beyond his front door, but it's small steps.

Writing Silver was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Seeing the world through eyes that can't remember ever having seen it before was so refreshing, so thought provoking. I've jotted down some of the thoughts it provoked in a series of stories about Silver's First Christmas, and I'm going to share them with you over the next two weeks. I hope you enjoy.

If you do, check out Silver's journey to get to this point in the Enigma series.

“Make sure you hold the ladder tightly. I want today to be magical and a trip to the hospital doesn’t fit with my plans at all.”

“Why are you going into the roof?” River smiles his secret smile, the smile he has when he’s hiding something – not in a bad way, but to give me a surprise. I like surprises, but not when River might get hurt.

“I told you, it’s a surprise.”

“But I don’t want a surprise that hurts you.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine if you just hold the ladder.”

I hold the ladder as tightly as I can, but it still wobbles a little as River balances on the very top and disappears through a hole in the ceiling. I’m very anxious. I get anxious about a lot of things. Even though River tells me I’m getting better every day, and I suppose I am, I don’t think that will ever really go away. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so.

“Catch the boxes,” River calls from inside the hole. I’m about to tell him I can’t, because I’m holding the ladder, when I realize how silly that would be. I don’t need to hold it when River isn’t on it. “Be careful, there are some delicate things inside.”

I have to climb a little way up the ladder to reach the boxes, as River passes them down. I don’t mind. I’m not afraid of heights. It’s one of few things I’m not scared of. Sometimes it feels as if I’m scared of the world and everything in it. 

There are four boxes, and when they’re all safely on the floor, River comes down out of the hole and I’m so relieved.

I help River carry the boxes downstairs and he lays them in the middle of the living room floor.

“What’s inside?”

“Take a look.”

The first box is quite large, but very light. I pull open the flaps with growing excitement, and gasp aloud. The box is filled with glitter. No, not actual glitter but…things that glitter and shine. I pull one out. It’s long and soft and very shiny. “What it is?”

“It’s called tinsel.”

“What do we do with it?”

“The big ones can go on the ceiling, and there are thinner ones we can put over the picture frames and on the tree.”

“What tree?” There are trees in the garden, but I’m not sure they’d look good with tinsel wrapped around them.

“Silver, did you hear a word I just said?”

“Oh, no, sorry. I was thinking about the trees. How do we get the glitter to stay on? Wouldn’t the wind blow it away? It’s been strong lately, and it’s been raining a lot. We don’t wrap it around the trunk, do we? I don’t think that would look good.”

“Not those trees, silly. We’re getting a tree for inside.”

“An inside tree?” That was interesting. Sam and Hannah have plants in their house, but I’ve never seen an actual tree inside.

“You’ll see later. Maybe we’ll leave that box until then. It might confuse you. Here, open this one.”
River pushes a box toward me and I open it with trembling hands. I’m so excited. This one holds lots of little plastic things on strings with boxes at one end. Some are in the shape of flowers, other tiny lanterns and even fat snowflakes “What are these?”

“Wait a minute.” River takes one of the boxes and twists to push it into a socket on the wall. Ah, of course. That’s what the box is, a plug. I’ve never seen one quite as big as that before.

As soon as River turns on the electricity, the little plastic things turn into tiny coloured lights that spill over my hand into the box. “They’re beautiful,” I breathe. “What are they for?”

“They’re called fairy lights. We pin them up around the house and on the tree.”

“I’ve seen them before. Randy put them in the shop, but they weren’t in shapes like this. I made up some of the little house kits, too, and put them in the window. Christmas decorations.” The penny drops. “Is that what these are?”

River nods and smiles. 

“Oh. Oh. I know what you mean about the tree. I’ve seen them. Christmas trees. There’s a big one in the square, and Randy has one in the shop.” Randy owns the art shop where I work. 

“What’s in the last box?”

“Go ahead and take a look.”

It’s magical. Lots of little ornaments. Snow globes, frosted snowmen and two white trees, like Christmas trees only much smaller.

“They go on the mantelpiece and the windowsill. I thought we could put a few in our room, too.”

“I know what I can do. I’ll bring some of the little house kits home and we can make the window pretty, just like in the shop.”

“That would be lovely.”

“I’ll go get some this afternoon and we can all do it together when Ben comes home from school. Randy has special snow. It’s in a little tube but gets much bigger when you put water on it. Snow is good at Christmas, right?”

“Snow is very good at Christmas, but do you know what’s better?”

I shake my head, although I have an idea from the way River is looking at me what he’s going to say.

“You,” he whispers, crawling across the floor until he’s close enough to kiss me.

This is the best part of Christmas; the best Christmas present I could ever have. Christmas is very new to me. I didn’t celebrate Christmas at all when I was a slave. Sometimes I saw the decorations, but I didn’t know what they were for. Of course there were stories among the slaves, but I didn’t know which to believe. It’s hard when you don’t know who to trust. They made pretty pictures in my head, though, and that’s all I had back then. Now, I have more than I could ever have hoped for. A home, a family, and best of all my soul mate, the love of my life – River, who I know I can trust beyond doubt; beyond reason. My saviour. 

Monday, 9 December 2019

Deck The Halls

Joyous Yule my friends and readers!

It is time for Nephy's News Christmas Special. Read about my take on the holiday the witchy way, and check out the sick Giveaway. If you want to enter the giveaway simply say hi in the comments and don't forget to leave your email.

Have a hap...hap...happy holiday everyone.