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.

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