I Know Who You Are CWG Entry December 2017

It was one of those dark foggy evenings, just above the temperature necessary to turn the shallow puddles to ice, but cold enough to send a shiver down the spine and force the pale white hands deep into warm, cosy trouser pockets.
It was the 23rd of December. I had taken a bus to the end of the lane and was walking along the unlit verge between the lane and the drainage ditches, that followed wintry hawthorn hedges as far as the eyes could see, which wasn’t very far at all, due to the dense fog. I pulled my woolly hat down around my ears, covering my face from the biting cold as much as possible.
I will never fail to be irritated by those oncoming drivers, who obviously have seen me in their headlights, allowing little space as they whoosh past, still maintaining their lights on full beam, and blinding me momentarily.
I was tired, cold and in dire need of our log fire and a nice cup of tea. I had been doing the last of the Christmas shopping and was loaded with a heavy rucksack which contained some meat from my favourite butcher and two bottles of Artadi, Viña El Pisón, Rioja 2012, and a bottle of Tomatin 18 year, sherry cask, single malt whisky, along with a few last minute presents. I had ordered the wine especially for this occasion.
Forcing my hands deeper into my pockets, but enjoying the satisfying decision to take the rucksack with me, thereby allowing my hands to be free, I cursed the next set of full headlights as they approached.
It all happened so fast. One second the lights were ahead of me. I was squinting to avoid losing my night vision as much as possible. I was vaguely aware of the lights slowing down and stopping just ahead. The next second I was on the floor. I felt the tug of the straps as someone was trying to pull my rucksack away, as if in a dream, which I later learned was caused by being dazed after a sharp blow to my head. Then as my guts gave the most violent wretch, I just opened my eyes in time to see the flicker of a toe cap. That was the last I saw.
But, not realising at that moment, I had seen more than a steel toe cap of a boot. I had seen the face of its owner.
*****
The cold tore into me like a ravenous animal, gnawing first at the extremities, then raging into the limbs and body. I had no awareness of time, and as consciousness slowly returned I coughed and spluttered, as the pain in my temples and stomach slowly came to the fore. I was drenched, lying in the soggy ditch, soaked in dirty stinking water and bloody from a gash on the side of my head. It seemed an age, crawling and scrambling to get back onto the hard tarmac. For some minutes I sat bewildered until I gradually realised my predicament. I became aware of the cold and the mile and a half distance between me and home. With an effort, which almost caused me to lose consciousness again, I slowly came back onto my feet. Nothing was broken. Thank goodness. I could walk.
My hands had been far too numb to use a key. I came to the window and remember the ironic contrast between the beautiful scene of warmth, the Christmas tree, the log fire, the wrapping paper and my own momentary world of pain and agony. All I had been able to muster was a weak tap on the lounge window. Luckily she had heard it above the sound of Jingle Bells, which was echoing from the television.
Bettina shrieked as she opened the door. I slid over the threshold, buckling down onto my knees.
*****
I was still lying on the lounge carpet when the doctor arrived, but feeling a little better. No stiches were needed, and after a rest by the fire and some ibuprofen and antibiotics, I was able to talk to the police. They had been at our house for an hour, talking and eating mince pies with my wife, waiting for me to wake.
It was a simple interview. They asked me to explain what had happened, paying extra detail to anything I could remember of the make of the car, or identifying features of my attackers.
I truthfully told them that I had not seen the car. The glare of the headlights had temporarily blinded me, making it impossible to give any useful information. Regarding my attackers, I explained that there were two men, but even that I was not certain, as it all happened so fast. I gave them a description of my rucksack and contents and that was all. They left with a promise to look into the mugging, but had to admit there was very little to go on. We wished each other a Merry Christmas and they left.
Christmas Eve was spent making the last finishing festive preparations. Bettina was busy most of the day, purchasing again the lost items. She even managed to find a bottle of single malt, but not the favourite brand I had acquired. I kept the name of that to myself. I spent most of the day, lying on the couch, trying not to feel sorry for myself, or concentrating on the pain, that was still aching in my groin and head. The hardest pain of all though, was the knowledge of the identity of my attacker.
*****
Every year Christmas day is spend at home. Robert and Josie, our two children, arrive during the morning with their families. They each have two of their own, and now that they have all reached early adulthood, we don’t get to see them as often as when they were small. The family gathering is so much part of our tradition at Christmas, it would be unimaginable to change it. Luckily, our son-in-law and daughter-in-law both seem to enjoy coming.
Bettina and I had agreed to play down my terrible experience of two days before. In truth, I was feeling much better and we both wanted to ensure that Christmas was not spoiled by long discussions about muggers and what should be done to them.
So, as Robert, Sarah and the two girls arrived, we put on a pleasant face and made a small joke about the cut on my brow. The swelling had subsided somewhat and a plaster covered the cut.
“I would love to see how the other fella came out,” said Robert, with a big grin on his face.
I nearly choked at those words, and found it difficult to muster a smile. If only he knew.
One great thing about being a grandfather of girls, especially when having been in the wars, is that they fuss over you even more. Emma and Louise hardly left my side, apart from placing the presents under the tree. This is another one of our family traditions. When we have finished eating, we all open our presents together, just as we did when they were small children.
Josie arrived with her husband, Bob and lovely Emily, who was home from University for the holidays, while we were already tucking into the first of the mince pies. “Hey, I hope there will be enough for us”, Josie quipped and we all greeted each other. A few jokes about being plastered and having a head as “hard as nails” later, Josh arrived. We were now complete.
Bettina was busy running around serving drinks, pastries and nibbles, while at the same time holding the fort in the kitchen.
“The mountain of presents is becoming shameful,” I joked, pointing to the huge pile of carefully wrapped and decorated parcels around the tree. “Whatever will we do when great grandchildren begin to arrive,” I said, at which point everyone looked towards Louise and Emma as the most likely sources of such offspring.
“Don’t look at me”, Emma remarked, with a happy smile.
Dinner was a strange affair, for me. For the rest of the family it was simply a normal festive get together, where everyone was happy, laughing and enjoying the togetherness of a big family gathering. But in my case, there were moments where I forgot about the robbery and got lost in the banter, and other moments where I drifted into a world of my own, becoming angry, wanting to tip the table upside down and scream. On a number of occasions Bettina squeezed my knee, to gently bring me back to the here and now. Luckily, everyone was so engrossed in pulling crackers, placing paper hats and reading the jokes to each other, that no-one else noticed my troubles.
*****
The presents opening is always the part of Christmas that I like best. We share our presents and I am always filled with pride to see my family receiving more pleasure from what they have given, than from what they receive. It sends little, “We did a good job of bringing them up”, bells ringing in my head.
Only this year was different. The event of two days ago was eating into me. I was switching between sadness and anger. My emotions were all over the place.
We took turns in opening the presents, thanking and kissing the giver, showing our appreciation or, at least, making fun with silly banter over the more unusual ones.
Next was my turn. Josh picked up his gift for me from under the tree and handed it over with a big smile. “Merry Christmas, Grandad”.
My hands were trembling as I unwrapped the gift. I first read the small card, which read “Lots of love from Josh”. Peeling back the wrapping paper, I gradually uncovered the label on the bottle.
Viña El Pisón, Rioja 2012

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