As she stumbled across the street, her tears traced their journey down her rouge-enhanced cheeks, but no-one noticed. Too burdened with parcels and presents, umbrellas and underwear, shopping and champagne, they hurried down the street, dodging the rain as they made their way to their cars. The Christmas rush was at its peak as even the most Scrooge-ish person attempted (albeit half-heartedly) to have something under the tree for tomorrow, no matter how tacky or inappropriate.
She watched the crowd and tried to remember, through the fog of disbelief that inhabited her head, when she had someone to buy for. Or when someone bought presents for her. It was such a long time ago now. And things had changed.
When she was young, she embraced change. Her favourite times of the year were when Autumn slipped coolly into Winter; when Winter melted into Spring; when Spring evaporated into Summer. Change brought wonderful surprises, like the first daffodil of the season, a leaf of crimson red or a snowflake so perfect it froze her breath inside her lungs. But not all change was good. She realised that some time ago. Too little, too late.
This Christmas, like the one before and the one before that – but definitely not the one after this, thank God – she was alone. A-lone. It sounded like a job description. What are you? I’m a lawyer. I’m a consultant. I’m a lone.
The busyness of people scurrying that way and this was comforting though. She had once trotted along the same well-worn path. Now, however, she meandered to the right or to the left, whenever it took her fancy.
When her parents were alive, Christmas had been a somewhat painful but still satisfying event. She played along with the carolling and the cooking and, much to her amazement, did find herself enjoying the season of jolliness. But after one the other, they succumbed to the tentacles of old age that warped their faces into saggy caricatures of the parents in her mind, and riddled their bones with aches and pains. And then they were gone.
She had planned her life well. It was just a shame no-one seemed to care about her plans. From high school to University, from University to overseas travel, from overseas to post-graduate studies to her ideal job, it went to plan. But as friends paired off and began the great journey that is The Relationship, she was busy with other things. She couldn’t exactly remember what those ‘things’ were but they had been intensely important at the time.
Sometimes, when she lay in bed at night, she wondered if she’d missed him. Had he been there? In that bar in Italy the night of the World Cup? Or perhaps the consultant seconded by her company for the big project a few years ago? The thought drove her insane. What if he had been there? She’d knocked plenty back. Not that she was fussy, but she wasn’t desperate. She was waiting for her equal, the yang for her ying. But she never found him.
And then it was too late.
Mum. That was a word she’d always thought she’d hear from a little babbling mouth one day. There was no rush, no urgency, no panic. At least at first. There would be lovely cuddles with a friend’s newborn, but relief when she handed him back, red-faced and squalling. A bemused interest at the park as a child was comforted by her mother after a scraped knee, but frustration at the child’s melodrama. Even a thankfulness when a pierced, tattooed, black-haired teenager abused his mother in the carpark. But that was before. It was different now.
It hadn’t been an easy decision. She’d considered adoption, but the process was long and drawn out and hideously expensive. She thought about foster care but wasn’t sure she could hand a child back once she had held him or her in her arms. She was then left with two options, both of which, had problems. Both of which, due to her age, were unlikely but not impossible.
The first one was untenable to her. She couldn’t use a man. It was that simple. Sure, she’d had a one night stand or two in her time, but never with any concealed agenda. Being caught up in the moment, whilst not ideal, wasn’t manipulative. No, it had to be the second option.
There had been raised eyebrows, particularly the grey, bushy ones that belonged to her father, as he struggled to accept her decision. There were a few tut-tuts from the periphery (funnily enough from those people who happened to be married with children) but mostly, the reaction she got was silence.
The silence spoke the multitude of questions that she herself had asked. Was it selfish? What would she tell the child about their father? What about medical history? Was it really fair to bring a child into the world without a father to guide them? How do you explain ‘donor sperm’ to a little one?
In the end, she found answers for herself although she knew the answers were not enough for some. Her journey – like most things in her life, it seemed – was done alone. There was no-one to hold her hand, speak soothing words to calm her nerves or share her soul wrenching disappointment.
Today, everything changed. As the Christmas carols rang through the tinny speakers of the shopfronts, she caught herself smiling through her tears. “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, with its list of gifts from a true love, had always puzzled her. Who would want a partridge in a pear tree? But this time, it was different.
She wrapped her arms around her slim waist, the hiding place of her trio of Christmas gifts, and held the ultrasound pictures close. Of course she wouldn’t really name them that. She didn’t even know if they were boys or girls yet. But for now, she had Three French Hens of her very own, just like in the song of old.
She clutched another tiny parcel under her arm as she ran through the rain. There would be three tiny presents under her tree tonight. Three little matching outfits (in gender-neutral yellow and green and lavender, of course) for three little miracles. Mum. Someone – in fact, three someones – were going to call her Mum.
“Merry Christmas, my little French hens.”
BIO: Karen Collum is an Australian children’s author and mother to her own Three French Hens (although her boys are 19-month-old twins with a 4-year-old brother, not triplets). She has three picture books coming out in 2010: Samuel’s Kisses, Fish Don’t Need Snorkels and When I Look at You. Karen squeezes in time to write when her boys are in bed and is severely sleep deprived, but happy. You can find out more about Karen and her writing at http://karencollum.wordpress.com .