The Christmas lights are on in Aldeburgh, shining blue and white in the dark. It’s meant to look festive. It just reminds me how empty this place is when the summer’s tourists and weekenders aren’t here. The Christmas tree placed out there on the shingle beach is standing on its own, no lights, no tinsel, surreally placed where no tree ever grew for reasons, as Hunter Thompson used to say, that were never made clear.
It’s lonely. It reminds me of this time last year. I’d met someone again who I used to know but by then she was living in the dark. Smiling, but looking worried and scared almost all of the time. She was crucified with toothache, so much so that she couldn’t arrange a dentist because of the pain. I got her an appointment, drove her there, sat and waited with her so she didn’t have to go in alone. We went across the road to a pub afterwards. She bought a Christmas card there, wrote it on the bar and gave it to me, more a letter than a card.
In all of our time last winter I remember only night or darkening evening or a morning so bone-numbing cold that it might as well have been night, walking her dogs early in the morning, letting myself in quietly so she could sleep an extra hour. Her little dog barked though.
“I knew it was you,” she said. “She only barks for you.”
I miss those dogs and the lights going on in houses we passed as we walked out along the river path, over the narrow plank, so narrow I had to help the little dog become brave enough to cross into fields where there were no footprints, no sgn that anyone had been there since the floods. And later, another day in the teeth of a gale, in bright cold that made you think your fingers might snap off, walking a new path up along the hill, back down by another route, thinking that soon, in just a few weeks there would be bluebells here, the way there were when we met.
The bluebells came but we had gone by then. I never found her again. It was too dark. I hear her still, especially on evenings like this, when the Christmas lights shine in an empty street. I can still hear her footsteps, never in synch with mine.