My mother came to me while I was in the bath yesterday. At first, she was just a spirit voice. Felt. Heard. Unseen.
And then, there she was, á la Holly Golightly. Chignon high. Chin higher as she laughed and smoked a cigarillo in a long ebony holder and rattled the ice cubes in her martini glass that tinkled just like her laughter as she stretched her neck and looked up through the skylight above the toilet where she was seated.
She had come to set me straight, she said.
“Your Christmas tree has been sitting in your living room unadorned for three days. What gives?”
“We just haven’t gotten around to it,” I reply as I scoop more bubbles into the middle of the bath to cover my body.
“A naked Christmas tree is just like thinking bubbles will hide your body in the bath,” she says before taking a long sip of her martini.
“I wonder why I never drank these in the real world,” she asks of no one in particular. “I quite like them.” She holds her glass out towards me. “Want to try?” And then she throws back her head and laughs again. “Just kidding!” She winks, something I never, ever saw her do in her entire lifetime, and says, “You see right through me.”
I can’t actually. See right through her. Her body has substance. Form. And her red satin cocktail dress is a killer.
“Do you really want to use the word “killer’ with a ghost Louise?”
Oh right. I forgot. I might not be able to see through her, but she can read my mind.
I sigh. Just like in life. She always said she could.
As if I said it out loud, she replies. “Well, actually, I couldn’t always read your mind but I always knew when something was troubling you. I am your mother after all.”
I’m a bit taken aback by her assertions. Seriously. My mother never seemed to care if anything was troubling me.
Again. She responds as if I spoke out loud. “I always cared Louise. I just was so depressed most of the time, I couldn’t find the words to help you feel better. Hell. I didn’t know how to make myself feel better so how could I help you?”
Can ghosts use the word ‘hell’ I wonder?
My mother laughs, rattles the ice cubes in her martini glass and takes a long drag of her cigarillo. She starts to cough. “Even in the afterlife I still don’t understand why your father smoked. But I do like the effect, don’t you? Very Breakfast at Tiffany’ish of me, don’t you agree?” And she does it again. She winks.
I take a breath. Sink a little lower into the still warm water hoping the bubbles will fill in the empty spaces.
She doesn’t seem to notice. “You know Louise, everything in the world around you is a reflection of the world within you. A naked Christmas tree speaks volumes.”
“Right,” I say (a tad testily) “And what does my undecorated Christmas tree tell you?”
“Beyond the fact you don’t want to use the word naked?”
“Well it feels a little too… intimate in these circumstances.”
“Seriously Louise. Stop trying to hide your body. It’s beautiful because it’s you.”
If I’d been drinking a martini I would have spluttered it out all over the place. My mother never, ever talked about naked bodies. In fact, it often felt like being ashamed of my body was the perfect antidote to getting her approval.
“I can hear you thinking, Louise…”
I sink deeper beneath the water until only my nose and mouth are visible through the bubbles.
“Louise. Stop trying to hide. Maybe in life I had some confused ideas about the body. I’m sorry. Fact is, you should never feel ashamed of your body and you definitely shouldn’t feel ashamed of diving in with your normal joy to celebrate Christmas. You love it so much.”
I decide to ignore the body talk and focus instead on Christmas. “But it’s not the same this year,” I whisper softly from the bath. Okay. I kind of whined but then, when with my mother my teenage self liked to take over. “The world is in such a mess right now. How can I let myself enjoy Christmas when there are so many people hurting in the world and when we can’t celebrate it with those we love?”
“Louise. Not decorating your tree is not going to change what’s happening in anyone else’s world but your own. And if you don’t create joy in your own world, how will you have any joy to share with others?”
“You’re sure you’re my mom, right? I mean. Joy is not a word I remember you ever using when you were here in the flesh.”
“Oh Louise. Lighten up. Joy is the language of the soul and we’re all just a bunch of joyful souls up where I’ve gone.” She laughs and takes a sip of her martini. “And quite frankly, given that eternity is a long, long time being joyful makes it fly by so much faster. So… back to your naked tree. When are you going to dress it up?”
“Good. ‘Cause I gotta go. My glass is empty and I’m dying for another martini.” And she laughs so hard a strand of her chignon comes loose. She uses her cigarette holder to tuck it back behind her ear, dries the tears of laughter from her cheeks with one of her gloved hands and says. “Get it? Dying for another martini!” And she winks and is gone leaving only the sound of her ice cubes tinkling like Christmas bells on reindeer and her call to ‘have a good night!’ wafting through the air.
And a memory floats into my mind.
My father never read us ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’. He knew all the words off by heart. Wide-eyed, I’d sit and listen and wait for the ending when, without fail, he’d give an exaggerated wink and exclaim á la Santa, “And to all a goodnight!”
And I wonder… who was that woman in the red dress sitting on the toilet drinking martinis? could it have been…
And I smile. In dreams anything is possible. Especially when it’s all dressed up in the magic of Christmas twinkling like lights on a tree.