The Christmas lights blinked. Same as always. Reassuringly the same. They proclaimed the season over the city like a town crier. I closed my eyes and let the hum of the engine and the newness of plastic packaging fill my senses. The big, red bus was a real-life santa’s sleigh filled with the promise of Christmas morning surprise. Hissing and lowering like a deflating balloon, we pulled in. On came a contraption, more War of the Worlds than baby’s pram. The young mother flashed her phone at the driver and cooed to her little elf as she sat down across the aisle. Up and away, and we were off again. Through the misty glass I watched the shoppers and buskers and tourists and beggars. Everyone, every one, a stranger.
The familiar ache in my left hand throbbed. I looked down as I rubbed away the arthritic burn. There was just crepey skin, marked by the pattern of my years like the rings of a tree. My old glove was gone. Jim had given me those gloves, the last Christmas he was really with us. We’d had one of those M & S turkey crowns and shared a box of Milk Tray over our ‘builder’s tea’. Top of the milk for Jim, with two sugars. Always the same back then. We danced close, to Michael Ball on the radio, and had a sherry before bed. He wouldn’t touch the stuff now. Strange, lost days to Jim. Memories were all I had and no one to share them with.
Looking down, there was a hand I no longer recognised. The thin yellow band bent out of shape. I remembered the times when my plump, pink, pregnant flesh spilled over almost eclipsing it. Jim had wanted to use his wire-cutters to free me, but I wouldn’t let him. Now my loose skin hung in the little gaps like webbing. Camouflaged on my parchment hand, the ring was barely noticeable. Sometimes a tiny glint would flash in the sunlight and remind me it was there. Short, corrugated nails drooped at the fingertips, like daffodil heads past their bloom. Knuckles, dusted snowy white with dried skin, rose like the Himalayas. A veiny, blue ribbon flowed down into a liver spot river of mottled brown.
It was so cold I could barely feel it. Perhaps it wasn’t mine. I wondered had I just lost my glove or had someone taken my whole hand and replaced it with this old, used one. The bell roused me. It was my stop too. I rose, stiff and slow and gripping tightly. ‘Excuse me’. I felt a gentle touch on my elbow and turned to find the young mother, her little elf holding something. ‘You dropped this’. My old glove.
As the bus pulled away I raised my hand politely. The mother and her elf gave a jolly wave back from the big red sleigh. I smiled goodbye, as if watching myself disappear like a ghost into Christmas past. I turned to home, silently, knowing my little lost glove story would not be heard, would not be told. Reaching the door I fumbled with the key. As I removed my glove for a better grip I dropped it, again. No hurry. Jim was waiting for me. A stranger.