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Seasons readings: Tell Me Where You Are

We're starting this year's advent blog series with a very Christmassy extract. Read on for an extract from the first chapter of Moira Forsyth's Tell Me Where You Are.

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Chapter 1

On Christmas Eve, Frances dreamed about the turkey. In the dream it was not yet dead. It had turned itself over, staggered onto drumstick legs, and emerged from the butcher’s white plastic bag. When she went down the garden to the summerhouse, boots crunching on frosty ground, and opened the door, it tottered across the wooden floor towards her, its skin mottled and bluish, but not completely bald: a few tufts of feathers adhered to its body and its head was the head of a live turkey, complete with beak, beady eyes and dark purple wattles quivering on the neck. Its beak opened and closed, and Frances understood that it was talking to her, telling her something. Of course it spoke Turkish, so she couldn’t understand a word.

In the dream she made this little joke and smiled at it, all the while paralysed by dismay which ran underneath her freezing feet like an electric current. For she knew the turkey must, if still alive, have suffered horribly in its journey from farm and butcher to Frances’s summerhouse. Was still suffering. She stood shivering in the dark December dawn, torn between fearful pity and anxiety about what on earth they were to eat for Christmas dinner instead, since there was no longer any question of it being the turkey. Somehow, she had to rescue and rehabilitate it.

Then, with a heavy flap of its naked wings, it hurried past her, down the steps and out of the summerhouse. She must have cried out and her own cry woke her.

The bedroom was dark and cold. Too early for the heating to have come on, much too early for daylight. Frances lay on her back, waiting for the dream to fade.

Of course, the turkey really was in the summerhouse, which was suitably cold and out of reach of the cats. Nothing could have been more dead than that lump of flesh, weighing her down on one side as she walked back to the car, the handles of the bag cutting into her fingers through woollen gloves.

She turned in bed with a sigh, tugging the duvet round her. After a moment, she realised she was not going to get any more sleep, so she flung back the covers and stood up, the bones in her legs creaking. She bent and stretched a few perfunctory times, then put on an old pullover of Jack’s she used as a dressing gown, and went down to the kitchen.

The cats in the basket chair looked up as she came in. The grey tom stretched, paws reaching across the little tabby, so old now she took her time waking and getting up for breakfast. The grey cat jumped down and rubbed himself against the backs of Frances’s legs as she filled the kettle. A few yards from the kitchen window were the woods, and she became aware of an unusual whiteness beyond her own reflection. She switched off the light and looked again. Snow, a fine powdering, the first white Christmas for years. She remembered the dream now, rising up in her with a rush, a taste almost of fear. Soon she would have to go down the garden to fetch the bird. She switched on the light again, and filled the kitchen with reality. The cats mewed round her, asking to be fed.

Upstairs, her sons stirred but did not wake as Frances carried the radio up to the bathroom. She looked in on both of them. Andrew’s room smelled of beer and more strongly of the rank aroma of young maleness. Jack’s room also smelled of unwashed clothes brought home from Halls and left in a heap on the floor. As Frances went into the bathroom and turned on the shower, the water pipes rumbled and the central heating heaved into life. Half conscious that his mother had been there, Andrew turned over, kicking at his duvet, so that the red climbing sock, filled by Frances late the night before (while the boys were in the pub), rolled off his bed and landed on the floor with a thud.

At sixteen and eighteen they were too old for Christmas stockings but still had them, still had a tree with decorations kept since childhood, and the traditional dinner she had always cooked. It would have been the same if they had gone on being a family of four instead of three. Then, they might even have been five or six. She had meant to have more children; she had meant to have a daughter. There you are, Frances thought, vigorously rubbing herself dry, that’s how it goes. She could switch off the past now as swiftly as she turned off the shower: a second’s delay and it was gone.

In his bedroom next to the bathroom, Jack emerged from heaped-up covers, annoyed to find himself awake so early. His feet stuck out, cold at the bottom of the bed. Everything here was too small for him now. It was bloody freezing in this house. In halls, you lived in a fug of stale heat twenty-four hours a day. His mother said it was unhealthy but you got used to it, used to wearing a tee-shirt all year round. No-one wears jumpers he had explained to Frances, going through possible Christmas presents for his grandmother to give him. He pulled up his knees, pretending to be still asleep, in the hope that soon he would be. Then, with a suddenness amazing to him, he realised it was Christmas morning.

When they were kids they were up at four, tearing open parcels. Were there any parcels here? He had his present already, having gone with his mother to buy an I-Pod in Inverness several days ago. There must be parcels though. He kicked to feel the heavy stocking at the foot of the bed, the mysterious weight of it creating an echo of childhood excitement. Something rose in the air, and thrust itself off the bed with a thud. He had dislodged the tabby which had sneaked in, believing, like Jack, it was too early to get up. There was something else; he felt the weight of it between his feet. Satisfied, he turned and settled again. In a moment, the cat jumped back and nestled behind his knees, where she had a quick wash and then, like Jack, sank back into sleep.

Moira Forsyth

Moira Forsyth