Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nim's Christmas

In this sunless city in North America winter is one cloudy, smoggy season. Nim lies in bed covered only by his memories of childhood with all his strength drained by his effort to breathe in the wintry dampness. Memories of his mother and older sisters, plump healthy women, Rubens like beauties puttering in the kitchen. Memories of his father , the wine flows from barrels carelessly and the house opens for villagers and distant relations or old friends that came from afar to visit once a year in December. (His father was the village priest and wine was never in shortage for even more wine bottles would be received during all year longs’ services he’d have to celebrate; baptisms and funerals and memorial services). … He’d use to rush home from school so he can breathe deeply all the smells of December. He loved to hide in the damp basement among smoked meats and sauerkraut and the wine barrels and the jars full of pickled tomatoes and peppers. He’d hide in the basement and read books at the light of an old oil lamp, books about other boys that read books hidden in their attic.

* Nim can follow dear Anaïs from the comfort of pillows stacked on top of his bed. She busies herself with housework (since chemo is draining most of his strength, his friends are taking turns helping with housekeeping lately.) In his paroxysmic state he can hear the sound made by her plain, large clothing hitting the furniture; the sharp sibilant sound of her long skirt dragged on the floors, almost covering her silent footsteps. He raises his hands as to cover his ears with his arms. Nim is drowning within the muffled pillows and dozes off. But the thought, that she takes so much trouble to dress a lot plainer when she comes to visit alone, awakes him. As she is the woman who can stray me away from the righteous path, as there was a woman that could…He smiles.

“You are the apple of my eye, not the one of my sin”
“You were saying?”

She sits by him. Her hands hide in the large sleeves of her purple cloak, not precisely a chador for she never wore one, but equally shapeless and dull as it fades into its own shadow. Her hair is completely hidden under the scarf, her childish features cut abruptly, the round alizarin mouth looks almost severe. But today is a bad day. Smells make him sick – even her perfume. Not the light scent of rose and lilies, but the heaviness of sandalwood. The fragrant sandalwood reeks painfully his swollen airways as the sniffles start to bother him again. “Breathless again, I’m afraid. My skin is blue violets, my chest will crush under purple carnations, the crimson rain… “
She opens the window:
“It smells like winter”
“It smells like Christmas”

* Nim’s dream memories are usually blind. The Ignat is the smell of fresh blood and burning hairs. Saint Nicholas preserves the sweet smell of oranges and chocolate, fresh baked cookies. “And Christmas, how does it smell? “ she asks …Oh well, Christmas… Too many smells are melting into each other, he finds hard to peel their remembrances from his cortex.
Was it the sour smell of fresh dough?
Meat cabbage rolls?
The sour crude oil tang slinking into the homemade wine from the tar treated barrels ?
Freshly smoked pork?
Nim shuts his eyes. Christmas used to smell like his playmates. They came along each year, steadfastly, as he decided that the time was just good to go caroling. A handful of young boys cutting through the unsullied snow in the cold, damp smell of winter. They walked side by side laughing and singing, and when they opened their rounded, childish mouths, from the red delicious apple exhaled the smell of freshly baked sweets so to warm their frozen fingers.

* He drowns again in the fresh smell of whitewashed bed linen and drifts to a quiet sleep under her small damp hand as she touches his feverish forehead cooling it off.


Julie said...

Oh, how beautiful and poignant. I had to come back and read a second time, because anything involving chemo brings up emotions of my husband's experience. I wanted to be able to read from your perspective and not my own. Now I think I have.

The writing flows beautifully. I love the descriptions, especially the smells. The wine, the basement, sandalwood, fresh dough, etc. So many glorious smells. And to contrast those with the smell of "flesh blood and burning hairs" is very powerful. The heightened sense of sound is another great detail. Very good work. I'm glad you shared it here.

Julie said...

Oops...typo. I meant to say "fresh blood," but I'm sure you knew that. Thanks so much for a great read.

Ana said...



Your comment is much appreciated. “Flesh blood” –I kind of liked this image…
Sorry for bringing back unpleasant memories.

Paul said...

That is a wonderful poece of writing. It is very modernist in style but still full of sensation and emotion.

Ana said...

many thanks...I worry now that it is a little bit to full, I shall re-edit again ...

lissa said...

I think this story has images of hope and comfort, not sadness, not really, very dreamlike and I like the perspective from Nim, he sounds like a child but at the same times has an adult-like view of his surroundings, a terrific story

Ana said...


Yes, even sad Christmas stories bear hope and comfort...

I like your note on Nim's perspective - the story was supposed to capture an adult's outlook into childhood memories. So it needs both a childish voice and a more “grown up” one, though I never put much thought into it until you actually pointed it out…
(Nim is 46, or 47 if he ages with the blog)

Querulous Squirrel said...

This is so startlingly sensual. I have a very acute sense of smell and never have read anything so vividly painting a picture with odors. How lovely and original.

Gel said...

Rich in vivid poignant description. Delightfully well-written even with the sad theme pervaded this tale.

PS : De-abbreviate as you like ;) said...

read sucha rich story after loong ! thanks :)

Ana said...

...I appreciate it even more since it comes from you -I really like how you write.
I guess that since I am losing slowly my sense of smell I got better at picturing the remembrance of it.(Not that losing my smell is that bad, I ride a bus each day)
Thank you –but as Lissa noted there is hope in the story.
I am quite happy you enjoyed it ...