Part 3: And now, a time for dancing
The small market town awakens to Christmas Eve. The longest night may have passed, but still the morning is late in arriving.
Snow has fallen overnight, coating the footpaths with thin white blankets. They are crunchy now with the frost of just-before-dawn.
Windows of cars, etched with filigree patterns, sparkle in weak wintry sun.
Traffic trickles and pours, then roars through the town and a dirty greyness leaches from the road into the snowy whiteness.
By lunchtime little remains that is clean. Except on the edge of that small market town, where Dora lives, alone.
As the day before Christmas wears on, the sun disappears and the snow melts. A grim, grey mist smothers the waiting world. Rolling down from the wooded hills. Sweeping over the pines, sneaking between their trunks, slipping under their dripping branches.
A fog fills the steep valleys and wreaths garden trees in its pale, dreary tendrils.
But it balks at the lawn. Stops before reaching the cottage.
Behind French windows – which let in too much winter – sits Dora, a blanket on her lap. Beside her, a small polished table bears a china cup and saucer, painted with ivy leaves, rimmed in gold. Her special cup, brought out in December’s darkness to lighten her resting hours.
Before new houses covered the farmer’s field she used to sit at the front of the house. And it’s not that she minds the new people. It’s a comfort, knowing they are there.
But she misses the lambs in springtime. And as the days grow shorter, as the season of Advent arrives, the lights appear – on house after house after house.
She liked the first white deer she saw, standing alone in a garden at night. But that was a long time ago – and now…
No matter how tightly she screws up her eyes, she doesn’t see fairies dancing.
Nor twinkling stars, like the ones the little folk catch from the sky to hang in the heart of the midwinter forest.
Just lights of myriad types and colours, all of them frantically flashing.
Dora smiles. A wistful smile.
Was it really so long ago, that she sat on the hearth by the glowing coal fire? Eyes half-closed, seeing sparkling fairies where grown-ups only saw lights?
The new houses’ lights are too busy for magic.
Which is why, on this Christmas Eve, she sits by the dining room’s long, draughty windows. Gazing out onto tree-clad hills. Picturing the mountains she knows lie beyond.
It is cold. A gas fire whispers with warmth.
The dank mist brings aching joints and the fire brings comfort. But not for long. Her pension does not really cater for comfort.
As the mist darkens and day ends she sighs and turns off the gas.
Dora would like to hear carols, but her aching legs won’t take her to church. And carol singers rarely come round these days.
When they do, they sing Jingle Bell songs, not carols.
‘We wish you a merry Christmas,’ they bawl on her doorstep, waiting to be given some money. Which Dora does. What little she can.
She nods her head at the thought, knowing full-well what they see. A little old lady with gnarled fingers, struggling to pull a miserly ten pence from her purse.
But Dora hugs a secret close to her heart. It soothes like a cooing dove when she feels the emptiness grow too much.
Her name is Isadora.
As a child she learned of a dancer, named Isadora. Her tale had a tragic ending, but by then she had danced her way into fame.
And our Isadora – this frail, elderly woman – once was a dancer, too. In London she danced before princes and lords, mingled with ladies and rich heiresses.
A dancer upon the stage.
Her mother and father were shocked. The last thing they wanted for their golden girl.
She met and married a wonderful man – and stopped dancing, except for him. But her joy was a short-lived treasure.
It was Christmas Eve when he died.
Isadora came back to this market town, where her elderly parents lived. Where now she lives on, in their old small house. She feels their presence, sometimes.
Tears fill her eyes.
Then a strange feeling comes over her.
Isadora looks up and gasps.
Tiny, delicate points of light scintillate in the darkness. Blue and green, red and gold. And one, dazzling white.
Dancing. Floating. Growing ever nearer.
She puts her hand to her chest, finds it hard to swallow. The joy almost too much to bear.
Is it real? An illusion?
Is it – could it be – magic?
And then she hears music. A song without words. And her whole body tingles.
Feeling light as a wren she stands to greet the fairies.
For the forest folk have come down from the hills, with their lights, caught from the sky, to warm her chilly world.
She laughs as they take her by the hand.
And now Isadora steps through the long French windows. And dances – and dances – and dances. Away to the distant hills.
Next morning, when the neighbour comes with a Christmas treat, there is no reply at the cottage door.
Fetching her key she lets herself in. Finds Dora sitting by the window. A smile on her face, her hands on her lap and her eyes closed.
On her knee is a stole of crimson satin.
And on that stole lies a single pearl.
In Dora’s hand is a golden ribbon, a long, satin ribbon.
And on that gleaming ribbon, embroidered in blue and green, are the words:
‘To Isadora, my darling dancer, upon this Christmas of 1948. I give you the gift of my love, forever.’