She wandered, undisclosed, along the Christmas market stalls. The smell of the German sausage hut over powered any other food being cooked for several hundred yards. There was no Christmas snow hunched against the pine wood walls of the huts and no slush underfoot, it was just winter damp. It wasn’t raining but it was just damp. There was no heat on the street and not enough wind to dry the ground; it just clung like a permanent condensation.
She briefly moped up a slurry of spicy tomato sauce from her ice white t-shirt that had dripped in one big splodge from the sausage in the long bun as she had bitten into it. It was typical luck but she shrugged it off because it was just like her to take such little care with this kind of food that she reserved for the Christmas holidays or a day trip somewhere. It just happens and there were worse things that could have happened. She folded up the tissue, put it in her pocket and made her way into one of the little stalls.
It was full of wooden carvings on shelves and around the outside of the hut, lining the edge of the roof on either side to its peak, were lanterns made from hammered steel with stained glass and a door to put in a tea light candle, both modern and vintage-looking at the same time. She looked along the shelves of the wooden animals that all had their own place on the shelf, not too far apart that they looked lost and the stall empty, but also not close enough that it would have been too crowded to discern between them. They could easily be considered much like reading a book with double line spacing and clean crisp text – everything could be easily examined without too much effort.
There were plenty to look at but one small cute wooden animal stood out and would make a perfect present for someone special amongst all the modern day commercialised presents she had already bought. It was smaller than most of the carvings but it was just perfect. It’s warm waxed wood colour felt inviting and its darkened patches in the ruts of the carving just made it all the more special. Hannah moved to the back of the hut and pulled a note from her wallet, desperately trying to grip the note with her gloves on. The woman at the back of the hut raised her head with a smile from the book she had been reading and thanked Hannah for her purchase, “Enjoy the rest of the day.” she said in a bizarre knowing-way. Hannah smiled, it was just another polite person she had encountered that day that just made her a little happy inside.
She left with the little wooden animal wrapped in red tissue and placed in a small box with a lid that fitted just right and all placed in a small tort paper bag with handles made from twisted paper. Old fashioned in design but a hint at the modern world with small print at the bottom that said “Lovingly made from recycled paper.”
It made such a change from trawling the clothing shops where she would hold up a garment, may be a pair of trousers or a skirt, and consider it as a present as it hung from the plastic shop hanger and realise within seconds that she was no longer considering it as a present and wondering whether it was herand imagining herself wearing it; like drifting off into a day dream in work and realising she’d not listened to a word during a meeting for the last five minutes.
Hannah decided to make one last call. It was one of those small basement bars that was rented out from the shop above. The stair case down was stone and was like something from the eighteen hundreds but, with care taken walking down the steps, came a room bustling with people socialising after work or during a lunch hour, unwinding and chatting which would fill the room just right. It felt noisy but not loud. It was kind of like walking into a place, shaking off your umbrella and hanging your rain coat on the stand and cosying-up to the log fireplace in one of the comforting arms chairs with a cold condensation clad glass of Prosecco, a cold ale or a coffee – whichever makes you feel wanted – and you’d instantly feel at home. Everything about what would have been a cold dull damp basement was removed and the room left with a heart. This is why Hannah felt she could sit there on her own as it was just that sort of place.
She opened the door from upstairs and made her way down the hard steps but it seems a little different. She couldn’t hear the noise from downstairs coming up the staircase as it normally would – all muffled and reassuringly exciting and familiar. The light was a little dull and yellow creating shadows on the steps and what felt like a cool breeze gently rising up. She pushed the door open gently enough to peer into the bar but instead of being hit by the usual wall of noise the room was quiet and darkened. ‘It must be shut for some reason.’ she thought to herself.
Hannah opened the door fully and stepped in. The bar itself was lit as were some of the logos on the taps. The chairs were out, nothing was put away or stacked. She checked her silver watch, it was well past opening time. She needed the loo, ‘I’ll pop in there for a second and if the staff show up when I come out then I’ll stay.’ she thought to herself. It felt a bit strange but may be it was just one of those days and she just felt like her hour treat of sitting next to the warm fire, if they light it, was too good and rewarding to miss. She just hoped that people would turn up because people-watching was all part of the experience; unless she was meeting a friend.
She headed over to the toilet door. There was a piece of paper taped to the door over the gender sign; it was an invoice for a delivery. Across it written in blue pen it said, “Hannah, your choice awaits…” Her brow inverted quickly at the paper, both with a little worry but also intrigue. She pushed the door open and walked through the door and down the corridor. It got colder quickly. She wrapped her scarf around her neck again; it was always falling back down. At the end of the stone corridor was an opening that seemed like it was the backyard of property but ivy hung from the opening and outside were pine trees and it seemed to have started snowing.
It was beautiful and despite the strangeness she felt at home. She walked between the trees with roots sticking up from the snow that had settled and the damp muddy earth path soon turned to undisturbed snow. As the path entered a clearing in the trees she was presented with a horizon of dark snow topped mountains in the distance with a slither of orange sunset silhouetting the mountains and trees.
Something was very wrong. ‘This must be a dream’, she thought, ‘which is just typical because this means I’ve been dreaming the whole damn day and I’ve not finished my Christmas shopping, andit means the Christmas stress isn’t over and…’ she shook herself as hard as she could which is what she did whenever she was in a dream she didn’t like that she had become lucid to – usually nightmares. It didn’t work. Something else was also different. She looked down and realised she was wearing her favourite skirt and top, with a jacket thankfully, because it was snow-cold despite the stillness that had fallen in the air. The only thing that was the same was her scarf, and that wasn’t particularly male or female, but all her male clothes were no more.
She looked around at the amazing scenery. The glow from the horizon just seemed so warm and although the wax was close to the bottom of the candle that was the sky she felt the sunset would last forever. She looked at her clothes again and just thought for a moment that it felt so right and that she should have been shopping in these clothesfor herselfrather than her appearance for other people she didn’t think would accept her, but the reality was it was just her own insecurity she was worried about.
May be it would be easier if she just stayed in this place forever. It was so serene and she just felt she could be herself. But in that moment the serenity of silence became just a little lonely as well. As much as she liked this place, lovedthis place, there were no people or animals and nothing interacts like a pine tree.
Why couldn’t everyday life feel this way. Clothes weren’t really thatimportant but it was validating for every time she felt that way. It was no good. She knew she would have to go back. If she did, she thought, at least it would give her some thinking time as to what to do. It’s not like she had to make a decision there and then and despite it’s bizarreness she knew that place would probably still be there. With the height of the mountains it had probably been there for years and would remain for a very long time, if not forever.
Hannah turned to the entrance back to the bar. A small round wooden table that didn’t even reach her knees, just like one she’d seen at the market stall, stood in front of her and on it a single mince pie sat on top of a small piece of paper. She picked up the mince pie which was hot to the touch. On the paper it said, “Please pay at the bar.” This was just insane.
She dashed through the corridor and opened the door to the bar and was hit by a thick fog of noise, people drinking and chatting, smiles and laughing. She headed to the bar, standing up on the brass pipework that ran along the foot of the bar for extra height and held the mince pie up to the barman that met her with a smile and a nod. She briefly looked down and noticed she was in her old t-shirt complete with dull stain of spicy sauce and trousers, but she still had on a pair of boots that had appeared in the forest. “Eat up.” said the barman, “You have all the time in the world.”
Until next time,