Bold Types 2020 finalist – Catherine Stuart

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Guiding Light

In the future there was no Christmas, and I didn’t know yet that I missed it, as I guessed I had done, in the future’s future.


Christmas, in the future, was first buried, then buried some more. It couldn’t get up and move around of course, doing its usual Christmassy things, like making small children into stars and hanging them up on the gym hall wooden climbing bars, to shine down on their classroom’s nativity.


Christmas could not move about blurring everything with alcohol and rain and condensation, the edges taken off the world like in an Impressionist painting, like when I tried on glasses that were from someone with either very near or long sight and the lights outside in the dark softened. Christmas couldn’t go around making us soft enough to not think before hugging each other, not remember before talking. Or no, to both think and hug, to remember and talk – yes Christmas was not around for that. Or anything. It wasn’t up for singing badly and long. It wasn’t up for holding hands in mittens and day-dreaming-drifting to somewhere else. It wasn’t up for getting insights into oneself and one’s neighbours by considering how folk decorate. It was not up for waking up in the wee hours with the feeling that something has been born, something intangible and excellent.


It was not Christmas’ fault. And the burial was quite nice. I made bread in the morning before it. During the service I was numb. By the grave, the hole in the woods (we thought it would like to be placed near to all of those pine trees. We imagined its body feeding the possibility of resurrection). Beside the grave we wept. I felt like a carol as the tears fell down my cheeks, because I was not sad but clear and accepting. I knew what I had to do.


That night, I excused myself from eating and drinking, early. I had somewhere else to be.


Back in the forest, by the grave, I began to collect needles. I had tuperwares and filled them with the auburn needles from under the trees. That reminded me of the clouds of hair on barbers’ floors. It was that memory which burst up – like a candle’s flame – that in part composed my next actions. Of the shavers, clouds falling, revealing skulls as if painted with hair, and hands, running over the new cut, first slowly, then briskly, to mask that they had fallen into that heaven of feeling the fibres of their skull – what do I owe you – patting themselves down like security.


Over the next months, I made a wig of the fallen pines. It was very very long. It went from my hair line almost to the floor. I stitched them into black silk. It was slippy and the needles were tricky to pierce (with the even finer and more piercing needles) but with care and sufficient light it was possible.


In the end, by way of a hair band that I sewed into the wig of needles, which I saw now were like the spines of feathers which had lost all their down, and like the toe bones of birds – I could wear the wig on my head. Long and shaven at once the hair was impossible. I felt I was a Rapunzel who had long since left the world she had grown up locked in behind and who, by this balance of opposites, had come to terms at last with the memories her hair harboured.


But, there was still something missing. I knew it as soon as I put the spines on. I walked around in them until I found myself smiling, at the biscuits I’d cut out, baked and which were cooling now on their racks. A star.


From the future’s future, I see myself walking around, with my kind of battered off centre star, the line of wire that it is held up on sagging sometimes, so it hangs over my face and looks this way like it’s checking in on me, or popping round to ask me a question. I can see myself mending the wig too, replacing spines if they fell off, every day, and going back to the burial site, to gather more. And, I can see myself talking with the star, as it lies on the table beside where I sew, head and body seemingly bare, uncloaked, with a cup of tea; the star which by way of my nattering to it as I mend has guided me to write letters to Christmas. Telling it about what is happening in my life and in the lives of its loved ones and by evocation taking it places, word by word, doodle by doodle, and wishing it well in general, wherever it may be. Because of these letters, I have been finding myself remembering and going to and talking with many people and places who I had not been caring about for a long time, sending news of them and all I’d seen and more, to Christmas, like it had never really left, been taken away, been buried, done the thing we have many words for and which none of them touch.

by Catherine Stuart

All text appears as provided by the author.