CHRIST­MAS AT AUNT UR­SULA’S

Noth­ing would ever be the same now for me and my cousins – but we weren’t pre­pared for an earth-shak­ing rev­e­la­tion

My Weekly Special - - CHRISTMAS FICTION MINIMAG - By He­len M Wal­ters

Surely you’re not go­ing to drink that in the car?” I snapped at my sis­ter Milly. She had one of those ready-mixed cans of gin and tonic, and was clearly in­tend­ing to drink it straight from the can. “Why not?” she protested. “You’ll make the car smell of al­co­hol,” I said, point­edly wind­ing my win­dow down de­spite the freez­ing gale that was blow­ing out­side.

“So,” she said, sound­ing as sulky as she had when, aged seven and nine, we’d first started go­ing up to Aunt Ur­sula’s for Christ­mas.

“What if we get stopped by the po­lice?” I asked.

“They won’t care, will they? Be­cause I’m not driv­ing, you are.”

I wanted to say that wasn’t the point, but I held my tongue.

“Let’s not fall out, Tess,” she said. “Why do you sup­pose Flick was so keen for us to go up there any­way?”

“I don’t know,” I said, slip­ping the car into gear and pulling off the drive­way on to the road.

It was a mystery. Flick had been clear­ing our Aunt Ur­sula’s house since she’d died so it must be nearly stripped bare by now.

We three cousins had stuck to­gether quite closely since our re­spec­tive moth­ers – Ur­sula’s two sis­ters – had both died young. And we al­ways spent Christ­mas to­gether.

I’d sug­gested that this year we should treat our­selves to Christ­mas in a ho­tel, but Flick had tear­fully in­sisted that we spent it at Ur­sula’s as usual.

No one had ever said any­thing, but there was an un­spo­ken feel­ing that it was ter­ri­bly un­fair of fate to let Janie and Vanessa Cur­tis die young, leav­ing three moth­er­less (and, as it hap­pened, fa­ther­less) chil­dren, while the child­less Ur­sula should live to a good age. How­ever Ur­sula had de­fied fate by tak­ing all of us un­der her wing af­ter our moth­ers were gone.

“We’ll soon find out,” I said, then bit my tongue again as Milly crushed her drink can and threw it into the footwell of my car.

As we pulled on to the drive­way of my aunt’s house, I caught a move­ment at the win­dow. Ur­sula, I thought for a dis­tracted mo­ment. No. It was Flick. Of course it was.

You’ve done a great job of clear­ing the house,” I said to Flick once we were safely in­side.

“I still think you should have let us help more. She was our aunt as well,” Milly said, peer­ing into one of the boxes lin­ing the hall­way.

“I didn’t mind do­ing it,” Flick said. “It’s given me some­thing to do any­way.”

“Is there much left that needs sort­ing out?” I asked.

“There’s the bed­room fur­ni­ture and bed­ding. I left that so we’d have some­where to sleep. And just ba­sic stuff in the kitchen. Af­ter Christ­mas it can all go and the house will be empty and ready to sell.”

We all stopped and looked at each other for a mo­ment. Sell­ing Aunt Ur­sula’s house seemed very fi­nal, and I couldn’t help think­ing it was the end of an era. Would the three of us even stay in touch, now we no longer had Ur­sula hold­ing the fam­ily to­gether?

Once the house had gone, that was go­ing to leave a huge hole in our lives. We’d all grav­i­tated there, not just at Christ­mas, but at other times. When Flick got that new job she’d tried so hard for, and again when she got made re­dun­dant from it. When Milly got dumped – not quite at the al­tar, but well into the buy­ing-bridal-mag­a­zines stage.

We’d all con­gre­gated here at times of need. Whether we’d needed to share hap­pi­ness, or re­cover from sad­ness, it was all the same. And Ur­sula had

Would the three of us even keep in touch with­out our dear aunt?

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