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
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?