The Last Night

Kage Baker would be ready, by tonight, to start shutting down for the year.

It’s Winter’s Eve, the night before the Solstice. It’s less than a week to Christmas, it’s about the time most offices start closing down for a week or so, the schools are out, the present-buying is down to the last-minute inspirations and desperate third and fourth choices … and it’s the last night of Dickens Fair.

For many, many years, the last night of Dickens Fair has been the gateway to the Yule holiday for me. On the years when we shut down late – the 23rd or even the 24th – it meant a middle of the night and pre-dawn drive South down the I-5, in order to be at our families’ Los Angeles homes by the time the Christmas sun rose. On less frantic years – like this one – it meant we got to go home first; sleep in our own beds for a while, and make our pilgrimage to our sisters’ houses in daylight.

This year, I’m not anywhere; at least, nowhere where I need to be anywhere else. Between surgery and fractured bones, I have been pretty much immobile since Halloween; I’ve watched Dickens from afar, looking at photos and listening to echoes, wishing I was there. Mind you, if I were there, I’d be dreading the break down that starts in a couple of hours: the initial packing, the stripping of the beautiful walls of the Parlour, the trying to get things done enough to leave while being called on every 5 minutes for a tearful goodbye to someone who has no set to strike.

The actual drive home is not something I ever dreaded. My habit has become to leave straight from the Cow Palace and drive halfway to Los Angeles under the mid-Winter stars, then take a motel room; then rise at dawn and speed the rest of the way. My co-pilot usually lasts that long: used to be Kage, of course, and now is Michael – it took us three hours at least to talk over the glories of the run, and adrenaline kept us going until the lights of Apricot Tree hove into view at West Panoche Drive. (This year, though, we’d have been disappointed – the place has evidently closed.) The Foster’s Freeze and the Best Western are still open, though. I checked.

This year, I am warm and safe and not travelling, ensconced on a couch with a lap robe, sharing cheese crackers with the parrot and the corgi. The house is covered in lights and sleeping cats; presents are hidden everywhere, ready to be wrapped and displayed tomorrow. My cane, brace and Das Boot will allow me to go out on a stocking stuffer run tomorrow, and I can settle down for the winter in the comfort of my home: no risks, no midnight treks, no wild adventures.

But I miss the frantic headlong madness of Extreme Christmas! I’m not exhausted; my blood stream is not fizzing with sugar and beer and whiskey and cider. I haven’t had to pit my flue shot against kisses from 500 of my crazed brethren; I haven’t heard Charles Dickens recite a single line of A Christmas Carol. I’ve only sung the Hallelujah Chorus solo, to the radio; I haven’t sung Rule Britannia (though Harry has) nor yelled “God save the Queen!” There’s no straw in my shoes, no soapy snow in my hair, no glitter in my cleavage.

I have so very much for which to be thankful at Midwinter – I cannot deny that, nor regret the safety of the roof over my head, the surety of food on my plate, the loving comfort of my family. I just want … more. Life has given me so much, and I’m not ready at all to give it up. My bones be damned …

Next year – as my beloveds keep assuring me – next year in London!