Christmas creeps in

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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The cats know things - and that's good. Just when the snow started to really come down last weekend, the furnace clicked off and the house went quiet. Winter-quiet.

The first time for that, the first real time this winter anyway. The car tires outside all muffled, the sharp sounds caught and bent, deflected and silenced by the falling flakes. This snow comes straight down out of the almost-windless Sunday afternoon sky, thinly at first but thickening.

Across the street, the house that adds a single decoration every single day has gotten perilously close to critical mass. It cannot be much brighter, except, perhaps, if it were to reach the status of that one house in the Goulds - that one house, with a Christmas message in lights right on the roof so that the snow always melts away from the words - that one house you swear can be seen from space.

Neighbours all the way to the store have stood their trees up in tree stands, leaving behind their secret handshakes - the small disks of tree trunk and piles of wet-clumped sawdust that the snow covers over like bedclothes.

And it must be close to Christmas-week, because you've been out already to one party that boasted mulled wine warm in a thick-sided glass, and like always, if you close your eyes when you drink it, you can imagine that you are drinking a molten Christmas candle.

There were sleep-inducing sheets of turkey on broad platters, and ham as well, bean dip and Swedish meatballs - always Swedish meatballs, and it makes you think the Swedes must have special stomachs that can handle such indigestion-creating affairs, otherwise they would never have invented them. (Later, you will wish devoutly that you, too, were Swedish.)

There are so many children playing on the stairs that you can't help but imagine someone will soon be needing stitches. And those same children have slammed the doors that were meant to be left open and flicked off lights that were meant to be left on, and they have fed the small brown dog so much vegetable dip that it has stopped playing and is now lying on its side against the wall, prostrate and gently heaving, and you can imagine its stomach is taut against its furred side like it had swallowed a helium balloon.

The front door has a hobo's army of discarded shoes, and taking yours off - and putting them back on - will always mean the cold touch of wet socks, because you can't avoid stepping in the growing puddle.

The room will be too warm - if it isn't already - and people you see but once a year will ask you how work is and what's new - if they haven't already - and guaranteed, there will be three people whose faces you'll recognize but will be unable to place or attach a name to. And that quest will dominate some important part of the front of your mind, a part that will chug and percolate until one in the morning, at home and asleep, when you will wake up and think, Bill - he's the guy who bought the car the same day I did, or something like that, and then you will sleep like you were drugged and wake up with deep lines on your face from the creases in the pillowcase.

But first, the party will swell with noise and heat and good cheer, each moment closer to bursting, until suddenly you can't take another moment of it, a surfeit of surfeits, and you wish fleetingly that you were a smoker, so you could take a one-cigarette-long timeout in the cold and falling snow and not have to explain anything more than that you're a victim of a bad habit you picked up in high school and can't shake.

So you burst out, burst free from the raucous night out and down the front stairs, the bottoms of your socks wet inside your boots, and somewhere on the street, a taxicab will be honking at someone else's house, and your ears will rush with quiet all the way home, as if they were already missing the action.

All along your street, the curb has lined up with the neighbours' cars, shrouded in snow.

When you open the door, the cats are there, and they stare and wander off, unconcerned.

The cats know things.

You can count on cats in times of trouble - you can watch them turn and spike their ears, watch them run and hide.

No fool dogs these, bravely throwing themselves into someone else's battles.

When they stomp-stomp their way into chairs, when they sleep and roll with their gentle sleeping rhythm, you can buttress yourself against the end-corner of the couch and let your eyes slide to half-mast.

Christmas parties and invitations will still seem like such a good idea, while outside, the snow gentles down.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Goulds

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