Max and Paula, from Seduction of Santa, invite Emma Calin to catch up with them, one year on…
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It’s a cliché but this really is the time of year when you catch up with friends and family. Our lives are so busy now. You can have thousands of social media connections yet never get to sit down with live breathing people. It’s grey November day here England. Looking up the river from my home in Chelsea towards Westminster and Big Ben, the red London buses criss-crossing Lambeth Bridge play a counterpoint to the mournful melody of monochrome, so often the atmosphere of London – my home and my soul.
I’m taking a black cab. It pulls in and I open the quirky backward opening door. The diesel engine rattles with a sound that to me plays a lullaby of tradition and stability. In my office there’s a half finished book, Seduction of Power, set partly in sun drenched Italy. I was feeling the heat, driven mad with the horn beeping scooters and just had to escape.
“Where to My Dear?”
“Dulwich – head for Camberwell Green and I’ll give you the steer from there.”
The taxi U turns. The cabbie’s eyes are in the mirror. I smile and he gets the signal, taking permission to give me the full cockney performance – well, as cockney as a guy with a sun smile Caribbean heritage can be. He’s wearing a Crystal Palace football shirt.
“You a fan?” I ask.
“Yeah – it’s like death taxes and Crystal Palace – like it or not you’re born into it.”
I don’t mention the league table. We rattle through the streets, the wealth of Belgravia and the bleak concrete tower blocks south of the Thames river. We solve world poverty, unemployment, feminism and create our dream England football team. This is my fabulous mix up of a city and I’m in the mood for more. Driver Stanley leaves me in Alleyn Park, Dulwich – an oasis of gentility a short hop from Brixton or Sydenham. London’s like many cities – villages divided by wallet but united by bus routes. I’ve not seen Paula or Max since the last page of ‘Seduction of Santa’. For sure one thing has changed. The Rolls Royce isn’t on the drive but I know the Ford people carrier won’t belong to Max. Come on – the guy’s just not that type. There’s already Christmas lights on the bushes and a nativity scene lit up in the window. I ring the bell and hear Max’s voice like a barrow-boy trader selling potatoes.
“Come on gal – she’s here.”
I hear Paula’s equally strong London accent and passive-aggressive attitude.
“Well, it’s easy Max, turn the knob to the right, open the door and let the poor cow in.”
I hear him coming. I know his issue and it’s simple. I’m a woman, or at least a female. Max Muswell is a top dog and to a dog, a bitch can mean trouble, or even worse, girlie chat.
“Max – it’s so lovely to see you again. Happy Christmas.”
“Yeah – look , the missus is just upstairs – cuppa *Rosie Lee?” [*Cockney rhyming slang for TEA]
I smile, check the time on my cell. It’s five o’ clock and I know Max wants a beer. He sees my action and smiles. Max Muswell’s quick eyes miss nothing.
“Beer would be better Max.”
“In that case Emma, I might feel forced to join you out of politeness. Paula is coming I promise. I’ll just pop out to the kitchen and get that drink.”
I look around. He’s a millionaire but the place is no palace. It’s a family home with a litter of boys’ toys. I’m happy to see his life has kept the same shape without me.
“How’s your lad Justin?” I call out.
“Yeah good – just look at the bloody place. He’s still got that bloody earth mover from last Christmas. I have to work day and night to buy the batteries.”
That was my fault – I didn’t think of that. As the night closes in, the array of Christmas lights around the house stand out. I’m beginning to wonder where Paula is and what she’s doing. I suddenly realise he called her ‘the missus’. Surely if they’d married I’d have been invited? He comes back with a couple of beers.
“Still in the same line of business Max?” I ask, keeping things more cock than hen.
“Yeah – still breeding the race horses but I sold up the food business to one of the big chains.”
“And you’re staying out of trouble?”
“Course – like what sort of trouble?”
“Like fist fighting gangsters.”
“Bloody hell Emma – how could I risk that these days?
Before I can answer Paula appears. I must admit I gasp. She speaks before I can get my thoughts together.
“He wouldn’t bloody dare,” she says handing me a baby of about ten weeks.
Some instinct in me responds. This warm contented child against my breasts, those tiny hands, pudgy wrists that I long to kiss, that perfection. Paula had been at least forty. She had been a woman alone, longing for a child. Me – I’d just walked away and gone half way around the world with other characters. I’m speechless but this is just normal life to them. I watch her run her hand back through Max’s thick dark fur of hair. He smiles, catches her hand and kisses the palm. These two have brought so much love to each other. The baby stirs, flicks open blue eyes and resettles.
“Um?” I said.
Paula is smiling.
“Of course you don’t know what happened next.”
“I don’t know if no one tells me.”
“I heard you were in Paris, Milan, New York, Rome and Naples with young hot cops and billionaires.”
“Yeah, but all that stuff’s nothing compared to a baby. I mean it’s a….”
“Miracle – that’s the word isn’t it. I know that’s not your style Emma, but that’s how I see it.”
I can see she’d feel that way. Blind faith is tough for me as an independent woman but can I deny her that belief? Holding this beautiful child, knowing the fragility and uncertainty of life, who has any certainty superior to faith?
“I’ll not argue with miracles. I mean I love Christmas and I love it more because of how you guys made Christmas last year. You were running the show but believe me I was there in the background. If I myself, this pathetic little woman, if I could have torn my heart out and made you a miracle baby at Christmas I would have done it. Someone else took it on from there.”
I stop, somehow emotional.
“But you didn’t have to. You left our lives to the spirit of Christmas. That was enough Emma. Look on that innocent child and tell me that peace, love and hope are not enough.”
I take a deep breath. Now I know the meaning of that nativity scene in the window to these people. They are judging life on the basis of their own experience. Nothing else makes sense does it? I’m still holding the child. I’m so amazed I’ve forgotten the traditional formalities. My soul tells me it’s a boy but I hesitate to make a fool of myself. If I don’t know I don’t deserve to be a novelist.
“What’s his name?”
“Oliver Maxwell,” says Max with a note of pride.
I turn to him and smile.
“I love it – I’d have chosen Oliver myself.”
“You’ll be at the christening I hope? We thought maybe you’d be a godmother…”
“Max, I’d be so proud – I never dreamed something like that could happen.”
Paula is looking at me. She’d always been so kind and deep but in a practical way. Motherhood had given her wisdom and that had blended with her police experience.
“Emma – novelists aren’t special – we all make characters. We create an idea of other people in our heads. Kids, friends, colleagues often go their own way. Christmas brings them back to a starting point, to something to share. I’m not saying religious faith for you, but I admit I’ve moved away from you on that. It’s silly I know but the night Max turned up on that community bus the music blaring out was Mary’s Boy Child by Boney M. It’s Christmas again and I have that simple faith in my heart.”
“Paula – for Christ’s sake, everyone can share that spirit. I’m so happy for you.”
She reaches out, takes the baby and hands him to Max. My god, the look in his eyes is almost scary in its intensity. He is a top dog and this poor pup would have a world of possibilities all of his own. For sure he would need his mother. I set these ideas aside. For now they were loved, utterly protected and happy. There was no way I was going to leave it another year before I came back. I couldn’t wait for the christening.
“Are you going back to work as a cop?”
“I’m glad you asked that Emma because maybe you’ll get a sensible answer. Would you let a woman with a babe at home go out there against punks with knives?”
“It’s not my choice Max.”
“OK – put yourself in my shoes. Put yourself in this little one’s shoes.”
“For me, I could never do that job, you know that. I get scared over a keyboard.”
“Emma, I’ve not decided. I’ve got a few months yet.”
I knew I’d put my foot in it as soon as I raised the issue. Suddenly I realise I’d caught sight of her in June in that cable car over the Thames after the terror attack incident with PC Helen Marx. Paula must have been pregnant then. I’m certain she hasn’t told Max about that. Someone needs to change the subject. Paula goes over to the hifi system and pushes a button and there’s nothing else but music.
It is Christmas, a wonderful woman has a miracle baby and the rest of the world can wait or maybe even find peace.
Happy Christmas Everyone.
Find more about Seduction of Santa HERE
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