Read by Tony Bell
“I’ve always wanted a Winter Date,” you say. You turn to catch me looking at you.
“A Winter Date?”
“To stave off the winter blues,” you say.
“Sounds great. Let’s try it,” I say.
“Five days of every year. From January 15th to the 20th.”
It is not my place to question.
Where did we go first?
“The Crooked House.”
“The Crooked Boot.”
The house is full of his old furniture. He fortifies us with plum brandy and sends us out into the snow to eat Sparrow at a local restaurant. Only a country so cold in winter would serve a dish so rich and a fire-water so potent.
On Charles bridge you stand transfixed by the man with white stubble, wearing knitted fingerless gloves, who dips his fingers into a small metal box of heated water, then moves them fluidly over the rims of crystal wine glasses filled to various levels and arranged by pitch. Fur Elise resonates in the cold air. You breathe out as I breathe in. It is minus one.
In the marionette museum you say:
“I could clone you.”
“It’s been done before?”
“Everything’s been done before.” I say.
“Peggy and Beckett spent four days in bed.”
“And what did they do for sustenance?” I ask.
“Stimulating conversation and room service.”
It is not my place to argue.
On the fifth day we pass a violinist playing Mozart on Széchenyi bridge. It is minus two. You follow a sign that says, “Live Music’ and we descend stone steps into a family living room, where they are as surprised to see us as we are them. They serve us their dinner, call their friends, and send their son to fetch the violinist from the bridge, who serenades us in their warm apartment as we eat chicken nuggets and peas. Their friends arrive with a bottle of wine and convince us, without a word of English, that we are the most beautiful couple and this is the most perfect evening, until we are happy to part with twenty-five euro for a cd that doesn’t work. Then we go to the Széchenyi baths. Steam rises against the indigo air. A woman wears a pink shower cap with feathers. Old men play chess. Marble lions spout fountains, volcanic, as we tumble from hot to hotter to less hot, to natural Jacuzzi, effervescent.
We fall into bed - lovers at the Art Hotel, where others come to do business, and we are smiled at conspiratorially, whispered about, envied and off season.
We have never spent a Christmas together.
“So you won’t have to meet my disastrous but beautiful family.” you say.
We have only our winter dates which I get to choose and book. Then I forward the details to you.
It is you who set the rules.
On the fifth day we attend an open mike poetry gig in Danish.
Thinking that we are going to a jazz gig, we arrive early, ascend a long flight of steps and sit on the plastic chairs at the centre near the front. The room fills up quickly.
Some of it is clearly very humorous because to the left and right of us, front and back, there are waves of laughter.
I am ready to make for the door, but you don’t move. You listen to the rise and fall of syllables.
“What if someone finds out we don’t speak Danish?” I say.
“So what’s the worst that can happen? They kick us out?”
Afterwards you ask the man in the jazz shop to recommend something. The room fills with music. He speaks perfect English. Everyone in Denmark speaks perfect English. It snows. Next year we are going somewhere hot.
Even getting here takes monumental effort. Visas, passports, border control, American dollars, more American dollars. But this heritage town is a joy. All temples and monuments with no cars. It’s peaceful and it’s hot.
When the saffron robed monks pass by at 5am you are ready for them, having given every last cent we have to the canny women who sell rice balls wrapped in leaves, at extortionate prices to guileless tourists like us. We have given all our food to these well-fed monks with their bells and ceremony and eat nothing ourselves for breakfast until the bank opens at 10, by which time we’ve been going round and round the food market for five hours, in circles of deteriorating temper, just like we did in that kayak we rented yesterday. It is a long wait for the cup of thick coffee with condensed milk, and low blood sugar suits neither of us well.
I crave our bed on these long hot days but we visit temples from dawn till dusk then take a night bus to Vientiane. A man with a gun sits on the roof while crates are unloaded in the middle of the night. We eco-trek. Leeches grow fat on our blood.
“I need you.”
“You need me?”
I hesitate phone in hand. It’s June and it’s 3am! You don’t know about my child. You never asked. Just as my wife has never asked about our winter conferences.
“Next year I have booked for St Petersburg.” I whisper, and disconnect.
(c) Kim French, 2017
Kim French is a movement practitioner and writer who originally trained in dance and physical theatre. She won the Autumn 2016 TSS Flash Fiction Contest and has been shortlisted for the Flash 500, TSS Short Fiction, Los Gatos-Listowel Short Story Prize, Doolin Poetry Competition, Allingham Poetry Competition and Bedford International Poetry Prize. Twitter: @wordandmovement
Evening Standard Award nominee for A Man for All Seasons, Tony Bell has performed all over the world with award-winning all-male Shakespeare company, Propeller, playing Bottom, Feste, Autolycus and Tranio. TV includes Coronation Street, Holby City, Midsomer Murders, EastEnders & The Bill. He is also a radio and voiceover artist.