A week ago in the supermarket, she had said to the checkout girl, as the crackers, port, Stilton and mincemeat moved along the conveyor belt: ‘This time next week it’ll all be over.’ She got a smile and grateful sigh.
But Annie was determined it would be a good Christmas, and threw herself into baking, cleaning, washing up. The presents were wrapped beneath the tree, the cards arranged on the bookshelves, and donations made to charities in sympathy with the plight of those less fortunate. Friends and family arrived and departed, corks were popped and meals shared amongst music and laughter.
But there would always be someone missing. Beneath the happiness, there was regret, for her mother was twelve years dead. Mum had lived a long life, beyond her three score years and ten, but once that life is buried, there is no recalling the soul. The spirit has flown and is no more; the polished gravestone marks an empty spot.
Annie sighs. Some beads are loose on her party dress and there’s a button missing from a work blouse. It’s a sunny morning, on the last day of the year, with a good light for needlework.
In her sewing box are cotton reels from the days when it was cheaper to make one’s clothes than to buy them. When Annie and her Mum would go to Oxford Street, pushing through the crowds in the Christmas sales, and the ground floor of John Lewis’s was given over to dress fabric and haberdashery. The spools of thread in her sewing box are all that remains of the clothes they made: ‘Glowing Pink’ was used for a fine wool Liberty print skirt of her mother’s. Annie remembers ‘Hunter’s Green’ on a dress made for her birthday. ‘Smoke Grey’ – a big reel of it – was the colour of her school uniform.
She searches through a plastic bag of spare buttons for one to match her blouse. These go back to the 1970s: the extra buttons that came with purchased clothing and were cut off and stored away. The clothes have long since gone to the charity shop; how startled the ladies were when Annie brought two carloads of black bags. And there are cards of unused buttons; the old brands, Winfield, Co-op.
At the bottom of the sewing box is the embroidery silk Annie used when, aged six, she made her first doll’s dresses. Her old pin cushion, a yellow felt flower with a pink velvet centre and glass-headed pins. Then there are crumpled paper patterns, lengths of cotton tape, ribbons, zips, petersham, old name tapes from school uniforms…
And one of the spools of thread, a pale blue-grey, is ‘Silver Ghost’. Annie looks at this label and weeps. She dries her eyes; her hanky was once her Mum’s.