The polar bear swept through the water.
Gliding. A grace, an art to its movements. Moving just too fast to be described as ‘slow’, just slow enough to avoid the moniker of ‘fast’. Shifting its majestic mass in a cornucopia of curves and pirouetted turns. A creature of power, of strength, and yet once also bearing the fruits of fragility. A wonder of nature.
‘Is this Attenborough?’ Julie swivelled her head slowly, careful not to dislodge the precariously perched red paper hat upon her brow or the mountain of festively rich food nestling away in her stomach, directing the question to her older sister, Mary sitting on the opposite end of the couch.
‘Hmm?’ Mary’s face barely registered a flicker as the sound shot out of her slumped, worn-down exterior. Her phone commanding the vast majority of her attention.
‘I said, is this Attenborough?’
‘What?’ Mary looked up at the tv momentarily. ‘Oh. Maybe. Probably. I dunno. Check the Radio Times.’
Mary’s attention switched back to her phone.
‘No, no, it’s fine. In fact…’ Julie leaned forward, reaching towards the Radio Times lying on the coffee table. A slight push, an effort extended would be required to get it, she decided. Something slight, nothing much more. And then she thought better of it, slumping back onto the couch. ‘…actually, no it’s fine.’
It will be Attenborough, she thought. I don’t need the Radio Times to tell me that. The Radio Times. The ONLY copy of the Radio Times we buy all year, she thought. Well, that Mum and Dad buys anyway. But I suppose, its tradition isn’t it. Mum and Dad asleep in their chairs well before 8pm, she thought as she looked across at her comatose parents. And turkey. I mean who eats turkey throughout the year? Apart from the Americans on Thanksgiving, obviously. And Christmas cards. Chocolate Coins. Morecambe and Wise repeats on the telly. Oh, and that bloody ‘Holidays Are Coming’ Coca Cola advert!
‘In fact, you know what,’ she announced out loud.
‘You know what polar bears remind me of? Or used to anyway?’
‘Hmm? What’s that?’ came the disinterested murmur.
‘Coke. Coca Cola that is. Remember back when we were kids, round about the early 90s or so, the Coca Cola Christmas adverts had polar bears in it?’
‘What? Yeah, ok, yeah. You’re probably right, yeah.’
‘And then that ‘Holidays Are Coming’ advert came in and that was that. The same ever since. The same banal nonsense year after year. No deviation. No change. Or ‘tradition’ as they call it.’
Julie felt the merest suggestion of moisture approaching her eyelids.
‘Hmm? Yeah, yeah…’ Mary’s own paper hat ricocheted painstakingly slowly against the felt of the couch as her head twitched under the threat of impending and impromptu nap.
‘And that’s something else about polar bears’ Julie continued, continuing to stare at the tv which showed a mother polar bear and her cub nestle into one another, ‘they hibernate completely, protecting their young, for two months out of every year from the harsh outside world and its climate. And you know what months they are? November and December. Obviously. And if that’s not a metaphor for the Christmas period then I don’t know what is.’
A slight snore came from Mary as her body, head first, began to arc towards the arm of the couch,
‘But what happens when the cub doesn’t feel protected? What happens when it feels claustrophobic? Stifled. Empty? What happens when even that warmth, that routine, that tradition starts to fail? To lose its impact with you? What then?’
Mary’s head connected softly with the arm of the couch. The orange paper hat falling silently to the floor.
‘And that’s another thing, about polar bears…’ Julie’s eyes were now welling, ‘their fur. Did you know it’s not actually white? It’s actually transparent. Or clear. See-through. Whatever you want to call it. It’s basically an optical illusion. So, sometimes…sometimes. So, sometimes, what you see is not what you get, it’s actually…’
Julie stared across at her sleeping sister. She laughed quietly as a solitary tear fell down her cheek.
The hint of a smile crept onto her face.
It would have to wait, she decided.
After all, it was Christmas.
It was the time for smiles. The time for happiness.
To put on a show.
The time for tradition.
It would have to wait, she thought.
As always, it would have to wait.
Julie rubbed her eyes gently as she turned her gaze back towards the tv. A torrent of hail and snow thundered across the screen as one polar bear, seemingly alone, trudged slowly through the vast snowy wilderness. Struggling through the haze. Desperate for a break in the storm.