December 2017

 

Christmas Eve Cider

by Marguerite Dakin

 

The last note of Silent Night cut unevenly off, the chorus of voices each giving up one by one. There was a moment of silence in the church, broken by a baby’s babble from the back row. Dark faces lit by candles looked down, closing their programs. The lights came back on and voices filled the space again, slightly hushed at first, still basking in the glow of the candlelit moment, but then louder as they called out to familiar faces across the pews. Rose blew out her candle and slid sideways into the aisle. She joined the shuffling crowd as they pressed slowly toward the exit. The big wooden doors were open, letting out the communal warmth they had created with their body heat over the course of the service, and letting in a cold winter wind. She buttoned her coat and headed carefully down the steps, which were salted but still slick.

 

Beyond the trees and on the road below the church, the world was dark and still, but the yard was full of chatter and dancing light. There were candles set in sparkling buckets made of ice, and yellow light spilled out from the church door. Rose stood in a loose huddle with her family as they shielded themselves from the cold. Her mom wanted to get home to put the lasagna in the oven, but she wanted to linger a little longer in this icy warmth.

 

Their old neighbour was set up in the centre of things with a big pot, a sort of witch-like cauldron. She and her sister crunched over, through the snow, and he offered them some hot cider. The steam rose as he ladled it into little paper cups and handed it over. It was too hot for the thin paper cups, their bare fingers tingled and burned. They could smell the golden liquid from an arm’s length away, and it smelled like crisp fall days at the cider press. Every fall, when they had lived on the farm, there had been a day when everyone from the little valley converged on the barn and pulled the tarp off of the giant apple press. Rose’s favourite job had been at the top of the hill, where she would stand for hours feeding apples into the chute that led down to the press. Down in the barn, the air was heavy and the earthy scent of crushed apples was overpowering. But when she filled a cup from the spigot of freshly pressed cider, she was instantly refreshed. It tasted like crisp breezes and sunny days spent wearing flannel shirts.

 

That same bright taste came to Rose as she stood in the snow outside the church, but it had a different tone to it. The heat of the cider travelled down her throat, spread throughout her body, and it tasted like the cosy feel of curling up by the fireplace on a brutally cold day, of standing in an unheated church feeding off the warmth of your neighbours. It was a comforting warmth, but it still had a crisp winter bite to it.

 

She stood and sipped her cider for a while, listening to the voices around her and trying to get that cute baby in the fair isle sweater to smile back at her. Then she rejoined her family, and heard the usual comments from her old neighbours on how much she and her siblings had grown. There was going to be a bonfire in the field next to the church, and she longed to see the jumping flames and feel their heat on her face, to watch the sparks fly out into the blue night snow. But the lasagna waited for them at home, it sat on the counter carefully layered, sculpted with care. And so they raced down the dirt road, tripping over the mud ruts that had frozen into peaks and valleys, and piled into the car.

 

Marguerite Dakin is a Vermonter and an English Honours student at Bishop's University. She loves tea, cows, and muddy roads.

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