It’s tough to be sleepless at this time of year since we turn down the heat before going to bed. At two a.m. it’s on with my bathrobe, on with my llama wool socks and downstairs to hot milk, a shawl around my shoulders, a blanket over my knees. I start to read the first story in Transgressions by the Kentucky writer Sallie Bingham. “Apricots” is about having too much fruit and deciding to make jam. You see the jam being made and you see the story being made, one ingredient at a time.
What a lovely thing to be reading in the middle of the night, the Christmas tree dark beside me, Father Christmas on the coffee table.
Father Christmas I pore over every December, entranced by the book-wide panels of changing sky that St. Nick and his reindeer travel through on their annual round. Raymond Briggs has them pass through every weather and every hour: snow, rain, lightning, fog, first light, sunrise, morning. Did Paterson Ewen ever see this book? I think of his brilliant horizontal paintings on gouged plywood of atmospheric phenomena – rain, clouds, comets, sun, moon, storms.
It’s the progression from one thing to the next that enchants. The progression from a barren apricot tree finally bearing too much fruit to a 63-year-old woman deciding she will have to make jam but needs some help, to her selecting a young man to be the extra hand and thereby overturning her life. The progression of Father Christmas from his cozy arctic solitude out into the great world of skies and rooftops and chimneys that lead him into one home after another, until exhausted he makes the return trip to his own creaturely comforts of warm stove, hot bath, roast turkey, cognac, cocoa, bed, and beloved sleep.
One thing summons up another and you have a story. “And she longed to know what the apricots had meant, and continued to mean, even as she realized with dismay that her life was falling apart.” The falling apart is a late and embarrassing harvest that overwhelms her. What will she do with it?