Winter Wonderland

A short story by Anthony Milne

  • Illustration by Shalini Seereeram

I was just saying to my wife Ermine on this frosty Christmas morning here in London, sub-zero, that I’d like some carne vinadash.

Don’t make the mistake of coming up here now. I, JB de Callao, Port of Spain businessman, tell you so. I came up for a short business trip, not realising. Bringing my wife was another big mistake. It’s like hell up here in London in what they call a “cold snap.” Minus eight, they say. Fog so thick you can’t see your hand in front your face, and frost white like snow on the ground. But no real snow at all, and I never saw it before. So no white Christmas.

I got so damn excited when I thought it was snowing. I went outside to see, and people thought I was crazy. Only a few drops fell, and I hear an Englishman say, “It’s hail”. A piece hit me in my eye, and when I caught myself and run back inside I could hardly see.

No carne vinadash. This morning I have to settle for corn flakes. Helluva thing.

I like my carne vinadash too bad (you might know it as garlic pork), because you know the de Callao family is part Portuguese. Not any kind of barefoot Potagee from Madeira like Camasho. We are from Lisbon, distant relations to the Marquess of Pombal. What you call “vintush”, high class, as compared to “rapash”, selling salt fish and rum. You didn’t know about that, eh? That some Potagee have class?

Not that I didn’t try to make some carne vinadash up here. These people never heard of it; not to mention pastel and poncha creme. I manage to connect with a butcher in Bayswater, a creole fella in a white apron.

I took him for a Trinidadian, so I say, “Pardner, I want to make a little carne vinadash for the Christmas.” He say, “Beg your pardon, guv’ner?” in one helluva English accent. I thought, “What the hell is this, boy?”

So I said, “Excuse me sir, you all have any pigs? I want a small one, live if possible.” He look at me as though he wanted to call the RSPCA. Then he said, “Sorry guv’ner, no; but I’ve got some lamb chops.”

I say, “You can’t make carne vinadash with lamb chops, man; what the hell you going to call it, lamb vinadash?”

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He didn’t like that, but I feel he didn’t really understand what I was saying. After that I give up. I had to settle for the corn flakes. Big Christmas day.

Last night I was to go to midnight mass with my wife Ermine. When I look outside I change my mind. It was dark like midnight from 4 p.m. I wasn’t sure if it was the moon or sun I was seeing. I went this morning instead, 9.30, still dark like hell and fog too besides.

Church of the Holy Rood. Damn funny name for a church, and I wasn’t sure at first if it was a Catholic church. I though it might be Methodist or Salvation Army or what have you; you could hardly tell up here. And you know we are bon bon Catholique and I didn’t want to sin my soul by ending up in some kinda synagogue or something. I hear they have one helluva big mosque by Regent’s Park.

Anyway, I got lost on the way to church, though it was just round the corner. I could hardly see where I was going and arrived late, in time for what looked like the consecration. I believe the archbishop says once you reach for that, is all right. Ermine missed mass. She refused to move from her bed, five blankets over her including her head, in the boarding-house where we staying since we got here three days ago.

I would have gone to the London Hilton, but I didn’t want the press to know I’m here. I said, “Ermine you should go and do some shopping at Mark and Spinster, man, first time you been in London.” She said I must leave her right there and just tell her when I was ready to go back to Trinidad. I suppose she will make me see hell when we get back to Port of Spain and she is back to normal. I had to give her a valium hoping she wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown.

I took one myself the first day we arrived, to get the courage to go outside and see the place. That’s when I got stuck.

I put on three pairs of socks, long johns, a track pants, three jerseys, two shirts, two sweaters, and a coat, hat and gloves. I say nobody go kill me with the cold up here. I could hardly move with the weight, man; I was walking like a robot. I try to get on two pairs of shoes too but they wouldn’t fit no how; not wrong-foot, back-to-front, nothing. I put a torch in my pocket, just in case.

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Outside on the pavement I had to wait fifteen minutes for a number 52 bus to go to Buckingham Palace. Just to see the place, nuh; I don’t really know the Queen. And I know she has enough troubles already with those boys; the Royal Princes or whatever. I hear one is an architect or something, a little bit funny, and the next one in the Royal Air Force, I believe.

The young one I don’t know about. But a paper up here say they running woman left, right and centre and divorcing their wives. And the wives not so far behind neither, even poor Princess Di before she get kill in a car accident with a Syrian man, I think it is. The Queen don’t like it, but the Archbishop of London don’t seem to mind too much. Old George VI must be rolling over in his grave, and the Duke of Windsor must be laughing.

By the time the bus come I was stiff, and when I try to get on I couldn’t move; my blasted shoes was stuck to the ice on the pavement.

I was still waving and calling out to the driver when he close the door and went. They don’t waste no time up here. Luckily I saw a police and I call out to him.

I was embarrass like hell, but I say, “Excuse me, constable, I new up here. I am JB de Callao from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. I don’t have my passport on me, but everybody know me, even the prime minister. I have a serious problem.”

“Had too much to drink then, Mr. Cowley?” the constable say. “Can’t find your way home?”

“Drink?” I say. “I don’t drink at all, don’t touch it, very seldom anyhow.” This time my foot start to feel like it freezing off. “Constable, my foot has stuck to the pavement.”

“Stuck to the pavement, has it? Well, you’d better unstick it,” the ass say.

“If I could unstick it I wouldn’t have call you, you – ”

I catch myself just in time. Is a damn good thing I took that valium. I would have liked to tell him where I would stick my foot if I could unstick it. But I hear they lock you up for anything up here, especially if you have a kind of suntanned Portuguese complexion like me.

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So I say very courteously, “Sir, if you could just help me chip off some of the ice holding my foot to the pavement I would be very grateful.”

Then he look down and at last the fool understand what I was saying.

“Oh dear,” he say laughing, “you have got a problem.”

Then he take out his bootoo and start to chook the edge of my shoe. Then he hit it two-three good lash. My foot was so numb with the cold I didn’t feel a damn thing. But at least I could lift my foot again. I thank the police and told him I would mention it to the Queen if I saw her. Then I limped back to the boarding house.

After that, I done. I call up the Englishman I was to do business with and I say I wasn’t well. We would have to postpone the meeting. A few months hence, I said. Or he could come to Port of Spain. He was disappointed but I couldn’t help it. Then I call and book a passage home right away.

I am writing this wearing gloves, so you must forgive the bad handwriting. In fact I might be back in Port of Spain before you read this, once I can get Ermine, my wife, out of bed and carry her to the airport.

Never me again.