The forest is dark, but I know this path. I’ve followed it by hundreds in my fantasies, and eight times for real. The same night every year, the last night of the Christmas festival.
Except for last year.
I’m not far. I can see her lantern-lit clearing.
I enter and I am still.
“You are late!” She turns. She’s facing me.
“It’s a long way from my clans’ camp”, I attempt to joke. She remains cold-faced, despite and in contrast to the warmth of some twenty-odd lanterns.
I am still. Her eyes shimmering. Gaze held.
“You are one YEAR late!”
My shoulders drop slightly. But I remain silent.
Softening. “I thought you’d…” She doesn’t ﬁnish.
Forgotten? Died? No. I exhale audibly. She is hurt. My eyes droop with a silent “sorry”.
She’s softer to me. Enough. No longer at odds with the ambience of this sacred space.
Her slight smile says “come closer”, then “come hither”, then with added cocked brow says “get here right now”.
I return her smile and I go to her.
No longer a sign of hardness. Her deep blue eyes show that familiar free spirit. Loving spirit. Two years hasn’t weathered her.
Soft grip on elbows. “Where were you?” She’s not after my reply. She’s looking for herself. She takes in my face. She sees something new. Or maybe something missing. Or maybe it’s just different. A difference only an annual lover could notice.
She runs a ﬁnger under my eyes, as if touching it will reveal it. She furrows her brow and says softly “You lost someone”.
I smile, touched but not surprised by her perception. She can sense I don’t want tears. Not tonight. I’m not ready for her embrace.
She is making billy-tea on the ﬁre.
I take a look at her recent creations. She must be the most sought-after lantern-maker north of the ice. I still don’t know her name. Her work is beautiful. Everyone must know. I must not want to know her name.
But I know what others don’t know. And I chuckle. It’s how well her craft hides her kink. Beneath the rice paper and rabbit-skin glue, is soaked wicker and cane, leather strapping and twine.
“What is so amusing?” She asks with raised brow.
“I was thinking…you are just like your work. In so many ways.” She extends a knowing grin, and a hand.
I take it this time.
The tea needs time.
I sit within her. The Christmas beetles are dancing, drawn in by lantern-light. The cicadas are deafening, but only if you listen. That’s how I know the night is still young. And how I know it’s Christmas. That…and this. Here where I am.
The tea is brewed.
Sipping in silence. I wonder what she’s thinking.
“You could have sent a messenger”, said from atop her steaming mug.
Shakes head. “Darling, send a messenger to whom? I know not even your name.”
“What is it you name me?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, I not know the correct translation, arr.” Fumbles.
“No, your translation is good. I just mean, I don’t really have a name for you.” I lie for now.
“Do you not talk about me with other members of your clan?”
I smile broadly. “Yes, I do. To maybe a few.”
“Then? How do you name me?”
Sigh. “I call you my Lantern.”
“My Lantern”, I repeat. Embarrassed grin.
“That is not at all imaginative!” Clearly disappointed.
“Well it WAS ‘My Lantern Lady’”, I add.
“Oh yes? But that’s too long for a name, no? For your lazy-clan-speak”, she teases. But it’s true.
“Well, what is your name for me?” In defense.
“Ma chaupette”, she cheekily smiles my familiar pet name.
“No… what is the name you have for me when you speak with your friends?”
“Hmm… Mon scarabée de Noël.”
“Mon scarabée de Noël? …Mon scarabée de Noël?!!!… My Christmas beetle?!!” Growl. “That is sooo much worse than ‘My Lantern’!”
“No! It is not! It is symbolic and poetic! What is more beautiful than a Christmas beetle?”
“What is more SEASONAL than a Christmas beetle! It implies you have many in a
calendar year! Tell me, do you also have a March ﬂy? A June bug? A Flleeuuurrr de mai, perhaps?” Driving my point.
She laughs. We laugh. And she draws me close for a heartfelt kiss. “And maybe you have a love for Lanterns, huh? Or other inanimate objects.” Tickling me. I wonder where she learned her new vocabulary.
“I think you’re trying to shift focus.”
Nose by nose.
“Did you hear about the lady who fell in love with the Temple of Eiffel?”
“No, but that does sound kinky.” I let her shift focus.
“It is very serious. It is a real thing. She is in love with it and had gone to the high priestess to request for a joining ceremony.”
“And?” I’m listening.
“She was declined.”
“Oh, the poor woman! And I thought your clan to be an open-minded bunch!” I jest. Tickling.
She cocks her brow, this time with promise. “Oh, we are!”
Her mug is empty.
She moves to her fur covered platform. Like moth to ﬂame, I follow.
She sits and I stand hugged between her knees. Knowing she can mend them later, with craft cuts the leather twine holding fast my breaches. They fall.
“You know, you could have just untied them?”
“Nothing.” I’ve forgotten already.
Lost in gentle eyes.
We take it slow. I savor this one night a year. Except for last year. My hands through her hair as she sits in front. Her hands ﬁnd my tunic covered derrière.
“I have gifts for you.”
“Gifts?” I repeat. “Plural?”
“Deux”, answering in her native tongue. “Two”, she corrects herself.
“Yes, I know ‘Deux’.” Of course. We laugh lightly.
I sigh as she breaks contact. She lifts the fur and uncovers the gifts.
“One for this year…” she hands me a worked leather paddle. It’s embroidered with her own insignia, rimmed with a delicate soft leather lace, studded and held together with a darker leather twine. I gasp. Such beautiful workmanship.
“…and this is for last year.” I hold a short cane with the same dark leather twine, wrapped tight for a handle, her insignia on the base.
They are so beautiful. She is so beautiful. She made gifts, yet she must have doubted I’d show this year.
We kiss slowly. Breath taken. Eyes hooded. Foreheads touch where we rest a little. She guides me over her left knee. Her right leg is relaxed-but-ready over my lower calves. My torso supported by furs behind her. She hikes up my tunic, baring me to lantern-light, and she begins. Slowly. Then steadily.
I’m in the familiar dizzying place. I am in the moment. I can’t see what’s coming. She has the controls and knows where to take me. She adds pressure, you know where. I am safe and I’m undone. I am held and she whispers “Joyeux Noël, mon Noël. You are my Christmas. And Christmas comes EVERY year.”