Miss Annie Whitfield visits her brother for Christmas at The Castle

Although the holiday season was as hectic as usual, I was able to spend some quiet time in The Castle on both Christmas Eve and Christmas night.

Each night upon returning from holiday visiting, I walked through Absinthe, its snowy streets empty as the hour was very late. I cut through my neighbors’ properties and walked up to The Castle. I passed quietly through the hallway by the guest room so as not to wake my sister Annie, who had come to Winterfell for Christmas.

On Christmas night I lit the fire and a cigar and poured a nightcap. I raised my glass to the end of the Christmas rush. I drank, I puffed, I exhaled. It’s over. Phew!

On the table was my favorite newspaper, the Caledon Evening World. (It had become so after the favorable reviews it gave my speaking engagements in Caledon the previous year. Vain? Yes, I admit it. But ‘good press’ is nothing to shake a stick at.) I reached for the newspaper but stopped myself halfway. “No,” I said aloud. I sat back in my favorite chair. This is my quiet time, I thought. Not the events of this world nor the other will creep in tonight. I am off-duty. I kicked off my shoes and puffed and sipped away.

Quiet Christmas instrumentals played on the wireless. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. (Ulysses The Cat had already got them all.)

But then…footsteps…and a woman’s voice, “Danko?” It was Annie, of course. She reached the top of the stairs. “What are you doing up so late? Couldn’t sleep?” she asked before I could ask her the same.

“Just winding down from all the holiday hoopla and not in a rush about it either,” I replied. “And your excuse?”

“I have been going through the letters,” she said.

The letters.

I poured another drink. I looked to Annie and nodded toward the bottle in my hand. “Yes please,” she said.

I had been meaning to get to the letters ever since our brother Levon had brought them during his visit last August and September. But I had been so busy and I never had enough time to get into the right mood to do it.

The letters were those of our late parents. Uncle Manuel had found them in an old, scorched wooden box when he went through the old house to ready it for the renovations. He had put them in a satchel and dispatched Levon to bring them to me. I am the oldest and Uncle thought it my privilege – and responsibility – to be the one to go through them. But although I was honored by his gesture and quite interested in seeing what our parents had written, it had became more of a burden than a pleasure to have these letters in my possession.

When Annie arrived for Christmas she asked why I had not written her about the letters. She knew Uncle Manuel had sent them to me and had been waiting impatiently for me to write her with whatever I had discovered in reading them. I told her how difficult it had been for me to find the time and I showed her the satchel in my desk drawer. While I was out at a Christmas party with friends she had gone to my desk, taken the satchel and repaired to the guest room to begin the task.

“Well?” I said as she sipped her brandy.

“This is not my first drink tonight, Brother,” she started in a serious tone. “I made a pot of tea to begin with but I had to switch to something stronger as I read. I broke into your cabinet and stole your whiskey!” she said with a smile, though a slight one. I laughed softly. She took another sip of the brandy. I sat silently, waiting for her to continue.

“They are so beautifully written. I had tears,” she whispered. We both sipped our drinks again.

Annie told me the letters – at least the ones she had read so far – were from different periods in our parents lives when they were apart. The first was when they were young and Father was off to war. The second, when he was travelling with the band. The third, during Father’s days as a time traveller. The letters from that period were never mailed as it would not have been possible. But they had been opened. Annie guessed that they read each other’s letters when Father returned to our time.

But there was a fourth period when he was away for some reason Annie could not identify. “I remember that time,” I said. “I was twelve, maybe thirteen. Mother never told me why he was gone, just that he was ‘on a journey.’ I never asked Father about it, not even as I got older.” Whatever it was they did not refer to it in their writing but Annie thought it was something quite serious and sad. She said it was obvious they were not apart by choice.

“You must read them, Danko,” she said “you must. The love they had…and the struggle of being apart in those times…you will have tears too.” “I will read them, for sure,” I said. “I think I was reluctant…I don’t know…I was afraid they would make me sad.” “They will,” she said, “but you will smile too. They are beautiful. And the insight they give. Oh my!” Annie looked away to hide a tear. She sipped her brandy. I turned toward the fire to hide mine…and sipped.

We talked late into the night, not about the letters but about our memories. About Christmases past at the old homestead and New Years visits to Uncle Manuel’s farm. About brothers Levon and Hudson and cousins Robbie and Dylan and the family band. And about how our parents raised us and taught us to play music and about Father teaching the boys – but never his only daughter – about the science and secrets of time. And about the brothers teaching Annie all the secrets Father had taught us and how Mother knew what we were up to but never said a word! The conversation was happy and sad all at once. There were no more tears though, just smiles and quiet laughter. We never mentioned the fire…though it is always there.

We never speak of the fire.