Another Christmas was soon to be upon us. And, I must confess, it was not one to which I was looking forward with any great sense of relish.
Even the weather had done its best to add to my general mood of despondency.
Indeed, the days had become progressively colder and more bleak as a foggy and dank November gave way to the month of December. Thick snowdrifts clogged the arteries of town and country alike. And apprehension and dread had replaced my usual feeling of excited anticipation towards the upcoming festive period.
That was not surprising really when I looked backed on the events of such a black year. A year that had brought about the deaths of both my beloved mother and father.
Their passing was not totally unexpected. Both were infirm and had survived so well for so long mostly due to their undying support of each other.
My wife, Elizabeth, and I had done what we could for them, of course, but I had my job at the college and there was only so much one could actually do.
My mother was seventy-nine when she slipped away and my father too was in his eightieth year. But the rapidity of their sad demise, both gone within the space of two terrible months, was what had saddened me to the very core.
Life had gone on.
After the funeral...after all the legalities of my parents' estates were tidied up, I went back to my work, as a master at Brayhurst College. Teaching was what I did (and had done for many years now). Teaching helped ease away the pain of loss.
So now I sit. In one of the two faded brown, leather armchairs in my front room. Looking out of the window as the daylight fades.
It is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Children up and down the country are, no doubt, causing merry havoc in the rooms of houses just like mine as their exhuberance spills over. Here it is quiet.
My wife, who has always had my best interests at heart, has put up some decorations around the place however...and a fine looking tree is also shining brightly in the corner of the room.
I remain ambivolent to the whole affair.
My mind has drifted off to a time when I too was a young child, eagerly counting down the days to Christmas Day itself. All of us gathered around the table...all of us happily celebrating the season...all gone now...except for me!
I brush away a few tears from my eyes. Tears I don't want my wife to see.
Then I am aroused further from my daydreaming by a sound. It is nothing untoward. Just an ember shifting in the grate of the fire that is providing warmth for the whole house on yet another bitingly cold day.
But then I am aware of another noise within the room...and a faint movement in the corner where the Christmas tree resides.
What happened next was both ordinary and extraordinary!
A simple tree decoration...a bauble covered with small blue/grey feathers rolled completely unaided across the parlour floor to within a few feet of where I was seated.
I looked down at it in utter astonishment. If it had merely fallen from the tree, as it quite easily could, it surely would not have continued to travel over a completely flat, carpeted area?
The faintest scent of a familiar cologne pervaded the room and it triggered off a memory. A memory of my late mother, Ellen, smiling as she played in the snow with her two children...a boy and a girl...and she was wearing a silk scarf around her neck...exactly the same shade as the bauble that had just glided across the floor!
I liked the odd glass of sherry at Christmas but I had not drunk any alcohol, I swear. But the strangeness of this particular afternoon was not yet over.
My wife was busy in the kitchen, making a batch of mince pies among other culinary matters, so I remained alone in the front room.
I say 'alone' but I do not think I was.
I remember hearing the clock from the nearby church of St Peters strike four and it was almost totally dark in the front room now. Everything as peaceful as it had been earlier.
Then I think I must have fallen into a troubled sleep for the next thing I remember was the distant sound of church bells welcoming the faithful to the evening service.
My attendance at church had lapsed somewhat recently so I was not duly burdened by the apparent loss of more than an hour to sleep.
Out of the gloom, a wisp of white smoke suddenly came into my vision. It trailed serendipitously across the length of the room...and then as quickly as it had formed it completely disappeared.
'Was something burning in the oven or on the stove?' I almost said out loud to no-one.
But my question was answered in an instant as I caught the unmistakable smell of tobacco in my nostrils.
I do not partake myself...not even at Christmas...but it had not been unknown for my father, William, to smoke a cigar or two over the festive period!
There was still a glow to the fire so I was able to make out the familiar shapes of the furniture in the room.
A creaking sound of leather alerted my eyes to the companion armchair. It seemed for all the world as if someone was actually sitting in it!
The heavy burgundy velvet curtain next to the armchair swayed to and fro for a moment...yet no window was open nor any other draft present.
'What are you looking at?' said a voice from around the door.
It was my wife.
She could see that I was vexed by something. For I was staring in total disbelief at the chair, then looking at the curtain and then in the direction of the Christmas tree.
'Your father used to like sitting in that chair when he visited us' said my wife.
And I have to admit that she was right.
'Would you like a cup of tea?' asked a concerned-looking Elizabeth.
'Er..yes...yes please my dear...then afterwards I thought perhaps you might like to take a walk with me...over to St Peters?'