It was raining. I was going to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair at the Cow Palace in south San Francisco. It was a gray day with strong clouds. The sound of tires slicing through the wet street was comforting. It was indeed cold winter weather. Festive winter weather with the proper Frank Sinatra or classical music playing on the radio.
I was excited about the fair. The setting was the Victorian era but I would be dressed in the Regency era because I love Jane Austin movies, especially Pride and Prejudice starring Kiera Knightley. There was no other festival in the Bay Area that I could think of where my outfit would blend in perfectly. I had a piece of paper with a list of what I wanted to do at the Dickens Fair.
When I walked into the warmth of the Cow Palace I was transported to the old streets of London where Charles Dickens’ novels came to life. There were crowds of Merry Christmas goers in costumes. Carolers singing. A ghostly ‘Christmas Past’ floated slowly through the crowd wearing her icy crown. I checked out the costumed vendors selling their wares of Christmas ornaments, jewelry, candles, corsets, coffee and more. Fiddlers played their violins. Their necks stiff and faces merry as dirty-faced street urchins ran through the crowd holding a wallet, laughing as a gentleman in his long coat and top hat walked quickly after them. I passed wooden pubs teeming with cheer and laughter. I passed boisterous characters near the docks and drunkards slouched against wooden barrels in a dark alley. Mad Sal’s Alehouse had their cancan girls lifting their skirts, kicking their legs, and twirling as men sang in a mixing chorus waves. I saw the chestnut peddler selling his smoky and aromatic and piping hot chestnuts in paper cones. Buying chestnuts was on my list but I was more intrigued with dancing.
Fezziwig’s Warehouse was packed. Garlands of greenery webbed its way from the ceiling. Couples danced around and around. I wanted to dance so I went to the middle of the dance floor and swayed and twirled to the music. I was having such a good time. Then I saw him. Our eyes met and we both seemed stunned. It was his eyes that I couldn’t stop staring at. He was slightly tall, dark-haired, medium built. He was dressed in a beautiful red military outfit with gold buttons. I tried looking away and staring at the floor as I danced. Then I heard, “A lady as beautiful as you shouldn’t dance alone.” It was him. He was gorgeous.
He asked, “May I?”
I slowly curtsied. He took my hand and put his other hand on the curve of my back and slowly led me into a waltz that others began following. After the dance was over, we walked back into the crowd. He introduced himself. His name was Thomas. I introduced myself. He asked why I was alone. I told him my family were all busy, that is my brother and sister and mom. He smiled, “Shall we walk?”
We weaved through the packed streets and visited the small shops. We went to the milliner’s shop and amused ourselves with the hats. As we continued to walk Father Christmas passed by on his rickshaw sled to the delight of little children.
Thomas and I were lucky to get a spot at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe. We talked and drank and we ate watercress sandwiches and delicate lemon tea cakes. I found he lived in San Rafael. He was a forty minute drive from San Francisco. I lived in the east bay. We were an hour from each other. A bell began to clang. A man announced that Queen Victoria was passing by with her procession. The young queen waved cordially to the crowd where some waved small British flags in the air. Thomas and I continued to talk and laugh and smile.
When we finished we walked back out on the street. We could hear the clank of a blacksmith pounding his hammer. A man in a white rabbit costume dressed in a tailored coat passed by fussing at his watch, mumbling he’s late. I pulled out my cell from my basket I was carrying and told Thomas that it was time for me to head home. Then my eyes lit up, remembering I had to get meat pies. It was on my list.
“Are they good?” Thomas asked.
I pulled out a small vial of Tabasco sauce. “With this,” I declared, “Yes.” I bought a couple of meat pies Thomas bought one for us to share. We sat on a bench enjoying our pies as people across sat at tables enjoying beer and fish n’ chips. I didn’t want the night to end but I had to get back home, knowing the traffic that awaited me. We exchanged phone numbers and he walked me to my car in the rain. Our costumes getting soaked.
”Will you see me in another world?” he smiled.
”And what world would that be, Mr. Thomas?” I said airily.
”The future” he replied.
Categories: Elle Peyarre's Short Stories (fiction)