‘Christmas Roses’ by Edna O’Brien

Middle Age

Miss Hawkins had seen it all…

Miss Hawkins used to be a cabaret artiste. A woman who “had toured Europe and was the toast of the richest man in Baghdad”; someone who “had had lovers of all nationalities, endless proposals of marriage, champagne in every known vessel, not forgetting the slipper.” But now, at fifty-five, Miss Hawkins has decided that it is time to hang up her “gold meshed suits” and settle down. So she retires to London where she leads a simple, solitary life, teaching private dancing and tending to her local municipal garden. Then one day she comes across a young man camping out in her municipal garden. The pair strike up a conversation and become unlikely friends – attending the theatre together, dining out in restaurants, etc. – and when the young man announces that he has to leave his Notting Hill flat-share, Miss Hawkins offers him a bed (OK, a futon) in her home. By now readers may well be bracing themselves for a humiliating denouement of Ortonesque proportions, but the surprising (and quite refreshing) ending of ‘Christmas Roses’ seems to bear out Angela Carter’s claim that “women writers are kinder to women.” 

First published in Mrs Reinhardt and Other Stories, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978

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