Vancouver and Victoria stepped inside a warm and comfy log cabin out of the biting winter cold, doubling up as a hot dog shack. They made their space in a corner decked with plump ruby red-leather sofas and armchairs, and embellished with fluffy down cushions of various shades of red from salmon through strawberry to mahogany.
“Hot dog, Van?” Victoria asked her peckish boyfriend.
“Yeah.” Vancouver nodded, breathing hot air into the palms of his gloves.
Victoria approached the queue, but quickly turned back to him. “What sauce do you want?”
“Alright, two hot dogs coming up.”
Vancouver stuffed a cushion under the seat of his insulated trousers and behind his back for extra comfort. He slipped off his gloves, fetched his phone from his jean pocket and began tapping away at the screen, checking up on his social profiles.
“Could I have two hot dogs, please? And put tomato sauce on my boyfriend’s. He’s over there.”
The cook squirted a thin, wavy bright red squiggle of ketchup onto Vancouver’s hot dog. Victoria shovelled the dogs off the counter in the cups of her gloves and lay them down on the table.
“My favourite.” Vancouver stowed his phone away and hastily snapped up his saucy dog. “But it needs a bit more ketchup.”
He grabbed the bottle of ketchup from the centre of the table, squeezing it just a little too much. A jet of ketchup splattered against the front of his shirt, and he gasped with shock.
“Oops.” Vancouver flushed almost the same shade of scarlet as the ketchup on his shirt. Victoria tut-tutted and handed him a tissue.
“Eh, it’s red. It won’t show up on my shirt, honest.” Vancouver grinned awkwardly, scrubbing the stray ketchup off.
“Vancouver, don’t rush things so much,” Victoria admonished him, then she smiled. “Alright, time to get eating.”
Vancouver carefully shot some more ketchup out onto his dog, and blissfully chomped down one tomato-flavoured and meaty bite at a time. Victoria kept it simple, eating her dog fresh and ungarnished from the fryer. Vancouver reached down to his lap and swept off some wandering breadcrumbs with the side of his glove.
“Vancouver, are you itching down there?” Victoria looked a little suspicious at her boyfriend.
“No.” Vancouver innocently tilted his head aside, blinking in a gaze.
“Vancouver…” Victoria turned to the other diners. “He’s crazy, my boyfriend is. You wouldn’t understand unless you get to know him.” She gave them a little wink.
Vancouver gobbled up the last morsel of dog, wiping the ketchup around his mouth with the dab of his tissue.
“Let’s go get a hot drink to warm our mouths and hearts,” Victoria suggested as she picked up the empty holders and tidied them away in the bin.
“Always love cocoa on a cold winter’s day – or night.” Vancouver noticed the aquamarine sky rippled with cloudy streaks of amethyst, cinnabar and amber, despite it being only one in the afternoon.
“I’d like marshmallows and whipped cream in mine.”
Vancouver cupped his deluxe hot cocoa in his gloves, the heat radiating through the wool insulating his hands. The barista sprinkled in some mini pink and white marshmallows, finishing off with a spray of whipped cream on top. Victoria took a small sip of her vanilla cocoa, linking her arm around her boyfriend’s as they strolled towards the market.
“Ooh, better lap up the cream quick, or it’s gonna melt.” Vancouver rather noisily licked the mountain of cream off the top of his cocoa, getting some of it on the tip of his nose and around the corners of his mouth.
“Vancouver, Vancouver, Vancouver.” Victoria had kept a spare tissue from the hot dog shack for times like this. She dabbed at Vancouver’s face to wipe the dashes of cream off. “This is a date, remember?”
“Well, it’s not really a formal date, is it? We’re just out here to enjoy the festivities.”
Vancouver sniffed out something roasted, meaty and gamey in the frosty air, distracting him. “Speaking of which…”
“Turkey tonight,” Victoria smiled.
She and Vancouver both sipped on their cups of cocoa, making the first step into the market. Ruby and emerald baubles decked every one of the many stalls, with aromatic wreaths of holly, rosemary and cinnamon gracing the roofs. The holiday scents of turkey, mulled wine, Christmas pudding, orange with cloves and mince pies all blended together into one conglomerated perfume of the festive season.
“Hello Victoria!” Kitchener’s delightful voice came from the turkey stall.
“Oh, hello Kitchener.” Vancouver stirred around, his cocoa almost spilling over the brim.
“These turkeys are freshly roasted, so it’ll save on all that hard work in the kitchen – and you’ll get to spend more of Christmas with your loved ones.”
Kitchener slipped on his heatproof gloves and slid a tanned turkey out of the oven, sprinkling some sprigs of rosemary over it. Vancouver came closer, the rosemary fragrance flowing over his scalp and relaxing him. He took a deep sniff.
“Man, I love herbs… Especially rosemary and mint.”
“Oh, the stuffing’s got a hint of mint in it, actually. Gives it a bit of flavour.”
Kitchener rolled some fresh mint leaves into some balls of onion and sage stuffing. He caught a slight whiff of tomato from Vancouver.
“But I didn’t add any tomatoes.”
Victoria also approached the counter. “My silly boyfriend splattered himself with ketchup. He cleaned it off, but now he’s going to smell of tomato for as long as he’s wearing that shirt,” she giggled.
“I told you, it’s red, so it doesn’t show up.” Vancouver tugged down the front of his shirt slightly in front of Kitchener, patting the back of his head sheepishly.
“Well, get yourself a freshly-roasted, lovely juicy turkey for tonight, and a stain on your Christmas sweater will be the only thing you’ll have to worry about,” encouraged Kitchener.
Victoria picked up the turkey which was bronzed the deepest shade of tan. “What will you take for this one?”
“Ten dollars. Great deal, isn’t it?”
Victoria handed him a note, and he ripped off a sheet of tinfoil just wide enough to wrap around the whole turkey. It felt pleasantly toasty in Victoria’s cupped hands, and she stuffed it into a weaved seagrass basket. Vancouver placed his cold face close to the turkey to warm his cheeks.
“Not too close, Van, you’ll burn your face.”
“Let him, he’s your boyfriend after all,” laughed Kitchener. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you too,” said Victoria, and she and Vancouver set off deeper into the market. They skimmed each one of the stalls, testing out the festive wares and eats with their gloved fingers. Vancouver stopped by a stall selling homemade mince pies by the masses, sniffing out the buttery shortbread pastry and orange-infused mincemeat mixture.
“Don’t get a whole dozen, Vancouver. There’s only two of us.”
“But we gotta keep some for Santa too, right?” Vancouver picked up a mince pie, trying to resist munching it down.
“And his reindeer.”
Victoria gave in to Vancouver’s insistence, buying a whole box of mince pies. He tried to tear the flaps open to pilfer one, but Victoria gave him a light slap on the hand, shaking her head jadedly.
A scent even stronger than the fruity mincemeat tickled Vancouver’s nose. He could catch faint notes of pine, cinnamon and apple, those classic Christmas fragrances. He jerked slightly onto Victoria’s scarf trail, dazed by the aroma.
Victoria felt herself being hauled along with her boyfriend.
“Don’t pull so hard, my scarf’s going to loosen itself.”
Vancouver slunk by the candle stall, his eyes gazing upon the stacks of candles in holly green, berry red and snowy white. The scents strengthened inside his nose, letting go of Victoria’s scarf as he inhaled a deep sniff.
“Candles? How romantic.”
Victoria picked up a few samples of each of the varieties of candle, glancing at the labels. Vancouver studied the candles more closely, sniffing each one. From the green, he picked up on the earthy yet lush hints of a fresh Christmas tree. The red emanated a delicious perfume of apple and cinnamon, while the white imparted a silky vanilla tone.
“Ooh, sniff these,” he told Victoria, and she also sniffed each of the candles.
“Don’t mind a couple to light up our Christmas dinner.”
Vancouver selected one out of both the apple and vanilla candles, which Victoria promptly purchased.
“This’ll be enough for today, okay? We’ve got everything else back home.”
He glimpsed up to the sky, which was now dimming to dark sapphire marbled with jasper. “We’ve got a little more time to enjoy the fairground rides before the early sunset.”
Vancouver and Victoria were secured into their seats on the spinning chairs. Vancouver, with his head down, rattled the chain and brushed his feet back and forth against the ground, as if in apprehension over how high they would be towed up.
“Vancouver, it’ll only go up a few inches. No need to worry about heights this time,” Victoria assured him.
“But I’ve just eaten, and I might get dizzy again.” Vancouver felt a little sweaty despite the December cold.
“Remember what I told you – don’t focus on the motion of the ride.”
A small metallic clunk and whirr sent the chairs onto their cycle of spins. Vancouver grasped onto the chains.
“Vancouver, your arm’s on my head!”
“Sorry, I just need to hold on to something.”
“Well, hold onto your chain and not mine.”
Victoria gently coaxed Vancouver’s hand off. With each revolution, the chairs lifted themselves slightly off the ground until everybody’s feet were airborne enough to wave around freely. Vancouver’s stomach dipped, and he could still taste the ketchup-flavoured pork sausage from his hot dog inside.
“I can feel my lunch coming up.”
“Close your eyes, Vancouver.”
Vancouver slowly closed his eyes and tried hard to hone his focus onto the blackness instead of the whirling of the chairs. He inhaled short but deep breaths to calm his racing heart, inclining his head up to the sky.
Vancouver’s mindfulness seemed to be doing the trick. His stomach eased, and the warm sweat on his bared flesh dried up. He blinked his eyes open for a short moment to see that they weren’t really that high above the ground, just a few centimetres above it.
“I think I feel better now,” Vancouver smiled to his girlfriend.
“See, it works when you stay calm,” Victoria smiled too.
“That went by quickly,” remarked Vancouver.
“You had your eyes closed pretty much the entire time,” giggled Victoria. “So I guess you’re a bit more confident with riding high now.”
“Emphasis on ‘a bit’…” Vancouver chuckled rather tensely. He glanced towards the sky, now midnight blue with an aura of azure. “I think we can do a couple more rides before it gets completely dark.”
“The city looks a whole lot more spectacular at night, doesn’t it?” Victoria commented on the thousands of emerald, amber and ruby lights of the blackened skyline while she and Vancouver waited their turn for the helter-skelter.
“Guess so.” Vancouver’s heart was tickling a little due to the height.
The attendant beckoned Victoria on, and she sat at the peak on top of a bristly mat. Vancouver stared down the length of the slide as his girlfriend rode downwards, spiralling around the centre pillar and cheering the whole way.
“I’m coming, Vic!” he called after her, swiping a mat and pushing himself down. He slid so fast that he bumped into her while she was still at the end.
“Vancouver, you should’ve waited your turn so I could get out of the way on time!” she reprimanded him.
“Well, sorry, I was thinking too fast…” Vancouver palmed the back of his head apologetically.
“Oh, you foolish boy. Let’s go down the slide again, and this time you wait.”
The couple retrieved both of their mats and re-ascended the steps, where they were quicker for their second descent. Victoria sat back down on the summit, holding a stretched-out palm to Vancouver to stop him rushing, and promptly glided down the helter-skelter without a hitch. Vancouver waited a moment for her to move out of the way, and he pushed himself again. Halfway down the slide, he came to a sudden stop.
“Oh, uh… I seem to have hit a sticky spot…” he giggled nervously, tossing back to the bemused riders back at the top. “Eh, don’t worry, I’ll just get myself going again.”
Vancouver budged himself from side to side to get himself unstuck, but he misjudged a tiny manoeuvre and ended up slipping down the slide headfirst, clutching onto tiny straws off his mat and hollering out. Victoria flipped around and gasped in shock as he shuttled down the rest of the slide and landed facedown in the crisp crystalline snow, shovelling it aside.
“Vancouver! Look at you, you’ve got snow on your scalp!” she exclaimed, lugging him up off the snow and dusting him off with the palm of her glove.
“Well, at least it’s not dandruff,” Vancouver tittered, shaking his whole body vigorously to get rid of the snow Victoria hadn’t brushed off.
Victoria mollified herself. “So since you were so calm on the spinning chairs, and the city’s much more beautiful at night, shall we ride the Ferris wheel again?”
Vancouver’s dark hazel irises dilated, but he remembered his relaxing technique. “Alright.”
Vancouver and Victoria clambered back into the carriage on the Ferris wheel they rode in the last time.
“So just keep calm this time and you’ll be okay,” Victoria reassured Vancouver. “And you’ll also get to see all the lights of the city.”
Vancouver restarted his sequence of inhaling and exhaling deep breaths while Victoria held tightly on to his hand. The wheel once again ground itself into action, and Vancouver’s breathing deepened. Even while trying to relax himself, his legs trembled on their own instinct.
“Keep still, Van.”
Vancouver fought against the tremors in his legs as he continued breathing in and out.
“Come on, look at the lights.”
The carriage swung across the peak, and Vancouver managed to keep his eyes open just in time to see the amazing display of rainbow lights amongst the midnight-blue winter sky and the white sprinkles of snowflakes.
“Isn’t it magical?” Victoria’s eyes widened in admiration at the scene.
Vancouver’s heart leapt, not out of anxiety, but out of awe. “It sure is.”
“Home now, Van? I don’t want this turkey to get cold.”
“Yeah. It’s cold, anyway. Our house is warm.”
Vancouver and Victoria, hand in hand, made their way out of the fair, being careful to not get swallowed up by the crowd. They returned to the spot where they’d arrived that morning, but switched to the opposite side so as to go home. As before, they huddled up to each other for extra body warmth. Vancouver tucked his head into Victoria’s chest to prevent another mildly embarrassing episode of snowflakes on his scalp being mistaken for dandruff.
The bus came quicker this time around, as if the driver was concerned about all the people waiting out in the bitter chill. Vancouver and Victoria were first on board, taking up a couple of seats at the very back for maximum heat and comfort.
Feeling a little heavy-eyed, Vancouver rested his head upon Victoria’s shoulder, his eyelids slowly shuttering. He slept deeply for the entire journey home, hazy apparitions of rainbow Christmas lights dancing in the darkness behind his closed eyes.