“You stole him from me -”
“I had no choice -”
“You could have said no -”
“I did, but he -”
“Killed me instead -”
Catherine Par clapped her hands. Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour took no notice.
“Everyone, can we have a little silence, please?” she asked, “Henry wouldn’t have wanted to see us arguing,”
The words had their desired effect. Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn were silent instantly. Despite what Henry had done to them, they still loved him just as much as they had on their wedding days. Jane Seymour, too, was silent. She had never loved Henry, but had known to keep her head and her family safe; she would have to agree to marry him. She took a sip of red wine to steady her nerves, then another and another. She began to feel slightly tipsy. Anne of Cleves did not react, but then she had not been arguing in the first place. She thought to herself that she had never really known Henry, she had seen him but a few times during their marriage, which had lasted less than a year. Catherine Howard curled her lip; she had never loved Henry, though her power-hungry family had made sure that she pretended she did as if her life depended on it, which, as she realised, it had. Catherine Parr had never loved Henry either, but he had been very generous to her, and that was why she had applied to the Death Council for his sake, she knew that he had regretted the way his wives had hated each other, and she managed to get them all resurrected in the modern-day world to try to spend three days together and build the bridges between them, in Whitehall Palace. It was the first day, Christmas day, and things had not exactly been going smoothly. Still, she felt maybe she needed to make more of an effort.
“Now,” she said, thinking hard, “we need a way to be able to tell which Catherine and Anne is which…”
“I have an idea,” piped up Catherine Howard. Anne Boleyn raised her eyebrows, but Catherine continued, “Catherine of Aragon could stay Catherine, but I could be Cathy and Catherine Parr could be Cath. Then Anne Boleyn could be Anne, and Anne of Cleves Annie,”
“Well,” remarked Anne, “for someone so uneducated, that was actually quite -”
“I am not – was not – uneducated, that was a myth -”
“So!” said Catherine, “shall we open the presents?”
She first opened a Spanish hood from Anne, remembering how much Anne had mocked them, always preferring the French style. This Spanish style being openly gifted to her made her think she could reconcile with Anne, who gave her a watery smile.
“You are welcome,”
To try and ease the tension, Catherine then opened a Bible from Jane, who had heard about what a devout Catholic she was, dancing slippers from Cath, and a heavy wood necklace from Annie. Strangely, at first, wrapped in, ‘Merry Christmas 1542’ wrapping parchment was a tiny bottle with a gold lid. When Catherine tried to open it, she saw screwed to the lid was a long, gloopy thing she was really quite mystified by.
“What is this?” she asked.
Cathy laughed, “Its nail polish. You brush it onto your nails and it turns them a different colour, said a woman in this shop, called Slipper, Shoes, Boots, something like that. They didn’t accept the money I had in the pocket of my gown to pay the executioner, so a man in the queue lent me some money. I knew you would all notice I was gone, so I found some strange, thin, white parchment and a thing called a match, and set fire to the parchment, then filled a bin with it and set it on fire!”
There followed a mad rush to put out the still-burning fire, and after they had all assembled again, Anne, patting her singed hair, opened her presents. She unwrapped gloves from Jane, the same heavy wood necklace from Annie, nail polish from Cathy and jewelled hat from Cath. She was also given, by Catherine of Aragon, a beautiful line drawing of her favourite greyhound. Catherine said that one of her ladies, who had served her just before her death, had mentioned she had a greyhound that was killed falling from a window, and Catherine had worked on this drawing of him all morning. This was met with gratitude, and then it was time for Jane to open her presents. Catherine, by coincidence, had also bought her a Bible. Anne had chosen an English gable hood for her, hoping it would show she felt bad about the way things had turned out, that she knew it was not Jane’s fault, and that she was willing to accept her ways. The two queens smiled at each other, and then Jane opened the heavy wood necklace from Annie, the nail polish from Cathy, and a jewelled rosary from Cath. Annie then opened her presents. She was not expecting very much at all, for she was not ever, as Henry had put it, properly married to him, and had known none of them to be particularly friendly towards her, since Catherine, Anne and Jane had already died before she had married Henry. She sometimes felt like the wife that didn’t count, the one everybody had forgotten, the boring one. However, she was pleasantly surprised. Catherine had empathized with the fact that Annie had had to leave Cleves and her family, and had found a ten-pound note floating in the breeze, so had secretly, and bafflingly travelled to a bookshop, where she had bought a book on Cleves, with plenty of pictures so that Annie could remember her homeland. Anne had bought her gloves, Jane a German hood, Cathy the nail polish, and Cath some sables. Next was Cathy, whose natural love for pretty things meant she was gifted gloves, dancing slippers, a sapphire necklace, Anne’s heavy wooden necklace and Cathy’s nail polish. Lastly came Cath, who only Cathy vaguely knew. However, when she died she had been holding a copy of a draft of a book she was writing, and so was allowed to take this with her for her three days of extended life. Anne had spotted this, and so Catherine gave her a set of fine quill pens, Anne a marbled-covered notebook filled with parchment and Jane a fine leather-bound book. She also received Annie’s heavy wood necklace and Cathy’s nail polish. After they had al been unwrapped, it was time for Christmas dinner, but since it had all been done for them by servants when they were alive, they had no idea how to cook, and the turkey was black outside and raw inside.
“You know what we should do?” said Catherine. “We should get a servant to make it and deliver it,”
“How?” said Jane, “do they have servants in these times?”
Catherine unrolled a pamphlet shoved through the door.
Half and hour later, the doorbell rang, and though the delivery man was surprised to be handed sovereigns by ‘six middle-aged ladies, except for one young one she was very pretty, actually…in weird big gowns’ he did not show it, and they tucked in to ham and pineapple.
“I heard,” said Cathy, munching on pineapple, “that there is a big shop with reduced prices from tomorrow, Harrods, I think it is, and that there is something called wonn-ga that gives you money for free. Shall we go?”
Everyone agreed and began to talk amongst themselves. Cath thought to herself, ‘It took a long time, but, I think, Henry, that we are all reconciled.’
Snow began to fall as Catherine and Anne laughed with each other. All was well.