I am looking forward to Christmas this year. For the first time in a very long time I am not responsible for my Christmas. We are off to a hotel for a few days and spending The Day with my sister-in-law. Bliss! No getting hot and sweaty and frazzled, banished to a cooking hell while others guzzle canapés, champagne and the Quality Street. I shall arrive cool and fragrantly scented at the venue, bags of presents in my hands, make-up intact and clothes unspotted by cooking juices.
Hell I might even get around to applying some slap and varnishing my nails! (Decadent thought)
The one cloud on my horizon will be whether or not I'll be hearing from the S&H (son and heir). He's spending the holidays in Cambodia with Uni friends, at the home of one set of parents - brave couple! I think he might even be planning to be on the beach at Kampot. But of course he'll call I'm telling myself...
Anyway here's a couple of small presents from me to you for Christmas. They are short stories about... well you'll see. They are from my collection of 140 short and short-short stories, A Plate of Bits available to buy on Amazon. It will make a wonderful Christmas present for all your friends, so go and check it out!
For the US link go here and for the UK link here.
For the US link go here and for the UK link here.
On the Road Home
I revisited our old stomping ground last week, before we set out on this trek; remembering all the good times we’d had there, and no mistake. Maz’s always been one for a good time, you know?
“Jezza,” she’d say to me, “You are a one, so you are.”
And we’d roll in the sweetly scented hay, stifling our laughter with kisses.
But that was BC – before conception. When she fell, she told her parents she was still a virgin; swore blind we’d never done it. Well, she’s a good girl, isn’t she? We didn’t want people to think she was a slag, y’know? A miracle they all said. I went along with it; stood by her. They were suspicious, but I was clear of any dog–house.
Then some old bastard passed that law about the likes of me and mine returning home to pay my taxes.
So here we are on our way back, with Maz sitting on a donkey that’s on its last legs, and her bulging fit to burst. God knows if we’ll make it all the way before the baby comes. To make it easy, we're just following that new star in the east; even a sightless gimp could follow that all the way home.
And then when we do arrive, what’s the betting there’re no rooms to be had, anywhere? S’pose in the end we’ll be grateful for a stack of hay in any old stable. Mind you, I’ve got very fond memories of Maz in stables; know what I mean?
Last night she turns to me, with a big goofy Madonna–like smile plastered all over her face, and says:
“Don’t worry; we’ll get through this Jezza. And then the baby’ll be born... We’ll be a proper family, then.”
Now there’s blind faith for you. Women – eh?
The Angel on the Tree
She gazed around her wood, and mentally marshalled her silent troops. She often visited them, just to keep in touch. It wasn’t really her wood; it was just her job to look after it. It wasn’t really a wood, more a line of trees at the back of a country Inn. But she had been given the responsibility to protect these beautiful trees. The little angel quietly chatted to the trees in her coppice:
“Right chaps, we got through it last year! And now we have to gird our loins for this next one,” She murmured softly. There was an interested rustle in response.
Last year had been her first year as guardian, and in their defence she’d managed to transport a flight of Urania butterflies from the Amazon for those couple of hours in early December – just long enough for the locals to be amazed and so put a stall on the annual seasonal cutting. Ok, when she’d got the flight back to their rightful home, they had been a little frost–bitten and even more than a little confused…but no real harm was done.
Well, she’d thought so; but her immediate boss hadn’t appreciated her ruse. No flash methods this year, she’d been told. Just good old fashioned guarding; easier said than done.
“It had worked though,” she muttered a little sulkily, “and isn’t that what it’s all about?”
There must be a way; she sat and considered, glumly.
No flash. No ruses.
When the idea hit her, she nearly fell off her branch. It was so simple! So beautifully simple – and she was sure this would save her trees forever. All she needed was an event to make special – and she knew just how to make it special. Any event, and she would be home and dry; which was more than she could say about herself now! She would have to keep her eyes peeled.
When it finally happened on Christmas Eve, she’d almost given up; had so nearly run out of time, she’d even thought about cheating again, and to heck with the consequences. It was so close to the wire, she could hear the axes being sharpened, in the barn over the road – even as the tired young woman had eased her swollen body down into the soft hay in one of the outhouses of the Inn. The baby boy had been born very soon after midnight early the next day.
At the very time of the baby’s birth, the little angel launched herself into the air and, whirling at terrific speed, shone mightily onto the trees below; her trees, her beautiful trees that she wanted so much to protect.
After all, she reasoned, it had worked 2000 years ago. She remembered this from her training in Angelic Matters: How to Manifest to the Populations of Earth. So, no reason to think that this time would be any different.
And do you know, she was right?
Cornbread and Candy Sauce
Big, fat, flakes tumble down, covering everywhere – deadening sound and softening contours. An icy wind flaps in from the north causing some flakes to swirl and dance on their way down from the leaden sky.
Snow is falling hard; the blizzard has been raging all day. And now the barn has a drift stacked up against the lea–side. Inside, flakes flutter through the cracks in the boarding – to flurry in a spiral and sprawl untidily over the floor. They lay where they land, no warmth melts their hearts. The quiet is like a presence – heavy and waiting.
Back and forth a rope swings slightly, a tiny occasional creak the only indication of the weight it holds.
A viscous, crimson plop.
A furry scurrying tells of interest from some hidden inhabitants. But the long rope, attached to the rafters, swings lone and inaccessible. Experience has dictated the position.
Dark red, thick, mixes with the snow covering the iron ground.
Suddenly a crack of yellow light from the door; foot stamping and hot breath blowing on hands. Ma shines the lantern on the rope’s bottom. They both stand and admire the plum–bob weight – Christmas dinner.
“Sure is a big ‘un.”
“How’d ya catch it?”
“Same as usual – cornbread and candy sauce… gobbled it right up. And then – thwack!!”
A mime matches the words; a hammer blow to crack a nut.
“When’ll ya draw and dress it?”
“When time’s right. Waddaya think?”
“20 minutes a pound’ll be a long cook at that weight! Best not stuff it – it’ll take forever to roast, else.”
The lantern’s light wavers and recedes; voices dim and fade out. The latch is closed.
Thick blood drips down stiff fingers and onto the floor, covering the wristwatch, obscuring the dial.
Not everyone eats turkey at Christmas.
Ho! Ho! Ho!Please…
I pray whilst listening to the racket coming in through the open bedroom door; my eyes squeezed tight shut.
… just go to sleep. It’s half past two in the bloody morning and the twins will be awake in an hour or so for their early morning snack.
This is not a good Christmas. Jimmy is working nights – again. The twins may have the snuffles, but their appetites remain; and despite being six months old they still stubbornly insist on an over–night top up. And Johnny – Johnny is on top note.
Maybe if I just ignore him, he’ll go to sleep now?
It's been all go since eleven – getting him a drink of cold water; taking a blanket off his bed; taking him to the toilet; putting the blanket back on five minutes later; getting him a drink of warm water – and on, and on. I pull the pillow around my head in a futile attempt to muffle the constant noise; for a good five minutes I allow the endless whine from the next–door bedroom to wash over me. As each minute ticks by it saps my seasonal spirit yet further.
“Mummy what time is it? Has Father Christmas been yet? Has he brought lots of presents? Can I get up now?” He loops round and round and round and…
Finally, I snap and yell at the top of my voice:
“Johnny, for the very last time – If you don’t go bowbies right away… Father Christmas… Will… Not…. Come.”
At last – blessed silence from my eldest son. Ah! Peace and goodwill to all.