This is year that heralds great changes in our Family full of adventures and excitement. I hope that you and your loved ones have an equally fun time in 2015.
The Day After Christmas
T’was the day after Christmas, and all through the house, every creature was hurtin; even the mouse. The toys were all broken, tbeir batteries dead; Santa passed out with ice on his head.
Wrappings and ribbons just covered the floor. While upstairs the family continued to snore. And I in my t’shirt, new Reeboks and jeans, went into the kitchen and started to clean.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang fom the sink to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the curtains and threw up the sash.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a truck, with an oversized mirror. The driver was smiling, so grand. The patch on his jacket said “U. S. POSTMAN.”
With a handful of bills, he grinned like a fox. Then stuffed them quickly into our mailbox. Bill after bill, they still come whistlng and shouting he called them by name.
“Now Dillards, now Broadway, now Penny’s and Sears. Here’s Robinson’s, Levitz, Target, and Marvyn’s. To the tip of your limit every store, every mall. Now charge away- charge away- charge away all!”
He whoopped and he whistled as he he finished his work. He filled up the box, and then turned with a jerk. He sprang to his truck and he drove down the road, driving much faster with just half a load.
Then I heard him exclaim with great holiday cheer, “Enjoy what you got… you’ll be paying all year!”
The Littlest Christmas Tree
The littlest Christmas tree,
lived in a meadow of green,
Among a family,
of tall evergreens,
He learned how to whisper,
the evergreen song,
with the slightest of wind,
that came gently along.
He watched as the birds,
made a home out of twigs,
and couldn’t wait till,
he too was big.
For all of the trees,
offered a home,
the maple, the pine, and the oak,
who’s so strong.
“I hate being little”,
the little tree said,
“I can’t even turn colors,
like the maple turns red”,
“I can’t help the animals,
like the mighty old oak”,
“He shelters them all,
in his wide mighty cloak”.
The older tree said,
“Why little tree you don’t know?
The story of a mighty king,
from the land with no snow?”
Little tree questioned,
“A land with no snow?”
“Yes!” said old tree,
“A very old story,
from so long ago”.
“A star appeared,
giving great light,
over a manger,
on long winters night.
A baby was born,
a king of all kings,
and with him comes love,
over all things.”
“He lived in a country,
all covered in sand,
and laid down his life,
to save all of man.’
Little tree thought of the gift
given by him,
then the big tree said with the
“We’re not just trees,
but a reminder of that day,
there’s a much bigger part,
of a role that we play!”
“For on Christmas eve,
my life I’ll lay down,
in exchange for a happier,
And as I stand dying,
they’ll adorn me in trim,
this all will be done,
in memory of him”.
“Among a warm fire,
with family and friends,
in the sweet songs of Christmas,
I’ll find my great end,
then ever so gently,
he’ll come down to see,
and take me to heaven,
Jesus and me”.
“So you see little tree,
we are not like the oak,
who shelters all things,
beneath his great cloak.
Nor are we like the maple
whose colors leave many,
standing in awe”.
“The gift that we give,
is ourselves, limb for limb,
the greatest of honor,
in memory of him”.
The little tree bowed,
his head down and cried,
and thought of the king,
who willingly died.
For what kind of gift,
can anyone give?
Then to lay down your life,
when you wanted to live.
A swelling of pride
came over the tree,
Can all of this happen?
Because of just me?
Can I really bring honor?
By adorning a home?
By reminding mankind,
that he’s never alone?
With this thought, little tree,
began singing with glee,
Happy and proud,
to be a true Christmas tree.
You can still hear them singing,
even the smallest in height,
singing of Christmas,
and that one holy night.
The last of our three short Christmas stories comes from the Author of Where Angels Tread, a debut novella I reviewed here in May 2014.
A Very Special Christmas
by Loretta Livingstone
Anisha wept with frustration, as she tried to wrench the ring off her finger. Jayesh watched, eyes wide with disbelief.
“Because you disrespect me. You imagine just because I am wearing your ring, you can sleep with me? You think you own me? You knew I wouldn’t do this. You disrespect me, and you disrespect my parents.”
Jayesh glared. “Think you’re so special, do you? Well, you’re nothing! And the ring is nothing. Keep it! I’ll find a girl who loves me properly!”
“I don’t want your ring!” She tore at it with her teeth and finally managed to drag it over her knuckle. The skin beneath had turned green.
“You’re right! It was nothing! Cheap! And so are you. But I’m not. I will be respected.” She threw the ring across the room so hard that it cracked the mirror behind his head.
Turning on her heel, she slammed out of the front door leaving Jayesh seething. All the money he’d spent wooing her, and she wouldn’t let him anywhere near her. Too precious. Proper little princess. Well, that was it! The last time he’d waste his cash on a girl from her type of background.
Anisha stormed down the road, fury battling with humiliation. Did Jayesh truly think just because he had put his ring – his cheap ring – on her finger, she’d be prepared to share his bed, when he knew, he knew she wasn’t that type of girl? Anisha was a modern girl; she believed in women having careers, but she had a deep faith, and she wasn’t going to compromise it – especially to someone who held her so cheap.
“Cheap!” She ground the word out between her teeth! He couldn’t even buy her a decent ring. Not an expensive one, but this – this was a joke. She rubbed at the green stain.
“Cheer up, darlin’. It might never happen.” The stallholder she was passing gave her a wink.
“Stupid man! You are all stupid!”
“Oi. Miss High-and-Mighty. Who yanked your chain?”
She gave him a last searing glare as she swept past, head held high. He grinned. “Proper little spitfire, ain’t yer.”
Reaching the sanctuary of her shabby flat, she slammed the door behind her and threw herself onto the bed. Reaction set in, and her face crumpled. How she missed her mother. “Oh, Ama! Ama! I wish you were here,” she wailed. She couldn’t call. They couldn’t afford it. Anisha was over here to study and bring honour to the family. She hadn’t even told them about Jayesh. She’d been waiting to introduce the subject once she was engaged. They would be thrilled – she had hoped. After all, he was a medical student. And her parents weren’t old-fashioned. He was of the same faith – or so he had said. Obviously, it didn’t mean much to him. She gave her finger one more despairing rub – it was starting to itch now – and hid her face in her pillow, shaking with sobs. So near Christmas. She had been looking forward to sharing it with Jayesh’s family. He was going to tell his mother, he’d said. But who knew. Maybe she was his dirty little secret. At this, she wept even harder. How could she tell Ama and Daddy? She was such a stupid fool.
University had broken up for the Christmas holidays. Anisha had been so besotted with Jayesh, she hadn’t made any friends yet. He had spotted her standing shyly near the entrance three days after she had arrived and taken her under his wing. Flattered and grateful, she had been only too happy to spend all her spare time with him, sharing her dreams, her ambitions. She knew the other students by sight, smiling shyly at them as she attended lectures, but Jayesh was always at her shoulder as soon as they were over. Come to that, why had he always been hanging around outside her lectures? Realisation was finally sinking in for Anisha. Jayesh was a fraud. Maybe he wasn’t even studying, let alone doing medicine.
She shivered and put the kettle on. It was freezing. She couldn’t turn the heating up, not enough money. A hot water bottle would have to do. Thank goodness Jen had told her about them; they were wonderful. She filled two and snuggled under the duvet with them. She was so lonely. Was Jen busy, she wondered? Did she dare go down the hall and knock on her door? Wrapping the duvet round her, hot water bottles tucked under each arm, she left her flat and shuffled down the corridor. Tapping on the door, she waited nervously. A passing girl stopped. “You wanting Jen? She’s away for the holidays, hun. Back in the New Year.”
Well, that was that then; she would be alone over Christmas. She shuffled back to her tiny apartment, recklessly put some more coins in the meter and turned on the TV, wiping the tears from her eyes with a determined small hand. She would shut Jayesh from her mind. He didn’t exist.
Next day, still heartsore, she went to the market to see if she could find something nice to cook – something to remind her of home. The Christmas lights twinkled. Families thronged the stalls. Anisha watched the cheerful scene dismally. If only, oh if only her parents had suggested she study at Karunya University. Or Madras. Anywhere but England. At least she would have been warm, and she could have called them. She would have Skyped her family, but they had such an old computer; it didn’t work very well. She would have to content herself with writing to them. They would be putting their own decorations up, and the crib would be up at the large Catholic Church they went to. She paused. She would do that. She would go to church. Then, she would feel nearer to them. But first, she headed to a stall which sold all the spices she needed. Fingering bright red chillies and knobbly ginger, she breathed in the fragrance of the heady spices which filled the air. It wasn’t quite the same as home. The smells were weaker; the air was colder, and they didn’t make her mouth water like they did at home, but they would do. Then she went to the large old Parish Church.
Anisha slipped in between the large studded oak doors. Just think. This had been here for hundreds of years. She put out her hand and touched the smooth walls, imagining all the generations of people who had been here before her. The church was hushed; the fragrance of incense lingering, the nativity scene laid out at the front. She moved forward, covering her head respectfully, and knelt in one of the pews, looking up at the large cross which dominated the front of the Church.
The holy stillness soothed her like balm. She didn’t know how long she sat there lost in contemplation. Time seemed to have stood still. But it was cold here too. Oh! This country! Would she ever feel warm again? She shivered and got to her feet, suddenly aware of a pair of cheerful green eyes upon her. She blushed and dipped her head, but curiosity got the better of her, and she peeked up again shyly. A man, she couldn’t guess his age, with dull blond hair curled in the neck of a sweater that had seen better days, smiled at her. Oh my goodness. She felt flustered. He came towards her, holding out his hand. She couldn’t very well back away, so she took it reluctantly. She was not going to get involved again. And not with an English person. How could he ever really understand her? She was going to stay away from men until she finished her studies and went home. Ama and Daddy could find her someone suitable. She had had enough of being a modern woman.
His outstretched hand was still in front of her, and, despite her intentions to the contrary, she found she had grasped it with her small one. She felt warmth running through her; suddenly, it didn’t seem so cold.
“Hello,” he said. “My name’s Mike. Are you new here? I haven’t seen you before.”
“Y…yes,” she stammered, blushing to the roots of her hair and pulling her dupatta round her face. “I’ve come to England to study.”
“Have you made many friends yet?”
She dipped her head in shame. “Only one. And he…,” she tailed off. Then, emboldened, “Are you the minister?”
Mike threw back his head and chuckled quietly. “Not me. Poor Reverend Walker. I don’t think I’m his idea of any kind of minister. But I do sort of minister in my own way. Why not come for a coffee with me, and I’ll tell you all about it? Maybe introduce you to some people?”
She shouldn’t. She really shouldn’t. She started to shake her head but, to her dismay, found she was nodding it instead. It was those eyes. Clear, fathomless eyes; they were almost hypnotic. She realised he still had hold of her hand and pulled it away. He smiled. “Oops. Sorry. Forgot to let go. Come on. There’s a nice little coffee shop not far away. It’s the Church coffee shop, you know. You’ll meet all sorts of people there, and you can warm up a bit.” He rubbed his hands together. “It’s freezing in here, isn’t it?”
Now she had her hand back, the warm glow she had felt before had disappeared, and she was shivering again. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt. He seemed nice enough. But so had Jayesh. No. I’m not going to think of him, she told herself. Picking up her bags, she followed Mike out of the Church and towards a brightly lit shop. The warmth hit her like a blast of Indian air as he opened the door and ushered her in. Bright Christmas scenes festooned the walls, and carols hung on the air. The windows were all steamed up, and she rubbed a clear patch on the misty glass with the tip of her finger as Mike went to get coffees. She peeked out; suddenly everything seemed friendlier.
“This is more like it.” Mike sat down opposite her with a tray full of coffees and mince pies. A bunch of people squeezed around the table, moving chairs over from other empty tables, laughing and chatting. Anisha felt included in the festive atmosphere.
A beautiful woman in her late twenties, with long chestnut hair and grey eyes, sat next to Mike and smiled across the table at her. “Hi, I’m Jeannie.” She held Anisha’s eyes with her own, inviting her to reciprocate.
“Anisha,” she whispered, smiling shyly. Next to her, a girl with ginger corkscrew curls, a snub nose and freckles, held a clip board. She reminded Anisha of someone, but she couldn’t think who. She peeped at her through half-closed eyelids. It was the eyes; they were just like Mike’s. Not the same colour – light blue instead of green – but as Anisha looked at them, she had the sensation of looking into the past, present and future all at once. How strange. She shook her head slightly to clear it.
“This is Seraphina,” Mike introduced, “my colleague. You’ll have to watch her.” Seraphina dug him in the ribs, and he winced. “See that clipboard? She’ll have your name down on that in no time if you aren’t careful. Your time won’t be your own.” Seraphina gave him a little frown, but he just ruffled her curls.
“Oh, I…I think…I’m studying you see. I don’t think I could help.”
Seraphina gazed at her. “It’s a great way to make new friends. And you’d be helping us out. Just for one week?” She tilted her head on one side and watched Anisha quizically.
“Told you,” Mike chortled. “She’ll be working your fingers to the bone like she does with the rest of us.”
“Mike! Shhhh!” Seraphina looked as though she was trying not to laugh, but suddenly, the stern mouth quirked into a merry trill of laughter. “Oh, you! You’re impossible! Go on. Go get us some more coffee.
“See what I mean.” He grinned at Anisha, “She’s a proper slave-driver!” Seraphina tapped him on the head with her clipboard.
“Take no notice of him. He’s such a stirrer!”
By now, Anisha was feeling quite light-hearted, as well as light-headed. The banter had drawn her in and made her feel part of this group. “Well. I suppose I could…what would I need to do?”
Seraphina gave her a look of delight. Anisha felt as if she could really belong here with this happy-go-lucky crowd. “We run soup kitchens for the street people. Just over the Christmas period. We don’t belong to any organisation or anything, but we like to do our bit to help. And no one has anything organised in the areas we go to.”
Street people? Anisha’s smile faded. “You mean beggars?” She tried not to shudder. She’d seen them in the shadows and kept well away. She couldn’t. She just couldn’t. She’d be terrified.
“Oh come on, Anisha. They aren’t scary when you get to know them. And you won’t be alone. They have nothing. Not even family. Wouldn’t you like to help those worse off than yourself? You’d get a real blessing out of it.” The corkscrew curls jiggled as Seraphina held her head on one side winsomely. “I promise I’ll put you with someone who’ll look after you.” She studied her clipboard and made a few notes.
Anisha meant to shake her head but found herself nodding. Oh no! Now she was committed. Seraphina was already writing her name. She looked at Jeannie, who was watching her sympathetically. “Will you be going?”
“Sorry, I have something already booked. Mike and Seraphina will see you ok though. And I’ll see you around. We often meet here on a Friday night. Do come along. We’re a friendly bunch, aren’t we, you lot?”
“Yes, do come.” Jeannie was echoed by others at the table.
Despite herself, Anisha smiled. “Oh, very well.”
Seraphina clapped her hands delightedly. “And where can I get hold of you to let you know the arrangements? Do you have a mobile?”
It was something Anisha did have. She gave her the number. “And now, I must go. Friday did you say? See you all then.”
Seraphina gave her another long look. “Tell you what. Where do you live? I can give you a lift.”
No chance of backing out then. Anisha felt as though Seraphina had seen her thoughts. “That would be lovely. I must go now though. I have shopping.” She got up and collected her bags. Half of her was reluctant to leave. The other half was feeling a little overwhelmed. She wanted to go back to her digs and collect her thoughts. And she wanted to write to Daddy and Ama and tell them all about it. Jayesh was almost forgotten as she hurried back through the cold misty air, her heart lighter by far than she had felt since she arrived in England. With Jayesh, she had always felt nervous and eager to please, never as relaxed as she felt today. It was a good feeling. Almost like finding a home.
For the next two weeks, Anisha met up with the others at the coffee shop on Fridays, and a couple of times a week, she helped at the mobile soup kitchens but always stayed safely behind the counter. As the faces of the street people separated from the crowd and she got to know some of them, her terror at being on the streets late into the evening faded. And Seraphina always took her home safely. Anisha was starting to settle in and get to know people. She hadn’t realised how claustrophobic things had been with Jayesh. He didn’t even take me to meet his family, she thought indignantly – when she thought of him at all, which happened less and less. She didn’t miss him one bit, she realised to her surprise.
By Christmas Eve, she had resigned herself to not seeing her mother and father, but Jeannie had invited her to dinner, and there were parties to go to. No longer alone and shy, her world had expanded into a kaleidoscope of colour and fun. Her letters home were transformed. But however will I find time to study, she caught herself wondering, as she dashed back to her flat to put on warm clothes for the soup kitchen. Comfortable now in a thick woollen jumper, jeans – not too tight, she didn’t like those – and a big warm coat, hat and scarf, she waited outside her flat for Seraphina to pull up in the white van with blue wings painted over the back wheels. Ah. There she was. Anisha pulled the passenger door open and jumped in, only to freeze with horror as she realised it must be the wrong van.
“I’m so sorry,” she gasped, as she looked at the silhouette of a young man. “I thought this was Seraphina’s van.” She fumbled for the door handle, ready to leap out.
“Hi. You must be Anisha. Seraphina asked me to pick you up tonight. She’s running late, and you and I are on the same soup run as each other. I’m Simeon. We’re going to Wendley Road tonight. They have a bit of a special on after the soup, so I’m told. We’ve been invited to stay afterwards. I’ve never been on Christmas Eve before, have you?” He was gabbling, Anisha realised. Maybe she wasn’t the only one embarrassed by the change of plan. She stole a sideways look at him but couldn’t see his face properly. She didn’t want to turn her head and take a better look, so she concentrated on the road ahead.
They were driving to the outskirts of the city. She’d never been here before. And with a strange man. Her heart sank. What on earth were they going to talk about? She wriggled uncomfortably.
At last the van pulled up on a dark corner, and Simeon got out and started to unload. The mobile soup kitchen was there already. Seraphina was manning it and gave them a wave. Relief flooded through Anisha. Thank goodness.
“Did you bring loads more stuff, Simeon? We’re going to need it. I’ve almost run out. Busiest night of the year tonight.” She pushed her ginger curls out of her eyes and handed another cup of soup to a ragged individual standing by the hatch. “There you go, my love. That’ll warm you up. Come back later. There’ll be mince pies then.” The shabby figure muttered at her and shuffled off. “Come on, let’s get cracking. I’m only here for another hour, and then I have to go. I’m singing with a local choir. The rest of the crew will be back to pack up the soup kitchen later. You don’t have to do that. Just hand out the soup until it’s gone, then sit back and enjoy the show.”
“What show?” Anisha looked at Simeon in bewilderment.
“Search me.” He turned to the hatch. “Chicken soup? Or vegetable? Come on, Anisha. Let’s get busy. We can worry about that later.”
Two hours later, Anisha was flushed and laughing. The soup was all gone, and a cheery couple of youngsters had packed everything up and driven away. She peeped up shyly at Simeon beneath the street light. He turned laughing brown eyes to her and held out a strong brown hand. Shall we stay to watch the show then?” She hesitated. Would it be wise? She didn’t even know him. “Oh, do stay. I don’t know a soul here,” he pleaded.
“But you don’t know me either.’
He looked at her solemnly. “I know your name is Anisha. I know you are studying law at Uni.” He turned to her, swept off his scarf and bowed extravagantly. “Greetings, Mem. My name is Simeon. I am here studying journalism. I had been going to go to study at Karunya or Madras.” She gasped. Really? How strange. She hadn’t told anybody here about those two universities. He wrapped his scarf back around his neck, his teeth gleaming very white in the dark. “But I suddenly got the chance to come to Uni in England. How could I resist?” He stopped capering about and gave her a wistful look. “Oh, please. Do say you’ll stay. I’ll see you safely home. No funny business.”
Anisha looked at him, trying to be severe, but she could feel a dimple twinkling at the side of her mouth. “Very well. But you promise? No funny business?”
“You have my word. Mem.” Clowning around again, he put one arm around the lamp post, swung around it and made another of his ridiculous bows.
Laughing, she capitulated, and they wandered over to the group of outcasts collecting near a brazier. Mike was there, waving at them. Anisha breathed a small sigh of relief. Someone else she knew. They joined him, and he handed them mince pies. There was laughter and joking, but all of a sudden one of the down-and-outs gave a sibilant hiss, and a clock struck 11:45, chimes ringing out in the cold, crisp air. A silence fell, and Anisha heard Simeon give a sharp intake of breath. She looked up at the skies and gasped. It couldn’t be. No way!
It was. Before her disbelieving eyes, a huge angel choir was assembling, singing gloriously. Trumpets heralded a huge angel, who announced the age old words, “Peace and goodwill to all men, for today is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord.” She and Simeon stood there, reality suspended, taking in the sights and sounds of the Heavenly choir. Never in all her life had she experienced anything like this.
Anisha stepped back, catching her scarf on the handle of Aggie’s discarded shopping trolley. Turning to disentangle herself, she saw passers-by look at the small, tattered group, then glance upwards with blank faces and move on. Couldn’t they see it? Couldn’t they hear it? Shaking her head in astonishment, she lifted her eyes back to the magnificent sight. Her heart lifted, her soul seemed almost to rise out of her body and join the angels. Joy and rapture filled her until she felt she might explode; a silent tear ran unheeded down her cheek. Such beauty! Such majesty! Oh, what must Heaven be like? Caught up in the experience, she never noticed Simeon’s arm slip around her shoulder but instinctively nestled in to him, sheltering from the wind, all without taking her eyes from the heavens.
Slowly, the angels faded away and the stars came back out. Simeon let his arm fall from her shoulders and looked down at her, eyes shining. She opened her mouth to speak, but he put his finger to her lips, and they walked back to the van in silence. He held out his hand to her. Anisha hesitated. He gave her a steady look. “No funny business, Anisha, but I’d really like to get to know you better.” She smiled and held out her own hand. His warm fingers wrapped around hers, and they stood for a moment, gazing at each other. From behind them, Mike looked at them in satisfaction before he shook out his wings and soared upwards. Another job done.
Today’s short story comes from the Author of The Delmar Shark Chronicles, which I reviewed in June 2013. If you’ve not yet read any of these books they are worth the time.
Our Own Little Christmas
By Heidi Peltier
Terra woke up alone again this morning, just like she did on Valentine’s Day, and on her birthday, and on our fourth wedding anniversary a few months ago. Either I had left early in the morning, or I had never come home at all the night before. The further into my college education I got, the busier and more preoccupied I became. The first few semesters, I made the three-hour journey to and from the university in Palermo, Sicily, every day. Each night, I would return home to our tiny island home of Isola di Squalo, the island of which Terra was Queen. I would be exhausted from a full day of study and travel, but I would happily fall into bed each night knowing she was right beside me, snuggled in my arms. That alone made it all worth it.
But as my classes grew more challenging and my workload mounted, it became impossible to make the trek home every night. I refused to get housing on campus. I refused to accept that I couldn’t go home to her every day. So, for a long time, I would stay in a hotel or crash on a friend’s couch for the night in order to make a late night study session and an early morning class. Finally, Terra convinced me that my best option would be to lease a flat near campus. I adamantly denied needing it, but she could see the exhaustion on my face. She knew I couldn’t keep up the rigorous pace much longer. I swore to her I would come home every weekend, and I did…until once again, the work mounted up, and I was forced to stay one weekend, then two, then three.
She’s busy too, I told myself. She has a country to run. She probably doesn’t even notice I’m not there most of the time. It was a lie, and I knew it. She noticed. I could see it in her eyes when I would return. And I dreaded seeing the pain on her face when it was time for me to leave again. She never cried though, never complained. I think she knew it would only make it that much harder for me. And we both knew I couldn’t give up. She established the Delmar Shark Institute for me. It was an unbelievable gift, one that went against every natural instinct she had. But she did it for me because she knew how much it meant to me, so I was going to earn it. I just never knew the price I would have to pay, the sacrifices both of us would have to make.
I’m almost done, I told myself. It’s almost over. With the college courses I’d taken in high school and being able to go to school full time, I’d completed my undergraduate studies in just two and a half years. I gave up competitive swimming to devote my full attention to getting my degree. I immediately started working on my master’s degree and only had a little further to go to finish it. Once I started on my PhD, I could spend a whole lot more time at home working at the shark institute. No more going back and forth every day. No more nights away from home. No more saying goodbye to Terra. I just had a little bit more to go, but she had no idea. She knew I’d been pushing myself, but I hadn’t really been keeping her up to date on my progress, mostly because I didn’t want to disappoint her if I failed. So, I set my goal and kept it to myself.
At the end of November, we had a long weekend break, and even though there was work to do at school, I went home. I had to. I hadn’t seen Terra in three weeks at that point and refused to go another week. I arrived at the palace unannounced in the early afternoon. I peeked into her office and found her slumped over her desk, her head in her hands, crying. I couldn’t bear it. I burst into the room, ran to her, and took her in my arms. She gasped and immediately started wiping her eyes. She plastered a smile on her face and tried to compose herself.
“Dylan,” she said in surprise, “I didn’t know you were coming.”
“I wanted to surprise you,” I murmured, my joy at finally seeing her being trampled by the sadness in her eyes. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long.”
“No need to be sorry,” she insisted. “I know you’re busy.”
“I never meant to hurt you this much, Terra, really.”
“I’m fine, Dylan.”
“You were crying,” I pointed out. “You’re not fine.”
That’s when I spotted the note on her desk. It was a message from her brother, Fed. The note told Terra that he would not be coming home for Christmas this year because he’d be spending it with his girlfriend Ana’s family in Portugal. Terra’s sister, Delphine, had already told us she wouldn’t be coming for Christmas either since she was studying at an art institute half way around the world in Canada. Terra’s parents were both dead, which meant Terra had been sitting here thinking about having no one at Christmas. Surely, she didn’t assume I wouldn’t be here. Or perhaps she did. With her brother and sister both studying out of the country and me gone almost all the time now, she must have been feeling very lonely. And suddenly, my heart was breaking for her. I should have realized. I should have been paying closer attention.
I pulled her closer to me and tucked her head under my chin. As I stood there holding her, a plan started to form in my head. I would be home for two full days after this, and then I would probably be gone until the semester ended the third week of December. I was going to make the most of my time on the island and put my plan in motion.
Terra had a meeting that afternoon which I knew she couldn’t cancel just because I’d graced her with my presence unexpectedly. So, in those two hours, I held my own secret meeting with Ilario, Terra’s head of security. He and I arranged everything, and by the time Terra was free, my plan had come together. But she had no idea.
For the next two days, Terra and I were inseparable. We spent hours walking through the gardens and by the lagoon. We went into town but didn’t stay long. The friendly people of the island were wonderful and loving, but I hadn’t come home to see them. I wanted to be selfish and have my wife all to myself. I took her for a picnic at Faro di Merrick, the lighthouse hill overlooking the sea where we always went to escape life for a little while. We talked about our future together once I was finished with school. I hadn’t realized until that day just how badly she wanted to start a family. With a baby to take care of, I thought hesitantly, she won’t be alone. I held her in my arms, and we danced to the music of the sea until the sun set.
When it was time for me to leave, I told her it was OK to cry because I was crying too. She buried her face in my chest, and I held her until I couldn’t stay another second without being late. I boarded the ferryboat that took me back to Sicily and watched her until I couldn’t see her anymore. Then, I sank into my seat and cried, not caring that the driver and my bodyguard could see.
Three excruciating weeks passed as slowly as molasses on a cold day, as my grandma used to say. I worked my tail off and fell into bed exhausted every night. Every morning, I ticked another day off the calendar, counting down the days until I saw my girl again. I finished my work and met with my professors and advisors. I made my request, and they granted it. All that was left now was to pack up my belongings from the flat and get home.
I made a call to Ilario, and he got things rolling at the palace. Terra’s personal attendant, Maria, had been tasked to pack Terra’s bag for her in secret. That bag was now stowed in a closet, ready to be thrown into the car as soon as I arrived.
I swept into the castle, and Terra was there waiting for me. I pulled her to me and pressed my lips to hers. When I finally let her come up for air, she said, “I’m so happy you’re home.”
“Not for long,” I said conspiratorially.
“What do you mean?” she asked, but before I had a chance to answer, Maria crept up behind her and threw on her coat. Ilario grabbed the suitcase from the closet and put it in the car that was still waiting outside.
“What’s going on?” she asked, confused but smiling.
“Your chariot awaits, my lady,” I said, offering her my arm.
I led her to the car, and Ilario drove us back to the docks while I spent the time kissing my very curious wife. I kissed her on the ferryboat, and I kissed her in the car on the way to the airport. Royal decorum dictated that I was not allowed to kiss her in the airport or on the airplane, but I snuck a few in here and there. She asked over and over again where we were going only to be answered with another kiss. I think she eventually caught on to the game and asked anyway knowing she’d never get an answer. I resumed showering her with kisses in the car when we arrived in Switzerland.
And now, here we stand, outside one of the most remote ski resorts in the Alps. The sun has set, and thousands of twinkling white lights illuminate the scene. On the eaves of the buildings, they sparkle inside the icicles that hang there too. An enormous Christmas tree stands just inside the two story high lobby windows, inviting us to come inside. I look at Terra and am mesmerized by the reflection of the lights in her eyes, sparkling like the sunset on the ocean. I can’t help it – I have to touch her. I run my finger gently down her jaw line, and she turns her glittery eyes to me.
“I knew,” I say, leaning in to kiss her neck, “that you didn’t want to be in that big, empty palace for Christmas. So, I decided we’d have our own little Christmas away.”
She stays quiet, but she doesn’t have to say anything. The look in her eyes is enough.
“And we don’t have to ski at all, if you don’t want to,” I whisper in her ear.
She blushes and giggles, and we walk inside.
On Christmas morning, Terra doesn’t wake up alone, and if I have my way, she never will again. She begins to stir, but I wrap my arm tighter around her to hold her in place. I kiss the back of her head and nuzzle into her hair.
When we finally emerge from the bedroom, breakfast is already laid out for us on the table. She refuses to let me bring her breakfast in bed, so we sit together to eat. Suddenly, a look of panic crosses her face.
“Dylan,” she gasps. “I didn’t bring your Christmas gifts. I didn’t know…”
“I don’t need any,” I tell her. “This Christmas isn’t about me. It’s about you. It seems like everything has been about me for the last few years, and I’m tired of that. Come on.” I extend my hand to her and pull her to the living room sofa. “Let me get your gifts for you.”
“Oh, Dylan, this trip is enough…”
“Hush,” I whisper as I disappear into the bedroom. When I return, I have two packages in my hands. I give her the smaller one first.
It’s a necklace and earring set – heart shaped aquamarine stones surrounded by diamonds. I had them specially made to match the ring I gave her four years ago. The blue of the stone almost matches her ocean blue Delmar eyes.
“They’re beautiful,” she whispers, a slight catch in her voice.
“Not as beautiful as this,” I say, handing her the larger package.
She lays the rectangular shape in her lap and begins to tear off the paper. Inside is a black leather folder. Inside that is my master’s diploma.
“The University of Palermo,” she mutters, skipping lines, “have conferred upon Dylan Austin Murphy the degree of Master of Science, Marine Biology…”
She looks up at me, confusion etched on her face. “What…?”
“I wanted to surprise you,” I say, taking her hand in mine. “I graduated…four days ago.”
“But Dylan,” she argues, “we were here. We missed it. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t miss anything,” I tell her. “I did what I went there to do, and now I have my degree and I have you. That’s all that matters.”
“You’re finished?” Disbelief exudes from her. “Already? But how…?”
“When it’s something you love,” I explain, “you just do it.”
She nods and looks back down at the diploma.
“I’m talking about you,” I say, pressing my lips to her fingers. “I did this so I could come back home to you. I couldn’t stand being away from you so much, so I pushed myself to finish quickly. I’m sorry for all the time I’ve been gone, but from now on, most of what I’ll need to do can be done at home, at the shark institute. I’m done, baby. I’m not leaving you ever again.”
Finally, she lets herself cry, and she throws her arms around me. I wrap mine around her, and I never, ever intend to let go.
©Squalo Books 2014
For Christmas Heidi is offering the above short story as a free download for your kindle, head over and pick it up for future reading.
With this being the week before Christmas the site is going in a new direction. Instead of the usual book reviews, I am going to be featuring three short stories, two from Authors who work I have reviewed and one (today’s story) from an Author whose work I have not reviewed.
Please enjoy them, and I wish you all a very peaceful Christmas.
The True Meaning of Christmas
A Short Story
The little girl’s name is Clarinda. She is ten years old with long dark brown hair and beautiful blue eyes. She has never known what it is like to be warm or to have a full stomach. It is two days’ before Christmas and the house is bare of any signs of the holiday.
Clarinda woke up this morning and heard someone crying. She got up, grabbed her thin bathrobe and wrapped it around her quickly as she tiptoed over to the door. The floor felt cold under her feet and she felt around for her slippers, tattered as they were, they would be better than nothing at all to keep her feet warm. As she slowly opened her bedroom door the sounds were louder and she realized that they were coming from her mother’s room.
Clarinda’s mother, Miranda, was not well and hadn’t been for as long as she could remember. Her mother had progressively gotten weaker since her last two pregnancies with Clarinda’s siblings, Andrew, four and Brenda, two. Clarinda listened as she passed by her sibling’s bedroom to make sure they were not awake and needing her attention before going to her mother’s room.
In order to put food on the table for the family, Miranda had to take in washing and ironing for other people, well-to-do people. They paid well enough for her to keep her children in mended clothes and provide some meat on the table at least once a week. Her husband, Holden, had died shortly after their daughter, Brenda, was born leaving her with three children to care for without any money.
Miranda sat on the edge of her bed with her head in her hands as she cried. Her mind was whirling since the loss of her husband and she was devastated that she was too weak to continue working to take care of her children. She couldn’t afford to buy food never mind Christmas presents. Miranda looked up as the door to her bedroom slowly opened and Clarinda’s head popped in.
“Mommy, are you okay? Why are you crying?” Clarinda’s beautiful blue eyes looked at her mother with surprise and concern. They belayed her age and showed a deep intelligence. Clarinda’s eyes mirrored her father’s and only broke her mother’s heart more each time she look at her. The other two children favored their mother with their green eyes and blond hair.
“Oh, sweetie, I am all right. Just a little tired today. Don’t worry everything will be fine. Can you be a good girl now and go check on your brother and sister and bring then down to breakfast. I will make your favorite today – pancakes. We have one egg left and enough flour to make a few pancakes. You have been such a big help to Mommy. Now, go on hurry up, honey.”
Clarinda left her mother’s room and went to check on her siblings. Andrew and Brenda shared the same room and both were awake and chattering together as Clarinda entered. She told Andrew to get dressed as she changed her sister’s training diaper and dressed her in her pink pants and top. Brenda always wanted to wear pink – it was her favorite color. She smiled her sweet toddler smile after she was dressed and cuddled with Clarinda to say “thank you.”
Clarinda loved her brother and sister as if they were her own children; after all, she had been both a sister and a mother to then since they were born. She did all she could to help her mother but she was only ten and didn’t realize a lot about life yet and what it entailed to raise a family. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and took Andrew and Brenda by the hands and brought them down to the kitchen for breakfast. The enticing smell of pancakes was in the air and she found herself salivating and hurrying to set the table so they could eat. Their dinner the night before had been meager with a potato and a little gravy made from a soup bone and a piece of bread to sop up the precious liquid.
She put Brenda in her high chair and told Andrew to sit down as their mother flipped the first pancakes onto their plates. Clarinda had to cut up the pancake for Brenda and blow on the pieces so she wouldn’t burn herself trying to eat too fast. Brenda made num num sounds as she stuffed the pieces into her mouth as fast as she could. Clarinda took care of her siblings first before taking her first bite and felt herself melting with the delicious taste.
Miranda looked over at her children as they ate like it was their last meal. But, she thought sadly, it could be if her health didn’t improve soon. She didn’t know what she was going to do. She didn’t have anyone to turn to and didn’t want to lose her children if she asked the state for help. Clarinda was such a godsend and was already doing so much to help her. Could she ask her to do the washing and ironing too? No, she thought, she would have to do it herself but have Clarinda bring the basket of clothes to the Antonelli’s house and receive payment. Yes, that is what she would do.
Clarinda cleaned up the children’s faces and then tackled the table and the dishes in the sink as she waved at her mother to go lie down and rest. Miranda kissed her sweet daughter’s face and patted her on the head as she passed by to go to her room to rest.
Miranda called out to her daughter on her way to her room, “Thank you, sweetie, for cleaning up. I will just rest a little and then I will tackle the clothes and ironing. If you could bring the clothes over to the Antonelli’s after and pick up the payment that would be a great help to me.”
“Of course, Mommy, I will be happy to help you. I will watch the kids while you rest. I love you, Mommy.” Clarinda was fearful that her mother was going to die like her father did. She told her mother every chance she got that she loved her, thinking that maybe she would keep her healthy longer that way. She always felt terrible that her father died before she could say, “I Love you, Daddy.” Clarinda could feel tears brimming in her eyes and used her sleeve to wipe them away so that her siblings wouldn’t see her crying. She had to be strong for them.
Miranda lay down and fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. She stirred in her sleep dreaming of her husband and his hand was reaching out to her. She reached forward in her sleep to touch his hand but it just seemed too far out of reach.
While her mother slept Clarinda kept the children busy as she read several books to them. At least they had books that she managed to get from the library that were going to be thrown away. They were tattered just like the rest of the things in her life.
It was nearly noon and her mother still had not woken up. She would have to feed the children their lunch and then tackle the clothes. Clarinda knew that if she didn’t get the clothes over to the Antonelli’s today they would not get paid full price for the wash. She put together the last two slices of bread to make a bread and butter sandwich and split it between the children. While they were busy eating she would start the wash.
There was a small basket in the laundry area which was filled with their clothes and the larger basket was the Antonelli’s. Clarinda put in the first load and added the detergent which was getting low. She made sure to use it sparingly so she would have enough to finish all the clothes. While the machine was going she hurried back to check on her brother and sister. Andrew and Brenda were just finishing up the last of their sandwiches and looking for more. Clarinda checked the cabinets once again for anything to fill their little stomachs before her own. She found a few crackers which she doled out to them and ate one herself. That would be the only lunch she would have. She wasn’t a large person but she felt she could afford to lose weight but not her younger siblings who needed the nourishment more. She gave them each a full glass of water to fill them up more before putting them both down for a nap. After tucking them in to their beds she hurried back to the clothes to transfer the clean ones to the dryer and the dirty ones into the washer. At this rate it would take all day to finish washing the clothes besides having to iron them too.
Clarinda worked tirelessly for two hours without stopping until she heard Brenda crying. She rushed through the last bit of ironing and shut off the iron. As she headed into the children’s room she was greeted by smiles and happy jumping as Brenda put her arms out to her from her crib and Andrew got out of bed and snuggled close to her side. Clarinda wrapped them both in her arms and held them tightly wanting only to protect and keep them safe – if only she could. She was getting concerned about her mother since she still hadn’t woken up yet.
With the children by her side she guided them to her mother’s room to see if she was ready to get up now. She needed for her mother to watch the children while she took the clothes to the Antonelli’s.
When she opened the bedroom door she noticed her mother’s arm was hanging over the side of the bed. She moved closer and turned on the light on the night stand. What she saw made her cry out in alarm. Her mother was still and not breathing. Clarinda shook her mother’s shoulder and called out her name. Clarinda was afraid that her mother might be gone and never wake up again. The children started to cry as they felt something was wrong when Clarinda cried out and only clung tighter to their sister.
Clarinda picked up the phone on the night stand and called Dr. Harvey who was their family physician. When his secretary, Denise, answered Clarinda couldn’t speak as tears kept flooding her eyes and chocking up her speech. The children only cried louder making it even more difficult for Clarinda to hear Denise as she asked what was wrong. Denise waved at Dr. Harvey as he came into the office and pointed to the phone mouthing that it was Clarinda. He picked up the extension and asked, “Clarinda, what is wrong sweetheart?” Dr. Harvey yelled into the phone to try to be heard over all the crying. “Where is your mother, dear?”
“Sss….she is in bed, Dr. Harvey. She is not moving and I can’t wake her up. I don’t know what to do. I have to take the clothes to the Antonelli’s or Mommy will be angry and she won’t get paid. Can you come over and help me?” Clarinda sniffled and wiped her eyes and nose on her sleeves as she tried to hold onto the children at the same time. They were so frightened they wouldn’t let go of her anyway.
“Of course, Clarinda, I will be right over. Just sit tight and I’ll come and check on your mother and stay with the children while you take over the clothes. Okay, dear. Please don’t cry now. I will be right there.” Dr. Harvey put down the phone and felt his hands shaking as he took in what the poor child must be dealing with. He needed to get over to her house immediately. He told his secretary to hold all calls and postpone his afternoon appointments and that he would not be in the office the rest of the day. Denise nodded sadly, “Of course, Dr. Harvey. Is there anything I can do?”
“No, Denise, but thank you. I need to find out if Miranda is okay and stay with the young ones. Clarinda is in such a state over the Antonelli’s clothes. I didn’t realize how bad things had gotten for the family. I feel terrible that I could have helped the Davises in some way and didn’t. Could you please lock up after you contact all the patients? Go home early, Denise, you work too hard and need a break. Thank you for everything.”
“No problem, Dr. Harvey. I hope Mrs. Davis is okay. If you need a babysitter I can go over there after I leave here. Call me on my cell. Okay?”
“That is very kind of you, Denise, but I think I can manage. But it is good to know that you are available in case I need you. Thank you. I will see you tomorrow.”
Dr. Harvey left his office and waved at some arriving patients who looked a little concerned that he was going out when they were coming in. All he could think about was what he would find when he got to the Davis’ house.
Clarinda paced back and forth with Brenda in her arms and Andrew hanging onto her right leg. She kept looking out the window hoping to see Dr. Harvey’s car. It had only be twenty minutes since she spoke to him. He did say he was coming. But she was worried because her mother still hadn’t woken up.
Dr. Harvey pulled into the Davis’ drive and got out of his car. He looked up and saw Clarinda in the window waving at him to come in. He could see she was still crying and the children were upset too. He carried his medical bag with him as he stepped up to the door. He didn’t get to knock as the door was pulled open and Clarinda ran into his arms choking back more tears.
Dr. Harvey patted her on the back and held her as she cried uncontrollably. He moved into the living room with Clarinda hanging onto him while the little ones hung onto her. He wanted to console her but needed to get into Miranda’s room to check her out. He was concerned that she was close to comatose if what Clarinda said was true about not being able to wake her up. He only hoped he wasn’t too late to help her.
“Clarinda, please sit down and try to calm yourself down so the little ones won’t be upset too. Okay, dear. I will go check on your mother and be right back. Why don’t you give the children something to eat while I am gone?
“We….we don’t have any more food, Dr. Harvey. I gave the children the rest of the food for lunch. That is why I have to go to the Antonelli’s to get paid for washing and ironing their clothes.” Clarinda started crying again and this time couldn’t stop. Her siblings started whining and fussing once
they saw their sister upset again.
“Oh, my goodness, Clarinda, I am so sorry I didn’t know. I will take you over to the Antonelli’s child and then we will all go out to get something to eat. Okay? Now just sit tight and calm the children down.”
Dr. Harvey sadly shook his head and felt a deep guilt for not knowing how bad the situation was for this poor family. He vowed to get them some help as soon as he assessed the medical health of their mother.
Dr. Harvey opened the door to Miranda’s room and flicked on the light. What he saw wasn’t good. Miranda was laying on her side with her left arm hanging over the side of the bed. Her eyes were closed and he couldn’t detect any movement in her chest to indicate she was breathing. He pulled out his stethoscope and bent over her body to listen to her lungs and pulses. Her chest was congested and he detected a light heart rhythm and he lifted up her eyelids to check her pupils which were reacting to light. She would need to be hospitalized with what appeared to be a severe case of pneumonia. Dr. Harvey lifted up the phone and called the hospital to get an ambulance for Miranda ASAP.
His next concern was to take care of the children. He made another call to the Antonelli’s on the next block to see what they could do to help.
“Hello, yes, this is Mrs. Antonelli. Who is this?”
“This is Dr. Harvey. I am with Miranda Davis and her children. I need your help, Mrs. Antonelli. I learned from Clarinda, her ten-year-old daughter, that she was to bring over your wash and be paid for this service. Is that correct?”
“Oh, well, Mrs. Davis always brought over the wash not her daughter. What
can I do for you, Dr. Harvey? I don’t understand.”
“Well, Mrs. Davis is very ill and is going into the hospital and will be unable to take care of her three children. Do you think you could help her by taking her children in until she is out of the hospital and well enough to take care of them again? I really don’t know where to turn at this time. They are really in desperate need and it is almost Christmas. Do you think you can help?” Dr. Harvey waited what seemed like minutes but were actually only
thirty seconds before Mrs. Antonelli uttered a word.
“I see. I didn’t realize that Mrs. Davis was sick or I wouldn’t have asked her to continue to work for me. I am sorry to hear that. I also didn’t realize she had three children. I only know of Clarinda. How old are the other two children?” Mrs. Antonelli’s voice sounded a little surprised by the fact that there were three children to care for.
Dr. Harvey continued to persuade Mrs. Antonelli as he said, “Besides Clarinda who is ten, there is her brother Andrew, four, and sister, Brenda, who is two. Life has not been easy for them and Clarinda has been taking care of them all by herself since her mother has been sick. Anything you can do to help would be greatly appreciated. I need to take Miranda to the hospital now so if you could come over here and watch the children or pick them up and take them to your house it would be helpful. Oh, and Mrs. Antonelli, please feed them. They haven’t had much to eat today.” Dr. Harvey was getting a little anxious for Mrs. Antonelli’s answer as he watched the ambulance pull up outside the house.
Mrs. Antonelli finally answered positively, much to the relief of Dr. Harvey, “I will be right over to pick up the children, Doctor.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Antonelli. I appreciate your help. It will mean a lot to Mrs. Davis too. She is in a bad way right now and can’t thank you herself but I will let her know what you are doing as soon as she is lucid. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Antonelli.”
Mrs. Antonelli answered back, “Merry Christmas, Dr. Harvey.” But the phone in her hand was sounding a dial tone.
Mrs. Antonelli, Angela, as most people knew her, grabbed her coat off the high coat rack and her keys off the counter and went out to the garage to her Bentley to drive over to Mrs. Davis’ to pick up the children. She was not a cold person but she was anxious about having to take care of three children. She never could have any of her own though she and her husband had tried for many years until she knew it was not to be. She didn’t know if she could do this but to refuse would be inhumane since Mrs. Davis was going to the hospital and had no one to take care of the children. She would just have to do her best and soon their mother would be back in good health.
Angela pulled into the drive next to the ambulance and ran up to the door as the EMTs rolled out a stretcher with Mrs. Davis. She moved aside and went into the house and was met by Dr. Harvey. Behind him stood three little waifs who looked scared and lost and so sad. She noticed they had all been recently crying which touched her deeply. She wanted to wrap her arms around them and tell them it was going to be all right. But she found that she couldn’t move and didn’t until Dr. Harvey brought her out of her stupor.
“Mrs. Antonelli please come it. Let me introduce you to the children – Clarinda, Andrew, and Brenda. They have been looking forward to meeting you and staying with you until their mother is well.”
Dr. Harvey leaned forward and whispered out of earshot of the children, “Thank you, Mrs. Antonelli, for doing this. It means the world to me and to Mrs. Davis. Clarinda will pack up some clothes and things for herself and her siblings and be ready to leave shortly. Now I need to follow the ambulance and get to the hospital to take care of Mrs. Davis. Thank you again, Mrs. Antonelli. It is wonderful of you to do this. I will contact you to see how the children are doing in a day or so. Take care children and be good for Mrs. Antonelli.”
Mrs. Antonelli turned to look at Clarinda but was at a loss for words as she watched the tears flowing from the ten-year-olds’ eyes. It hurt her deeply to see the child in such torment. She offered Clarinda her handkerchief to wipe her tears and watched as the child composed herself and put on a strong front for her siblings who looked on with frightened faces. They were just babies, thought Angela. What was she taking on? Could she do this?
Angela waved at the little ones and put her hands out to them and they came forward and grabbed onto her fingers as they were visibly trembling from everything going on around them. Angela could see they were confused and frightened and missed their mother. She waited at the door with the children holding tightly to her fingers as Clarinda came back with her hands full of clothes and a few ragged stuffed animals. She rummaged around in the kitchen for a plastic bag in which to put their clothes and two stuffed animals.
Now it was time to go to Mrs. Antonelli’s house. She really didn’t know anything about this lady but what her mother had told her – she was a cold woman who didn’t like children and never had any of her own. Would she be good to her and her siblings? She would protect her brother and sister and not let this lady hurt them in any way. She took a deep breath as she always had to get her strength up and face whatever was ahead. She turned to face Mrs. Antonelli who was holding onto her brother and sister.
Mrs. Antonelli looked kindly at Clarinda and said, “Hi Clarinda, it is nice to meet you. I hope you and your brother and sister will be happy staying with me while your mother recuperates. Do you have everything you need? If not, I will get whatever you need for all of you. Don’t worry about anything, dear. Let me take care of you.” Angela waited to see what Clarinda would say but she just looked at Mrs. Antonelli with eyes full of tears threatening to fall.
Mrs. Antonelli beckoned for Clarinda to come forward so they could leave. The children were getting antsy and tired and were hungry. They hadn’t eaten since noon time. Clarinda only hoped that Mrs. Antonelli would feed the children so they would be able to sleep the night through with full tummies. She couldn’t remember when she last had a full tummy at bedtime or any time.
Angela led the children out to her car after locking up the house and making sure that Clarinda had a key to get back in case she forgot something. After making sure the children were snapped into seat belts she headed home. She would have to make sure she purchased car seats for the younger children. At least she didn’t have to go too far with them since she only lived a block away and didn’t have to worry about being stopped and fined for not having them in car seats.
When they arrived at her house, Angela went to the kitchen and prepared a nourishing dinner for the children. They looked a little pale and underfed and by what Dr. Harvey said they were very needy. Looking around the room at their house she hadn’t seen any signs of toys that children always leave out and about. She reminded herself to make a list for toys and more snacks that kids like on her next shopping trip. The saddest of all was the lack of any Christmas decorations for the children in their house. She would take care of that too before Christmas.
In the meantime Angela had a lot to do and for once in her life felt alive and full of purpose and needed. Her husband was expected from work shortly and she would have to call ahead to prepare him for what she had promised to do. Leonard was a kind man and would be more than accepting of their three young visitors.
Angela dialed her husband and Leonard answered in his usual gregarious voice, “Hi Doll Face! How are you? You couldn’t wait for me to come home – you missed me that much? Is everything okay, love?”
“Yes, sweetheart, I just wanted to tell you something that I did today. It’s very important and I needed to help and……” Angela didn’t know how to tell him but finally blurted it out. “I took in Mrs. Davis’ three children, the lady who does our curtains and things over on the next block. She was just admitted to the hospital in a bad way and her physician, Dr. Harvey, called me to help out until she is well enough to care for her children again.”
“Sweetheart, whatever you have to do is okay with me. I know you have a kind heart and would take in any stray dog if it needed your help. It is fine with me. How did this doctor know to call you? Do you know him?”
“No, but he knew from Mrs. Davis’ oldest daughter that she worked for me. He said he didn’t have anyone else to call. I hope you don’t mind, darling. They will be under my care and you won’t have to worry about anything.”
“No, I don’t mind. Our house is too big for just us anyway and it would be nice to hear the pitter patter of little feet for a change. Oh, by the way, how old are these children?”
“Well, the oldest, Clarinda, is ten and a real beauty with dark brown hair and beautiful blue eyes, then there is Andrew, a handsome four-year-old with blond hair and green eyes and his baby sister, Brenda, who is only two. She is just adorable with curly blonde hair and pretty green eyes. Your heart will melt when you meet them. They are so precious and so needy. Would you believe that they don’t own any toys or new clothes? Also, there were no signs of Christmas in their house. It is so sad for children to live that way. Their mother was having a difficult time on her own. I never realized that she needed help. I would have been more than happy to help if she only had asked me.”
“I am sure you will do more than enough to help them now that you know they need help, sweetheart. It is good to hear you sounding so happy. I can’t wait to get home to meet them. See you soon, Angela.”
Angela put down the phone and continued making dinner, mac and cheese and chicken fingers and mixed veggies. She wanted to make sure the kids got their veggies too. She heard the sound of feet coming up behind her and looked down to see the sweet faces of Brenda and Andrew and close behind was Clarinda. They were looking at the food with such longing that she told them to go wash their hands and faces and come sit down to eat. They hurried along to the bathroom that had been pointed out to them earlier and came back and sat down before Angela could turn back around with the food in hand.
The children were sitting down with napkins tucked under their chins and forks in hand waiting expectantly for their much coveted dinner. Angela placed a plate full of food in front of each child and stepped back. Clarinda jumped up and ran over to her sister’s side and began cutting up her chicken and then moved over to Andrew’s and did the same for him. Angela watched in awe as this young girl acted as if she was their mother. Once she had taken care of her sibling’s needs she sat down and began to eat her own food.
The children were so hungry that they ate too fast at first and began to choke. Clarinda jumped up once again to aid her siblings and told them to slow down and chew their food carefully. Angela sat at the other end of the table and watched as the children finished every last morsel in their dishes and drank every drop of their milk.
Angela asked them, “Would you like more food or milk?”
“No, we are fine, thank you, Mrs. Antonelli. It was very good.” Clarinda turned to her siblings and said, “Say ‘thank you’ to Mrs. Antonelli, Brenda and Andrew.”
“Tank you,” said Brenda.
“Thank you,” replied Andrew who smiled showing some chicken still stuck in his teeth.
Angela had to keep herself busy and grabbed the plates off the table to prevent her eyes from filling and spilling over in front of the children. She mumbled, “You are welcome, children.”
Leonard had walked in quietly and had witnessed this unbeknownst to his wife and suddenly cleared his throat to get her attention. She rushed over to hug him and then introduced him to the children. They stood up and looked at him not sure what to do or say.
Clarinda broke the silence by saying, “Hello, Mr. Antonelli, nice to meet you. Thank you for letting us stay in your home.” She walked over to Leonard and extended her small hand in greeting.
Leonard was a loss for words and just reached over and shook her hand and smiled at her as she looked up at him with the most beautiful blue eyes he had ever seen besides his wife’s, that is.
Clarinda brought her brother and sister in turn over to Mr. Antonelli and they both shake his hand too. Leonard just wiped his eyes and smiled and said, “It is a real pleasure to meet all of you too. I hope you enjoy staying with us as much as I am sure we will enjoy you being here.”
Angela finished up the dishes and told Leonard that she was going to put the children to bed upstairs in the three guest rooms. They had five bedrooms and four bathrooms which they had hoped one day to fill. Now at least they would be using three of them. The children followed Angela up the long winding staircase to begin their unexpected stay at this big strange house.
When they were situated in their rooms Clarinda requested that they all stay in the same room since there were two beds in each spacious room which was more than enough for the three of them. She didn’t want to be separated from her siblings and they too would not do well too far away from her either. Once Brenda’s head hit the pillow she was off as well as Andrew. It was the first time they had full stomachs at bedtime. Once she was sure they were asleep she allowed herself to snuggle down under the warm, soft comforter and she, too, fell fast asleep.
Angela peeked in at them and tucked them all in and gave each a peck on the cheek. She shut off the light but not before looking fondly at each sweet face in the beds. She felt such a longing and a tightness in her chest that she thought she was having a heart attack. She realized that it was pure joy at finally having children in her home, something that she had always wanted.
Angela flew downstairs to her husband and rushed into his arms as her tears fell onto his shoulder. He held her tightly and said, “Whatever happens, sweetheart, I promise you that we will adopt a child once these children go back to their mother. I see now how much you need to have a child and, I have to admit, I need one too. These three are very precious aren’t they?”
“I pray that their mother recovers and can take care of them. I wanted to talk to you about that. Do you think she will mind if we give each child a share of our trust so that they can have enough to eat, clothes to wear and be able to get a good education one day. Maybe we can give them the best Christmas they ever had this year.”
“Tomorrow we will go out and start Christmas shopping for the children and decorate the house and get a tree and…… Oh, Leonard, I have never felt happier in my life all due to poor Mrs. Davis’ getting sick. I pray that she will be well soon. In the meantime we will give her children a home with us and do all we can to help her by paying all her bills in the hospital and on her house. No one should have to live as she did. Maybe she would like to live here with us. We certainly have enough room for everyone. We have so much to give and we need so little for ourselves. Up until now I didn’t feel like celebrating Christmas and hadn’t even bothered to put up the tree. But now with these lovely children I want to go all out and decorate from top to bottom.”
“Yes, my darling, whatever your heart desires we will do. It is such a joy to see you so happy. But let’s take it one day at a time. We don’t want Mrs. Davis to feel as if we are trying to take over. She may want to go to her own home when she is well.
The ringing of the phone startled them as they were lost in their plans. Leonard went to pick it up and raised his hand for Angela to come closer as she heard him say, “Yes, Dr. Harvey, the children are doing fine. They are all tucked in bed and sound asleep. How is Mrs. Davis doing? Do you know when she will be returning home yet?”
Dr. Harvey explained, “She is very sick but is coming around now and is taking fluids. I hope to see her feeling better by tomorrow in case you want to bring the children by for a little while. They will have to wear masks when they visit with her. We don’t want them getting sick too. She asked for them as soon as she was awake. I told her that you and your wife were taking care of them. She was very pleased and said to tell you ‘thank you very much for your kindness.’”
“Yes, we were just discussing that. We want to bring the children by on Christmas Day so they can celebrate the day with their mother. I will bring a dinner for all of us if you care to join us. Will the hospital allow us to do that?”
“I will make sure they do. Don’t you worry about that, Mr. Antonelli. I have a lot of pull around here. Mrs. Davis will be very happy to hear this. It will give her an extra day to recuperate and rest more. This is very gracious of both of you. Thank you. Well, I just wanted to check in on the children. Have to get back to rounds. Hope you both have a good evening and thank you again. Goodnight.”
“You are very welcome, Dr. Harvey. Goodnight.” Leonard hung up the phone and turned to his wife and nodded. “It is all set we can go visit on Christmas. The children will be so happy.”
“I am happy too.” Angela smiled and twirled around as she felt her heart swell with all the joy that was bubbling up inside her.
Clarinda jumped up from her warm bed and looked around and realized where she was but something wasn’t right. Oh my God! She just remembered she forgot to bring Mrs. Antonelli’s wash? How would she get paid so she could buy the children gifts for Christmas? She must tell Mrs. Antonelli.
Clarinda ran all the way down the stairs and stopped at the foot of the stairs when she saw the Antonelli’s hugging and crying. She wondered what was wrong. Were they upset because she and her siblings were there?
She coughed to get their attention but didn’t move. The Antonelli’s turned around and were surprised to see Clarinda standing there staring at them and looking a little upset.
They went over to her and took her into their arms and hugged her. Clarinda hugged them back but was surprised at their gesture. She stepped back and said, “Excuse me Mr. & Mrs. Antonelli, but I almost forgot to tell you I finished your wash and left it at my house. Do you want me to go get it so you can pay me? I need to buy my brother and sister and mother a gift for Christmas.”
“Oh, no, dear sweet child. You will never have to wash or do anything like that again. We will take care of you and your siblings and your mother for as long as we live and you will never want for anything. May God bless you all. You will always have a home here, too, if you ever need us.”
Clarinda couldn’t say a word she was shocked at what these nice people had just said. All she could do was cry and run into their arms and kiss them and thank them again and again but added, “Can we go visit our mother in the hospital on Christmas Day? I don’t want her to be alone.” Clarinda looked on the verge of tears just talking about her sick mother.
“Oh, dear sweet child, of course. We were going to tell you tomorrow about what we planned to do. We are going to go shopping for new clothes for you and your siblings and buy each of you a present to give to your mother for Christmas. We will bring a Christmas dinner to her and we can all eat together. I am sure the hospital will allow us to eat together so we can celebrate the holiday as a family. When we get back we will go over to your house and decorate and buy some new things for your rooms and for your mother too. We want your house to look like new for when your mother returns home.” Angela had tears in her eyes as she explained their plan.
“Oh, Mr. & Mrs. Antonelli, this is the best Christmas I have ever had! Thank you so much! Now I can go to asleep! I can’t wait to tell Andrew and Brenda that we are going to see Mama and celebrate Christmas together. Good night and Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas to you, too, sweet child!”
Angela and Leonard hugged and cried as they talked excitedly about what they were going to do and buy for the children and their mother for Christmas. They had never remembered feeling such pure joy. They gave thanks to God for bringing these children and their mother into their lonely lives. They vowed from this day on to always give to those in need not just at Christmas time but all the time.
Leonard looked at his lovely wife as she beamed with joy and said, “I often asked myself – ‘What is the true meaning of Christmas?’ Now I know – this is the true meaning of Christmas, besides being the day of Jesus’ birth of course – it is giving to others in need.”
Copyrighted by Janice Spina 2014
Anita Blake may be small and young, but vampires call her the Executioner. Anita is a necromancer and vampire hunter in a time when vampires are protected by law—as long as they don’t get too nasty. Now someone’s killing innocent vampires and Anita agrees—with a bit of vampiric arm-twisting—to help figure out who and why.
Trust is a luxury Anita can’t afford when her allies aren’t human. The city’s most powerful vampire, Nikolaos, is 1,000 years old and looks like a 10-year-old girl. The second most powerful vampire, Jean-Claude, is interested in more than just Anita’s professional talents, but the feisty necromancer isn’t playing along—yet.
I had this book recommended to me, and I have to admit I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to read it; after all it has a romantic overtone to it, contains vampires and well just isn’t my usual read or even one I would have thought to pick up. In this case I am glad I did as despite being classified as romance, it really wasn’t at all.
The main protagonist is the Anita Blake mentioned in the title of this review, and I thoroughly enjoyed her and her character make up immensely. She is a strong-willed woman, very independent and has a sarcastic tongue that really helped me connect with her. She has flaws too, she is judgmental and extremely abrasive but these only add to her appeal and make her a character that both male and female readers can get to grips with, even if they cannot relate to her. I found it absolutely hilarious, and like so many people I know to discover that this character had never developed a working filter between her brain and her mouth. Through great descriptive writing I was able to build an image of this main lead in my mind’s eye, and this is something that some Authors are unable to do. All the other characters are treated with equal measure in this book, and are all given their personalities and flaws that the reader will either be drawn to, or dislike instantly.
This book is a quick read and, although gory at times, well it does contain vampires so go figure, it is full of mystery and irreverent humour. However, I have to mention as a warning to those sensitive souls out there that the Author has managed to include a great deal of implied and actual eroticism in the storyline, so if this is not for you I would advise you to give the book a miss. My reason for the 4 thumbs review was the dialogue, and I felt at time that the Author was trying to see how many times they could have the speaker use the interlocutor’s name; another reason is that although this is a darned good read it would never go down in the annals of classic writing and, if you want to enjoy them but don’t want to be seen doing so it would be a book to hide in something more ‘high brow’.
As for me I’ll definitely be reading some more in this series and I would highly recommend this book to any reader is looking for a light read, but one that has some substance to it.
A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.
Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…
But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.
For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.
No one seems to do gothic horror and be able to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up as well as Authors from this era; whether they are hinting at insanity or embracing it and giving it coffee, this novella has to rank up there with The Yellow Wallpaper. When the reader first embarks into this tale it would seem the perfect accompaniment to a cold winter night and a cosy fire-place, after all it’s short in length and reads fairly quickly if you can come to grips with the style in which it is written, but don’t make any assumptions about this book.
The main character is also the narrator for the tale, and the reader sees the whole sequence of event unfold through her eyes. In the main lead, the reader is introduced to a character who definitely does not know herself and shows no signs of getting to know herself as the tale progresses. As we view the world through her eyes the reader is her companion as she descends into madness; or does she, and this is where one of the many twists enter the tale and have the reader wondering. At times I felt sorry for this character, at others she just grated on me to no end, this I put down to the time period in which the book is set and not the fact the fact that the character was badly written. In fact none of the characters in this novella are badly written, and each brings their own flaws and traits to play as the storyline unfolds.
This book is definitely ‘old school’ horror genre, rather than being in your face gory and ghastly, an atmosphere is created in this novella that is suggestive and lends itself perfectly to being able to scare the stripes off a zebra. Eerie and creepy descriptions are used to full effect in this tale and, although only a mere 120 pages long, I found myself getting up and turning a light on part way through. All the requirements of a truly good ghost story are included in the covers of this novella, and the fact that the reader’s imagination is able to hold full sway over the way in which they react to the occurrences. I have to say this is one of the better pieces of writing by this Author that I have read, and if it had been a few pages longer it would have received a full 5 thumbs review.
If you are looking for a truly good ghost story to fill your holiday season, but not overtake it completely then I would highly recommend you read this novella.
Redwall Abbey, tranquil home to a community of peace-loving mice is threatened by Cluny the Scourge – the evil-one-eyed rat warlord – and his battle-hardened horde of predators. Cluny is certain that Redwall will fall easily to his fearsome army but he hasn’t bargained for the courage and strength of the combined forces of the Redwall mice and their loyal woodland friends.
This book, and the subsequent others that followed became a staple in our house as my children grew up, or rather as my son grew up; he couldn’t get enough of them. So I was greatly surprised when I came across them in a box the other day, and decided to start my journey through them again at Redwall Abbey.
This is definitely a children’s book and as such it has a simplified cast of characters that younger readers can easily connect to and travel with on their adventures. Through the characters in these books young readers can learn a lot about life and the differences between us, without being overwhelmed and feel as if they are being educated while they read. There are villains which will make you boo and hiss; good guys that will have the reader cheering them on and wishing them well , but all of them are animals and I mean this in the literal sense. For those who have not read any of these books their main characters, and the remainder of the cast of hundreds are mice, foxes, rats (boo hiss) and badgers.
The book is excellently written, its descriptive wording makes the reader savour the sentence, the act or the food. I loved the way in which the food was described, in fact in some places it actually made my stomach growl. Another thing that would keep young readers engrossed is the way in which the Author is able to change settings and points of view without coming over as confused. Through this constant change the reader is able to experience both sides of the conflict laid out in books pages, and gain knowledge of the strategies used in both camps.
This is an excellent read for both the intended age group and any adult who is looking for something simple and interesting to read to while away a few hours.
Skating the Shaker Ponds
You know the Shakers have six ponds in the woods,
All within walking distance of each other
and from us as well,
Not to mention a seventh, mile and a half below.
All connected by ditches.
One day in December some time ago
before the snow came,
We had a spell of cold weather.
Mercury dropped to ten scratches
Beneath the hole for three nights running.
Morning of the fourth day
Snow was predicted by nightfall,
Fact was, the sky was yellow gray by eleven.
Gonna skate, gotta do it now.
Through the woods up to the North Pond.
Long and narrow, Glimmerglass smooth.
We skated the length in two minutes,
Off with skates and through some bony marsh
Onto Runaway, the largest of the seven
with an island to go around twice, then
Race down the middle to the dam.
Skates off and over a trail to the earth dam
east end of Fountain, putting in,
Skirting the shore to the spillway end.
Boots on and along the pine needled
woods road to the
Cluster of three ponds below the Village.
Around the top one quick, then
Tip toe on skate points to the middle pond
where the swan lives year round now.
Over the dam dropping right onto the lower pond,
Skating into a snow swirl that skimmed the ice,
starting to stick to the shore.
We called it quits.
Inch of snow on the ground by the time we got home.
We buttered up hot rum and maple syrup
Sprinkled with cinnamon, sat by the stove saying,
We should do that again, take in Carding Mill too.
But we never have.
That was twenty years ago.