“Anyway,” said Tommy, shuffling his freezing feet across the compacted ice, “As I said, I thought I’d better talk to you. About your tree.”
“My tree?” Now Sally was a mix of emotions, and so confused that even the simplest words weren’t making sense.
“Your Christmas tree.” Tommy pointed in the general direction of the living room. “It really shouldn’t be there. I can see it from the window, you see, and I’m worried about it.” The boy really did look worried. He bit his lip as he spoke and wrung his hands together. It worried Sally more than she liked, and she leaned down to him.
“What’s wrong with it?” she whispered. Her thoughts ran to angry neighbours, light being blocked, a stray electrical spark fizzing in the window… Her heart raced, and her eyes stung with the sudden pressure of fear. “What’s the matter?”
Tommy leaned in to meet her. He lowered his voice to match hers. “It’s Twelfth Night. The tree… it has to come down, or you’ll have bad luck for all the year!” He spoke as though he meant it, pure panic now running through his words, and across his face.
Sally, relieved that it was nothing serious and mildly angry that Tommy had scared her as he had, stood up straight, made sure no little fingers or toes were in the way, and pushed the door closed. Hard. Loud.
What did the boy know? If she wanted to keep her tree up all the year round, she could. It was none of his business. And as for all this Twelfth Night superstition, bad luck forever, she couldn’t be doing with it. She liked the tree, liked the idea that Christmas hadn’t happened yet, liked the build up and the anticipation. So no, she would not take the tree down just because a child was afraid of an old, old story. A silly story. A nonsense story.
Sally stalked back into the living room, her breath coming fast in her irritation. Silly boy. And then she saw the tree and was so pleased to see it that she slumped against the doorframe just to stare at it. The Night Before Christmas came back into her head, and she saw her television and the Radio Times and her chair and decided that she would forget the strange morning she had had, and watch her film.
She had just enough time to make a cup of tea and gather together a lunch of Jammie Dodgers and Custard Creams on a plate. It was Christmas, after all. What better time to eat strange things and treat oneself?
She had a Christmas card to open as well.
Sally was still clutching it, and she could feel the stiff greeting between her fingers. She ripped open the envelope and pulled out the card, eager to read it, nervous to read it. She took in the front of it, a photograph of footprints in the snow, and then went to the inside. She scanned the festive greeting and the glitter and the long, long note, and let her eyes rest on the name at the bottom.
Oh! Sally felt her face break into a genuine smile, happy, warming, her fingers tingling with pleasure. She forgot the film, and she forgot the biscuits. Her tea went cold. The tree kept twinkling and the darkness came. She read and re-read the note inside the Christmas card from her adored niece, and the more she read it, the happier she became. The girl – barely a teenager when she last saw her – was coming home. She had moved to Australia with her parents twenty years before, and Sally, not able to afford the travel, had only seen snapshots of her life since then. But now she was coming back, bringing with her a husband and three children; two girls and a little boy.
And she wanted to visit. She wanted, in fact, for Sally to show them around the area, since she was going to rent a house just down the road.
Finally, Sally would have a family again.
Sally glanced at the tree. At the presents. At the calendar. At the card. Three days. They would be here in just three days, and there was so much to do.
With a smile and a shake of her head, Sally launched herself out of the chair. She span around the house gathering more biscuits, cakes, savoury snacks, she even found a bottle of fizzy pop at the very back of the larder and a tin of drinking chocolate in the corner of a cupboard. She laid everything out on the coffee table in the living room and shrugged herself into her warm winter coat. Wellies snagged on too. And then she made her move, out of her door, across the path, and up the step of her neighbour’s. She rang the bell. She waited, understanding how Tommy had felt earlier. She should have invited him in, poor kid.
Eventually the door opened and Tommy peeped out. He was wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown and Mickey Mouse slippers. He looked sleepy, and Sally felt even more guilty than she had before. But she knew she had to do this. “Tommy, are your parents in?”
They were, of course. They appeared, curious.
Sally had to laugh. “Can Tommy come over to mine please?” she asked, feeling ten again. “I’ve got a little job for him to do. I understand it’s a little late, but it won’t take long. And you’re welcome to come.”
Before they could say no – which they would have done if given the chance – Tommy leapt up and grabbed their hands. “Mummy! Dad! Please can I? Please? I’ll be good and go to bed straight after!”
There was no denying that face, those excited words, the joy.
Tommy’s parents sat on the unused sofa in Sally’s living room. Uncomfortable at first, they began to relax when Sally offered them food and drinks and began to chat about her life and her family. They would have talked for hours, the old woman’s life had been so interesting, but Tommy grew bored. This was not why he was here. He tugged at Sally’s sleeve and pointed at the prettily twinkling tree. “Can we?” he asked, whispering as though to break the magic. “It’s getting late. It’ll be tomorrow soon.”
Sally nodded. “I don’t need any bad luck now. I’ve got too much good to look forward to.”
She took the boy’s hand and led him to the Christmas tree, taking in the beauty for the last time until December. “Are you ready?” she asked, looking down at Tommy. He nodded, bouncing on the soles of his feet. “All right then. Timber!”
©Lisamarie Lamb 2012