’Twas the night before Christmas… Only it wasn’t. It hadn’t been for some time now, the festivities over, the food eaten, the jolly, happy, Christmassy spirit starting to leak away from the people in the street. There were no more cheery smiles, and no more strangers wishing one another a merry Christmas, a happy new year.
Sally was less inclined to worry about the date these days. She had the traditional old verse in her head and ran it through and through and over again, smiling at the words as she sat and watched the twinkling lights on her plastic Christmas tree. They sparkled like coloured diamonds and she felt calmed, almost hypnotised, by them. Underneath the tree was a handful of presents, neatly wrapped, each one covered in red paper patterned with holly leaves; each one tied with a golden bow.
They looked beautiful. It all looked beautiful.
Sally knew that Christmas had been and gone, and she was aware that the presents were still waiting patiently to be opened, but if she did that, if she ripped away the paper and delved into the goodies beneath, then what was left? It would be over then, and she would have to face the reality of another year gone, another Christmas spent alone with only the gifts she had bought herself for company.
So she did not open them.
Instead she sat, content, and whispered the old poem to herself and the prettily decorated room.
A knock at the door roused her, and she frowned at no one. Perhaps if she waited long enough they would go away and leave her alone. But the knock came again, louder, and Sally shifted in her seat. One more time, she told herself. If they knock once more, I’ll go to the door.
There was another knock.
With a sad sigh, Sally rocked out of her seat and shuffled to the door, her slippers sliding along the polished wooden flooring. She stood on tiptoes and peered out of the spyhole, hoping the person would have gone away in the time it had taken her to get to the door.
Instead of looking out and meeting a stranger’s eyes, she saw no one. Her first feeling was one of relief, but disappointment came quickly on the heels of it. It might have been nice to have someone to speak to.
Sally’s hand fell to the door handle, and she left it there for a moment, thinking. She could open the door anyway. She could open the door and lean out into the bitter wind and see if she could spot her visitor retreating and maybe, possibly, if she could make her voice heard above the coming storm, she might be able to entreat them to return to her, to try again.
Without knowing exactly why, regretting it as soon as it happened, Sally pressed down, pushed down on the handle, and pulled the heavy door towards her. She made to lean out, but a small face stopped her. It was grinning up at her with gapped teeth and dimples.
Sally said nothing because she couldn’t think of anything to say. The shock of finding a small child, grimy and jolly, on her doorstep when she had been expecting no one numbed her tongue and froze her brain for an instant. It was just long enough for the child – a boy – to speak in a high pitched tone, full of conviction; “Oh, you’re in. Good. I wanted to tell you something.” He waited, not moving from the step, for Sally to respond.
She wished she was still in her chair, watching the fairy lights on her Christmas tree and reciting poetry to herself. “Where are your parents?” she managed to croak, not having spoken aloud in a proper voice for some time. A whisper to herself was all she had uttered for months.
The boy looked nonplussed. He clearly hadn’t anticipated that question, but he rallied. “At home.”
“Shouldn’t they be with you? You’re only little.” Sally hadn’t intended to get into any kind of conversation with the boy – or anyone – but now that she had started, now that he was there, she couldn’t very well slam the door in his chubby face, no matter how much she was tempted. She wasn’t that mean.
Now the boy really looked confused. His smooth brow furrowed and his bright red lips pouted. And then Sally could see the understanding drop over him, and he smiled again. “Ah, you don’t know how I am, do you?”
He was so sure of himself, so confidant. Sally had to remind herself that he was only… what? Eight? Nine? She shook her head, hating to feel even the slightest bit intimidated by a little boy.
“I live next door.” He held out his hand, ready for it to be taken and shaken. “I’m Tommy.” His hand remained there, sticking out in front of him, not wavering, not fading.
Sally had to take hold. The stubby fingers were frozen, but Tommy didn’t seem to notice. He grinned wider, happy to have made her acquaintance.
“I’m Miss Stark,” said Sally slowly. She wanted to close the door now, and she placed her hand on the edge of it, hurrying things along with her mind. Hoping this would be over soon so she could go back in. She turned just enough to catch a sight of the clock in the hallway. Almost half past twelve. Almost lunch. Almost time to find the channel showing that old film she hadn’t seen for years. Miracle on 34th Street. She was quite looking forward to it.
“I know,” said Tommy, nodding. “We sometimes get your post. I usually just put it through your door, but this time, I thought I should speak to you.” He fumbled around in his jacket pocket, and withdrew a square envelope, a little bent, but otherwise unharmed. He thrust it at the hand that was clutching the edge of the door, and Sally instinctively let go and took the letter.
It was a card.
And the envelope was adorned with a colourful stamp, larger than the usual type, depicting a snowman and a reindeer. It was cheerful. Sally stared at it. She had thought she had been forgotten. Perhaps she had been wrong.
©Lisamarie Lamb 2012