A Tree Without Presents

Written for my son’s first Christmas with memories of my childhood Christmases

“When is it going to be Christmas Mummy?” I had asked this question every day, sixteen times a day since half term was over.  

“Christmas is ages away yet…you’ll just have to wait.”

“But it’s been ages since the last one! Why can’t we have Christmas every day?” I never got an answer to that – grown ups just laughed and patted me on the head.

Finally the time got nearer and nearer and exciting things happened at school like nativity plays and Christmas dinner. The tree went up at home which I was allowed to help with. Baubles, tinsel, fairy lights and all good things.

“But where are all the presents Mummy? The tree has nothing under it. Does this mean we haven’t been good?”

“Father Christmas brings the presents on Christmas Eve so we’ll have to wait and see if he’s brought anything for us.”

“When is Christmas Eve Mummy?”

“Tomorrow.” I gave a little jump of joy.  

Tomorrow came. It was time for Father Christmas to bring his presents. I waited all day long and nobody rang the doorbell or left packages on the doorstep. Where was he?

We had lots of jobs to do…shopping to do and things to pick up. Mummy didn’t seem concerned that we hadn’t had any presents yet.

“When is Father Christmas coming Mummy?”

“He comes during the night when you’re fast asleep, but you have to promise to go to bed on time and sleep all night – he knows when you’re awake! Now shall we make him some mince pies? Do you think we’ve got enough carrots for the reindeer and brandy for Father Christmas? Did we get the magic reindeer food to show him where to land his sleigh?”

The day was going so slowly….we all cuddled on the sofa to watch a film and drink hot chocolate. The tree looked so pretty twinkling in the corner. How much better it would look if there were presents though!

We put the carrots and a mince pie on a little plate with a small glass of brandy. “Does Father Christmas really like brandy Mummy?” It smelled revolting!

“Oh he loves it!” She assured me.  

“But if he eats mince pies in everyone’s house he’ll never fit down the chimney!”

“Ahh but you forget that Father Christmas is magical and he can do anything.”

It seemed like night time would never come. I was so excited that I knew I wouldn’t sleep. Bath time and pyjamas and a glass of milk; my stocking was ready on the end of the bed. Mummy and Daddy lay on my bed with me to read The Night Before Christmas.

“Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”

By the time Father Christmas was wishing everyone a good night my eyes were closing. I could see my flat empty stocking lying across the bottom of the bed. Would he come? Would I get to see him? What did he really look like? Zzzzzzzzz

I woke up sleepily not knowing where I was for a second and felt a heavy weight pinning my legs down. It was Christmas! “Mummy he came!” I ran into their room with my heavy stocking and jumped on the bed to open all my presents in a mess of wrappings and bows. “Wait I have to check something.” I zoomed downstairs. I peered in the lounge half expecting to see Father Christmas snoozing on the sofa. The mince pie was gone with just some crumbs left, the carrot too and the brandy was half gone and I turned to look at the tree and there was a MOUNTAIN of presents under it in every colour and size. I sat and stared in wonder and thought that now the Christmas tree looked just right. It was Christmas.   

 

Find a Muse in the Masters

In today’s writing challenge, you’ll choose a scenario (or invent your own) and write a poem, a short story, a vignette, a scene, or flash fiction based on Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.  Writing Challenge from the Daily Post: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/find-a-muse-in-the-masters/


The Nighthawks by Edward Hopper 1942: Public Domain

“You!   Whaddaya want?”  the bartender barked.   “Can’t ya see I’m busy here.”

Real busy, she thought, looking at the other two customers in the place.  The two men were sitting at either end of the bar wearing identical dark blue suits, ties and grey fedoras with a black band around the rim.  The each nursed a mug of dark coffee.  They looked like a couple of gangsters.  They studiously ignored each other.   Neither one had looked up when she entered the bar.  She could use a drink right now, but it looked like the most exciting option here was going to be black coffee.

She slinked past them in her brand new, red silk dress.  It swished becomingly around her calves and brushed against her sheer seamed stockings.  Cute black heels and a patent black belt broke up the red.  Her hair clashed gloriously with the dress; blue eye shadow and thick kohl eyeliner completed the look.  The whole ensemble had cost her her savings.  Not even a flicker from either of them.   “Coffee, doll.  Make it strong.”   She perched next to the second suit and reapplied her fire-engine red lipstick using the back of a spoon as a compact.  The curved surface allowed her to get a better peak at the man sitting on her right.  She had a good view of his friend across the bar.

Her thick ceramic mug was plunked down gracelessly in front of her.  “You spilled a bit doll.”  The bartender glared at her until she put her coins down on the counter top.  She scrambled in her purse and found some bits and pieces and slid them into the pool of coffee.   The bartender wiped the spill and the coins off the bar with his rag.  She carelessly lit a cigarette.  “Gotta light hon?”  She asked the suit.

He reached into his suit pocket and slid the metal lighter wordlessly across the bar, still not even looking in her direction.  She was looking though – she now knew that he wasn’t carrying a piece.  Not a gangster then, or a dick.  She regarded his twin through the cigarette smoke and sipped at the strong coffee.  She leaned both elbows onto the bar in a deliberately provocative gesture and exhaled slowly – the smoke curling around her lips and creating a grey halo around her red hair.

Sammy had told her to watch, take mental notes.  People opened up to women.  Men opened up to women dressed like her, or at least took them to a seedy motel where she would be able to go through his wallet.  She didn’t like dressing like this but she liked to eat.  She had been instructed to dress “nice ya know, look the part kid”.  She was to sit and wait for one of them to approach her and make conversation.  What happened after that was unclear, but she understood the implications.  This gig would pay her rent for the month and for some of the dress!  So far she couldn’t see anything particularly note-worthy.  They were just two guys having coffee late one night in “Phillies”.  Neither of them seemed remotely interested in her, so there was nothing to report back on.  Actually scratch that – she started making a mental list.  Suit number 1: smoker, no gun, nicely manicured nails.  Drank his coffee black.  Slim build – the suit wore his suit well.  Not the same for suit number 2: suit buttons straining a little, but hadn’t bought or been able to afford a new suit.  There was a sugar bowl and milk jug next to his mug so obviously had a sweet tooth.   Supported by the fact that there was a flash of gold in his mouth from having teeth filled in.  She couldn’t see any point in being here.  As long as she still got paid that was the main thing!

To be continued….

Linked Hands

This was a photo of a dramatic sculpture which I took on a holiday in Bruges.  The joined hands could be used for a cover of several book themes: struggle, love, conflict, hope.  Pick one – and create your own story!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Created for The Daily Post – Cover Art Challenge – http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/cover-art/

 

The Skeleton Danced at Midnight

Write a new piece using at least five of the nouns from Bradbury’s sample list, above: The lake. The night. The crickets. The ravine. The attic. The basement. The trapdoor. The baby. The crowd. The night train. The fog horn. The scythe. The carnival. The carousel. The dwarf. The mirror maze. The skeleton.  Challenge the The Daily Post – http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/bradbury-list-twist/

The skeleton danced at midnight with the melody of the carousel reverberating through his hollow bones.  He yearned to touch the carnival animals gain and jest with the dwarves.  His life with skin and flesh had been full of colour, light and music and how had he had loved it!

The crowds spun through the circus screaming with laughter and candy-floss induced mania.  It was a sugar-spun world.  The fat lady solemnly ate her way through fifteen courses; the bearded lady combed her hair and the iron man lifted trucks to practice his art.  Animals preened in their cages and the big top shone like a beacon in the night sky.

The carousel had been his creation with the pretty horses with their painted tails flying.  How he loved their graceful motion.  Up and down and round and round.  They never stopped their flight until that fateful day when he lost his footing and fell under the painted horses’ hooves.  He lost his flesh to the carousel but honoured it with his bones.

Fifty Word Inspiration

For this week’s challenge, use one of the fifty-word stories below as inspiration for a post.

I have chosen the following from the Daily Post challenge – http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/fifty-word-inspiration/

Decade is a period of ten years.
Century is a period of one hundred years.
Millennium is a period of one thousand years.
“Together forever” lasts a fortnight.

That is, statistically.
That is, in about 90% of cases.

That is also why romantic mathematicians are so hard to come by!

(“On the Importance of Not Being Literal” by Standing Ovation, Seated)

***

A mathematician once said that “together forever” lasts a fortnight and after a passionate two week fling Tess had to agree.  Visions of bridal gowns and corsages danced across her mind.  She could get a job here and give up her boring office existence for sun, sand and sangria.  Life could be a beach….couldn’t it?

“Ladies and gentlemen we have completed our pre-flight checks…” intoned the nasal air steward.  Tess rubbed the sand between her toes and smiled ruefully.  Her “forever” had finished.

(It’s not 50 words, but it’s close!)

 

An attempt at conversation…after 40 years of marriage

Crow’s feet fanned silver eyes which registered disapproval and disappointment. Her mouth was ringed with lines which if they were spread into a smile would make her seem twenty years younger. She lifted a delicately polished finger nail up to her crow’s feet as if to wipe away a tear. The lace thinness on the back of her hands showed veins and arthritic joints keeping the diamond ring and golden wedding band which still shone after 40 years of wearing them.

Her hand trembled slightly and she self-consciously forced it back into her lap and clasped hands to stop them shaking. She stopped herself reaching out to pick up her cup and saucer. The trembling grating of bone china on bone china would wake him up.  He needed his afternoon nap.  She reached up to smooth her hair gently, barely even making contact. She knew it would be perfect. Her pearl necklace hung perfectly over her twinset which was in an inoffensive beige colour. Beige went with everything and it suited her to be non-descript – to blend in and be as unobtrusive as possible.

She sat upright in her armchair staring at her husband of 40 years. Her silver expression didn’t waiver. Her face was composed; her hand steadied and she grasped the porcelain saucer firmly. Not a tremor. She sipped on the weak infusion of tea with half a slice of lemon (pips removed). Her eyebrow raised into a perfect arch, as her husband snored in his armchair opposite.

He felt her gaze on him from under closed eyelids and could almost hear her eyebrow raise in that supercilious manner. He kept his eyes closed, shifted in his pretend sleep, attempted a snore, relaxed his neck so that his head lolled against the arm chair. He let his jaw fall slack. He just had to wait until she finished that damned ditch water that she called tea.

His cardigan was a focus of disappointment – always done up wrong, worn over the elbows and a day old handkerchief in the pocket. He preserved that look with care and recreated it every morning. He made sure that he blew his nose loudly into the hankie before putting in the pocket. His trousers bagged around his waist. He didn’t believe in belts. Perhaps he should invest in a nice pair of braces? Nice spotty ones. Her expression would be priceless. Socks and tartan slippers completed the image.

His silver hair was brushed back from his forehead with Brylcream – a style that he’d worn for 65 years. He couldn’t break that habit. But he did go unshaven now whenever possible – he couldn’t get his face to align with his razor. It seemed to sag in all sorts of places. His eyebrows straggled down to twist into his eyelashes and God knew what was going on with his nose and ear hair. The overall impression was of an unkempt, slightly dotty old man with a great head of hair.

He heard his wife silently put her cup and saucer down on the tray; equally silently stand up, pick up the tray and glide softly across the pile carpet. And still he faked sleep. She’d turned, as he’d known she would at the doorway, to check up on him. He froze: neck loose, jaw slack, a bit of drool making its’ way down his chin. He heard her eyebrow raise again as she carried the tray out.

One brown eye opened and checked the empty room. He didn’t move his body just incase he needed to fake sleep again. Also it took him a moment to get everything in gear to move. He peered around his nose and tried to straighten his neck. He’d got a crick in it from “sleeping” for so long. She obviously had something to discuss with him and he wasn’t sure how long he could keep her at bay. 77 minutes was his record.

She carried the tray into the kitchen; snapped on rubber gloves and washed up her cup and saucer, the teapot, tea strainer, milk jug, sugar bowl and sugar tongs; threw the doily into the bin and stored the tray in the slot specially designed for trays between the cupboard and the dishwasher. She snapped her Marigolds off and hung them over the tap. She needed to talk to him. She could wait until he stirred himself. His naps were getting longer and longer.

He yawned and stretched. He could hear her washing up the tea tray. He had a couple of minutes to get to the French windows and down into the garden. If he timed it right he could be in the potting shed by the time she hung her gloves up. He moved smoothly to the door. His wellies were waiting outside. In less that 7 seconds slippers were off, feet into wellies and the door shut behind him with a soft click. He kept to the hedge away from the kitchen and circled around the back of the greenhouse and into the potting shed.

Another Short Story

A faded, grey shadow of a girl stood in front of the check in desk. He looked up from the racing pages with a start. “Didn’t see you there. Can I help?” She didn’t speak, just continued staring through vacant eyes. He couldn’t see any spark inside her. The greyness was all consuming. The fluorescent sign flickered bright pink and yellow across her face. “Vacant”. The sign was right about her. Definitely nobody home. He tried again. “You want something?” Her lips moved but no sound came out. He didn’t know but it had been days since she had been allowed to use her voice. Nobody had wanted to hear what she had to say. Nobody had noticed her. They had left her in the background. The greyness had consumed her entire life. She’d left and nobody had noticed. Nobody had asked her opinion about anything for years. She didn’t know how to respond. She mouthed the words. Her throat constricted with the sudden movement. She felt like she was going to be sick. The words were stuck. She needed to get them out. This was the first step. Wrong – she had left. That had been the first step. She needed to find her voice now.

“I need a room.” It came out as a hoarse whisper. It was barely audible across the desk.

“What’s that?”

“A room.” She swallowed. Saliva was lubricating her throat. She cleared it and swallowed. “I need a room. Please.” She was determined that her new life would be full of pleasant manners and kindness now. No more demands, name calling or swearing. She was starting afresh.

A Short Story

Who else might turn up in a hotel like this one? And what would their story be? Stories in under 500 words. 

Taylor felt sorry for the man. He’d turned up at 9.45 looking haggard, worn and like he’d been through hell and back. He’d joked that his motel wasn’t an emergency room – maybe he ought to try a mile down the road. Obviously not the right thing to say. Not a joker. He mumbled something intelligible. Taylor put the key on the counter. There was only one reason people came here. Need. It wasn’t a bad place, but it wasn’t the sort of place you had to have ID. “Down the hall, third left.” The guy didn’t look up. Taylor sighed and got off his stool. “Follow me.” There was no point in trying to attempt conversation. The man followed like a child. Taylor wasn’t interested – the man would be gone by tomorrow. He showed him along the dark corridor and into his room. “Bed. Bath. £45 cash.” The man took a leather, monogrammed wallet out of his suit pocket and gave him the cash. Money, or lack of it, was obviously not the reason he was here.

He held the key out to him. “Out by 10.” His glimpse into the man’s life through his wallet made him take a second look. Leather soled shoes, grey pinstripe 3 piece suit, no tie, clean shaven, neat hair. Not the average punter. He backed out of the room but the man didn’t notice. Just stood there staring at his over-polished black leather shoes. The door shut between them and Taylor immediately felt the air change. He paused against the door frame. The man oozed with despair and it was contaminating everything. He needed some fresh air. He stomped back downstairs and went out the back for a fag.

***

Julian registered the door closing with a jerk. He’d registered taking 50 quid out of his wallet for this shit hole of a room. He’d registered the neon sign advertising rooms in its fluorescent flashing blue. He could have gone to his apartment or a decent hotel at least but huge warning signs had flashed up in his head. He needed to distance himself. He couldn’t go where anyone would find him. This had seemed like the perfect option. He’d walked as far as his leather shoes could take him. The tie had been the first thing to go. He’d put it in his pocket. It might come in handy later. The décor lived up to the neon sign’s promise. It was a vacant room. No character. No colour. That was what he was looking for. He’d stepped away from the most colourful day of his life for this? The answer was a resounding yes. He was free.