Many thanks to all my readers over the last year. Thank you for stopping by this blog, and for taking the time to read my posts. May your days be merry and bright, and every blessing to you for 2018. Here is a short Christmas story for you – hope you enjoy it.Photo: playeatlove.com
The snowbank curved like a spine, each house a notch of vertebrae, sweeping west from Old Arthur Pa’s place, and then south through the homes of the Russell clan and Mother Paphides and Corkscrew Jones, then winding a little east and south-south-west to the manor of Big Charles, and the Jacksonvilles’, and Ma Laundry’s place, until finally it rested, with a point so neat a pâtissier might have done it, over the onion dome of the Blessed Martyrs, its cross peeking out like a golden bird above the clouds.
The snow was up to the roofs of the buildings, and swaddling doors, and blanketing the startled sheep. And Mad David cried that there would be no more fish for supper if the river did not unfreeze, which only God in His mercy could do, and the hinges weakened in the doorjambs, and the wind curled her fingers into the sockets of the flagstones.
This was the sight that greeted Saint Nicholas on Christmas morning, may my word never be a truer one.
The old man – and everyone knows that Saint Nicholas is very, very old, almost as old as Old Arthur Pa, and that is very old indeed, so old the stars have forgotten his birth – wiped his nose with a large spotted hankie, and took from his pocket with an elegant flourish a brass pocket-watch, which he shook for a solid minute, though it remained as stiff as a clam. Saint Nicholas’s eyes blinked slowly beneath a brow as smooth and white as sealskin, and he wet his lips, and pulled gently at his beard, that was softer than the eider down the women collect in the nesting season, and blew a long and low note, over the fields and the elderly stone walls, and the shining birds in their bright plumage, and the cracking of the clouds in the sorrowing sky. And the ground started to itch and ache, and then gasp like a rheumatic dowager, and the snow shook itself off the roofs with a sudden shrug, and the people came out of their houses to see it.
Some snow fell upon Old Arthur Pa’s head as he emerged from his front door.
“There are sheep in my hair!” he cried, mournfully. “My wife is a bitter woman, and the world is undone, and now there are sheep in my hair!”
And he wept uncontrollably, and Mother Paphides tried to console him with her story of the cackling pig, and Little Gerald did backflips to try and distract him, but all to no avail.
“There, there, man,” said Big Charles, in his bluff way. “Your wife isn’t bitter. Why, some days she even looks mildly pretty, and I can think of no handsomer compliment than that!”
But Old Arthur Pa only went on weeping, and wetting Mother Paphides’s kerchief with his tears.
Saint Nicholas studied the faces of the villagers, and he shivered, for, contrary to what you may hear, he is not from Lapland, but from the East, and he missed the dry winds and green hills of his home. Then he blessed the people, and spoke the solemn words, and Mad David was so overcome he ran naked three times over the frozen river, until Ma Laundry put a towel over his bony shoulders and the Russell clan carried him to his house and bolted the door and swore not to let him out till they heard the first cuckoo of spring – or possibly the second, or the third – and adjured God to look after him, and not to hold his sin against him. And the icy plates of the river came unglued, and it ran once more, first in a trickle, then in a stream, and finally as a great flood, nearly lapping the banks in its dash for the sea. And Mother Paphides cried would they not fetch the priest, but the priest had been in the ground nearly ten years and was not for coming out, even for mass, or breakfast, or sudden strange miracles such as these.
For all agreed that it was the most miraculous occurrence since Saint Decuman had had his head cut off by pagans and proceeded to wash it and put it back on his shoulders, saints being practical people in those days and not easily put off by a little beheading.
And Lame Maggie, and Little Gerald, and the Jacksonville twins, danced and sang for Saint Nicholas, and he clapped and laughed, until the tears ribboned his cheeks, and he was glad and sorrowful all at once.
And he gave each of the children a present – small soldiers with high coloured plumes on their heads and smart buttoned tunics, and dolls whose eyes moved from side to side, and horses with wheels fixed to their feet, all exquisitely detailed and made by ancient and magic hands – and then he turned to the villagers and said his goodbyes. And they watched as he walked back across the fields, to where the sky and the earth were all one blanket of white smoke, and the sun sulked in her gauzy shroud, until they could see him no more. Then they went home, and ate woodcock, and parsnips, and plum pudding, and wished each other a Happy Christmas, and a long and joyful New Year.