Peter L. Barnes » December 2017

Monthly Archives: December 2017

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Worst Christmas Ever – a short story

Julie had woken refreshed and over excited; she had always loved Christmas mornings and this one promised to be the best ever, only to have her dreams shattered by one simple text message.

She had met John last Boxing Day on a blind date, set up through an internet dating site. She realised she had hit the jackpot from the first meeting, a gentle giant, full of interesting stories of his travels but grounded by his love for his family. He had been attentive from the first, fascinated by her looks and enchanted by her conversation. He had even been understanding of her compulsive tidying of the table as they enjoyed a meal at the local Chinese restaurant.

She looked back fondly at their interesting dates, not only the usual trips to the cinema and theatre but also to the museums and historic houses that she loved. Many of these visits prompted by her role as contributor to House and Gardens magazine.

When it eventually happened, their lovemaking had been wonderful and mutually exciting. In truth she had secretly visited the ‘naughty’ sites on the web, to make sure she was doing everything right.

This Christmas promised even more joy, as she was convinced that John would propose, as they had been looking in jewellers’ windows, discussing engagement rings and she had picked out one she especially liked, as it reminded her of her mother’s ring she had always admired. Sadly, it had been lost when her mother had been killed in a plane crash over the seas in Asia.

She had adorned her house tastefully, with exquisite Christmas decorations and a perfectly shaped tree, symmetrically hung with twinkling blue and white lights. They had switched on the lights in a little ceremony, pretending to be superstars invited to turn on the town’s lights. A small pile of neatly wrapped presents huddled under the tree, heralding a joy of secrets, waiting to be opened on John’s return. One of the boxes could even be her ring, although no visible box was small enough.

She had spent the morning cleaning the small house, proud of her achievement in having purchased it with her mother’s legacy. She had created a tiny version of the elegant houses she visited, small but perfectly formed, which was just as John had described her, after their first few meetings.

She sat in the kitchen, tears dripping onto the screen of her smartphone, blurring the message, staring brightly back at her.

‘Relationship Broken won’t be back forever leave stuff outside’

He didn’t even want to come inside and tell her what had gone wrong. She decided to make a list of possible problems with explanations, so that she could leave it outside with his personal things. She inserted into a plastic sleeve, so that the snow wouldn’t smudge her message.

She carefully took his small collection of clothes, neatly folding each article and arranging them from largest on the bottom, before wrapping the pile in clingfilm. She put his toiletries in a plastic bag after meticulously cleaning each item. She took her presents from him and placed them with his clothes.

Finally, with tears streaming down her face, she placed the ensemble outside the door under the protecting porch, after clearing the snow from the step. Errant snowflakes floating onto her cheeks, putting the final touches on her already devastated face.

She closed and locked the door and went upstairs to change into her nightdress and gown, before coming downstairs to watch a happy Christmas film. Unfortunately, the happiness of the heroine, highlighted her own situation, and far from helping her forget today’s sad event. made her even more depressed.

………..

John arrived at Julies house soon after his expected 4 o’clock return, having had a fearful journey through the thickening snow. Despite the frustration of other drivers’ inability to drive through the lightest of snow and the smallest of ice patches. He was feeling particularly happy though and he inserted the key into Julie’s front door only to find the Yale lock had been snibbed shut.

“Hello!” he called. “What’s going on?”

Julie was obviously at home, where else would she be, he thought, as there was a flickering glow from the TV, behind the closed curtains.

He saw the pile of his clothes neatly folded and stacked on the porch. Had she kicked him out for being a few minutes late? She must have guessed he was about to propose. Maybe that had scared her off, but to end what promised to be a life of happiness for the sake of a few minutes, seemed a bit extreme, even for her.

He spotted the plastic envelope with the enclosed list of Julies possible problems but as he read it, he realised this was obviously a list of her own perceived shortcomings and insecurities, ending with ‘I’m sorry I haven’t met your expectations and I wish you well for the future.’ followed by the smallest x.

This was not what he had expected and certainly not a result of being a few minutes, late but some sort of misunderstanding. He rang the bell and called out to her. “Julie, answer the door please. I love you and we need to talk.”

“Go away,” came a muffled reply from inside the locked door. “I’ve left your stuff outside as requested. What more do you want?”

“I didn’t request anything, when did I do that?”

“On your text, you said we were breaking up.”

“What? No, I don’t think so.”

She opened the letterbox flap to show John her smartphone with the text message.

John knelt down to read. ‘Relationship Broken won’t be back forever leave stuff outside’

“Oh dear, predictive text and cold fingers,” said John. “What I meant to say was my aunt and uncle’s car had broken down. I’ll be back at 4pm this evening and leave the outside light on.”

He grabbed a special present and passed it through the letterbox. “Here, open this one.”

He watched through the gap as she carefully opened the present, careful not to tare the paper before spreading it out flat. Inside the first box was a second and a third before revealing the last blue, felt box.

“Julie I’m already on my knees out here. Will you marry me?”

“But what about my OCD?”

“That’s one of the things I love about you, I need your neatness to combat my chaotic life style.”

The door flew open as she rushed out, tripping over him and falling together into the snow. “Oh yes oh yes,” she said, smothering him with kisses.

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A House is Forever not just for Christmas a short story

Pauline woke with a start. Someone was creeping into her bedroom. Her heart was thumping in her chest and she could hardly contain her excitement. She was sure that Father Christmas could hear her, despite desperately trying to keep still. Why did she have to have such a squeaky bed, any movement would betray the fact that she was awake. Convinced that if she made any sound, Father Christmas would rush out without leaving her any presents. She controlled her breathing as the shape cautiously crept around the room to the foot of the bed.

Earlier in the month, she had helped her father put up the lights – greens; whites; reds and her personal favourite, blues. Draping them across the small tree in the corner of the cottage, with a special angel on top for her mother. They were only allowed to put up the decorations after 1st December, so that was always when Pauline started counting down to the big day. Her father had taken her to the local toy supermarket where the dazzling and bewildering array of fantastic toys were beyond her imagination and also beyond her father’s wallet. They had bought nothing at the till and Pauline’s eyes started welling up at the lost opportunity. Maybe if they had been to a smaller shop, she could have picked out something affordable that she really wanted.

The door quietly closed behind her welcome intruder, but Pauline waited an age before she felt comfortable in checking the anticipated gifts. Finally, she had waited long enough, her curiosity too demanding to leave well alone. She crawled to the end of her bed and cautiously pulled the stocking onto her blanket, thinking back to the days before Christmas break, when the children in her class had talked about all the presents they would be getting for Christmas, from the latest dolls and their outfits; prams and pushchairs; kitchen sets; fashionable clothes; shoes; typewriters and even sewing machines.

Pauline had kept quiet, in case she revealed that her chances of any meaningful presents was slim. Her father was a mere carpenter, didn’t earn a lot, and since the death of his wife, Pauline’s mother, seemed to be in a state of quiet shock, left without his soul mate and unable to properly console his daughter. Pauline tried her hardest to cope without her mother who had passed away suddenly, last Christmas, the worst present ever.

Pauline felt the lumps and bumps in the stocking. A most wonderful feeling, desperately trying to guess the contents. The apple and orange were too obvious, and disappointing, but then a square box crackling with wrapping paper, held more promise, as did the strangely shaped, unfathomable oblong. Something soft and squishy, promised maybe the cuddly teddy she had seen in the shop. Maybe her father had snuck back into the shop and selected the one she had coveted.

She daren’t switch her light on, as it was far too early to get up, so she tucked the unopened stocking under the covers, unwilling to let it out of her arms.

Pauline felt something pressing into her side, before realising that daytime had finally arrived and she had turned over onto her wonderful stocking. “Yippee,” she cried. “Time to get up.”

She sat up, opened the curtains and gasped with joy as she watched the snow tumbling out of the sky, turning everything white. “What a perfect Christmas, now for my presents.”

She opened the end of the stocking and extracted the first package, ripping the wrapping paper and tossing it to the floor. “Oh, wine gums,” Not the cuddly bear she had thought. “Maybe the next one would be more exciting,” but she saw it was only chocolate buttons. The oblong present contained only an oblong box. Pauline began to realise that maybe this Christmas would be the same as all her previous years. The apple and orange were placed carefully on her bedside table. “Only one more,” she said, crossing her fingers as she slowly opened the plain cardboard box.

Inside, laid out carefully, were three miniature dolls. One dressed as her father, one of herself and the third, a beautiful depiction of her mother. Tears welled up in her eyes and dribbled down her cheeks. Not only at the memories of her mother, but also at the thought that her father, and his small income, had managed to construct such beautiful present. She knew in her heart that her father played Father Christmas and loved him for the intrigue and pretence.

It was time to go down and thank her father, not only for the presents but the wonderful thought behind them. Miles better than all the expensive, impersonally built toys from far off factories. She dressed in her best outfit, well cleanest at any rate, and walked downstairs, smelling the toast and hopefully a soft-boiled egg for her breakfast.

“Good morning dearest sweetheart,” said her father, giving her a kiss on her forehead. “Happy Christmas.”

“Hello Daddy,” said Pauline, giving him a hug as he leant down to the floor. “Look at the dolls Father Christmas made for me. They look just like us.”

“How wonderful,” said her father “Let’s have breakfast and the see if there’s anything else Father Christmas left under the tree.”

“More presents?”

“Maybe only one, but let’s eat first.”

Pauline had never eaten her egg quicker than today, dipping her soldiers into the egg, spilling bright yellow yolk down the sides of the shell and onto her plate.

“Careful! Don’t waste it.”

“Sorry,” she said, wiping the side with her finger to get the last morsel.

“Ready?”

“Oh yes.”

“Close your eyes,” as he led her into the lounge. “Open them.”

Pauline gave a shriek as she saw huge present by the tree, “For me?” Maybe this would be something she could talk about, as she knelt down and slowly undid the brown paper wrapping. A roof emerged, with all individual tiles marked out, followed by the outside walls and windows. “A doll’s House!”

“Not any doll’s house,” he said.

“No, it’s our House,” she replied. “How wonderful. But it has no insides and no people.”

“Where are your other presents?”

“Oh upstairs.” She said excitement building once again. “I’ll get them.” Pauline rushed up the stairs and collected the box and fruit.

“Right. Now open the front wall of the house, there’s a small catch.”

Pauline fumbled on the catch with her trembling fingers and finally opened the door wide. “But there’s nothing inside.”

Her father brought another rectangular box from behind the tree and handed it to Pauline. She was shivering with delight as she ripped open the package to reveal a perfect Kitchen, just like theirs, complete with another Mum doll, this time in her pinny.

“Right, now push the kitchen into the house.”

Pauline eased the kitchen in and set her mother in front of the oven. “Look Dad she’s cooking our supper.”

“So she is,” as he handed her another box.

Pauline opened this one more carefully as it rattled slightly, inside was a perfect dining room this time with her mother laying the table.

A third box appeared as if by magic, now she had a lounge with her mother sitting in front of the fire, knitting a tiny blue jumper. “Oh Daddy, this is wonderful thank you so much.”

She unwrapped the fourth box to reveal an exquisite bedroom with her mum doing her hair in front of an exquisite mirror.

“Put that on top of the lounge,” instructed her dad.

Pauline carefully slotted the bedroom into the first-floor section, followed by another room her father passed her, made to look exactly like their bathroom.

“Where’s my bedroom?” queried Pauline.

“That’s the other box you have. I thought we could decorate that together.”

Finally, he produced a tiny garden with mum in her gardening clothes, planting flowers.

“Dad this is the most wonderful Christmas, thank you so much.”

“We both miss your mother so much and I thought that if we couldn’t have her with us, we could have her in spirit, in this house and we can do all the things together, as if she had never left.”

Pauline hugged her father so tightly to make sure he realised what a wonderful gift he had made for her.

“Now then, how are we going to decorate your room?”

“I’ll get some things but I think mother should be reading me a bedtime story.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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