A House is Forever not just for Christmas
©Peter L. Barnes 2018
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, unusual 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.”
“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.
“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 a beautiful model of the main 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.”
“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.”