A short story for Christmas.
Drizzle. Low sky. Grey cloud, or was it fog? What was the difference anyway? Both were wet.
“Will it snow this year?”
“I doubt it.”
“When’s it going to snow, then?”
She said it with a finality that sounded unkind, even to the child who shut up and trudged along in a sullen silence. She hated this time of year, the hysterical jollity of people spending money they didn’t have on things nobody wants. She had managed to pay the gas bill. The house insurance loomed and there was nothing much coming in to refloat the budget.
“Me feet are wet,” the child muttered, dragging on her hand.
She felt like weeping. She knew he needed new shoes, didn’t they all? The two older ones got through shoes at the speed of light. If she bought new shoes would there be enough left over for a present?
“Nearly there,” she said and her voice was softer. She could feel the excitement in the slight pressure of her child’s hand.
They turned into the street and into the wind. The drizzle felt like a film of ice. The child let go of her hand and ran the last few yards to the dark red door with a sprig of holly stuck behind the door knocker. She tapped on the window. The door opened and the child rushed in, his cheeks red with pleasure.
“And how’s my best little man?”
“Is it going to snow, Nana?”
His grandmother shook her head and smiled. “Over my dead body!” She looked at her daughter, her eyes bright and knowing. “The kettle’s boiled. I’ll just wet the tea.”
The child was already inside, darting here and there like an excited puppy though the room was small enough. She followed, taking off her wet coat and hanging it on the back of the door. Her mother touched it and pulled a face.
“It’s raining,” she said in explanation.
“You walked it?”
She shrugged. “He took the car and I couldn’t face…didn’t want to wait for the bus. Coat, Micky,” she said, but not sharply. Her mother’s house was already beginning to work on her nerves, smoothing her ruffled feathers. It wasn’t particularly warm, but it was cosy. The cat helped, curled like a great cushion in the best chair. It gave out as much heat as a small boiler. The gas fire was turned low, but there were draught excluders at all the doors, a curtain at the back of the front door, and the windows were tight, south facing and snug.
Her mother bustled in the tiny kitchen. The child touched the sleeping cat gently. She smiled. He was usually so brusque. He climbed on a chair and gazed at the pot of bulbs. The hyacinths were out, blue, white, and pink, and the scent was overpowering. A garland of silver tinsel had been wound between them, and a couple of golden baubles were tucked in the space in the middle.
The tea arrived and a plate of buns. Plain, no chocolate, no icing. Her mother didn’t hold with gussying things up. “Spoils the flavour,” she always said. The child waited to be invited, intent on the spectacle of the pot of hyacinths.
“Don’t they smell gorgeous?”
“Like perfume,” he said, smiling. “Why don’t you like the snow, Nana?”
“Because it’s cold and it’s wet, and if you slip on it you break your hip and spend Christmas in the hospital.”
“Oh.” His face fell and she knew he was imagining his nana tucked up in white sheets in a white room with nobody she knew.
“And the birds don’t like it either. They’ve nowhere else to go to get out if it. What do you think they eat when there’s snow on the ground?”
He didn’t reply. Deep in thought.
“And you,” her mother’s voice dropped and she was held in the knowing, gentle eyes, “are you well out of it?”
She shrugged, but the tears were close to falling. “He’s gone, if that’s what you mean.”
Her mother sighed. “He could have picked a better time, but then, if he’d been the thoughtful type…”
There was no need to finish her thought.
“It’s always hard at Christmas, but this year…”
Her mother patted her hand. “Ryan and Danny are old enough to understand. It’s about time they started lending a hand anyway.”
She was hardly listening. The two eldest boys were not understanding and were as like to take their father’s part as hers. Without the car Ryan wouldn’t be able to go to football. She was waiting for him to start whining about missing practice.
“And this one here is no bother.” Her mother pushed the plate towards the child. “Here, Micky, have another one before your mam eats them all.”
He giggled at the idea of his worried, pinched-looking mother stuffing her face, and took a bun, peeling the paper off carefully, and scraping the crumbs off it with his teeth.
“Just a bit of snow wouldn’t hurt though, would it, Nana?”
“You ask the birds. Go on! Look out of the window.”
Micky stood on the chair and cleared away the condensation with his hand, lingering over it to chase the drops as they coursed down the pane. He pressed his face against the glass.
“Can you see?”
In the tiny garden the single apple tree was covered in tinsel. Instead of glass baubles, his nana had hung bits of bacon rind and suet fat balls. The tree was full of birds. More birds than he had seen ever. Blue and yellow ones, a robin, noisy ones with feathers flecked in different colours. Micky stared, his eyes opened wide.
“A Christmas tree for the birds!”
She moved round the table to join him, put an arm around his shoulders. As they watched, the grey sky was no longer a veil of drizzle, and the ragged clouds seemed to fall to bits. The air filled with white flakes drifting. Silence fell and time slowed. Birds darted and the tinsel fluttered like soft wings.
“It’s snowing,” he breathed, and when he raised his face to hers, it beamed with happiness.