A little something to fill you with Christmas cheer

Here’s a little Christmas present. It’s a seasonal short story I wrote for the Facebook group: UK Crime Book Club (A fantastic group for anyone who loves home grown crime fiction).

I hope you enjoy!

TURKEY AND ALL THE TRIMMINGS

Constance slowly opened her eyes. She blinked, confused. Instead of the usual darkness, the room glowed brightly. She looked toward the window, then threw the covers aside and leapt out of bed, rushing over to poke her head through the gap in the curtains. She gasped. A light flurry of snowflakes danced before her eyes. It was snowing! Christmas day and it was snowing. Constance might have been old for her years, but, just for that moment, she was no different to any other twelve-year-old. Tingling with excitement, she pressed her nose to the glass and looked down at the lawn, its usual verdancy hidden by a thick blanket of pristine white. Not all of it was pristine though. Footprints marked out a path down towards the end of the garden, disappearing behind the apple tree that bordered the woodshed and the chicken coop. Nearby a large crow pecked at a berry on the ground.

Constance turned away from the window and slowly dressed, avoiding looking at herself in the mirror that hung over the chest of drawers. She opened the door a crack and listened. The house was quiet. She slipped through, onto the landing, then started to make her way downstairs, taking each tread cautiously, stopping to listen when she reached the half-landing. The melodic voice of her mother singing along to a Christmas carol on the radio floated upwards. The hint of a frown crimped Constance’s brow. She carried on down, crossing the hallway, past wellies dripping snow onto the door mat, and entered the kitchen. Her mother was over by the oven, tending to the turkey, scooping hot fat from the bottom of the tray. Constance watched as she returned the tray to the oven. A blast of hot air escaped and a mouth-watering aroma drifted across the room like a warm weather front. A batch of mini sausage rolls filled the top shelf, already looking golden brown. Her mother pulled them out and set them onto the hob to cool. She turned, and on seeing Constance standing there, stopped and gave a smile tinged with concern. 

‘I was going to come and wake you as soon as I was done in here.’

Constance took a step back into the hallway and listened. Even over the sound of the radio she could tell the rest of the house was silent.

‘Where is he?’

‘In the woodshed. Come and sit down and have some breakfast. You can have a sausage roll if you like?’

‘Cereal’s fine,’ Constance said, as she made her way to the table, grabbing a bowl on the way.

Her mother passed her the Cornflakes. It was only when Constance was chewing on her first mouthful that her mother approached. She reached out, lifting Constance’s long fringe from her face, and traced a finger gently over the large purple lump that bulged above her temple. Constance winced. She looked up into her mother’s big brown eyes that were filmy with tears. It was her turn then, to take in the bruises—streaks of blue, purple and yellow—that transformed her mother’s pale, lined skin into something resembling the skyline on a stormy afternoon. She dropped her gaze and pushed her mother’s hand away, pulling her hair back to cover her face. She returned to staring into the bowl, toying with the yellow discs that were rapidly growing soggy. Soon they would be too soggy to eat.

‘Come on, eat up,’ her mother said, sounding surprisingly cheery. ‘I lit a fire in the lounge so it’d be all nice and toasty when you open your presents.’

But after breakfast Constance stayed in the kitchen, helping her mother prepare dinner. She scrubbed and peeled and chopped, all while her mother sang and fed her sausage rolls and warm mince pies. By mid-morning they were done.

‘How about we go open your presents?’ her mother said, as she dried her hands. Constance glanced anxiously at the kitchen door. ‘Come on. It’s Christmas. Don’t you want to see what Santa’s brought you?’

Constance rolled her eyes.

‘Mum, I know Santa doesn’t exist. You don’t have to pretend anymore.’

‘Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to believe.’

She followed her mother through to the lounge, taking in the handful of presents under the sparsely decorated tree—most of the baubles had been smashed during her father’s latest rage.

Her mother began to pull out the carefully wrapped boxes, setting them in front of the fire, which gave off a warm glow.

‘Which one do you want to open first?’

‘We should wait,’ Constance said. She knew better than to risk angering her father after he’d been drinking. She could imagine him, sitting at his bench in the woodshed, crafting one of the little wooden toadstools he sold at the market, a glass of something strong at his elbow.  

Her mother’s gaze drifted to the patio doors at the end of the lounge.

‘I suppose I should go and see what’s keeping him.’ But she didn’t move.

The fire spluttered and popped, shooting hot embers across the floor. Constance rushed to sweep them onto the hearth before they could singe the carpet, then reached for a fresh log from the basket. She glanced down and frowned; her fingers were smeared with a tarry cranberry-coloured substance.

‘That’ll be sap,’ her mother said, carefully taking the log from her and throwing it into the fire.

Constance looked down at her hands, and then over at the log spitting away in the fire the way wet wood always did.

‘It doesn’t feel like sap.’

‘Go wash it off. Quickly now.’

On the way to the kitchen she noticed again her mother’s boots, now dry.

‘Where are my wellies?’ she called.

‘Under the stairs, where they always are. Why?’

‘I’ll come with you.’

‘There’s no need.’

But Constance was already pulling on her boots.

‘Go steady, it’s icy,’ her mother said as they stepped out into the snow. ‘It would be easy to slip and hurt yourself.’

And together they retraced the footsteps from that morning. Only now, not so much as a single footprint remained. Everything was shrouded in a perfect, glittering layer of soft, white snow. Everything apart from a gathering of crows by the woodshed. Their ebony feathers, shiny like coal, made a striking contrast to the long snow-covered mound that lay on the floor, a dark puddle that looked for all the world like cranberry sauce at its head. And for a moment, Constance thought, perhaps she wasn’t too old to believe in Father Christmas after all.

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