Miss Amelia Webster of the Art and Drama Department of Highgrove School was convinced that this year’s Christmas Show was going to be the best the school had ever produced. It was to be a musical extravaganza telling the story of the birth of Christ, the climax of which would be her class of ten year olds stood in ascending rows dressed as donkeys, sheep and angels singing I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.
Tommy Edwards was selected to be a donkey and he was not happy.
“Well,” said Miss Webster, “I can’t see you as a sheep or an angel, Tommy, dear.”
“I don’t want to be a stupid sheep or a stupid angel either,” said Tommy.
“Sheep and angels are not stupid.”
“Sheep are, Miss. They’re really stupid.”
“Well, yes, perhaps.”
“And angels don’t exist.”
Miss Webster sighed. “Of course angels exists, you silly boy.”
“My dad says there’s no such thing as angels. Or ghosts. He’s says that if you believe in angels you’d have to believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden and pixies and vampires and werewo . . .”
“Yes, Tommy, thank you. That’s quite enough of that. Your father says a lot of things, doesn’t he?”
Miss Webster had met Peter Edwards, Tommy’s father, only once, at the Parents’ Evening six months earlier and she had no desire to meet him again. He was divorced with sole custody of his son after his wife had left him and Tommy for another man. A well-dressed, well-educated man and a professor of something-or-other, he possessed a charming smile and greying hair that made him look distinguished as well as handsome. She had actually quite fancied him at first, but his appearance turned out to be the only thing she liked about him as he grilled her about his son’s progress, using words she didn’t understand and phrases that stopped her in her tracks and made her look foolish and underqualified. No wonder his wife had left him! Miss Webster suspected that he was a secret left-wing agitator who read newspapers like the Guardian and the Daily Worker and could recite whole passages from The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. What was he a professor of anyway, Miss Webster thought, communism?
“Well, what do you want to be?” Miss Webster asked Tommy.
“A dinosaur, Miss.”
“Well, you can’t be a dinosaur,” said Miss Webster sternly.
“Because you know very well that there are no dinosaurs in the Christmas story.”
“My dad says that the Christmas story is a load of rubbish.”
“Well, your father can think what he likes,” said Miss Webster. “The story of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus is the true meaning of Christmas to a lot of people.”
“My dad’s a realist, Miss,” said Tommy, not really knowing what a realist was.
Miss Webster was unsure as to whether Tommy was telling the truth about his father or just simply making it up. She assumed it was a bit of both and so she leaned forward and whispered into his ear, “Well, young man, I’m also a realist, and the reality of this situation is that you are going to be a donkey! And that’s that!”
Amelia Webster was an only child and had been fortunate that her proud parents had still been alive to see her qualify as a teacher twenty years earlier. But both her parents had died within two months of each other a few weeks before her thirtieth birthday and now, at the age of forty-five and still single, she lived a solitary life in the house she had inherited from them after their deaths. She lived almost exclusively on ready meals from Tesco or Iceland and spent her evenings marking the children’s homework or watching whatever rubbish was on TV until she went to bed. Sometimes she wished she was more outgoing, like the rest of her colleagues at Highgrove but twenty years of teaching ten year olds, coupled with her solitary existence had left her crushingly shy around adults, especially those of the opposite sex. It wasn’t that she wasn’t good looking – she thought she was actually rather pretty for a woman of her age – it was just that she never knew what to say whenever she was in the company of adults. She had tried online dating, but that proved to be a disaster. The men she met had either lied about their single status or the photographs they had posted onto the website were twenty years old or all they were interested in was getting her into bed. In the end she gave up, preferring the honesty of her own company than the lies associated with the online dating game.
As she finished her Iceland Chicken Tikka Masala she thought about the conversation she’d had with young Tommy earlier that day. She couldn’t quite believe that his father had foisted his adult ideas onto his son, taking away all the mystery and magic that any child at his impressionable age should be experiencing – especially at Christmas. Maybe, though, his father was right to do it – prepare him for the inevitable disappointments life had in store for him when he grew up. After all, there was no mystery or magic in her life, just an endless cycle of school and home, punctuated by weekends and holidays of intense boredom. The only joy she had in her life was the children. They were what kept her going.
Throughout December the children assembled their costumes. Wings for the angels were painted white with glitter sprinkled onto them and their halos were constructed from wire, around which tin-foil was wrapped. The heads of the donkeys and sheep were made using papier-maché, which were then painted – brown for the donkeys and white for the sheep. Eyes and noses were painted onto the heads and painted cardboard ears were glued in place – straight-up for the donkeys and hanging down for the sheep. The mouthpieces were mesh grills that had been built into the heads so that the children could breathe, but, more importantly, so their voices were not muffled as they sang I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.
All the children enjoyed making the heads, even Tommy, who managed to make his look like a dinosaur after all. In between making the heads they practiced their song until they were word perfect and singing in absolute harmony. Miss Webster was so proud of her class. She had even gained a new-found respect for Tommy, who had thrown himself into the task, learning the words of the songs with diligence and singing beautifully, and she couldn’t care less that his head looked more like one of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park than that of a donkey. It was perfect. They were perfect. They were ready. The climax of the Christmas Show was going to be a triumph. She was sure of it.
The day of the Christmas Show dawned. A dress-rehearsal was performed in the morning at which the audience consisted of families that were unable to attend the evening performance, mainly single mothers and parents who worked night shift. Before the climax Tommy called Miss Webster over.
“What is it, Tommy?” Miss Webster asked.
“I don’t feel well, Miss,” Tommy said.
“It’s just nerves, Tommy. You’ll get over it as soon as you get on the stage and start singing. Even the most famous actors get nerves before they go on stage. Remember, it’ll be all right on the night.”
“It’s the morning, Miss.”
“Well then, it’ll be all right on the morning. You’ll see.”
And it was all right. In fact, it was more than all right. It was marvellous. Miss Webster beamed with delight as she watched her class singing I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day with gusto. The donkeys and sheep in the first two rows looked so cute in their papier-maché heads and the angels on the back row looked adorable in their sparkling white costumes, white wings and halos. Tommy was in the middle row – the designated donkey row – and he seemed to perform as well as he had done throughout the many rehearsals they had had.
“See, I told you, you’d be fine,” said Miss Webster as Tommy left the stage.
“I still don’t feel well, Miss.”
“Tommy, if you do as well tonight as you did just now, I’ll be more than happy.”
The evening’s performance was scheduled to start at 6pm. Tommy peeked through the curtain and watched the school hall filling up with parents. He was looking to see if his father was in the audience. He knew his mother wouldn’t be there. She never turned up to any of the school shows or any Parent’s Evenings – not since she’d run off with Uncle Charlie and left him and his dad to fend for themselves. He couldn’t understand why she had left, especially with Uncle Charlie, who was drunk most of the time. But then, so was his mum. Besides, it was much better with just his dad. His dad had more time for him now – he didn’t have to pander and run after mum all the time and argue with her when she was drunk. Tommy was happy when the shouting stopped and calm descended on the large house where they lived, until it was sold and they had moved into a smaller two-bedroom house a few streets away. When his dad wasn’t reading or writing they ate pizzas or burgers and watched DVDs like The Great Escape and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park together and he would drink Coke while his dad sipped at his red wine. He had no idea what his dad did for a living, only that their house was full of books. Some of them even had his dad’s name on the spines.
And then Tommy saw him, working his way through the hall, searching for a spare seat with the easy smile he always had on his face, saying hello to the other parents whether he knew them or not. Tommy wanted to shout out to him, tell him he that he wasn’t feeling well, but Miss Webster took hold of him and pulled him back from the curtain.
“Come on, Tommy,” she whispered, “Let’s go and get ready.”
“But, Miss, I still don’t feel well.”
“What did I tell you this morning, Tommy dear?”
“It’ll be all right on the night, Miss.”
“That’s right. It’ll be all right on the night. And this is the night that it’s going to be all right.”
But Tommy had a feeling that it wasn’t going to be all right. His stomach had been aching all day and now it was getting worse. He could feel it gurgling and churning and he felt sick. Perhaps, though, Miss Webster was right after all – it was just nerves. He’d never had nerves before and so didn’t know what they felt like. Maybe, like this morning, the nerves would just disappear when he began singing. He hoped so.
The show started. Tommy was backstage listening to the Oohs and Aahs and cheers and applause from the parents. As the show progressed he could feel his stomach knotting up and when it was his turn to get ready something in there started to shift around. Just nerves, he told himself, it’s just nerves.
The children of Miss Webster’s class filed onto the stage and took up their positions in their respective rows – sheep sitting cross-legged at the front, donkeys kneeling in the middle, angels standing at the back. Peter Edwards recognised his son immediately as he was the only velociraptor in the middle of all the donkeys. While the children were taking their positions, John Sidebottom, one of the angels jabbed Phillip Johnstone, another angel, in the small of his back. Phillip turned around and whispered, “Stop it!”
John whispered back, “Make me.”
Mrs Woodbine, seated at the upright piano to the left of the stage, whispered, “One, two, three . . .” and then began expertly playing the opening chords to I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.
The children began to sing.
It was during the first chorus that it happened. Tommy experienced a sensation not unlike the time he was in the rear seat of a car, with his dad driving at speed over the crest of hill. He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach first and then whatever was in there began to rise up – fast. The mesh grill fixed into the front of his velociraptor/donkey head was the perfect delivery system, showering the sheep below him with the fountain of projectile vomit that spewed out of his mouth. As the two rows of donkeys and sheep descended into pandemonium, Phillip Johnstone’s anger at John Sidebottom jabbing him in the small of the back boiled over and he punched him squarely in the face, whereupon a fist fight broke out amongst the other angels whose allegiances lay either with Phillip or John until they all toppled over onto the back of the stage and began brawling on the floor like it was a Wild West saloon.
The audience of parents and family members were in hysterics.
Miss Webster looked on in horror at what should have been her class’s moment of triumph descend into unmitigated chaos. Mr Cook, the school principal, rushed to the stage and announced, “Err, I think we’ll have a short break here. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.”
While the children were led off stage by the principal, one of the teachers appeared with a mop and bucket and proceeded to clean up Tommy’s vomit from the stage and benches. Miss Webster was in tears as she rushed backstage, where the sheep’s costumes were already starting to be disinfected, to find Tommy.
She found him sat alone in her classroom looking dejected and embarrassed, with his vomit-filled donkey head in his hands. “I told you I wasn’t feeling well, Miss,” he said to her, as she placed an arm around his shoulders.
“I’m sorry, Tommy,” she said, “I honestly thought it was just nerves. I’m really sorry.”
Miss Webster held Tommy to her and all he could think of at that moment was his mother. She hadn’t always been a drunk and he remembered the times that seemed so long ago now, when he was a toddler, feeling the warmth of her body and her sweet smell when she held him close. But that was all before Uncle Charlie. He hated Uncle Charlie and what he’d turned her into. He shouldn’t have to hate any member of his family, especially his dad’s brother, but his dad also hated Uncle Charlie, and so he knew it was all right to hate him.
“You all right there, Tommy,” said the principal, “I’ve got your dad here.”
Miss Webster was so concerned with comforting Tommy to notice that the Mr Cook and the boy’s father, Mr Edwards, had entered the room.
“I feel better now,” said Tommy.
“I’ll bet you do. You must have heaved up about two gallons out there. All the same, I think I’ll let you sit the rerun out, if that’s all right with you.”
“Yes, Mr Cook. That’s all right.”
Once all the sheep had been cleaned up and the angels had patched up their differences they, along with the donkeys (minus Tommy) were filed back onto the stage to do a repeat performance (minus the projectile vomit) of the climax of the show.
Before they started Mr Cook made a short announcement. “Never work with children or animals,” he said. “Right then, is everyone ready for Take Two?”
Everyone agreed that they were. When they finished they were met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
“I think I owe you an apology,” said Peter Edwards.
Amelia Webster looked at him in confusion. “What for, when it should be me apologising to you?”
“For my attitude towards you at the Parent’s Evening a few months back. I should never have behaved like that. I’m not like that usually, am I Tommy?
“Like what, dad?”
“It’s just that you caught me at a very bad time in my life, what with having to sell the house and downsizing to something I could afford, after, well, you know.”
“But aren’t you angry at me for what happened tonight?”
“Why should I be?”
“If I’d listened to Tommy in the first place when he told me he wasn’t feeling well none of this would have happened. I just wanted all the children to be involved. I wanted it to be the best Christmas Show the school had ever done.”
“No, it was a disaster. And it was all my fault.”
“There’s no need to blame yourself for what happened. You weren’t to know Tommy was going throw up all over the sheep. Don’t concentrate on the negative, concentrate instead on the positive. The parents sat out there tonight will always remember this Christmas Show. They’ll talk about it for years to come. “Remember the Christmas Show with the projectile vomit,” they’ll say. “The one where the angels had a punch-up,” they’ll say. And as the years go by it’ll become an urban legend, remembered long after all the other Christmas Shows have been forgotten.”
“But what about Tommy?”
“He’ll get over it. He’s a kid. Kids are resilient. They get over things. Even when their mothers walk out on them and leave them to spend their lives drunk with their dad’s bastard brother.”
“Oh. I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. Anyway, I didn’t take this opportunity to depress you with how shit my life once was, I came here to apologise for my behaviour. I meant to send you some flowers and a note once I’d come to my senses after the Parent’s Evening, but what with moving and my job and everything, it sort of slipped my mind.”
“Your job? You’re a professor of something, aren’t you?”
“I was. Well, I suppose I still am.”
“A professor of what?”
“History. Military history, actually. The Second World War and that kind of stuff. I don’t teach anymore, though. I give the occasional lecture now and then, but most of the time I work from home.”
“What kind of books?”
“Duh! History books.”
“Oh, yes – of course.”
“Listen, by way of an apology for my rudeness the last time you saw me, I’d like to invite you to my house on Christmas Eve. I’m having a few friends around for food and drinks. There’ll be music and dancing and plenty of booze.”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on. All my friends are married or have partners. They’ll be with them. I’ll be the only single bloke there. And Tommy would like you to come, wouldn’t you, Tommy?”
Peter reached into his pocket and pulled out a card. He handed it to Amelia. “Here’s an invitation if you decide to come. The address is at the bottom. 7PM start. Be there or be square.” He smiled and then turned to his son, “Come on, Tommy, let’s get you home.”
The school term ended two days after the Christmas Show and Amelia went back to her empty house to spend Christmas and New Year – like she had done since her parents had passed away – alone. She looked through the listings in the Radio Times, circling the programmes she wanted to watch over the festive period with a biro. There seemed to be fewer and fewer programmes that attracted her interest as the years had passed her by. In fact, there were none that she wanted to watch over the three days of Christmas. Every programme seemed to be a game show or a reality show or a soap opera. And there were no Christmas films on at all, not even It’s A Wonderful Life.
On Christmas Eve she took the invitation card Peter Edwards had given her from out of her handbag and ran her fingers around its edges. She looked over at the gold-plated carriage clock standing amidst the porcelain figures of snowmen and Santas on the mantelpiece. It was 6.30. She had been pondering all day whether she should go or not. Her first impressions of him had been totally wrong. He wasn’t the left-wing, Guardian reading communist agitator she had led herself to believe, but quite a nice man. The address on the card was 8 Denton Street, only a five minute walk from her own house. Why should go, she asked herself. She wouldn’t know anyone there apart from Peter and Tommy and she thought it would be more than likely that all his friends would be highly educated and not in the least bit interested in someone who taught art to ten year old children. She would be a stranger in a house-full of like-minded friends. She looked at herself in the mirror above the mantelpiece and saw the lounge reflected on its silvery surface behind her. Even with the leatherette three-piece-suite and coffee table and mahogany bookcase the room seem empty somehow, like her life, like she was a stranger in her own house.
“Right,” she said to her reflection. And then she dashed upstairs to get ready.
Amelia was wearing her mother’s old brown coat, an original 1930s War Bride Shearling Sheepskin. She could hear music and voices and laughter coming from Peter and Tommy’s house as she walked through the gate and down the narrow path leading to the front door. She paused at the door and held her breath for a moment before pressing the doorbell. She
The door was opened by Peter and he stood there with a look of surprise on his face. “Amelia!” he declared. “You came. I had my doubts.”
“So did I.”
“I’m glad you’re here. Come in, come in. I like your coat. Very retro.”
“It was my mother’s.”
“Nice. Well, Tommy’ll take it and put it somewhere safe.”
Tommy appeared from behind his father. “Shall I chuck it into your bedroom with all the others?” he asked.
“No, son,” said Peter, “you’ll take it upstairs and carefully place it on the bed like you did with all the others.” He looked at Amelia and smiled. “Kids, eh?”
Amelia removed her coat and handed it to Tommy.
“This is heavy,” said Tommy.
“Oh, right. Hang on,” Amelia said, and took a bottle of red wine from the right hand pocket and handed it to Peter.
“Thanks,” he said, “but there was no need to. We’ve got plenty of booze.”
“My mother told me never to go to a party empty handed. Not that I go to any parties.”
“And yet, here you are, looking fine in your red dress.”
“What, this old thing?”
“Looks new to me.”
“That’s because its five years old and I’ve never had cause to wear it since I bought it.”
“Yes, until tonight.”
“Well then, Cinderella, you shall go to the ball. Come on, let me introduce you to everyone.”
Amelia couldn’t have been more wrong about Peter’s guests if she’d tried. There was a window cleaner, his neighbours from either side of his house, a security guard from the local Sainsbury’s, a taxi driver, a postman, a retired Civil Servant and an accountant, all accompanied by their wives, except for Robert, from one of the houses across the street, who was accompanied by his partner, Craig. She found them all easy company and they all seemed to show interest in her chosen profession. They were also interested in why Peter had invited her.
“So, you’re with the Prof, then?” said Eric, the window cleaner. “It’s about time he found himself a good woman.”
“You know . . . Peter.”
“Oh no, I’m not really with him,” Amelia said. “I’m just someone he invited.”
“Oh yeah,” said Eric, winking at her slyly. “Are you single?”
“Yes, but what’s that got to do with anything?”
“Well he’s never invited a single woman to any of his Christmas Eve parties since his wife left him three years ago for that arsehole brother of his.”
“Do you get invited to all his parties?”
“We all do. Every year. Even when he was married and lived in the big house. Well, apart from his new neighbours. But they seem all right, don’t they?”
“Yes. It’s funny, but I expected his guests to be stuffy university lecturers and all that. I didn’t expect . . .”
“What? Common people?”
“Ah, well, you see, the Prof’s a normal person. From a working class background, he is. I think his dad was a bus driver or something like that. But the Prof had brains, not like that waster of a brother of his.”
“You don’t like his brother, then?”
“Charlie? None of us do. It was at one these Christmas parties that Charlie seduced the Prof’s wife. I say seduced, but I think her and Charlie were kindred spirits. About six years ago, I think it was. The Prof had no idea she’d been having an affair with him all that time. Not until she walked out on him. Complete bastard he was. I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire. Mind you, she was as much to blame.”
Their conversation was interrupted when the music suddenly stopped, followed by a ding-ding-ding as Peter tapped a spoon against an empty wine glass. “My friends,” he announced, “I’d like to thank you all for coming, drinking my booze and keeping me and Tommy company, as you always do, on this Christmas Eve.” The room erupted in a cacophony of loud cheers. “I’d also like to thank you for making welcome Miss Amelia Webster, Tommy’s excellent teacher, who wishes it could be Christmas every day.” Another loud cheer. “All there is for me to say now is Merry Christmas and grub’s up in the kitchen! After that there’ll be more music and dancing!”
As he watched his father making all of his guests feel welcome and important, Tommy knew that underneath his easy manner, his smiling and cheerfulness, he was sometimes lonely. He would often see his father staring blankly out of the window, peering into the far distance, as if he were searching for something – someone – someone with whom he could talk to about adult things. Tommy never said anything about this to his father, preferring instead to enjoy his company and the love he so clearly showed for him. There had always been the same people at his annual Christmas Eve party, but this year it was different. There was his neighbours and Roger and Craig from across the street. And, of course, this year there was Miss Webster. Tommy liked Miss Webster, even though he’d teased her about the things his dad had said, or, to be more precise, hadn’t said. He looked over and saw his father and Miss Webster talking to each in the doorway leading to the kitchen.
A vast array of food was arranged on the kitchen work surfaces – sausage rolls, pork pies, a ham and a turkey, smoked salmon, pasta salad, coleslaw, various dips, cheese, bread sticks, pickled onions, crisps, mince pies and a Christmas cake. Peter and Amelia watched the hungry guests tucking into the food.
“So,” said Peter, “what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“I think it was because you invited me.”
“So I did.”
“And I had nothing better to do.”
“On Christmas Eve? Surely not?”
“I live on my own. My parents are both dead. I have no brothers or sisters. I tried internet dating but that didn’t work out.”
“Internet dating? Pah! You should try and get out more.”
“I have tried, but I find it hard to talk about anything other than the children. You know how it is, you get out of practice and lose confidence in yourself. By the way, did you make all this?” Amelia asked, indicating the rapidly diminishing food in the kitchen and changing the subject to avoid talking about her solitary life.
“Of course,” he replied. “Although I did have a little help from Mr Marks and Mr Spencer.”
“How much help?”
“Some . . . well, quite a lot actually . . . ah, who am I kidding? It’s all from Marks & Spencer.”
“I did, however, arrange it into something that was pleasing to the senses. I’m good at that kind of thing.”
“I can tell.”
“Yes, from out of the chaos of my life I can occasionally make something beautiful. I even disposed of all the packaging into the correct recycling bins.”
“An environmentalist as well!”
“What can I say? You’ve discovered my guilty secret. You won’t tell anyone, will you?”
“Your secret’s safe with me.”
“Good. That’s a relief. It’s all right having secrets, isn’t it? Just as long we don’t keep secrets from each other.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do. But the ‘we’ in your sentence sounded nice. You know, like you and me.” Amelia took a deep breath, not quite believing what she had just said, what she had inferred, what she was doing. She was doing something she had never done with any man before. She was flirting with him. She was surprised that the words had come out so easily – they had tripped off her tongue like they were the most natural thing in the world to say – but when the implication of what she had said hit her she clasped her hand over her mouth and moaned softly to herself. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to . . .” she began. And then she fled from the kitchen and headed towards the front door in a desperate attempt to avoid the inevitable embarrassing situation that she was sure would follow. She opened the door and ran down the narrow path, out into the street.
Peter dashed after her but by the time he reached the end of the path she was already round the corner at the end of the street and out of sight.
“Bugger,” he said to himself as he walked back up the path and into the house to rejoin his guests.
Amelia didn’t stop running until she reached home, breathless and in tears. She ran upstairs and threw herself onto her bed. She had ruined everything. Ruined her only chance of a normal life with normal people. A life with friends. Adult friends. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid,” she whispered as she cried herself to sleep, her head buried into the softness of the pillow.
The sun was up when she awoke on Christmas morning. She was still in the red dress she had been wearing the night before, the night she had made a complete and utter fool of herself. She looked at the clock beside her bed. It was 9:15. How could she have slept so long? Maybe it was the three large glasses of wine she’d drunk, the wine that had made say that stupid thing. She pulled herself off the bed and walked over to the dressing table and peered at herself in the mirror. Last night’s tears had made the mascara run down her cheeks and her hair was sticking up all over the place. She looked like a mad woman who had been dragged through a hedge backwards, especially with the lipstick smeared across her face from having her head pushed into the pillow all night. She held her head in her hands and was about to cry again but something stopped her.
She could hear music.
Was it in her head? Was she going mad?
No. It wasn’t inside her head. The music was coming from outside and she recognised the tune. How could she forget it? It was I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day by Wizzard.
She moved from her dressing table over to the window and pulled the curtain open a few inches and peered outside. Sat on the garden wall were Peter and Tommy wearing brightly coloured Christmas jumpers and bobble hats and with scarves wrapped around their necks. Perched in between them was a portable CD player blasting out Roy Wood’s perennial favourite.
“Oh, shit!” screeched Amelia, tugging back the curtain, “Oh, shit! Shit! Shit!”
She quickly removed her dress and quickly pulled on the dressing gown that was hanging from a hook on the bedroom door. She ran into the bathroom and washed the mascara and lipstick off her face, cleaned her teeth, brushed her hair and rushed down the stairs, tying up the chord of her dressing gown, and opened the front door.
“W-what are you doing here?” she said, blowing a few stray strands of hair from her face. “What do you want?”
Peter stepped down off the wall and held Amelia’s coat in front of him. “M’lady,” he said, “A beautiful princess with whom I felt I had made a connection with last night left her coat behind when she fled my Christmas Ball at the stroke of midnight. I have scoured my kingdom with my trusty squire, Thomas of Edwardsland, in search of the one who fits this coat. I have tried it on all sizes of ladies, tiny, small, average, large, extra-large, enormous and gigantic – also two ugly sisters – but it fit not one them. You, m’lady, are my last hope. Won’t you try it on and see if it fits?”
Peter walked over to Amelia and draped the coat over her shoulders. “Ah,” he said, “a perfect fit. What thinks thou, young Thomas of Edwardsland?”
“Perfect, sire,” said Tommy.
“Well then, m’lady, it looks like we can be a ‘we’ after all.”
“But . . . but how did you find me?”
“I told you, m’lady. I scoured my kingdom in search of the person who would fit this coat.”
“How did you really find me?”
“Your address was on your driving licence. It was in your purse in your coat pocket.”
Amelia smiled. And then she laughed. It was the first time someone had made her laugh that hard for as far back as she could remember. And she was happy. Her mother’s old coat draped over her shoulders was the best Christmas present she could ever have wished for. “Well then,” she said, “you’d better come in.”
NOTE: When I began writing this story it was never my intention for it to end up as a loose retelling of Charles Perrault’s Cinderella. All I had to begin with was the memory of an incident that took place during a Christmas Show at Grendon Underwood School in Buckinghamshire where my daughter was a pupil. The incident described in this story actually happened. I was there. I saw it in all of its technicolour glory. But all stories require characters to interact with each other and so I invented Amelia and Peter and Tommy to move the events along. The Cinderella story seemed, to me at least, to have the perfect framework to hang the story of two lonely, broken people and their unlikely connection with each other.
I hope you liked it.
Thank you to all who have supported my blog over the years. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.