Wishing you all a blessed Christmas. Here’s a little Christmas story for you to enjoy. Hopefully the formatting won’t have gone too awry. If it has, please bear with me – I’m not really well enough to correct any errors atm.
Joey sat up in bed clutching Rabbit tightly. Downstairs, a door slammed. The TV was turned up a notch, but he could still hear the muffled, angry voices. Knuckling sleep from his eyes, he climbed out of bed and padded across the carpet in his bare feet. He put Rabbit down and grasped the doorknob with both hands. Turning it quietly, he slipped out, picked up Rabbit and sat shivering at the top of the stairs.
“Will you keep your voice down!” his mum hissed. ʺWe don’t want Joey hearing us.”
A tremor shook Joey’s small frame, and a treacherous tear rolled down his nose and plopped onto the floor. He looked solemnly at Rabbit. Rabbit stared back with his knowing button eyes. Joey was almost too grown-up for Rabbit, but sometimes he still needed his comfort. It was the third night in a row his parents had woken him up with angry voices.
“Georgie says his mum and dad kept shouting,” he informed Rabbit. “And then his daddy left and got another little boy.” Rabbit looked sympathetically back at him and said nothing. Joey leaned against the bannister, listening in despair to the subdued but angry voices downstairs, his thumb in his mouth, Rabbit on his knees. His head drooped forward as his eyes flickered and closed.
Bang! He jolted awake, eyes wide, and scampered back to bed seconds before the door opened and his mum peeped in at him.
Scrunching his eyes up, he pretended to be asleep until the door closed with a soft click. “Please God, don’t let my daddy leave. Don’t let him find another little boy,” Joey sobbed, curling into a tight, little ball under the duvet. “Please, God, please.”
The next thing he knew, his mum was kissing him gently on the forehead. He opened his eyes. It was morning.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.” Her big grey eyes smiled into his as he looked blankly up at her. “Come on, we’ve got heaps to do today. I have to finish your costume. You’re going to be the best shepherd in town, Joey.”
He blinked owlishly at her. She shook his shoulder gently. “Come on, up you get.”
Eileen watched her small son as he sat up and yawned. Bless him. He must be nervous, look at his little pinched face.
“Will Daddy be coming?” A doleful sniff.
“He’ll try to, darling. Now, come on. Up you get. You’ll be fine. The best shepherd ever.” She put her arms around him and lifted him out of bed. Then, standing him on his feet, she patted the bottom of his Spiderman pyjamas and gently pushed him towards the bathroom. The nativity play was at 4 pm. Christmas Eve and still so much to do. She sighed and turned to Joey. “C’mon, champ, scoot. I’ll be in in a moment. You get your teeth cleaned.ʺ
Joey had forgotten the Sunday School nativity play last night. If Daddy came to that, everything would be OK. Georgie’s dad didn’t come to the play since he had found a new little boy two years ago, when Georgie was five. He had been a sheep in the play that year, but his dad never came to see him. If Daddy came to the play, everything would be all right.
Eileen bustled Joey through the door at 3:30 dressed in his shepherd outfit, with Rabbit tightly clutched under one arm. She bundled him over to Auntie Tina, the harassed-looking Sunday School teacher. “He’s a bit nervous,” she whispered.
“Hello there, Joey. Don’t you look wonderful? Don’t worry, Eileen, he’ll be fine.” Auntie Tina put her arm around him and led him backstage.
Little Maddie Tyler was kneeling at the corner of the stage, face pressed to the chink where the curtain didn’t quite meet the wall, gold-painted cardboard halo lopsided on her silvery-blonde corkscrew curls. “Sally, I can see your mummy and daddy, right in the front. And Barry, there’s yours. And…” Joey leaned over her and tried to peer through the crack too. “Joey, get off me. You’re standing on my angel robe!” she whispered indignantly.
He moved back an inch. “Is my dad there?”
She put her eye back to the curtain. “I dunno. Let me look. Um…um…there’s your mum.”
Joey closed his eyes and prayed. Please, please, please.
“No. I can’t see your dad.” His heart plummeted. “Sholto, I can see your mum and dad. Wendy, your granny’s here. Joey! Joey!” He raised his head hopefully. “Here’s your dad. He just came in.” A ripple of pure joy swept over Joey. It would be all right. His dad was here.
“Come away from the curtains Maddie, Joey.” Auntie Tina clapped her hands. “Places everyone.”
Joey grinned from ear to ear, as he bowed to the audience at the end of the play. Mums and dads, aunties and uncles, nans and grandads all cheered and clapped. Joey thought his heart would burst with joy.
He rushed to join his parents, putting one hand through each of theirs, Rabbit stuffed head first in his mum’s big bag. As they walked home through the crisp, cold winter day, they swung him off his feet, and he laughed as he swooped through the air. Joey thought he would explode with joy. Everything was going to be all right.
When they got home, he raced through the house whooping and hollering, waving Rabbit over his head. His mum grinned happily as she got dinner. “Fish fingers and beans tonight, Joey. Just for a treat. Come and sit down.”
“Yum, my favourite dinner.” Shovelling beans
into his mouth, Joey’s joy evaporated as he looked up into his dad’s face. Dad was frowning as he read a piece of paper.
“What’s wrong, Steve?” His mum’s voice was careful, concerned.
“Tell you later when this little tyke’s in bed.”
Oh no! Not again! The magic of Christmas Eve was lost. The last mouthful of beans tasted like cardboard as Joey finished his dinner. He went into the front room, turned on the TV and sat glumly, gazing blankly at the screen. A shiver shook him as a cold chill ran down his spine. His mum saw his convulsive shudder and put her hand on his forehead.
“What’s wrong, darling? Do you feel poorly?” He closed his eyes tightly to stop the tears from falling and nodded.
“I expect you’re overtired. Let’s get you up to bed, you’ll feel better in the morning when Father Christmas has been. Go and kiss Daddy goodnight.ʺ Joey went back to the kitchen, where his dad was still frowning and gave him a kiss. Dad looked up and rumpled his hair.
“Goodnight, Son, sleep tight. Don’t you go staying awake to watch for Father Christmas.” Joey shook his head obediently. A lump was in his throat and no words came out. Depressed, he slouched up the stairs dragging Rabbit by one woolly ear. Rabbit bumped up the stairs behind him.
Once in his bedroom, he climbed into his pyjamas and got into bed. Mum tucked him in, kissed him goodnight and went back downstairs, closing the door quietly behind her. He heard her footsteps fade and the kitchen door open and shut. The front door banged. The garage door shuddered as the shutter rolled up. Joey held his breath, but the car didn’t start. The garage door crashed down again, and the front door opened and closed. Five minutes passed. Joey started to breathe normally again. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. He was just explaining to Father Christmas why he needed to take Rabbit to Disneyland when he was jolted back awake. Another bang and some muffled thuds came from downstairs.
Joey’s heart sank. It was starting again. Muted yells and what sounded like swearing. He climbed out of bed and sat shivering at the top of the stairs, trying to hear what was going on downstairs.
“Oh Steve, no! Joey will be so disappointed.” He leaned forwards, one arm wrapped tightly around the bannister, wishing he hadn’t left Rabbit in bed. His forehead furrowed in concentration as he strained to hear.
Subdued muttering. Another crash. Then his dad’s exasperated voice. “It’s no good, Eileen. This just isn’t working. I have to go.”
Sick with fear, Joey flinched as the kitchen door flew open and his dad stomped down the hall, wrestling his coat on. As his dad’s hand reached for the latch, Joey could bear it no longer. Leaping to his feet, he ran down the stairs as fast as he could, throwing his arms around his dad. “No! No! No!” he sobbed. “You can’t leave, Daddy. I’ll be good. I promise. Please don’t leave Mummy. Please don’t find another little boy.” He buried his head in his dad’s coat and cried as though his poor little heart was breaking. His dad looked helplessly at his mum and, picking Joey up, carried him into the front room, still sobbing.
“Now, now. What’s this all about, Joey? Whatever’s the matter?”
“Georgie said…Georgie said…Georgie said his mum and dad shouted at each other, then his dad left them and found another little boy. And he never came back for Georgie. And his mum cried and cried,” Joey gulped. His dad wrapped his arms around him more tightly and his mum came and knelt next to the chair where his dad had carried him. She put her arms round him and his dad and wiped his eyes.
“Oh Joey, your daddy isn’t leaving us. He just had to go out to get something.”
ʺHe is! He is leaving us! I heard you shouting. Tonight and last night and the night before.” Joey wept inconsolably, hiccoughing and gasping.
His mum looked at his dad and shook her head. “I think we have to tell him, don’t we?”
“Yes, I think we do.”
Joey was terrified. He clung to his dad as he picked him up and headed toward the kitchen, his mum close behind. “Darling, we wanted to surprise you. Daddy hasn’t been shouting at me.”
“He has! He has! I heard him.”
“No, Joey.” Her voice was firm. She tilted his chin to face her. ʺDo you remember how cross Daddy got when he was trying to put your new bed together?ʺ He did. He had never heard his dad in such a temper. The tumultuous tears became a trickle. He sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Well,” she opened the kitchen door and his dad carried him through, “just look over there.”
Joey looked. In the corner of the kitchen was
hammer and nails. Behind them was the most splendid garage Joey had ever seen. It was huge. It had petrol pumps, cars and everything. “Daddy has been trying to build you a special present because he loves you so much.”
“But, but, but he said he had to leave.”
“Only to buy batteries to make the pumps light up, darling. He wanted it ready for tomorrow.”
Joey’s eyes were like saucers. He wriggled impatiently to get down. Tears forgotten, he knelt beside the garage, poking his fingers at the cars, peering at the petrol pumps and gazing in awe at the forecourt. “For me?” He looked at his dad in disbelief.
“For you. Happy Christmas, Joey.”
From Four Christmases – a little book of Christmas magic by Loretta Livingstone.