The night before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a . . .
No. No. No. I’m not having that. It’s ridiculous.
You might insist there are no mice in your house, though I assure you your cat knows different, but even without mice any and all houses will have all manner of stirrings … and this house is no different …
A small tabby cat, unfortunately called Twinkle, cosy in her bed in the conservatory combs her fur for Christmas appearances, but keeps a beady eye out for movements of interest. Occasionally she catches spiders, but sometimes she finds the larger ones slightly intimidating, she’s a bit fastidious and finds all those legs a bit ticklish to deal with. She prefers to play with a small rodent, that really is her strength, but of course there are no mice here.
The spiders of the house, of which there are many, go about their nightly business away from Twinkle’s sight. In the family bathroom two largish examples have found themselves in a bit of a stand-off; the bath is only a big enough hunting ground for one spider, but they are evenly matched size wise, and both being male with no female within sight, are of the view that they are better off avoiding each other. This is leading to a certain amount of scuttling activity and some crossed webs. In the morning they will both find themselves, one after the other, scooped up into a glass and tipped out of the bathroom window into the cold morning air. It is the hope of this author that they will then find themselves new and cosy spider homes for Christmas.
A variety of smaller creatures are roaming about, flies, bugs and things we don’t like to think about sharing our house with. In the spare room wardrobe several moths are continuing their winter feasting on a couple of men’s tweed jackets that haven’t been worn for a few years. When, eventually in March, they are removed and inspected they won’t make the cut for the charity shop but will end up in a fabric collection bin at the supermarket.
The night after they have been left in the bin a homeless man called Mark will be passing, and on the off chance, fish out the last bag. On discovering the jackets Mark will, after consideration, and having reviewed the number of moth holes in each, take one of the jackets, swapping it for the old, holed green parka he’s been wearing since the previous autumn. He figures it’s an exchange not robbery. This is also the view of Bob the security guard, who in any case doesn’t really want to go out into the cold night to harass a vulnerable homeless person. Bob’s far happier with his feet up on the desk working his way through the McDonald’s he bought at the drive through on the way to work despite the fact that he’d had a good evening meal earlier. If his husband knew about the burgers, he’d go nuts, but ignorance is bliss and by the time Bob gets home from shift Paul will already have left for work. Mark wanders off, feeling just a little better about life and aims for the place he’s left his sleeping bag and other stuff. Because Mark is feeling just that little better with his recycled jacket, a couple of weeks later at a regular drop in for the homeless he takes an opportunity for some temporary shelter and this is the start of an upward trend in his life which eventually sees him in some longer-term accommodation with a bit of part-time work.
But this is all in the future …
We’re still taking an audit of what is stirring in this house, this night, this anticipatory night, this night that sends a thrill through the likes of children and adults.
I’ll tell you where nothing is stirring. Nothing is stirring in either of the children’s rooms. The children, having been the overexcited bundles of hyper bounce that children will be the night before Christmas are completely zonked. They are in that deep and complete sleep that seems unique to children, the state in which they can be carried out of a car, into a house, up the stairs, changed into pyjamas and tucked in to bed without even the slightest hint of waking, a state in which, as all parents will attest to, they weigh approximately twice as much as they do if carried whilst waking.
On door handle of each child’s bedroom a stocking bulges with promises and love waiting for the morning explosion of energy and excitement.
In the parents’ bedroom there is some light snoring and snuffling going on, having spent an intense three hours after the children were finally in bed wrapping and labelling, stuffing stockings and finally, carefully hanging up the stockings, they had at last sat down for half an hour with a glass of wine each. Almost too exhausted to speak they drank their wine like medicine, knowing that otherwise they’d probably be too wired to sleep.
Back downstairs, something stirs the Christmas Tree, pine needles shiver, baubles move ever so slightly, tinsel quivers as if someone has just opened a door and let a draught in for a moment.
In the comfiest armchair, closest to the fireplace, Gran sits knitting. She is the epitome of grandmother, pink cheeks, and cosy body, dressed comfortably in a cardi and grey slacks, feet warm and toasty in the pink fleecy slipper socks the children bought her last year. The click of her knitting needles is virtually the only noise that can be heard, save only the very faintest murmur of counting out loud. Her hair clearly shows the signs of her Christmas ‘do’, white curls crisply set under the dryer at Pauline’s hair parlour, where she relishes her regular natters with Dot and Emily who have shared the same schedule of hair dos with her since she can’t remember.
After a while Gran carefully sets down her knitting on the right-hand arm rest of the chair, and slowly levers herself to her feet. She drifts over to the tree to admire the heaps of presents, the pretty wrapping paper. She smiles, she has always loved the joy and excitement of gift giving. Out of curiosity, and just to see, she cautiously bends down and turns over some of the gift tags to see to whom the gift is addressed, and from whom the gift is given. There is one gift she pauses over, a small carefully wrapped box, the paper doesn’t match any of the other parcels so she thinks perhaps it has been wrapped in a shop, from the size, perhaps a jeweller’s shop. She bends just a little more to pick up the gift, she holds it, turning it from side to side, peering at it as though she can see through wrap and box and look at the gift itself. She looks at the tag again, “To Darling Kim with all my love, Tom”. After a moment of holding the box in her hand she sighs, replaces the gift under the tree and, shivering slightly now, goes back to the armchair and picks back up her knitting. After a moment all that can be heard is once more the click of the needles and that soft murmur of counting.
The dark but stirring night passes into the deep grey of mid-winter dawn.
Thud. Thud, stomp, thud.
“Ohhhhhhhh …”
“Yay!”
“Yeah!”
Thud, thud, stomp, stomp, clump.
“Tom!”, Kim nudges her husband’s arm.
“Whaaaa?”, Tom responds.
“The children are …” The door bursts open to the parents’ bedroom and two small forms launch themselves on to the bed, clutching the precious bulging stockings.
‘Awake’, finishes Kim, as Tom issues the muffled curse known by all fathers whose child has just landed painfully but accurately on the parental balls.
There follows a moment of rearrangement before parents, children and stockings are all reasonably arranged in and around the bed, though this does mean that Tom is left balanced with his left foot on the floor to maintain any position on the bed at all. The annual orgy of stocking opening commences until the inevitable final selection of chocolate coins and the satsuma in the bottom of the toe are excavated. Finally, comparative peace settles as both children settle to explore their new stuff. A drift of used wrapping paper floats like flotsam over the duvet.
Tom slides cautiously out of bed and goes for his dressing gown. Padding downstairs he heads for the kitchen to put the kettle on, then to the conservatory to open the door and allow Twinkle access to the rest of the house. Twinkle stretches languidly and turns away with disdain. Tom knows that within five minutes she will be in the bedroom, curled up on the duvet, if of course she can find a space.
Tom turns to go back into the kitchen, but pauses, considering. He turns to the tree, he thinks something is slightly different from how they’d left it, but then, maybe not. He stoops down and picks up a small box, the gift tag reads “To Darling Kim with all my love, Tom”, Tom slips the box into his dressing gown pocket before going to make the tea.
Once upstairs with two steaming mugs and tucked back, as far as possible, in an overcrowded bed Tom digs the small box out of his dressing gown pocket and leans over to Kim.
“Darling, this is for you.”
“Oh, really? Now?”
“I think so, while these two are occupied.”
Kim takes the present from Tom and turns it over in her hand for a moment. She pauses, and looks quizzically at him.
“Go on”. He prompts.
She carefully reads the tag, then pulls off the ribbon, the rest of the wrap comes off easily and exposes a small jeweller’s box. Kim slowly opens the lid of the box and then removes a layer of foam. Nestling in blue velvet there is a silver locket on a chain. She glances quickly at Tom, then picks out the locket and with slightly shaky hands delicately opens it. Inside there is a picture of an old lady, with pink cheeks and white curls crisply set under the dryer, she is smiling at the camera, it is possible to see that she is seated in an armchair and behind her there is a Christmas tree. Kim takes a long breath in, and turns to Tom, she knows she’s welling up.
“Thank you darling.”
“I know you’ll be missing her today especially, I thought it would be good if you had her with you somehow.”
Kim nods, a tear rolls down her cheek. She murmurs, barely heard, “Oh Mum”.
Back downstairs, something stirs the Christmas Tree, pine needles shiver, baubles move ever so slightly, tinsel quivers.

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