Miracles can happen at Christmas

Once upon a time, in the Land of Dolls, there lived a ragdoll called Rosie. She was a grubby, tatty little thing as she loved to play outside in the cool, fresh air. Her calico body was covered in darnings and mendings where it had been torn by branches, worn on rocks and caught on fences during her many explorations of the trees, insects and animals in her world. Her red woolly hair was tangled with leaves and twigs. Her plain dungarees were covered in many patches, obscuring the original pattern.

“Oh, Rosie, why can’t you be a bit more lady-like?” sighed her mother as she sewed another split in Rosie’s arm with her needle and thread.

But Rosie ignored her mother. She did not care about such things. After she completed her daily chores, she would escape from the house. She wanted to be out of doors under the wide, blue sky where she could breathe and dream. She wanted to sit beneath the pale moon, where she could think and wish. She wanted to lay her head on the dusty earth and listen to the beating pulse of living things. For Rosie had a secret desire, hidden deep within her heart. Rosie wanted, more than anything in her world, to be a real girl.

 

A sharp north wind blew across the Land of Dolls, the weather was turning cold. Soon, it would be Christmas. Preparations were taking place in Rosie’s home for the special day. Rosie worked hard alongside her mother and brothers to make the house clean and tidy. She swept the floors, dusted the corners and polished the furniture. She helped with baking the rich, fruity cake and sweet, sticky pies, without once licking the spoon or smearing batter down her front. She went out with her brothers to find the biggest, bushiest fir tree in the woods. She cut holly boughs to decorate the mantelpiece and put candles in every window to welcome visitors with their warm glow.

Rosie worked hard for a purpose. In fact, she had worked hard and without complaint all the past year. This was because at Christmas in the Land of Dolls, a miracle might take place. On Christmas Eve at midnight, the Spirit of Christmas would look down upon the Land of Dolls. The Spirit of Christmas would gaze on every doll asleep in bed, or lying awake in anxious anticipation, and make a judgement. The Spirit of Christmas would decide which doll deserved the reward of becoming real. No doll really knew for certain how or why the Spirit of Christmas made the decision but the story was that, sometimes, a doll would disappear into the Land of the Living. In a puff of smoke, or flutter of stars, or flash of light, a doll known to be of hard-working character and high morals, vanished. Rosie hoped this year she would be that doll.

 

On Christmas Eve, after a pleasant family meal and songs around the fire, Rosie and her family climbed the narrow stairs to bed. They hugged each other tight and said a fond good night as it was possible this was the last time they would see their loved ones. With her tummy bubbling with excited nerves, Rosie snuggled under the covers and waited. She whispered a prayer to the Spirit of Christmas as she lay alert and apprehensive on the pillows.

“Dear Spirit of Christmas, please pick me this year. I am a doll of good morals and diligent nature. I have happily completed my chores all year. I am kind and caring. I love to be out of doors with the living things. I wish I was alive too.”

Rosie listened to the gentle patter of new snow beginning to fall on the roof. She could hear no other sound. The night felt interminably long. It seemed eerily silent and dark and empty. Eventually, her eyelids grew heavy and she fell asleep.

 

Back in the Land of the Living, Helen sat at the breakfast bar eating another mince pie. Whenever she felt depressed or unhappy, she turned to food. It was a source of comfort to her. What did it matter if she got fat now anyway? There was no baby. There would be no baby. She need not worry about her health. The results had come that morning. Another failure. Their third round of IVF treatment and their last. They could not afford any more attempts. She and Tom had agreed that three was the limit. Now they would have to consider adoption or forget about having children altogether. A miserable time to find out. Christmas Eve. Helen wished that Christmas was over and done with. She did not feel like celebrating; did not want to pretend that everything was good and she was happy and having fun.

Tom had asked her yesterday what she would like for Christmas. He was off buying her a present now. Last minute as usual. He seemed to think a present would make a difference. She wanted a baby for Christmas. She wanted a baby all the time. Helen wanted, more than anything in her world, to have a baby. The longing gnawed at her stomach, a great emptiness waiting to be filled. She bit into a fourth mince pie as if to plug the hole. She understood that there were lots of wonderful children out there deserving a home and parents. But why couldn’t she have a baby of her own? Other women were allowed to get pregnant, feel their babies kick and grow inside them, have their babies suckling at their breasts. She wanted those things too. Some of those women didn’t even want to be mothers. She wanted to be a mother. She was a good person, she had worked hard, got qualifications, made a career as a teacher. A popular, successful teacher. She had spent too long looking after other people’s children, that was the problem. Now it was time for her to have a child of her own and it was too late.

She heard Tom’s key jiggling in the lock and he came bustling into the kitchen, arms full of bags.

“Went a bit mad, I’m afraid.” He shrugged. “Shall I put the kettle on or pour us a glass of wine? Christmas begins now!”

Poor Tom. He was trying hard to be cheerful, to make things right. Helen felt guilty. It was difficult for him as well. He wanted to be a father. She had to make an effort. She forced a smile.

“I hope you bought some more mince pies.”

 

After dinner, they wrapped presents and put them under the tree, then sat together on the sofa sipping mulled wine and watching cheesy Christmas films on the telly. Helen’s mobile buzzed. She picked it up from the coffee table, looked at the screen, switched it off and stuffed it down the cushions beside her.

“What was that all about?” Tom asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Just Mum. I don’t want to deal with it now. Not at Christmas.” Helen’s eyes misted. Tom took her hand in his, entwined fingers and squeezed.

“Shall I get the scrabble out? We’ve got a few hours yet to wait up if we’re going to see Christmas in.”

Helen yawned. “To be honest Tom, I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go to bed.”

They switched off the twinkling lights and climbed the carpeted stairs to bed. Tom held Helen close under the covers and kissed her good night.

“I love you, darling.” he said, “Let’s just have a really good Christmas.”

“Love you. Night, Tom.”

Helen turned away from him to attempt sleep. She did not want to hurt Tom. She would try to have a good Christmas, whatever that was supposed to mean. She would try not to think about the constant yearning inside her, tearing at her heart and mind. She would try to hide the constant pain. She whispered a prayer to whomever was listening on this magical night, this time of miracles, as she lay alert and apprehensive on the pillows.

“Please let me have a baby of my own. I’m a kind and caring person with good morals. I would be a good mum.”

She listened to the gentle patter of new snow beginning to fall on the roof. Other than Tom’s gentle breathing, she could hear no other sound; the traffic and city noises were subdued. The night felt interminably long. It seemed eerily silent and dark and empty. Eventually, her eyelids grew heavy and she fell asleep.

 

The Spirit of Christmas looked down upon her lands that Christmas Eve. She gazed on every doll and every human asleep in bed, or lying awake in anxious anticipation. She heard the prayers of dolls wishing to be real. She heard the prayers of humans in need. She had difficult judgements to make. There were many, many dolls in the Land of Dolls that were kind and good and hard-working. There were many, many humans in the Land of the Living that suffered. The Spirit of Christmas had to find ways to connect the souls of these dolls and these humans. To find balance. To create happy endings.

The Spirit of Christmas looked down upon the soul of Rosie the ragdoll who was desperate to be a real girl. The Spirit of Christmas looked down upon the soul of Helen who was desperate to be a mother.

“I wonder…” said The Spirit of Christmas.

 

Tom wiped the sweat from Helen’s brow and kissed her on the forehead.

“I’m so proud of you darling.” he said.

It had been a long, difficult birth but Helen felt elated as she snuggled the tiny girl. She studied the unexpected fuzz of red hair and the strange birth marks, a maze of lines, on her baby’s arms and legs. Where had they come from? She and Tom had ordinary brown hair and not a birthmark on them. Tom said they must both have recessive ginger genes and the doctor had reassured them the marks would fade with time. Helen did not care. She finally had the child she wanted. A healthy, beautiful girl.

“She’s amazing.” Tom smiled, “And a tough little thing. She didn’t give up through all that and neither did you. I was scared once or twice, I must admit.”

“We’re fine, Tom. I’m so happy. I can’t believe she’s ours.” Helen whispered, “We did it. We actually did it.”

“What are we going to call her?” Tom gently stroked the baby’s head.

“You know, I think there’s only one name that suits her.” Helen said, “It popped into my mind the moment she was born.”

“What’s that?” Tom asked.

“Rosie.”

The Little Dog

Ben stood in the dark hallway of the large, stone house. Outside the air was hot but here it was cool. Removal men bumped and strained around him. He was a forlorn six-year-old lost and forgotten in the chaos. Normally, he bubbled with curiosity and adventure. He liked to explore the natural world. He loved to be in the open air. Now, he stood uncertain. Moving to this new house with its enormous, verdant garden terrified him. He had left everything he had ever known. The security of the home where he was born. His bedroom with its pale, green paintwork and dinosaur border. The safety of his Grandma whom he loved best of all. He would miss her gentle, laughing voice. Her silly stories. Her funny songs. He would miss her cuddling him close and the warm smell of her rose-perfumed cardigan.

A new home meant a new school. His stomach gripped tight when he thought of it. He would have to talk to new children. Make friends. He was happiest in the company of adults. He could find interesting things to tell them; about animals, plants and insects. Grown-ups listened, asked you questions, wanted to know. Children were rough and tumble. They shouted, tugged at you, talked nonsense.

‘Ben darling,’ Mum called him softly, ‘Why don’t we go and look at your new room?’

‘All right,’ he said, reluctantly leaving his corner.

He followed Mum upstairs, along a bright landing and into a large comfortable looking room. His bed was there and boxes full of his things.

‘It will soon be your room – just like the old house,’ Mum smiled, ‘Why don’t you start unpacking? I have to make the workers some tea but I’ll come back in a bit.’

Ben went over to the window. A spider skittered wildly across the glass. His nose wrinkled in concentration. As he watched, he whispered to himself under his breath. He looked out at the garden. On the lawn sat a little white dog gazing up at him. It seemed friendly. Wagging tail, shaggy hair and beady, black eyes. Ben ran out of his bedroom, down the stairs and into the garden. The dog still sat on the grass.

‘Hello little dog,’ he said holding out his hand carefully.

The dog eyed him excitedly, pink tongue lolling to the side of his mouth. Ben thought he was smiling. He knelt down on the springy grass.

‘Come here,’ he said tapping his knees, ‘Come to me little dog!’

The dog ran to Ben and barked invitingly. The two new companions played in the garden all afternoon.

 

When Ben returned to the house, face flushed with exercise and excitement, his parents smiled knowingly at one another.

‘I see you’ve been enjoying the garden,’ Dad said, ruffling his butter-coloured hair.

‘I enjoyed playing with the little dog,’ Ben said, his intelligent brown eyes alight, ‘We found lots of insects and a pond with frogs.’

‘Must be a neighbour’s dog,’ Mum said. ‘Just think, you’ve got the whole holiday to play. But now…it’s tea, bath and bed for you. You’re filthy!’

 

Ben played outside every day, little dog at his heels. One afternoon, they were investigating a different corner of the garden. It was shady and overgrown; weeds reached up to Ben’s waist. Nearing a stone wall, the dog began to whine, pawing at the ground and cowering in the damp undergrowth.

‘What’s wrong little dog?’ Ben asked, screwing up his nose in thought, ‘Nothing to be scared of…we’ll look after each other.’

He picked up a narrow branch and thrashed at the long grass. The dog did not move. Ben pulled away the vegetation, clearing an area next to the wall.

‘This is hard work…just move this…oh…what’s that?’ he muttered to himself as he worked.

Ben knelt on the soft ground. He saw a small headstone, worn and green with age. He could not see any writing on it. He turned to show the little dog but he was gone.

 

At bedtime, Ben told Mum about his discovery.

‘This is an old house,’ she said, ‘…must be someone’s much loved pet, buried in the garden.’ She kissed him goodnight. Ben fell asleep thinking about who might have lived there before.

 

All summer, Ben played with the little dog. They became best friends, sharing fears and worries. He began to love the house and garden. He missed his Grandma but, with the dog by his side, he felt he could cope with anything. Even starting a new school.

 

The holidays were nearing an end. Ben stood at the window, waiting. He was excited. His nose rumpled with anticipation.

‘Soon be here…won’t be long now…,’ he chattered happily to himself.

Dad’s car pulled up the drive.

‘She’s here!’ Ben shouted. He watched his Grandma walk up the path carrying a large box.

Grandma came into the hall. She put the box gently on the floor.

‘Hello my boy,’ she said, eyes sparkling. She bent and kissed Ben’s curly mop.

‘Grandma…’ he hugged her tight, breathing in the smell of flowers.

‘I’ve got a present for you,’ Grandma said. She passed him the box, ‘Open it carefully.’

Ben could hear a snuffling, scratching sound from inside. He lifted the flaps cautiously. A small puppy pushed out its head. Bright eyes, wet nose, black and white fur.

‘Thought you might like one of your own…’ Grandma smiled, ‘He can walk with you to school.’

‘Oh…’ Ben gasped. He delicately picked up the dog and held it close. It smelt warm and safe.

‘Thank you Grandma,’ he said.

Ben loved his puppy. He ran out to find the little dog. It would be fun to explore – all three together.

‘Little dog!’ he called but there was no response.

Ben knotted his forehead. Holding his pup to his chest, he searched for the little dog in every corner of the garden. There was no sign of him.

 

Every day Ben played in the garden with his puppy but he never saw the little dog again.

The Goat Road

I wrote this short story for a recent competition. The theme was ‘Journeys’ – I didn’t get shortlisted but I hope you enjoy it.

 

The Goat Road

Dilwyn knew the neighbours thought he was a silly old goat. He chuckled to himself, it was because of his goat Primrose, he had that reputation. Some even said he let her sleep in his bedroom. He didn’t of course, but he liked to bring her into the kitchen to share his supper now and again. The goat was a lonely creature, much like Dilwyn himself. She’d lost her sister, Bluebell, to a nasty bout of scours the year before and had been glad of Dilwyn’s company and friendship ever since. The two of them spent hours in the meadow staring out at the blue sea beyond, meditating on the beauty of the countryside. While Dilwyn tended his vegetable patch, Primrose stood at the fence bleating the occasional bit of advice, happy to receive the odd carrot or cabbage leaf as thanks.

“Let’s sit here a while, bach,” Dilwyn puffed, “I’m fair tired.” He sat down on a grassy bank where the hedgerow grew thick with tasty titbits for Primrose.

Dilwyn had worried about his retirement from the dairy farm. He’d worked there man and boy as farmhand and milker. He didn’t know any other life or how he would fill his days. It was young Mr Rhys, who took over the farm when old Mr Rhys died, had suggested getting a couple of dairy goats to keep him occupied when the day came for him to leave. He had never regretted following that counsel. Spring primroses and bluebells festooned the lanes the day he brought his two kids home, one tucked under each arm, wriggling and squirming with energy. So that was what he’d decided to call them. When he let them down they had bucked, skipped and jumped all over the paddock. He’d laughed to see them young and full of high spirits. They gave him a fresh interest in life and his own step became sprightly once more.

That had been more than six years ago. The kids had grown into pretty, glossy animals with long coats which Dilwyn enjoyed brushing. They had supplied him with healthy kids he’d sold on for good profit and they were sturdy, excellent milkers providing more than enough for his needs. He was able to sell milk and butter at his gate. More importantly for Dilwyn though, they were friendly, intelligent girls and he loved them. It had broken his heart almost as much as Primrose’s when Bluebell had died. He’d sat up all night in the goat shed, stroking and comforting her in her last moments, tears streaming down his stubbly chin.

Dilwyn took a long swig of nutty, brown ale. He looked across at Primrose contentedly nibbling at the brambles entwining the hedge. The sun shone round and bright sparkling on the fern leaves, precious gems of golden ochre and fiery orange, along the narrow lane.

“We have the weather for it, my girl,” Dilwyn said. From his seat on the bank, he could see a patch of turquoise sea below him, the little village nestled safely in the bay. A surge of love filled his heart, for this place where he’d always lived and had seldom left. He’d been away only twice before – for his cousin’s wedding in the town and when his father was admitted to hospital; poor soul had wanted to die at home but sadly it wasn’t to be.

Dilwyn sighed. He himself had woken that morning with a familiar feeling something was wrong. His chest constricted, like a lead weight pressing him down, and his breath coming in short gasps. Silly fool, Dilwyn had admonished himself, you’re growing old, isn’t it boy? He had lain quietly for a few minutes until the sensation passed, pale light trickling through a gap in his bedroom curtains, Primrose waiting for her morning barley. He’d been getting later these last few days, rising had been effortful. He had gotten out of bed deliberately, carefully sliding his legs into scruffy trousers, pulling on sturdy boots, and hobbling out into the hall. Outside he had found a crisp Autumn morning, clean and damp with dew. He had breathed in slowly, feeling much better for fresh air, ready to see to his beloved goat. Primrose had been lively in her stall, calling for her morning meal. At least these funny turns of his were fleeting.

“You’re a good girl, Primrose,” Dilwyn smiled lovingly at his goat as she snuffled at the juicy black fruits in the hedge, “I’m going to miss you, cariad.” Primrose’s gentle face seemed to smile back at him.

After breakfast, Dilwyn had prepared all he would need for the trip. In a muslin cloth, he’d wrapped two thick slices of bread, a chunk of crumbly cheese, an apple and two carrots for Primrose, then filled a bottle with ale and pushed in the cork stopper. He had put these things in a coarse hessian sack and tied them around his waist, under his coat, with sturdy string. He’d gathered the goat harness and lead from its hook by the door and gone out to collect Primrose. Dilwyn had whistled merrily, determined to enjoy this time with his goat, as they crunched through the fallen leaves up the steep hill leading out of the village. A couple of miles steady climbing later, they had reached the top, ready for a breather.

Primrose nudged and sniffled at his coat.

“Do you want a carrot, my lovely?” Dilwyn scrambled in his rough sack to find her one. Primrose accepted the carrot gratefully, crunching noisily.

“Is she friendly, your goat?”

Dilwyn looked around, startled by the piping voice behind him. There in the gateway stood a small girl, grubbily dressed in a smock and dusty bare feet.

“She is.” Dilwyn replied, “Do you want a cwtch?”

The girl climbed the gate expertly and approached the goat, hands outstretched warily, “She won’t bite me?”

“No.” Dilwyn smiled, “Wouldn’t hurt a fly. Rub her neck, behind her ears, she likes that.”

The little girl stroked Primrose’s neck gently, laughing. “She’s soft…Why you here?”

“Having a rest.”

“Why?” the girl wrinkled her nose.

“We’ve walked up that hill…it’s steep, isn’t it?” Dilwyn pointed back down the lane.

“Why you walking?”

“To take Primrose to her new family.” Dilwyn replied.

“Don’t you want her no more?” the little girl studied Dilwyn curiously.

“Time for me to say goodbye. I’m an old man,” Dilwyn answered sadly. “It’s the best thing for Primrose.”

The girl put her arms around the goat’s neck, “She’ll be happy there, won’t she?”

“Yes,” Dilwyn agreed, “She’ll be happy.” The man and girl locked eyes for a moment.

“What’s your name, cariad bach?” Dilwyn broke the silence.

The girl twiddled her flaxen curls, “Ceinwen.”

“I’m Dilwyn.” He held out his hand and they shook.

“I gotta go!” Ceinwen squealed suddenly, “Mam will be mad at me if I’m late to collect the chook eggs…Ta ra mister, Ta ra Primrose!”

Dilwyn chortled as he watched her retreating back, racing across the field, a bundle of energy. Ceinwen; lovely, fair, white. It suited her. He and Megan had never been blessed with children. He could see his wife, like a bird; full of spirit, not unlike that little lass. They had grown up together in the village and he knew the first moment he saw her she would be his one day. Megan had kept him in order, kept the cottage sparkling like a new pin. He savoured the delicious memory of her bread and cakes baking in the range. It had been many years since he lost her; her tiny body had worn itself out trying to give birth to their stillborn son.

Primrose snorted warm, vinegary breath into his face. Dilwyn lifted her chin to stroke her velvety muzzle. Her clever, inquisitive eyes seemed to stare into his soul as if to say, I know everything you’re thinking, old man.

“I’m a silly sentimental bugger, bach.” Dilwyn patted her belly.  He took another sip of ale, “Better be heading off soon.”

Somewhere further up the lane, Dilwyn could hear buzzing, like a giant housefly. He turned his head to make sense of the sound. He had never heard anything like it before.

“Well, what is that dreadful racket, my girl?” he asked Primrose who raised her head in alarm, “It’s alright, bach, come by ‘ere, I’ll look after you.”

Dilwyn held Primrose’s leash tight as a shiny bottle green, box-shaped carriage on four large wheels came beeping and tooting around the corner. Sitting inside was a smart gentleman in eye goggles. Dilwyn had seen the threshing machine at Mr Rhys’s farm, and he’d listened to the young folk describing the railway engines at Cardigan, monstrous great bulls snorting steam from their nostrils. This was something new, like a cart without the horse. It slowed and came to a halt next to Dilwyn.

“Hope I didn’t scare your goat, my man,” the gentleman called.

Primrose was wide-eyed and breathing heavily. Dilwyn reassured her with a gentle pat.

“She doesn’t like the noise, sir,” Dilwyn said, standing up slowly, tipping his cap.

“No. Well, it does take a bit of getting used to,” the gentleman pulled his goggles down, “But isn’t she a beauty?  This is the future, don’t you know? I’m taking her for her first outing.”

“But sir…whatever is it?” Dilwyn raised his hands in amazement.

“An automobile, my man. The first in West Wales!” the gentleman patted his vehicle proudly, then he was off again trundling away in a noisy cloud of smoke and dust.

“Good heavens…” Dilwyn shook his head in disbelief, sitting gradually down again, “He’ll kill us all, bach.”

Primrose tossed her head in agreement and settled back to eating the hedge.

Dilwyn thought if the future was going to be automobiles, perhaps it was best he wouldn’t be there to see it. All that noise and nasty smelly fumes spoiling the countryside. Everything moved on so quickly these days. Those scientists and inventors with their new-fangled ideas. He’d been told that in some places in England, where rich folks lived, they had lights inside their houses, not candles or even gas mind, but lights you put on by pressing a switch. He’d even heard stories about two men in America who were trying to build a machine that would fly like a bird. He couldn’t believe it could be true though. People enjoyed their fairy tales.

“What is the world coming to, my girl?” Dilwyn asked Primrose, casting a longing look at the sea, “Well, I suppose we should get going. We’ve a long way yet.”

He stroked Primrose forlornly along her flank. She looked up, nuzzling his chin, breath sweet with fermenting leaves. Her benign, friendly face smiled, I understand, old man, you have to do this. Dilwyn planted a kiss, between her horns, on her knobbly forehead.

It had been the hardest decision of his life, but Dilwyn knew it was the right thing to do. Primrose had several more good years in her. Years when he wouldn’t be fit and able to care for her properly; years when he wouldn’t be around. He knew she needed a new place, somewhere with other goats where she could end her days happily. So, he had arranged for Primrose to go and live with his younger cousin Eleri, on her farm near Newcastle Emlyn. She had a small herd of dairy goats and Dilwyn knew she would care for his beauty. It was almost nine miles from his home in Aberporth to Eleri’s farm. Primrose behaved impeccably on a leash and he wanted to take her there himself. A last journey for them together. He felt well enough to do this; he needed to do this. To say goodbye to Primrose.

Dilwyn rose stiffly from his resting place, “Come on, my cariad. Let’s take you home.”

 

Thank you for reading