Saturday 30 December 2017

Chosen by an Angel

Sandy Wilson


Beneath the blue sky she watches the palm trees sway in the warm breeze. Sunlight and shadows dance across the white facade of the mosque opposite her home. Scent of jasmine hangs in the warm air. In a lilting voice the Imam calls the faithful to prayers. Her mother sings in the kitchen, her younger brothers bicker in the yard. She waves to her father walking across the road towards her.......Then.....she hears someone screaming..........

Rahel realised it was she who was screaming. Then, the crash of breaking glass brought her back to the moment as burning debris fell past the window. Sat on the floor under the layer of grey smoke she was sitting on the apartment floor, terrified, struggling to breathe and holding her son close, covering his face with her scarf. Through the choking smoke she could discern the ghostly shapes of others crouched or curled up in resignation around the edge of the room.
     As Rahel slipped back into semiconsciousness, she felt an unexpected cool hand on her forehead. She looked up dreamily to see a man looking into her eyes. When asked later, she could not describe him, such were the ordinary features of his face and the style of his clothing.
     The man bent down and gently lifted her to her feet. She felt a surge of energy pulse through her body.
     "Walk." Said the man. "Leave this place. You must live."
     Before she passed through the doorway, she looked back over her shoulder. Despite the flames rolling across the ceiling the unremarkable man was moving around a group of men stooping over each huddled figure. One looked up with pleading eyes but the unremarkable man shook his head and moved on to the next. On the other side of the room he helped another, a young teenager to his feet, told him he would live and gestured towards the doorway before continuing his circuit of the room deciding who would live and who would die.

Two months later investigators sifting through the ash and debris of flat 801 found an undamaged USB stick. It contained the plans for a terrorist attack on a large shopping mall in London. Then, later in November the analysis of DNA samples from the flat would identify the remains of a known people trafficker and child abuser.

“He must have been an angel" Rahel had said to the inquiry when asked about the unremarkable man who saved their lives. "What other explanation is there? We were chosen by an angel."

About the author

Sandy writes fiction, memoirs and some poetry. His work has been published in the anthologies ‘The Pulse of Everything’ and ‘The Darkening Season’ and  the international poetry anthology ‘Indra’s Net’. He is a member of Otley Writers and blogs as

Friday 29 December 2017

Down by the River

Ann Dixon

sparkling water

       With all her household chores finished Enid Fisher danced her way to her secret hideaway down by the River Clare. Amidst its many twists and turns was a small inlet, hidden from the view of prying eyes by the long delicate fronds of a Weeping Willow tree. From the land, it was hidden by a wide stretch of Blue Elderberry shrubs and a mass of tangled Juniper bushes. With a bit of luck thought Enid,  Harry would be waiting for her. She had thought long and hard before inviting him to the hideaway, but Harry had proved to be a stalwart friend and had even taken on  Jem Galloway, the school bully, when he had tried to steal her school bag. To be absolutely sure though, she had insisted he take a blood oath, swearing never to reveal its location to anyone -  especially grown ups.

Enid twirled and hummed as she drank in the fresh, sweet, smell of summer. and  ahead of her, the River Clare twinkled mischievously  in the sunlight. As she got closer Enid looked around to make sure no one was following her, or could see where she would duck into the swirl of Juniper branches. All was clear - the only onlookers, a few stray cows meandering on Darrow Head.

 "Where have you been ?" asked Harry, as Enid emerged into the dappled light.  "I've been waiting for ages. I thought you might have forgotten."
 "Harry Dempster! You do talk a lot of tommyrot. I know you had to muck out the pigs this morning and that's at least an hour's job. Besides, you know I can't get away before all my chores are finished. Aunt  Gwyneth insists on checking everything I do before I'm allowed out. Anyone would think I was a servant rather than her niece." Enid slumped to the ground and  lay back on the grassy bank. "Let's not argue," said Harry. "Look! I've set up my fishing rod, just liked you asked. If we're lucky we might catch a whale or two." Enid laughed, sat up and joined Harry by the riverbank.
The minutes ticked by and the line remained languid and still.
 "I don't think there are any fishes in this river, let alone  whales," moaned Enid. "I've been sitting here for ages. This is boring."
"Fishing takes patience," replied Harry "And clearly you ain't got very much." 
Enid stuck out her tongue and  was just about to throw down the rod in disgust when there was a sudden pull on the line.
 "Hey! Harry, I think I've got something. Come and help. I think I might have caught a whale after all."

It took  Enid and Harry almost ten minutes to land their whale, which turned out in the end to be a monster sized carp.
 "A whale, a whale, I've caught a whale," he whooped.
 "Let me hold him then," said Enid excitedly.
He placed the carp in Enid's hands, and as he did so she leant over and kissed him, firmly on the lips.
 "Wow!" said Harry, and returned her kiss with equal ardour. A cheeky grin spread across his nut brown face. "If that's my reward for helping you catch a whale I think I'll catch another?"
Enid blushed.
 "Now don't you go getting any ideas Harry Dempster," she replied. "I'm not that sort of girl." Harry winked at her.
 "As if I would. I'm a knight in shining armour I am, a veritable Sir Lancelot. Chivalry's my middle name." Harry bowed low and within minutes they were both in fits of laughter.
 "I think we'd better return our whale to his watery home," said Harry.
Together they bent down and replaced the carp in the river.
 "Goodbye Tommy Whale," whispered Enid. "KEEP SAFE!" The carp flipped its tail and swiftly darted away to the safety of deeper water.

For a few moments they stood looking nervously at each other. Enid was the first to break the awkward silence.
 "Thanks for teaching me how to fish," she said quietly.
 "And thanks for that kiss," said Harry. "I must admit, It was a bit of a surprise.  Does this mean you actually like me Enid Fisher?"
 "Course it does you ninny. Otherwise I wouldn't have told you about this place."
Harry reached over to Enid and swung her round. " Then from now on then you're
 my girl," he said.

The sun  began to set over Darrow  Head and Enid and Harry said their farewells. "Same time tomorrow?" asked Harry hopefully.
 "Why yes, dear sir, " replied Enid. "I do believe I have a space in my busy diary," and together they walked to the top of the hill hand in hand. Many more assignations followed over the years  and in 1913 Harry and Enid married.
     Their bliss was unfortunately short lived . Harry joined the army at the outbreak of the War and for five years its monstrous shadow  blocked out the sunshine of their love.

When Harry returned to Blighty he was not the same man that Enid had married. He had become quiet and introvert. The lively, outgoing, happy go lucky man she knew, was locked away in a distant land of memories  that he would not -or could not share. Enid so much wanted to help Harry but he resolutely refused to talk about his war experiences. She surmised that the memories were just too painful.

One morning when Enid was cleaning out the cupboard under the stairs, she came across their fishing rods which had fallen behind some wooden shelving. Her thoughts immediately ran back to those early days when she and Harry would meet in their secret hideaway down by the river. She smiled to herself as she recalled the day that she first kissed him. His expression had been one of complete surprise and also of absolute joy. From that day, all those years ago she knew that they were meant for each other.

Enid was about to replace the rods when a sudden idea popped into her head.
 "Hey! Harry. You'll never guess what I've just found."
 " You mean you've actually found something in that cupboard? Its like the black hole of Calcutta under there."
 "Well! I've just found these," said Enid extracting the rods. "How about we brush them off, grab some bait, and go fishing?"
 "I don't know about that," replied Harry doubtfully.  "It's been a long time, love, and I've probably lost the knack after all these years."
 "Well ! Harry Dempster, you'll never know until you try, " said Enid resolutely. "I know just the place down by the River Clare?" Harry laughed. "Come on Harry, just
 for old times sake."
Harry looked across at Enid's smiling face. How could he say no.

That afternoon, the two of them pushed their way past the juniper bushes and emerged into their secret river bank world.
 "Come on then Harry. Let's get cracking!" said Enid encouragingly.
 "I will," said Harry,  "But not before you give me a kiss. No kiss means no whales and we can't have that, can we?"
Enid eagerly complied. The kiss was long and tender.
Two hours later Harry was happily chattering away and  Enid caught a heart-tingling glimpse of the man she had married all those years ago.

That day, fishing by the river, was to be the first of many. They were days when  Harry could free his troubled  mind and focus on the beauty of nature. His battle was not now with a fierce some enemy but with an array of clever and intelligent fish. On those days that  Enid  and Harry fished  together, he would  smile and talk joyously  about their carefree, childhood.

So it was, that gradually, day by day, week by week and month by month,  Harry Dempster slowly recovered. Harry would always say that he  put his recovery down to the love of a good woman and the quiet search for Tommy, the riverbank whale.

On one particular summer morning, as he waited patiently by the riverbank
 for the fish to bite, he took out his pen knife and carved a heart in the bark of the Willow Tree. Underneath  it read - Harry loves Enid 1926 He stepped back to admire his handy work.
 "Oh dear," he said after a while. "I do believe I've forgotten someone." He returned to the tree and added the following:    Harry loves Enid 1926 and Tommy - our whale.

About the author  

Ann is a retired primary school teacher and has written many short stories in a range of genres. She has also written a fantasy fiction book for children entitled The Bewitching of Esme Smart. She hopes publish this sometime next year.

Thursday 28 December 2017

Trapped in Amber

Sandy Wilson


The Antiques Roadshow expert passed the necklace of rough stones through his manicured fingers and held it for a moment in the sunlight for the television cameras to pick out the subdued orange and yellow hues.

"Many viewers will be familiar with polished amber jewellery, but what we have here appears to be an example of unpolished Lithuanian amber jewellery......but I'm not sure......perhaps you could tell the viewers the story of how the necklace was found......"
As his son related the little of what he knew the old man, hunched in the wheelchair stared up at the necklace; remembering.

He remembered leaving the cell and climbing the stairs to stand in the middle of the road stunned at the Armageddon destruction. He had shuffled along the road through a haze of smoke and dust, a bewildered ghost, one among many.
Some time later, desperate for water he had entered a building that had escaped destruction; the sound of glass crunching under his feet as he stepped through the wreckage sharp in his memory.
On the floor of the house he found a horrifically burned body, the right hand a grotesque claw appeared to have been holding something. The arrangement of the stones on the floor suggested a necklace, the connecting string having burned away. Nearby, in the charred remains of what had may have been a chest of drawers there was a metal box; not unlike a biscuit tin his mother would have at home. Opening it he found photographs: formal family groups, individuals posing, children. One caught his attention; a young girl, standing against a wall - it could have been of the house he was standing in - looking into the camera, smiling in the sunlight. Smiling at him.
He had gathered up the strange almost weightless pieces of stone and placed them in the tin box and left the sad house of death. Later at home he felt compelled to restring the necklace. He then placed it in the box and closed the lid and tried to forget.

"....and my father left the house, and soon after the relief forces found him. He was one of the few British prisoners of war to survive the atomic bombing of Nagasaki..."
"What an amazing story. And this is the actual box?"
"Yes, it is."
The presenter put the necklace to one side and spread the photographs on the blue felt table cover to allow the television camera to show the viewers the happy family scenes. In one, a young girl standing against a wall smiled at them as her fingers played with a piece of jewellery around her neck. The smooth polished amber stones of the necklace glinted in the sun.


About the author

Sandy writes fiction, memoirs and some poetry. His work has been published in the anthologies ‘The Pulse of Everything’ and ‘The Darkening Season’ and  the international poetry anthology ‘Indra’s Net’. He is a member of Otley Writers and blogs as

Tuesday 26 December 2017


 Jenny Palmer 


It was my turn to make the bread today. I like doing chores. I concentrate while mixing up the flour and water and adding the yeast. Otherwise it can go wrong. While I am waiting for the dough to rise, I usually go and collect some wild garlic from the woods around here. Rubbed into butter, it makes a delicious spread. 

I am a relative newcomer to the monastery.  Some people have been here for years. It all depends when the spirit takes you, I suppose. Mine was a convoluted path. I started out in life studying engineering at Oxford. My family had great hopes of me going into the family business. I must have been a great disappointment to them when, after finishing my studies, I went off travelling and ended up living in Australia.

This afternoon I’ve come to sit on the bench by the woods. There aren’t any distractions here, apart from the birds fluttering around in the trees and the odd field mouse darting underfoot.  I wanted to be alone to think over the incident at breakfast. It was playing on my mind.    

We are not a silent order but there are certain times in the day when we don’t talk. One of these is mealtimes. Then we communicate by sign language. I signalled for George to pass the butter, and just for a split second, I had the distinct impression that he recognised me. It came as something of a shock. They had told me, when I first arrived, that he had lost his memory. I wouldn’t have stayed otherwise. I wanted to get away from the past. At least, that past.     

I first met George in Australia. He was a young man like me, searching for himself. I was getting away from my parents’ ambitions for me. I had told my father I wanted to become an actor and judging from his reaction, he was most displeased. I knew not to mention it again. George said he knew people in the industry and offered to introduce me to his contact. The only catch was I had to commit to his organisation. I was happy enough to go along with it at the time. I didn’t realise I would be selling my soul.  

I landed some minor roles in a few low-grade films, but as time went on, it became clear I was never going to make the big time. I wanted to get out but by then it was too late. I was part of the set-up. George talked me into staying. He put me in charge of recruitment. That way, he said, I could work my way up the hierarchy and become one of the top bods like him.

We all did as we were told there. They told us what to think, how to behave, what to believe. I soon started having my doubts about the whole thing. I didn’t want any part of it but somehow or other, I couldn’t find a way out. It was like being held in a vice. George was ruthless in his dealings with people. He whipped them into shape, whenever he saw them wavering. His speciality was making people feel small, as if they were nothing, nobody. 
It took me years to summon up the courage to get out. There weren’t any walls stopping me, not the physical kind, anyway. Just the walls inside my head. They tried every trick in the book to get you to stay. They played on your fears.

 ‘What makes you think you’ll be able to cope in the world?’ they would say.

 ‘Just think what you’ll be leaving behind. We are your family now. We are your friends. Nobody will give you a job. You will have nowhere to live. Once you leave, there will be no coming back.’

Eventually I reached rock bottom. Then I made my move.  I proved them wrong. I did find a job and a place to live. And I started making friends.  Naturally I wanted to get close to people, so I confided in them. I told them exactly what had happened to me. I just wanted to warn people, in case it happened to them one day.  Some people believed me. Some didn’t. There are some secrets that people just don’t want to hear. 

If there was one thing that organisation couldn’t stand, it was whistle-blowers.  It was bad for their image and they needed the funds. After I left, people would turn up on my doorstep, telling me to keep schtum, or else. They would hound me until I had to move on and start over. No matter where I was living, they tracked me down.   Finally, I had nowhere left to run. That’s when I came here. 

You can imagine my shock on finding George already living here. My first reaction was to run for it, to get the hell out.  But since he couldn’t remember anything, I thought it might be alright. I got to wondering how he came to be here. He had seemed so entrenched in that other organisation. I won’t mention their name. I want nothing more to do with them. He must have come to the same conclusion as me. He must have realised it was all a con. 

We live a life of silent prayer here and are happy to abide by the rules. Talking is overrated, anyway. I can think my own thoughts, live in the here and now. I have taken up carpentry of late. It doesn’t feel like a chore. It is a pleasure.  One of the pews over in the church needs fixing. It shouldn’t take me long. Then I might try my hand at wood-turning. We’ve got a new lathe and I’ve been waiting all week to try it out. 

There’s still one thing that puzzles me, though. I’ll probably never know the answer. Has George really lost his memory or is he faking it? 

Sunday 24 December 2017

Christmas Lost and Found

Sharon Boothroyd

coffee in a thermos 


'Christmas day ramble. Meet at 1.30pm at the park gates for a 2 mile walk - weather permitting. For more information, please email me.'

Meg was satisfied see her ad in the local newspaper again.

She wondered who would turn up. Her mind wandered back to the previous Christmas day. … two new people from last year were a retired, gentle vicar called George, and Alec, an fifty- something, attractive, divorced chap around Meg's own age.

Last December was Alec's first Christmas without his wife. Meg had sympathised. She knew how it felt to be alone.

Not everyone was lucky enough to be happy at Christmas, she reflected, as she booted up the computer. Just how do you fill those long hours if you lacked a partner and a range of close friends and family? 

Meg and her late husband Rob hadn't been blessed with children and since the accident, her friends - all in couples - had drifted away. 

The Christmases without Rob were so very different. The only way to describe it was like going from glorious colour to dreary black and white.

In those early raw days, getting though the festive season was an absolute nightmare. That was when Meg began to organise her Christmas day rambles. They were tailored for people who were cast adrift, yet craved company.

Her eyes scanned the computer screen as she checked her email messages. 

Oh good - George wanted to come along again. But sadly, there was no message from Alec. When they'd met, she hoped that perhaps he'd make contact. Yet it didn't happen. Would he appear for this year's ramble?
* * *
Christmas day morning dawned bright and sunny. The weather had forecast showers for later, so she packed a waterproof jacket in her rucksack.

After breakfast, with a background of carols on the radio, she reached for a new novel by her favourite author and spent the next few hours escaping into a tense thriller. The book was a gift from a friend. Because she looked after elderly parents, she was unable to spend Christmas with Meg.

At 11, she ate a turkey and stuffing sandwich, then got ready and set out.
At the park gates, she was relieved and pleased to see George waiting for her. Yet her heart sank when she discovered there was no Alec.

'Hello Meg,' he beamed.

'Nice to see you again, George,' she said. 'Let's hang on while we wait for the others.' Some people didn't bother emailing her – wanting to escape festive stress, they often turned up on impulse.

Meg's spirit rose when Alec ambled into view, but she was taken aback when she realised he had a high- heeled female companion in tow. She was slim and attractive with dyed red hair. Meg hid her disappointment well.

'Hi everyone, I'm Jean!' she gushed.

'Hello there,' George nodded.
She turned to Alec. 'We've just had the most marvellous three-course lunch, haven't we darling? In a gorgeous top-notch hotel. Alec booked it especially. In fact, I'm still a bit tipsy from all that wine! All I wanted to do was go home, slump on the sofa and watch TV but Alec wanted to go for a walk. So here we are!'

'I hate being cooped up all day,' Alec said.

'We appreciate your company.' Meg smiled warmly, yet she held reservations about Jean's motivation. She clearly wasn't the hiking type and had tagged along purely to keep Alec happy. 

Under a clear blue sky, the foursome headed out down the valley. 

'Alec and I met at a neighbour's Christmas party, ' Jean began. Meg wasn't really in the mood for her lively narrative. All the same, she listened politely. 

Later, she managed to escape and joined George. 

Behind them, Alec and Jean giggled away, while George and Meg marvelled at the wonderful variety of birds and wildlife.

After two miles of nothing but fields and woodland, they reached a pub, appropriately called The Traveller's Rest. 

Meg knew the pub well. She and Rob had sometimes popped in for a soft drink when they'd been summer hiking.

'Let's have a Christmas drink!' Jean piped up.

'Why not?' Alec grinned.

'I need to sit down. My feet are killing me!'

'I''ll give it a miss,' George mumbled. Meg knew that, like her, he was a teetotaller.

'There's a beer garden around the back. We'll wait for you there,' she said. She hated pub crowds. A Christmas one would be even worse.

As Alec and Jean pushed open the door and sailed into a blast of jaunty pop music, the other duo found a picnic table and got settled. Meg rooted in her rucksack for her thermos and shared her coffee with George. 

'Thank you Meg. That's very welcome. And here's something to go with it.' George reached in his rucksack and brought out a tupperware box.

'My own home-made mince pies,' he explained.

'This is better than any pub grub,' Meg said.

'It's good that Alec's found a partner,' George remarked.

She hesitated. 'Yes.'

It was time to let go of her hopes regarding Alec. Let's face it, she mused, he wasn't interested in her. He'd had a whole year to ask her out.

Out of nowhere, a tiny robin swooped down and landed on their table.
'Hello there,' Meg crooned. 

George fed it crumbs. It chirped, eagerly gobbled them up and promptly flew away.

'I can't remember the last time I saw a robin on Christmas day,' George chuckled.

'Neither can I.' Hmm. Rob's name wasn't Robert. It was Robin. Was the robin a sign to move on with her life?

The sky gradually darkened as they chatted. Then suddenly, the back door of the pub smacked open. Jean and Alec staggered out.

'Sorry, we have to cut this short, Meg. We've phoned for a taxi,' Alec called.

'Well, this hike idea was a bit silly, really wasn't it, darling?' Jean added.

Meg and George finished the ramble, and at the ancient crossroads, under the bare branches of the old oak tree, they shook hands.

'Until next year.'

'Thanks for your company. I've really enjoyed it,' she said. 'And thanks for the mince pies too. They were delicious.'

He hesitated. Meg felt he intended to say more, yet he simply bid farewell and went on his way.
* * *
When Meg arrived home ten minutes later, the heavens opened and a violent hailstorm thrashed down. 

It was hailing when, fifteen years ago, a police officer rang her doorbell on Christmas Eve evening. He was here to inform her that her husband had died instantly. He'd been hit by a drunken driver.

Rob had been out late night shopping, buying last minute gifts for Meg. She blinked back tears as she stuck the kettle on and made another turkey sandwich. 

She seemed to live on sandwiches these days. George's mince pies had been a very refreshing change.

Meg didn't fancy the TV programmes on offer, so to help move the day along, she booted up the computer and checked her inbox. 

There were cheery seasonal greetings from the novel-giving friend, but also, to her surprise, there was a message from George:
'Hello Meg
I wondered whether you would like to meet for a daytime cuppa in the New Year sometime?'

What a nice surprise! For the first time in years, her heart warmed with promise.
Meg had a funny sort of feeling that next year, she could be experiencing a very different kind of Christmas... 

About the author 

Sharon is forty-something, married and lives in West Yorkshire.
She has had  letters, opinion pieces and poetry published in a range national magazines.
Her  short stories have appeared in My Weekly, Your Cat, The Weekly News, Take a Break's Fiction Feast and Prima and Ireland's Own.

Saturday 23 December 2017

White Socks

Gail Aldwin 

egg nog 

I tie the cord of my dressing gown. I’ve grown so much the sleeves come right up to my elbows. Mummy says it doesn’t matter that it’s a bit small, it’s not as if I’m going to wear it outside for the neighbours to see. Walking down a couple of stairs, I loop the fraying edge of the carpet around my toes. The fourth step’s warm from the pipes underneath and I stand, listening for the gurgle from the boiler. There’s a smell of burnt toast coming from the kitchen. Mummy says bugger and the sash window judders – I bet she’s scraping the bread and tipping the black crumbs outside. This happens quite often in our house.
There’s no school this week so me and Paul are taking it easy. He’s reading a comic in bed but Mummy has to get up because there’s Daddy to look after. It’s not long until he leaves for work. The coins in his jacket clink as he swings it off the back on his chair and he finds his coat hanging on the stand. He sees me on the stairs but he doesn’t say anything – he nods at me and calls goodbye to Mummy. Now I know it’s safe to go all the way down.
The door to the lounge is closed. This is unusual, we don’t normally shut doors in our house. Grandma says we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for all the heat we waste, but when she’s not around, Mummy says it doesn’t matter and that they’re more important things to worry about. I push the door and peak inside. The Christmas tree’s in the corner and a few bits of foil twinkle. Switching on the light, I see the floor’s covered with carrier bags, and tissue paper, ribbon and felt. There’s one green bag with gold writing from Marks and Spencer. Lined up by the wall are a couple of baskets. Paul is written in red letters on one, the other says Sus, that must be for me, it’s meant to say Susan. There’s some folded clothes, it looks like a pink jumper and there are two pairs of socks turned into balls. White socks, long ones, they must be for me. I’ve been praying for white socks, I’m sick of getting teased for wearing my brother’s old grey ones. My heart thumps in my chest. I know I shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be looking. There’s been some kind of mistake. It isn’t Christmas for another two days. I swallow down the lump in my throat and shut the door.
On the kitchen table, the toast rack’s empty, but the cereal box is open. Yesterday Paul found the plastic toy but he didn’t eat any crispies, he had porridge. I told Mummy it wasn’t fair, you’ve got to eat the crispies to get the prize, but she said not to fuss and that life’s not fair. Mummy’s sitting on a stool over by the oven and the door’s wide open, making the room warm. The washing’s hanging from the ceiling on something called a Sheila’s maid. I’m glad it’s not called a Susan’s maid. Mist covers the windows and I draw a flower to decorate the space, drips running down my finger.
            ‘Time for breakfast.’ Mummy closes the book. ‘Go and get Paul. Tell him to come down right away.’
            In our room, my bed is against the short wall, and Paul’s is against the long wall. At night, light peeps through the slit in the curtains and I can see him. Sometimes we whisper to each other, if he’s awake and I’m awake. If there’s a row going on downstairs and you can’t sleep through that. Mummy says it’s the drink that makes Daddy shout and when that happens I curl-up like a snail, pull the covers around my neck and stare into space. I like to know where my knees and my legs are, it doesn’t do to spread. You don’t keep warm when you spread.
            Paul throws back the cover and jumps into his slippers now that there’s food to be had. He rushes downstairs still reading his comic. I don’t know how he does that without bumping into something. The door to the lounge is still closed, but Paul doesn’t notice there’s anything strange. I’m sorry that I looked in. Mummy says when you’ve done something wrong it’s best to own up but I’m not so sure. I usually keep quiet when something’s gone wrong and I’m under suspicion. This makes Daddy angry and he shakes his fist. When I cry Mummy hugs me and then she sends me off to bed with a prod. It’s strange going to bed in the middle of the day.
            In my bowl is a mountain of crispies and a moat of milk. I pour sugar from the shaker and make a crust on top. Grandma hisses whenever she sees how much sugar I take but Mummy says I’ve got a sweet tooth, just like her. Paul’s still reading the comic, the pages shake when he laughs and his shoulders go up and down. Swinging my legs, I tap the tiles on the floor and try not to hit the cracks. The flower I drew on the window has disappeared into a stripey mess.
 I finish my breakfast and I look around for Mummy but she’s not in the kitchen. I slosh my empty dish around in the washing up water and lean across the sink to reach for the mop with the shaggy head. Once I’ve finished, I turn the bowl upside down on the draining board. I rub the spoon and check it’s clean by staring into the shiny bit. In the reflection, I see  my cheeks are puffed like a gerbil’s, and my fringe covers my eyes.
‘You’re looking at yourself again.’ says Paul.
‘No.’ I put the spoon in the cutlery drawer.
Mummy rushes into the room, the flares on her trousers flapping. I wish I had a trouser suit like that. It’s purple with a tunic that goes right up to her neck. Daddy ordered it from the catalogue especially for Christmas, but he’s let her wear it a few times already.
‘Have either of you been in the lounge this morning?’ Mummy holds her forehead in her hand.
‘Not yet,’ says Paul. ‘But I want to watch the telly later.’
I squeeze the dishcloth and the droplets splatter.
‘What about you Susan?’
I get busy cleaning up.
‘Have you been into the front room?’
‘No.’ I look at the taps when I answer.
‘That’s good,’ she says. ‘Just give me a few minutes, then you can watch telly all day if you want to. Special treat for Christmas.’
‘Yippee,’ says Paul.
‘Oh.’ I wonder what has happened to all the special things on the floor.
‘You better get dressed,’ says Mummy.
The lounge door’s open when we come back downstairs and everything’s tidy. The curtains are open and the lights on the tree flash. But there’s no clothes, no white socks anywhere. They’ve gone, they’ve vanished. I hope I haven’t spoilt our Christmas and that they’ll be no presents for anyone. Perhaps it’s my fault. I walk up the stairs, tears dripping from my eyes. Beside my pillow I find Blue Ted, we sit on the floor and I squeeze him so tight that I can’t breath.
Daddy’s in a good mood when he gets home. He says he’s only got one more day to work until he has a well earned rest. Hugging Mummy, he tucks his neck onto her shoulder and he dances with her, shuffling from side to side. She giggles, his whiskers are tickling, she says. They cuddle for a bit, then Daddy sees me staring, and he lets go of Mummy. They stand holding hands, like they’re going to play ring-a-ring-a-roses.
‘I’ve got more good news for you Alan,’ Mummy says. ‘A card arrived from my mother today.’ She nods towards the one with three camels on it. Daddy walks to the mantlepiece. He doesn’t even look at the picture, he’s more interested in the piece of paper that falls out. ‘D’you think that’s enough to pay for everything?’ Daddy nods and puts the paper in his wallet. ‘It’s a relief, isn’t it? Now we can enjoy Christmas without worrying.’  Daddy says yes and asks if the kettle’s boiled.
On Christmas morning, we’re not allowed out of our room until its seven o’clock. Paul’s in charge of the time, and I have to wait until he says it’s okay to look for our presents. I huddle in my bed while Paul chatters about the Scalextric he hopes he’ll get. Maybe I imagined seeing the room all covered with papers and the presents. Perhaps it was a dream. My heart  pumps as the hand on the clock moves closer and when Paul shouts we race along the passage.
‘Wow,’ he says. ‘There’s a great big box under the tree. I bet that’s for me.’
Mummy and Daddy follow us into the lounge. We can open the gifts from Father Christmas, but not the ones under the tree. Not yet, anyway. Mummy passes me a pink pillowcase and Paul has the blue one. There’s lots of lumpy things inside, and I pull out the basket first. The red letters say Susan, that’s better, I think.
‘What’s this for?’ Paul takes his out.
‘It’s a waste paper basket,’ says Mummy. ‘Not many children have their own, peronsalised waste paper basket. You can put your rubbish in there. Drawings that you don’t want anymore, sweet wrappers, things like that.’
‘That’ll be useful,’ says Paul.
Inside my basket there’s another present, tied with ribbon. I undo the bow and the paper falls open. I see the socks. The same ones from the other day. Long and white.
‘Do you like them?’ asks Mummy.
‘Yes.’  I cross my arms and hold them next to my heart. ‘They’re just what I wanted.’
‘Funny how Father Christmas always knows what you want,’ says Mummy. Daddy’s laughing and coughing at the same time. She gives him a little tap on the wrist and he becomes quiet. I open another present, and there’s my pink jumper. I’m pleased and confused. Nothing’s a surprise.
‘What’s up?’ says Mummy. ‘You look sad.’
‘I’m not sad.’
‘She’s always been ungrateful, that little cow,’ says Daddy.
I feel the tears coming and Mummy strokes my cheek.
‘Whatever’s the matter?’ she asks.
‘Nothing.’ I gulp. ‘But are you sure all these things come from Father Christmas?’