Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Man Who Came for Christmas Dinner

by Sue Cross

a cup of tea with three sugars

 Phil listened intently to his mother’s telephone conversation.
            “Darling, he’s so distressed. Maybe we could do something – oh, I don’t know. Just something. Fine Christmas this is turning out to be and now that the dishwasher’s broken. Who is going to come out on Christmas Eve to fix it? Oh, I wonder if I’ve got Lee’s number still. He might have a look at it. I’ll phone him now.”
            There was a pause and Phil wondered who she was talking to and what that person was saying in response. It was true, he had been distressed ever since his big brother had told him those shocking facts. He felt as if his world had disintegrated. His mother started to speak again.
            “Okay, darling. I’ll give him a ring. See you later. Bye for now. Love you too.”
            Phil decided that she must have been talking to his father. He could not think of anyone else who she called darling – except occasionally him. Although he quite liked it when she called him darling, he found it very embarrassing when she said it in front of his friends. He sighed deeply and continued to build the fortress that he had been working on with his Lego. His mother was in a complete flap over the Christmas meal. She had been in the kitchen all day, apart from when they had eaten lunch, which was rushed. However, she bucked up considerably when she managed to persuade Lee to have a look at the dishwasher. Phil wondered what all the fuss was about – why couldn’t she wash the dishes in the sink like his Grandma? An hour later, the doorbell rang. His mother greeted their visitor with enthusiasm.
            “Hello, Lee. I’m so pleased you could make it. Come through to the kitchen. Would you like a cup of tea?”
            “Thanks, milk and three sugars.” He marched through to the kitchen with a large tool bag.
            After a short while, he announced, “I can fix this. No problem. Just have to nip out to the van for a part.”
            Phil ventured into the kitchen, which smelled delicious.  A pile of mince pies was cooling on a rack and his mother looked much happier. He hovered in the doorway, when Lee returned with a part for the dishwasher.
            “Would you like a mince pie with your tea?” Mother asked him.
            “Wouldn’t say no. Haven’t managed to eat today.”
            Mother put two mince pies on a plate and enquired, “Why ever not? In this weather you need to eat.”
            Lee shuffled in embarrassment, took a bite of mince pie and announced, “Jen and I split up. I’m living in a caravan. There’s not much storage room for food.”
            “Oh dear. I’m so sorry. What will you be doing for Christmas?”
            “Nothing. Probably put a ready meal in the oven. Christmas is for families…” he trailed off.
            “Then you must come to us! We have plenty of food – no, I insist. It would be a little thank you for fixing the dishwasher for me. You can imagine the pile of washing up there will be tomorrow.”
            Lee looked as if he could imagine it and a large smile lit up his face. “Thanks, Mrs Hood. That will be lovely.”
            “Call me Val, please. Now, how much do I owe you?”
            After paying the repairman, she stood in the hall whispering to him so Phil could not hear what was being said.  It was probably boring anyway, so he returned to his Lego.  He wondered if he would get any presents this year, now that everything had changed so dramatically. Why did his brother have to spoil everything?
            That night, as Phil’s father placed a mince pie and a glass of sherry, as he always did on Christmas Eve, on the mantelpiece, Phil blurted out, “There’s no point,” before crying.
            Phil’s elder brother, Andrew, sniggered before being nudged and told to be quiet by their mother.
            “It’s past your bedtime. You’re overtired. I hope you’ve remembered to hang up your stocking, Phil.”
            Just as he was about to protest, there was a ring on the doorbell.
            “Who on earth could that be at this time of night?” Mother looked surprised.
            “I’ll go.” Father got up from the sofa and hurried into the hall.
            “Ho, ho, ho.” A loud voice boomed and Phil jumped with shock before Father Christmas strolled into the room with a large sack flung over his shoulder.
            “It’s you!” Phil said. He felt as if he’d swallowed a sunbeam, such was his delight. “Why didn’t you come down the chimney? We’ve left you a mince pie and a glass of sherry.”
            “I was a little tired after delivering so many toys across the land. I choose a different house each year to put my feet up for five minutes. I’ve heard that you have the best mince pies in the world and that you’ve been a good boy. However, I was a little sad not to get your usual letter this year. The elves told me that you did not believe in me anymore, which is, of course not true, as you can see.”  He laughed and his large tummy wobbled.
            Father Christmas stayed for at least ten minutes before a happy little boy went to bed, dreaming of elves, and reindeers and, of course, his friend Father Christmas.  The next morning he awoke early to find his stocking full and lots of presents around the tree.
            It was a great Christmas and Phil was pleased that Lee enjoyed his time with the family. He noticed how similar his eyes were to that of Father Christmas. They were blue like the sky in summertime.  
As Phil stared out at the stars from his bedroom that night he was sure that he saw a sleigh, pulled by a dozen reindeer, cross the sky. He blinked and saw Father Christmas waving to him.  Waving back, Phil called, “Goodbye, see you next year.”  Excited, he ran into the living room and told his parents what he had just witnessed. They smiled and nodded. 
“Where’s Lee?” Phil asked.
“He’s gone away - but will visit us next Christmas,” Mother replied.
           

 About the author

Sue Cross has written two novels, Tea at Sam’s and the sequel, Making Scents. Her latest book is a compilation of short stories, titled Stories to Go. Check out her writing on www.suecross.com

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