20 December 2019

It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas.. by Debbie Young A Story Inspired by a Song


Read the Story
Guess the Song
here's a clue...
Wintry, Backcountry Skiiing, Ski Tracks

“It doesn’t feel the least bit like Christmas,” I complained to Hector as I added another couple of books to our seasonal window display. The sky was a pure, clear forget-me-not blue, the air was still, and the sun beamed down fit to melt the fake snow on the inside of the glass.
    “Just think of it as a green Christmas rather than a white one,” replied Hector, closing the door behind a departing customer. “After all, we’re giving a new lease of life to all that packaging material.”
   We’d ironed flat umpteen crumpled sheets of kraft paper rescued from boxes of new books. Our suppliers use it as padding to prevent the books being damaged in transit. Using the festive stencils and felt-tip pens laid out on the play table, visiting children were transforming it into environmentally-friendly wrapping paper. We offer free gift-wrapping to encourage locals to do their Christmas shopping at Hector’s House rather than in town or online.

Cute, Sketch, Set, Child, Fun, Funny

    “That’s child labour, that is,” declared Tommy, breezing in through the door as I stepped back from the shop window.
    Although local teenager Tommy is a regular visitor to the bookshop, he comes not for the books but for the company. More often than not, he tries to blag a free milkshake. Occasionally, when flush from helping old Billy with odd jobs, he actually pays for one. We’d seen more of Tommy than usual this week, after their lucrative double-act hawking wheelbarrows of holly, ivy and mistletoe around the village.
   Tommy sat down on one of the child-sized chairs at the play table opposite his little sister Sina. His gangly legs ranged either side of the table like a young giraffe’s.
    “How much are they paying you to do that, Sina?”
     He jabbed a grubby finger at her orderly rows of holly leaves. I thought he might put her off, but she was not so easily deterred, continuing to loop her green felt pen along the edge of the stencil.
    “Nothing, and I don’t care, because it’s fun. Actually, I think we’re lucky Hector’s not charging us to do it.
     Hector cleared his throat.
   “And it’s helping a good cause, Tommy. Two good causes, in fact: the environment, by finding a good use for paper that would otherwise go for recycling, and the church’s Christmas appeal.”
     When Tommy looked dubious, I explained.
   “Hector’s donating the amount he’d usually spend on gift wrap to the charity’s Christmas appeal.”
   “And very grateful we are too,” said the vicar, emerging from the non-fiction section with a couple of hardbacks. He set them down on the trade counter and took out his wallet to pay Hector. “It’s astonishing how many people forget to bring money for the Christmas service collections, or who find themselves short of cash once they’ve all finished their Christmas shopping. Priorities, my dears, priorities…”
    While Hector gift-wrapped each book, the vicar took a seat at one of the tearoom tables. 

Coffee, Cup, Cup Of Coffee, Coffee Cup

  “Cappuccino, please, Sophie. I think I’ve earned it after hosting the village school’s visit to the church this afternoon.”
     Sina laid down her green pen and beamed at the vicar.
   “Yes, that was fun, especially getting a chocolate decoration each off the Christmas tree.”
     Tommy pulled a sheet of paper towards him and picked up a black pen and a snowman stencil.
    “You lucky duck! We never do anything like that at my school.”
     Tommy had long since left the village primary school and now attended the nearest secondary school a few miles away.
  “Chocolate wasn’t the prime purpose of the visit,” said the vicar. “I invited the children for a sneak preview of our crib.”
   Each year, the vicar brings out an ancient set of china figurines to recreate the Bethlehem nativity scene. There’s also a charming model stable, lovingly crafted in elm by some parishioner long since departed to the churchyard.
     He’s not daft, the vicar. Inviting the schoolchildren to view the crib is an effective way of enticing whole families to come to his Advent and Christmas services, persuaded by their children’s delight in the traditional tableau.
       Sina folded her arms.
     “Yes, but it was a con, because the baby Jesus wasn’t even there.”
     Tommy drew a fierce expression on his first snowman, making it look like a chubby Halloween ghost. For a moment I thought he’d added two noses by mistake, then I realised they were fangs.
     “Maybe today was the baby Jesus’s day for playgroup.”
      He glanced up to check Sina’s reaction to his joke. Her expression was stern.
   I hoped a young visitor hadn’t pocketed the baby Jesus during the school visit. I could understand the temptation. There may have been no room for him at the inn, but he’d fit perfectly in a Sylvanian Family playhouse.
       The vicar sighed.
    “The thing is, Sina, Jesus isn’t born until Christmas Day, so we don’t add him to the crib till then. Come to the morning service on the twenty-fifth and you’ll see him then.”
   I was ashamed to have forgotten that detail, despite having been a Sunday School teacher since Easter.
     As I set the vicar’s coffee on his table, Sina raised a forefinger to herald a bright idea.
   “Why don’t you just put his scan picture in the crib in the meantime? That’s what people do who can’t wait to see their real baby. My auntie had a scan picture of her baby in a frame on the mantlepiece for months before it was born.”
   “Who’s just been born?” asked Billy, entering the shop for the second time that day. “Christmas babies always follow a good spring.”
   “The baby Jesus,” replied Sina. “Only he hasn’t been born yet. That’s the trouble.”
   “You’re two thousand years behind the times, girlie,” said Billy, touching his cap to the vicar. “Don’t that pesky internet teach you anything useful?”
   “Coffee, Billy?” asked the vicar.
   “That’s very kind of you, vicar, but I’m here on a mission.”
   “That should be your line, shouldn’t it, vicar?” said Hector, as he opened the till and tipped a bag of pound coins into the cash drawer. “What are you after, Billy?”

Winter, Scarf, Gloves, Wool
 
   Billy untied his scarf. I was pleased to see he was wearing the one I’d made for him during the recent village craze for knitting.
   “I’m after the right book for my old cousin Maurice.”
  Hector had heard tales of Maurice before. “You mean the one you haven’t seen for twenty years?”  
   “Aye, that’s the one.” He wagged a finger at Hector. “You know I’ve been buying him a book here every Christmas, ever since you opened this shop of yours. So don’t you go implying I’m neglecting him. I wouldn’t do that, not with so few of my family left alive, God bless ‘em.”
   Like Tommy, Billy rarely buys a book, treating Hector’s House like a social hub rather than a purveyor of fine reading materials. But that’s okay. The best bookshops are much more than the means of buying a book – they are at the heart of the community. That’s one of the reasons I love working here. Well, that and Hector. Soon after I started working here, Hector became my boyfriend as well as my boss.
   Hector came out from behind the trade counter, rubbing his hands together.
    “So, what’s it to be this year, Billy? If I remember rightly, last year it was a collection of nature notes for every day of the year. Lovely woodcut illustrations, I recall.”
    “Yes, and what a fine idea of yours that was. If Maurice has been using it properly, he’ll have read a little bit each day and that’ll have made him think of me all year round.” Billy lifted his cap to scratch his head. “But I don’t know about this year, Hector. What can I give him?”
     “Poor as I am,” returned the vicar, quick as a flash.
     I smiled at the reference to my favourite Christmas carol, which I’ve loved since I first learned it at primary school.
    Hector consulted the non-fiction shelves for a few moments, then pulled out an astronomy guide with a map of the night sky for every week of the new year and an anthology of 365 poems.
   “It must be hard to live at a distance from your relatives,” I said gently. My parents ive in Inverness, hundreds of miles from our Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow, so I thought I knew how he must feel.
  “Aye,” said Billy, taking the books from Hector to examine. “Especially without a car. That’s the only reason I regrets never learning to drive.”
   The local bus company runs services as far as Slate Green, our nearest market town, but that’s all. To travel further afield, you have to change at Slate Green, and even then you can’t get beyond a radius of about ten miles.
  “I don’t want a heavy book, mind.” Billy weighed the two books up against each other, one in each hand. “Postage ain’t cheap these days.”
     I was curious as to how far flung Billy’s relations were. I knew he’d lived in Wendlebury all his life, although his brother had left as a young man.

   “So where exactly does this Maurice live, Billy?” I asked. “Is he still in the UK?”
     I wondered whether he’d emigrated, like Hector’s twin brother Horace.
     Billy passed both books back to Hector with a shake of his head.
   “Slate Green.”
    The vicar slammed his coffee cup down on his saucer.
   “What?” he and I cried together.
     I fetched a cloth to wipe up the vicar’s spillage.
   “But you get the bus to Slate Green to go shopping at least once a week,”       I pointed out. “How come you’ve never found the time to call on him?”
    Billy shuffled his feet.
  “He ain’t been to see me neither. It ain’t my fault. Besides, we always used to meet at our mums’ houses. His mum was my mum’s sister. His mum or mine took turns to cook Sunday dinner and we’d all sit down together, both families. But them days are long gone, and so are our mothers. We was both so upset after they died, just a few weeks apart, that we never really got round to making new arrangements. We missed them too much, see. It just wouldn’t have been the same without them.”
     The vicar took the cloth from me to dry his saucer.
  “That’s a great pity, Billy. I’ve seen this happen far too often after a bereavement, just when you need your family most.”
   Tommy looked up from his sheet of gift wrap. His latest row of snowmen had the threatening air of Mafia hitmen.
    “Don’t you like each other, then?”
     Billy sat down opposite the vicar, his shoulders slumping.
   “Bless you, no, boy. We was thick as thieves when we were your age.     Always up to mischief in the village.”
    “I wish I had a thief to be thick with.”
    Poor Tommy. No other boys from his class lived in the village, one of the disadvantages of being raised in a small rural community.
  “We had no end of make-believe games, neither – pirates, cowboys, Robin Hood.”
     The vicar set down the cloth and reached across to rest his hand on the frayed cuff of Billy’s ancient tweed jacket.
   “Then I think this Christmas you should start making up for lost time. I’ll run you down to see him any time you like. You have only to ask.”
    Billy’s face softened. “Well, if Hector would just buck his ideas up about the right present…”
     Suddenly Hector’s face lit up.
   “I know just the thing!” And with that he dashed out of the shop.
   The others looked puzzled at his unexpected departure, but when I heard Hector opening the front door to his flat at the side of the shop and running up two flights of stairs to his top floor, I knew what he was about.
   Moments later, he reappeared in the shop doorway, breathless and triumphant, holding up a vintage hardback copy of Treasure Island. A colour plate on the cover showed a fierce-looking Long John Silver, complete with wooden leg, crutch and parrot.
     Billy’s mouth fell open.
    “Ah, now that’s what I call a book.”

Treasure Island (Classic Starts)
 
 When Hector put it into his hands, he gazed at it with the rapture of a starving man reading a gourmet menu.
     I came out from behind the tearoom counter to appeal to the children.
   “Now, who wants to give Billy their paper to wrap his cousin’s present in?”
    To my surprise, Sina had laid aside her holly leaves unfinished, and was now scribbling in black pencil on a small square of plain white paper.
    “I’m afraid it’ll have to be Tommy’s snowmen, Billy.”
     Billy peered at Tommy’s handiwork.
    “They’ll do very nicely, thank you, Tom.”
     He took the paper to the trade counter for Hector to do the honours.         When the vicar drained his coffee cup and got to his feet, I realised he was planning to drive Billy to see Maurice straight away, before he could change his mind.
    “Just a minute, vicar,” cried Sina, laying down her pencil and pushing back her chair. “Here, I’ve made this for you. I know how much you’re looking forward to Christmas and the baby Jesus and stuff, so here’s something to keep you going.“
    The vicar took the square of paper from her hand and turned it this way and that, narrowing his eyes.
      “Ah, I see. It makes sense now I’ve spotted the halo.”
     When he showed it to me, I too was at first puzzled by the array of fuzzy, broken lines, with just a dark kidney-shaped blob at the centre.       Then it clicked.
   “Oh yes, of course! Baby Jesus’s scan photo! Well done, Sina. Very imaginative.”
     Sina beamed and went back to colouring in her holly leaves, humming contentedly.
   As the vicar escorted Billy, wrapped gift under his arm, out of the bookshop and into his car, I went to stand behind Hector at the trade counter, reading over his shoulder. He was logging Billy’s purchase in the sales ledger he keeps for the second-hand book collection stored in his flat.
    “You know what, Hector?” I said, draping my arms over his shoulders and clasping my hands on his chest. “Suddenly it’s starting to feel like Christmas after all.”
     Hector closed the ledger and laid his hands gently over mine.
   “So it is. Merry Christmas, sweetheart.”
 
Christmas Eve, Santa Over Moon, Holiday

© Debbie Young
A NOT SO BLEAK MIDWINTER

Did you guess the title?



choir of King's College, Cambridge


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Debbie Young writes gentle, witty cosy mystery novels set in the beautiful Cotswolds, where she’s lived for the last 28 years. She has two series. The Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, whose key characters feature in the short story shared here, runs the course of a village year from one summer to the next, starting with Best Murder in Show. The series includes a feel-good Christmas special, Murder in the Manger. Her new Staffroom at St Bride’s series, set at an eccentric boarding school for girls, begins with Secrets at St Bride’s. She is adding at least one new novel to each series every year. She also writes short stories, including three festive offerings: her Christmas collection Stocking Fillers and two standalone short stories published separately: Lighting Up Time, set at the winter solstice, and The Owl and the Turkey: The Real Reason We Eat Turkey at Christmas.


For a further free sample of her light-hearted, feel-good fiction, download her short novella The Pride of Peacocks, which includes characters from both series, when you subscribe to her Readers’ Club mailing list at http://www.authordebbieyoung.com




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There will be another story inspired by a song tomorrow!


The Full List of Authors

December
2nd   M.J. Logue   First Love 
3rd   Richard Tearle Chips and Ice Cream
4th    Helen Hollick Promises, Promises
5th    Paul Marriner Memories
6th    Pam Webber One Door Closing
7th    Louise Adam Hurt Me Once
8th    Barbara Gaskell Denvil Sticks and Stones
9th    Judith Arnopp Secrets
10th  Erica LainĂ©  Silk Stockings
11th   Anna Belfrage Hold Me, Love Me, Leave Me? 
12th  Annie Whitehead Frozen
13th  Tony Riches Alas, My Love
14th  Clare Flynn, Zipless
15th  J.G. Harlond The Last Assignment
16th  Elizabeth St John Under The Clock
17th  Alison Morton Honoria’s Battle
18th  Jean Gill The Hunter
19th  Patricia Bracewell Daddy's Gift
21st   Ruth Downie  Doing It Properly
22nd Nicky Galliers What God Has Joined
23rd  Elizabeth Chadwick The Cloak
24th / 25th CHRISTMAS BREAK
26th  Helen Hollick Ever After
27th   Barbara Gaskell Denvil Just The One... Or Maybe Two
28th   Deborah Swift Just Another Day
29th   Amy Maroney What The Plague Brings
30th   Cryssa Bazos River Mud
31st  HAPPY NEW YEAR


 Note: There is copyright legislation for song lyrics 
but no copyright in names, titles or ideas

StorySong graphic by @Avalongraphics 
additional images via Pixabay accreditation not required

18 comments:

  1. I laughed at Sina's drawing - classic :) Always good to spend time in the gentle world of Hector's bookshop and I did guess the song - my favourite Christmas carol too.

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    1. I wish Hector's shop was nearer to where I live in North Devon so I could browse his shelves - and have a coffee... and design some Christmas paper...

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  2. One of my favourite carols. I enjoyed the story too!

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  3. Such a lovely, gentle story encapsulating the build-up to Christmas through the eyes of both adult and child. Well done! No, I didn't gt it, but then my record is 1-20 so far!

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    1. Yes I liked the way Debbie has shown the story through adults and children as well. Cleverly done.

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  4. A sweet seasonal story – and I loved the idea of Sina's drawing – hilarious! Also agree with Helen – I want Hector to open a shop in my village – too many estate agents and solicitors

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    1. Hector's going to need a chain at this rate! :-)

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    2. Would Hector fancy setting up a branch in France?

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  5. How lovely to meet these characters again. I hope they will make many more appearances whether in short stories or full length novels. And yes, every village needs a bookshop like Hector's.

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    1. I agree, it was lovley to meet Debbie's characters in a different way!

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  6. Most hilarious dialogue prize goes to:
    “Why don’t you just put his scan picture in the crib in the meantime? That’s what people do who can’t wait to see their real baby. My auntie had a scan picture of her baby in a frame on the mantlepiece for months before it was born.”
    Lovely to meet Sophie, Hector and the village crowd again!

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  7. What a delightful story. I haven't come across these characters or the book shop before but I wish it was near me! The little details make this story so touching and so real.

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  8. Oh yes! Every nativity scene should have a baby scan picture! đŸ¤£

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  9. How lovely! I liked this story very much! I’m quite a fan of the cosy mystery genre, so I’ll have to look out for this.

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    1. I’ll have to look out for this series, is what I should have said.

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  10. Wonderful story! I'm coming late to the (Christmas) party but I hope everyone enjoyed a jolly holly good time :)

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  11. Fabulous = it feels like Christmas now :)

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