Today I have a story by another good real life friend of mine, Angelica. Again, it’s her first time posting a story online, and again, I think she’s done a damn good job.
Miracle on Christmas
by Angelica Fostinis
28th December, 1950
The snow continued to fall well into the winter night, relentlessly covering the world in a sparkling, icy blanket. The biting cold made Katherine shiver. It had been one of the harshest winters in living memory. Many of her elderly neighbours hadn’t survived to see Christmas day as the food rationing continued and their dwindling savings meant they had to choose between warmth and their next meal. It was hard to remember what life had been like before all of this. Once, there was a time when people walked along the street with pride and friendly smiles, unafraid to trust one another. Now they were all governed by fear, living under the constant threat that any moment could be their last on this earth. Katherine had experienced her fair share of loss in this war. Her heart had never felt as empty. They told her he was most likely dead, though they never did find a body. Three years she had waited for a letter, for the smallest bit of news. When the fateful words were finally spoken she thought she would break in half. An overwhelming darkness surrounded her in that moment; nothing had ever seemed so bleak before that day. No part of life would ever be the same without her James. No day would be as bright, as happy as it once might have been.
Each morning Katherine would awaken from the frightful nightmares she had endured knowing that the only thing keeping her sane was the love of her son. Thomas remained the cheeky troublemaker he always had been and asked about his father everyday. It was hard to see so much of James in her son’s brown eyes, full of mischief and life. He didn’t seem fazed by any of it but Katherine knew it was because he was only seven and was thankful nonetheless that he remained oblivious to most of the horrors of this war.
When she could bear to listen to the radio Katherine would catch snippets of news. They would list the countless names of deceased soldiers just as they had read out her husband’s. She no longer had enough tears to cry for all the young, brave men who had fought for what increasingly seemed to be a lost cause with each passing day. There appeared to be no end to Hitler’s reign, not one in the foreseeable future anyhow. As any mother would, Katherine feared for Thomas. She could not escape the sea of anxiety that would drown her when she thought about what this war could mean for them. Pushing aside her fears for the moment, she resolved to try and make Christmas as cheerful as she could for her boy this year. It would take courage and the last shreds of strength she had left.
Illuminated by flickering candlelight and the small fire Katherine had managed to light, they opened each other’s presents. For Thomas: a hand knitted scarf with blue stripes and a bear fashioned from his old clothing. For Katherine: a painting encased within a frame Thomas had made at school. The picture of three shaky figures stood in the snow brought tears to Katherine’s eyes. She would treasure this picture and the fleeting feelings of happiness it brought with it, cutting through the darkness for a minute or two. The homemade decorations they had made from scraps of paper brought some semblance of normality into the house.
As they finished their humble Christmas dinner Katherine’s mind began to drift to memories of James.
“Thanks for making Christmas special mummy.” said Thomas, interrupting Katherine’s thoughts. Once again, she felt her heart become a little lighter.
“I’m glad you enjoyed it sweetheart. Ten more minutes and then it’s bedtime!”
“Fifteen, please please mummy. It is Christmas after all.”
She found it hard to refuse his cheeky grin and besides, five more minutes couldn’t cause him harm in the grand scheme of things.
“Only this once Thomas James Walker. Would you like me to read you a story?”
“Oh yes please! Can I pick this time?”
“Of course you can my love. Go and choose a book then.”
With those words Thomas had run to the bookshelf to choose a storybook. Katherine remembered the way James would hold him in his arms and read tale after tale until sleep would finally overcome his tiny frame. She could see Thomas was cradling his favourite ‘Five Get Into Trouble’ by Enid Blyton which summed him up perfectly. As they sat in the armchair by the glowing embers of the fire and read about thrilling adventures, both were transported to another world, free from violence and death. Before she could finish the first chapter Katherine felt the drooping head of a tired boy on her shoulder. She guided him up the stairs and into his room, gently tucking him into the sanctuary of his cosy bed beneath the layers of sheets and blankets. With a kiss Katherine tiptoed carefully out of the room and down the stairs, trying not to make a sound.
She made her way towards the bookshelf beside the fireplace, the flames beginning to diminish bit by bit. Katherine reached for a rectangular tin which she had concealed behind a stack of books. Inside the tin she kept her most treasured possessions: one photograph of James in his army uniform and the letters he had sent her during his time away. She could hear his deep voice in all of them, feel his presence around her. Flicking through them she chose one dated 20th November 1944. Placing the rest of the letters aside she sat down in the armchair once more, readying herself for the inevitable torrent of tears as she read his loving words.
November is nearly over and I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon. I know you’ll be busy making Christmas special for Thomas, as usual. I send all my love, make sure you tell my beautiful boy how much his daddy loves him. I cannot wait to see you all! Things aren’t too bad over here at the moment, can’t complain. The food is nowhere near your standards mind, but beggars can’t be choosers now can they? Be sure to give mam and dad my best when you see them next. I hope Thomas is getting on well at school, tell him to keep up the good work! He better be helping his mother around the house or there’ll be trouble! Thank you for the parcel, it brightened up my birthday more than you could ever imagine. Have I mentioned how much I miss your wonderful faces? As always, I wish I could hold you in my arms when times get dark. You are and always will be my light, you’ll guide me home I know it.
All my love,
Wiping away her tears Katherine let the letter float to the floor. No matter how often they told her he had been brave or noble to fight for Queen and country Katherine still couldn’t accept why this had happened to James. The anger had not subsided, it felt as though it never would. An abrupt set of knocks at the door brought her sharply back to reality. Who was knocking at this hour? Was it a neighbour? Smoothing down her dress and wiping at her eyes one final time she walked towards the door. She opened it to reveal a tall, bearded man who looked haggard and exhausted. This person would have been unrecognisable if Katherine hadn’t looked into those deep brown eyes. She felt the ground shake beneath her. This was simply impossible. As her legs buckled beneath her and she fell onto the cold floor she felt two arms surround her. Her sobs were muffled in the embrace as James held on to her, never wanting to let go.
“I told you you’d guide me home Kathy.”