Christmas Comes But Once A Year.
By C.M. Sheely
Light, finally. It has been dark for so long. Oh, but it hurts my eyes.
Nine-year-old Caroline reached into the Christmas decoration box and drew out the finely wrought crystal orb.
‘Careful darling’, warned Mama. ‘That is heavier than you think. Your grandmother would be upset if it broke. It’s a family heirloom.’
‘What’s an heirloom Mama?’ asked Caroline, now holding the crystal ball gently cupped on her palms.
‘It’s something that has been owned by the family for a long time,’ answered her mother. ‘This one was given to your great-great-grandmother and is over 135 years old. When you are old enough and have children, I will give it to you.’
‘Oh, that will never happen, Mama. I’m not going to have babies,’ responded Caroline in a slightly shocked voice.
‘OK,’ she said smiling. ‘But if you ever change your mind, you can have it. Since we have had this lovely decoration the women in our family have lived very good lives.’ Mother noted a sliver of interest reflected in Caroline’s eyes.
Caroline studied the beautiful Christmas decoration and the tiny figure of the fairy within, its wings spread, arms out as if it had just let something, or someone, go.
‘Oh!’ she exclaimed nearly dropping the orb in shock. She juggled it to safety and said ‘Mother, the fairy winked at me.’
Mother laughed. ‘Oh yes, I used to think I saw it do that too. But I’m afraid it is just the light shining through the crystal. Climb the stepladder carefully and hang it close to the top so everyone can see it.’
Yes! Good girl. I want to see. I need to see.
Caroline climbed up and hung the fairy from one of the top branches of the tree that her father and older brother Charles had harvested from the old forest on the other side of the river that was the boundary of their property. The tree was thick and lush and it stood in soil packed into the large bucket that had a large wooden cross nailed to it’s base for support and balance. It stood tall and magnificent as it brushed the high ceiling of the old colonial house.
Hot eyes followed every movement as the activity increased in the Spencer-Smith household. Over the next two weeks presents began to appear under the tree. Caroline’s excitement escalated as Christmas morning neared, her mood only slightly dimmed by the thought of the big family Christmas lunch.
A traditional baked dinner would mean hours of work in the hot kitchen. The tradition was English and in winter it would be nice. On the South Coast of New South Wales it tended to get hot and humid at the end of December. But this year Mama decided on ham, cold turkey cuts and salads instead. No-one was disappointed as Mama had already prepared the traditional pudding weeks before. She even included an old sixpence - whoever found it swapped it for a two-dollar coin.
Christmas dinner was bliss for Caroline as she romped with her younger cousins who, with their parents, made a crowd numbering sixteen. Yet every now and then, her eyes were tugged toward the crystal ornament at the top of the tree. She was sure the tiny fairy was watching her.
Caroline rose from the still laden table and walked to the tree.
Yes, lovely. Come. Take me down!
As Caroline’s fingertips touched the decorations a larger hand closed over hers.
‘Ah no, my darling,’ Mama’s voice admonished. ‘I told you it was precious. If it breaks, bad luck will follow.’
Caroline returned to the table, replaced the silly paper crown on her head and forgot the fairy in the crystal. At least until her cousin Harry, who had seen her interest, took it down an hour later. He waved it at his cousin. ‘You want this, don’t you,’ he teased.
Shocked at his daring, Caroline called to her mother, but she was in conversation with her sister Emma and did not hear. Caroline made a grab for the precious decoration. Harry’s hand jerked back suddenly, and he lost his grip. The ornament hit the floor with a shower of tiny tinkles as the crystal shattered. There was a flash of pink and red and Caroline was sure she heard a snippet of maniacal laughter before sudden silence lay heavily across the living room.
Mama appeared at the door, her face white and drawn as she saw the destruction. She turned to her sister, sharing a look of total horror.
‘Mama, I’m sorry. It was Harry,’ sobbed Caroline. She ran to her mother and threw her arms around her waist.
Her daughter’s distress allowed Elsie to recover her composure somewhat. She quickly glossed over the so-called accident and, with Emma’s help, cleaned up the mess of glass. Caroline did not see the worried looks that shot between the two sisters.
Late that evening, when everyone had settled for the night, Emma and Elsie were finishing up in the kitchen.
‘Do you think there is any truth to the myth? Do you think disaster will strike as the legend says?’ asked Emma.
‘Our Mama seemed to think so,’ replied Elsie.
‘Well, I guess we will find out,’ said Emma and sighed.
Neither women slept well and were hyper vigilant of the next few days. Emma, their brother Vincent and their families left the homestead late the day after Boxing Day. Fires had been closed some roads and they had to make a longer journey back to Canberra.
On New Year’s Eve, the wind changed and the fires that had been raging thirty kilometres to the west, turned toward the beautiful old homestead. As Caroline was hurried to the packed car with her parents and younger brother, she heard the maniacal laughter of a tiny voice.
‘You can’t keep me locked up forever!’
*********************************** The Beagle COVID-19 LOCKDOWN WRITING COMPETITION RULES: 18 + (anyone younger can enter the Mayor's contest - this one is for adults ) Max of 1000 words.
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