The world out the window was blanketed in heavy white. The thick prisms of ice blocked out a clear view of the holly berries just outside, twisting their images until they stretched like ghostly fingers. I pressed my hand against the cool surface.
“I remember a day like this, Martha.”
“It’s Elizabeth. Martha left this morning.” She smiled with that soft, sympathetic smile.
“I remember.” My face burned. I lifted a glass set near me on the window seal and pressed it to my cheek. “Sorry it’s hot in here. Would you put the fire out?”
She flicked the tiny knob near the base of the fire and the flame died.
“We had a real fire when I was a child. Papa kept it glowing, all day on Christmas. I don’t remember it getting this hot.”
“These gas ones are designed to heat the whole room.” She smiled with a flash of yellowed teeth.
I held out my hand, and she reached for it meeting my grasp. With a firm arm she helped me to the table. “I don’t understand I could heft the tree in myself, but lately my hands are so weak, and they shake so. I’m going to call Dr. Lauryn in the morning. I’m in need of some warm ginger, that’s what mother always swore by. Warm ginger will get the blood pumping. It is so cold in here. Martha, start the fire. You know it was a day, just like this, with ice on the window.
“Mama made a batch of gingerbread, it was a week from Christmas still, but she was going to the theatre, it was papa’s gift to her for Christmas. I was dressed in my flannel. As a child how, I loved it. I refused to undress from my nightgowns before I’d had my breakfast. My grandmother said it was downright indecent, but I didn’t care. I was a spoiled one. That’s what papa always told me.
“It was the first day of Christmas break, but for all I cared it could have been Christmas day because Minnie Douglas had become my very best friend, it was practically a vow. She brought me lace cookies, and lace cookies were all the rage. All the girls were exchanging them. All but the little Thompson girls in the back of the class. They were too poor for things like that. They brought homemade cookies to hand out.
“Mama said, the Thompsons were trash, and not to eat the cookies they brought from home. Papa disagreed that they were trash. Their father, he said, worked on the road crew, and it was a respectable job. He wasn’t some drunk or drifter.
Elizabeth Thompson though, was like a puppy. She was always following Minnie and Caroline Douglas around. Caroline, Minnie’s older sister, said her beau was first cousin to the Thompsons, but he wasn’t like Elizabeth Thompson. Her beau’s father was a driver for the Pact company. Driving people who were ever so rich. They were in the best society.
“Martha, bring me the box, please, and the twine.”
She handed me the speckled white box. I lay a porcelain doll in the soft paper crevice within. I couldn’t recall lining the box. Martha must have done it. I frowned. I didn’t like the nurses touching my things. Not things this special. I lay a twig of greenery lengthwise across the top, a pine cone stuck to the spindly branch.
“Do you think artificial would be better?” Martha suggested.
I glowered, what did she know about it? My hands shook as I wrapped the twine about it, the tiny speckles were like little pine needles on snow. “I think she’ll like this.”
I pulled the twine tight. “Martha, help me. I need to…”
She reached over my shoulder, smelling of pine and warm Chantilly, and pulled the twine tight. “It looks lovely. Do you want it now?” She pulled the folded postcard in my direction.
“Not yet, nearer to Christmas. I don’t want to write it too soon, and I’m not in the mood for writing.”
I stared down on the scene printed on the front; a girl in her frilled blue Christmas dress. Her mouth opened in conversation, and her friend with her white coat and muff stood smiling. “This one is perfect.”
“Yes,” Martha smiled. “It is, you said you picked it because it was just right.”
“It’s so much like that day. Minnie was coming over. She was going to come to my house, my very best friend was coming. Breakfast and lunch flew by mother left for the theater and it was getting close to time. We pretended all the day before, that it was to be a grand affair. Like a high tea, that a proper English girl would attend. This would be the perfect Christmas party. I sliced the gingerbread and rolled the napkins, I even brought out the good silver. Then ran up the stair to dress in my grandest outfit.”
“At that time, my grandest was my best coat and muff. Grandma got me the muff the year before, for Christmas. For a moment I glared at the snow out the window. Through the ice it was pretty, but I was so afraid that Minnie’s mother would forbid her going out in the weather. Just as soon as the thought crossed my mind my heart skipped. There was a knock at the door. Not a hard knock. A lovely soft tap at the front door. My new friend was a lady. We were going to have gingerbread and it was my first real Christmas party to host.
“I raced back down the stair, then corrected myself on the landing. Ladies you know, didn’t run, or arrive at the door out of breath. I sauntered. That was the word I believed to be correct. We had just reviewed it, and I got an A on my last spelling test. Sauntered sounded lovely, and I spelled it out as I came down the stairs. “I sauntered… s-a-u-n-t-e-r-e-d…”
“I flung the door open not wanting to be too swift or too slow. To my delight there was Minnie and Caroline. Both had come. My smile stretched well beyond lady like, but neither even seemed to mind they were smiling as well. And Minnie started to giggle as I told her about the gingerbread.
“I lit the Christmas lights. Mother said it was fine if we ate the gingerbread here in the drawing-room. I thought we could do it around the Christmas tree.”
“We can pretend it’s Christmas day.” Minnie practically screamed.
“Let’s get some crêpe paper and make up Christmas presents.” Caroline ordered. She was only a little older than Minnie, but she seemed like the grown up in the room. It’s hard to describe my delight having a girl a grade ahead of me, not mention one so popular as Minnie here at my house making crêpe paper gifts and eating ginger bread.
The room was cozy, with pine wood scenting everything down to the rug. Little needles stuck in the fur of my coat and it was far too warm to wear indoors. I started to remove it, the girls followed my lead taking their warm wrapping and hanging them by the door. They were dressed in lace, taffeta. I was glad I pulled on my Sunday dress. It wasn’t evening wear, but I thought I looked smashing with the soft puffs at the shoulders and the red and black plaid color screamed Christmas. We settled into our work. A happy glow shown on the cheeks of my new best friends.
“That Thompson girl,” Minnie chortled. “We were talking about coming over this evening yesterday and she never can keep her ears out of a conversation. She just stood there with that smile on her face.”
Caroline sighed. “She probably just likes to hear about what other people are doing. We said we’re going to a party at your house and she just stood there. I told her to come as well. I’m sorry, but we were in a spot. You can’t just ignore someone.”
“Not to worry.” Minnie smiled. “She watches her little sister in the evenings, so her mother can go to the project houses. She cleans there.”
I nodded there wasn’t much one could do in such a situation. “It was good you did. I mean, you just can’t ignore her.”
“Not in good society.” Caroline lifted a brow toward her sister.
“Minnie huffed turning up her nose. A soft tap at the door brought all eyes toward me. I furrowed my brow, it was too early for mother and papa wouldn’t knock. “Postman maybe.” I smiled, that sounded important. Although it was too late for him, mother always said that when someone knocked unexpectedly.
“I pulled on my coat again and placed my muff over my hands. I was, after all, the lady of the house, for the moment. I opened the door, this time with a bit more caution than I had earlier. Papa wasn’t there, and I was sure there was some warning –although vague in my mind— about opening the door to strangers.
“I gasped slightly and blinked. There in the snow wearing soaked scuffed leather boots stood Elizabeth.
“Her smile faded, I suppose at my expression of shock. “I… you weren’t expecting me. Caroline said you were having a Christmas party and had invited me. Or she invited me… I should go.”
“No, don’t.” I found myself pleading. “It’s just they arrived, and they thought you weren’t coming. It’s just… you’re late.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Daddy took the truck to Woodberry and I had to wait for ma to get back. I walked here. I didn’t know it was this far.”
“Well, come in. Take your coat off. We were just having some gingerbread, and making Christmas boxes. We’re pretending it’s Christmas day and were making presents.”
Elizabeth gleamed. “I love doing that. My little sister and I made a like a hundred toys out of paper from a catalogue.”
“That’s nice.” I tried to smile as I helped her out of her coat. What was Minnie going to think about this, and Caroline? “It’s this way. We are in the drawing-room.” I motioned.
She timidly fell behind me, I opened the door for her, but she hesitated. So, I went through first and she came in after.
Caroline stood slack jawed for just a second, before she pulled on her politest smile. “Elizabeth. I’m so glad you made it. Minnie and I were just saying we were afraid you weren’t going to, weren’t we Minnie.” She nudged her sister with her elbow.
Minnie nodded and looked down at her lap full of crêpe paper.
“Come and sit by the fire.” I offered directing her to the chair closet to the warm blaze. “She walked all the way from Lowling. Can you imagine that?” I raised a brow toward the two.
Caroline met the remark with praise of her fortitude.
Minnie only stared at her feet. I gathered my crêpe paper, and handed the mass to Elizabeth, who set straight to gluing and shaping the paper into curled ribbons. “Did you see the doll Missy got? She says it was from England. Her grandfather bought it for her, for Christmas.”
“Oh, it was so pretty! Porcelain with…” I stopped short. Minnie glared in my direction. I bit my lip. “It was a pretty doll.” I muttered.
“Yes, I thought it was lovely.” Caroline nodded, but her eyes focused down on her work.
“Does anyone want gingerbread? Mama says ginger is ever so good for you. That young doctor Lauryn is top-notch. He says—
“I do!” Elizbeth grinned from ear to ear.
“No thank you. I’m watching my figure.” Caroline spoke with an air that reminded me of the older girls in school.
I walked to the kitchen and served up three plates, placing them on the tea cart. Mother would be so proud, I could handle guest so cordially, even ones I didn’t expect, but as I came back in my hopes were dashed. Minnie and Caroline were gathering their coats and things. “So, sorry, dear,” Caroline said as she fixed her belt around her waist, “we must be going. Mother will be expecting us home.”
“Already.” I blinked. The ginger bread sat untouched on the tea cart. “You must stay for the cake.”
“We can’t,” Minnie brushed by me.
“We really must be going I’m sorry another time, perhaps?”
“Yes, that would be…”
“Caroline breezed by as well.
“Elizabeth stared wide-eyed toward the girls and then to me. I turned and walked the pair out, my cheeks burning and my mind swirling.
“I didn’t have to be a good hostess. The thought felt great, I would go upstairs. Elizabeth could let herself out.
“I walked by the drawing-room door, ran up the stair, dropped on my bed, and let the tears flow. It felt like a long cry, but when the tears stopped and I looked at the clock it had only been a few minutes. I looked out the window, catching just a glimpse of Minnie as she disappeared into the 7:30 bus headed back to home. The view from the window warped the picture, and to this day I can only recall her looking like a streak of swift moving taffeta, climbing onto a black bus.
“Mother wouldn’t be back until 8:30.” I stood and paced, then examined my face in the mirror. Could Elizabeth tell I’d been crying? I didn’t know. I splashed my face with water and paced at the landing of the stair.
“I drew up enough courage to slip back through the door. Elizabeth was nowhere to be seen. I looked around the room the tea cart still perched in the center with the gingerbread and napkins perfectly rolled, for an elegant dessert.
A head poked out of the kitchen door. “I’m in here,” a cracked,” voice said, she disappeared back through the door. “I wasn’t sure if I should let myself out.”
I moved to the room. The kitchen door leading to the street behind the house was open. An icy draft was blowing snow from the eaves inside, the white sleet rested on the rug.
“How are you going home?”
“Father was going to pick me up at nine.” She shrugged. “If I leave now I can meet him on the way.”
“Wait until nine then.” I looked about Minnie wasn’t here to care, and the air wasn’t heavy anymore. “Come on, let’s eat.” I shut the door and she followed me back. Removing my coat and muff I stretched my hands toward the fire. “Does your father have to clear the snow?”
She nodded. “He clears it sometimes. If he gets to, we get a pie from Markas.”
“He gets more money, so if he does, he goes and buys a pie.” She stared down at her feet.
“When my father gets more money, at work, he takes me out for a hamburger!”
She grinned. “Do you know, I thought Santa brought the gifts. Until Missy showed me the doll. She said she has to put it under the tree and pretend for her daddy’s sake.”
“I thought so too.”
“Why are you whispering?”
“In case he can hear.” I pointed to the window.” She laughed.
“I stuffed the spicy ginger bread in my mouth. Forgetting entirely about the forks and napkins.
“We talked about school and Santa Claus and all the things we just had to have for Christmas. I took out mama’s Sears and roebuck and we cut out our imaginary gifts. Ignoring the folded down page of the doll I’d seen mama hide on the closet shelf.
“You know it wasn’t all that different than this one.” I pointed to the box tied with twine.
The familiar face of Elizabeth smiled back at me. “A lot like it yes. You loved that doll. We both did. I sure do miss those days”
“Me too.” I put my hands on my hips. “You’ve seen your gift already? I can’t believe I neglected to fill out the card.”
“The picture is enough. I told you it was perfect.”
“You did? You already saw it, you snitch.” I laughed, “did Martha show you?”
“No, she didn’t. I’m sorry you caught me. I’m a sneak. I just couldn’t wait. But, I made you ginger bread.” Elizabeth lifted a parcel. “Merry Christmas.”
A few tears brimmed in my eyes. Elizabeth had been a friend to me for so many years I’d almost forgotten how we met. But snow like this, with the ice on the windows distorting a clear view of the world, always brought it back to me.
M.G.D lives for family, little pug dogs, and a desire to enwrap the reader in worlds of epic wonder. Launching a career in writing in 2014, M.G.D strives for literary excellence in the school of outstanding authors, such as C. S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien.
Marcus, a young slave, saves a king and embarks on a new life.
A Collection of Short Stories and Flash Fiction: By MGD
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