~ A Christmas Short Story ~
It was the year they lost the boys. That was when the festivities stopped. Sarah stood by the window of their thatched cottage, gazing out at her husband shovelling snow, one hand resting on her large belly. She felt that aching pinch in her gut. Their boys should be with him, running around, climbing on their father’s shoulders, pushing and shoving each other.
Pneumonia had been rife throughout the town, that cold and wretched winter.
Peter was inconsolable for a good few years after their passing. He’d come home from work, eat his dinner in silence and refuse to look or speak to her. It carried on for a good five years. A repetitive system. He blamed her. Not for their deaths, but for snatching their last, precious moments from him.
Sarah had been out of her mind with hysteria. “Fetch the doctor! Please, Peter fetch a Dr Cam now!”
“It’s going to take me hours to get through the snow!” Peter fired back, “The roads will be blocked, it’s Christmas Day for God’s sake! Sarah… we have to face the fact that the boys – ”
“No!” She hissed, shaking her head, swallowing the tears. “Not our boys. They’ll be fine. Please Peter, I’m begging you, as your wife, their mother… go.”
With a lingering look at his sons, Peter relented. He jumped into his truck and trundled through the snow.
He returned with Dr Cam an hour later.
They were too late.
How they managed to pull themselves together… she’d never know. But a spell must’ve been cast over the pair of them one night at least… because ten years later, here she was.
Expecting a baby.
She told Peter when he was chopping firewood outside. He always found a great, thereputic release from the activity.
“What do you want?” He asked, his tone bland.
“We’re going to parents again.” She said, her voice completely casual, as if she’s just told him they were having chicken for dinner.
He halted, mid-swing. Slowly, he lowered the axe, letting drop to the floor with a clunk. “What did you just say?”
“I said, we’re going to be parents again.” She repeated, in the same tone. “I suspect by… winter. Maybe New Year.”
“New Year.” He echoed. “So – so six years since we lost – ”
“Do you really think we deserve it?” He asked, his eyes fixed on the pile of wood next to them.
“Excuse me?” She shot out, iciness injected into her voice. “Did you really just say that?”
“It’s odd.” Peter said, keeping his eyes away from her face, “That this – that this one – ”
“Child. Our child.”
“Right. That they’d be born so close to… the anniversary.” Finally, he flicked his eyes toward her. “Sarah, it’s not a good sign.”
“Or it could be a Christmas miracle?” She said, her voice locked in fear.
“You really believe in that?” He asked, his eyes swimming in sadness and… pity.
“Yes.” Sarah replied, through gritted teeth. “I do.”
The pregnancy took its toll. For some reason, she was bigger than the last time… and the time before.
But Peter wasn’t the same this time round either. She felt so alone but she also chose to keep her husband at arms length. She couldn’t allow his negativity to seep into her mind.
Before, with their eldest boy, Peter would bounce around her like an excited puppy, begging to feel every kick, every movement, every hiccup. When they were both born, his face was alight with happiness. He’d cradle them in his arms, sing them to sleep and then spend hours just watching them. A father’s protection. And love.
She waddled into the bedroom. Peter had come in from the cold, shaking snow off his shoulders. He’d glanced at her oversized belly and the discomfort on her face. For a moment, she thought she saw concern flicker in his eyes.
But it was gone in a split second. Maybe she imagined it.
A sharp pain stabbed across her abdomen. She knew that feeling all to well.
It was time.
Fate was a cruel mistress. Christmas Day, six years ago had snatched their sons from the world. Now, on the same day, she decided they’d be given a consolation child.
Peter didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
He wasn’t a cruel man. Or a cold husband. He was a lost one. A grieving one. Why couldn’t Sarah understand that? Or anyone? Whispers rippled through the whole town, following him wherever they went. The failure he felt as a father, would never leave him.
He never blamed her, why would he? She wanted to save the lives of their sons. How was she to know it’ll be his last time…
They never celebrated Christmas afterward. Not ever.
As he sat outside their bedroom, wringing his hands, listening to the shrills screams of his wife, pushing their child into the world, he was filled with a cold sense of dread.
What if something happened to her or the baby?
Snow gently dropped from the sky. He sighed. He’d have to clear it in the morning…
A small cry pierced the air. Peter shot up, staring at the oak door. He started to run toward it, when he heard another baby cry!
Or was that the same baby?
The bedroom door swung open. Dr Cam stalked out, wiping his hands on a rag. He grinned at Peter, “Congratulations. You have two healthy daughters!”
Peter’s legs trembled. He slowly lowered into a chair. “Sorry, did you just say… two… daughters?”
“Yes.” Dr Cam answered softly, “Go and see them.”
“How’s my wife?” Peter asked, still in a daze. “Is she…?”
Peter laughed. For the first time in years. He laughed.
Sarah snuggled up to her babies, keeping them close to her heart. They stared up at her, their blue eyes, round and enquiring.
“I’m your Mummy.” She said gently, running a finger along one daughter’s petal soft cheek. “And I’ll love you both as much as I loved your brothers.”
She knew he was hovering by the doorway. He knew what to do. She was done begging. Her daughters needed her first.
Peter took a few tentative steps toward them. “I can’t believe we have two girls!”
She almost laughed at his disbelief. “Here.” She offered up her right arm. “Take this one.”
Still remembering the expertise of holding a baby, Peter carefully lifted his new daughter out of his wife’s arms. She purred softly, nuzzling his hand.
He fell in love all over again. The warmth which had long ago abandoned his heart, suddenly flooded back in a rush.
“What shall we name them?” He whispered, bouncing slightly.
“This one here… Ivy.” Sarah said with a small smile, watching the baby squirm.
“And that one… how about Holly?”
“Holly and Ivy.” Peter muttered, still besotted. “Merry Christmas little ones.”