A Short Christmas Story

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There was something of a glitch with my last post for which I sincerely apologise. However, many of you found a way around it and still managed to read the post, well done and thank you! If you were unsuccessful you can see it again here! But now, moving on, it’s Christmas week, and getting into the festive spirit I hope you will have time to relax and read my two part Christmas story, as you probably know by now, I love writing these and I can’t wait to share the second half with you next week; but first part one!

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It was going to be a lonely Christmas.

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Annie stood on the third landing, her little hands clasping the old radiator as she leaned forwards to peer out through the warped handmade glass of the 100 year-old window. Here, at the back of the house, each window looked out across the garden, which in turn led to a small stretch of river, beyond which was the vastness of the Marais de Seudre; the marsh was a wetland of muddy savagery where nature’s primeval urge variously ebbed and flowed through the landscape’s arteries, oozing mud and life between long rides of bullrushes and reeds.

Annie’s eyes tightened as she looked up at the grey sky, through which an endless torrent of rain seemed to fall. It was a week before Christmas, and the old house felt cold and empty, despite the tepid warmth leaking into her fingers from the battered radiator. The building seemed tired, with a sloping staircase and a drunken balustrade, worn carpets through all the rooms, and paint peeling from various inclement shadowy spots where the marsh’s damp fingers had made inroads over the years. Annie and her mother had been in the house just two days, and already the girl missed the gleaming white modernism of the Paris apartment, a warm and cheerful sanctuary from the bustle of the city, a sanctuary that had been there for all of Annie’s ten years of life.

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There was a shriek of annoyance from the bowels of the house and Annie turned away from the window and lithely ran down the stairs, down to the kitchen where she knew Isabella, her mother, was at war with cardboard removal-boxes and old fittings. She had a wise head on her small shoulders, and she was a girl who knew enough to know that all her help would be needed for the dark months of winter that still lay ahead.

After lunch, as Isabella stood shouting down a phone at a plumber, surrounded by an angry sea of boxes in various stages of disembowelment, the sun finally broke through the grey weather and Annie escaped into the garden, her sneakers squeaking in the long wet grass. Heading down across the moss-chequered lawn towards the river, squeezing between untidy bushes and unkempt flowerbeds, Annie found herself nearing the hedge that marked the eastern boundary of the property. Here, overgrown brambles and rosehips had intertwined with hazel and hornbeam to create a barrier almost impenetrable to anything but a wren or blackbird.

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But then, twenty yards from the dark water’s edge, there was a break in the hedge and there in a gap stood an old wrought-iron gate, half open, allowing access between the garden and whatever lay next door. She peered through into what seemed to be an old orchard, where a dozen apple trees stood leafless under the winter sky. Beyond, in a copse of monkey-puzzle trees and pines, she saw the glistening roof of what must once have been a substantial building. Faintly, through the top branches, she could see the gleam of slates and copper fastenings, a sure sign of wealth and glamour from a bygone era.

She stood staring intently at the building, her shoes gathering moisture underfoot and her hair going damp in the halo of the rain’s aftermath. She rested her chin on the top bar of the gate, and she was so deep in thought she never saw the old man limping towards her in the shadow of the hedge.

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A brush with a dead thistle gave away his approach, and Annie spun in alarm to face him as he stopped and looked at her, ten yards distant. He had an old trilby-style hat perched on a thin bald head, bright piercing blue eyes in a sun-cracked face, and a mouth that grinned in delight at her discomfiture. He was small in stature, no bigger than her mother she realised, and as he walked towards her, his grin changed into a welcoming smile. Annie felt strangely at ease with his presence.

“Hello,” he said in a soft voice, “you must be the new neighbours,” and he nodded at the direction of Annie’s house.

Annie had always been taught to let others do the talking, so she just smiled back uncertainly, and nodded. The old man waited, his head on one side, with the implication that a word should be forthcoming. Annie couldn’t resist for long, so she simply opened her mouth and said, “Yes, we are.”

“Oh good,” said the old man, with satisfaction, “and how long will you be staying?”

Annie was unsure how to answer, not knowing whether she should mention that the house was actually now her mother’s property by default of inheritance, or whether to pretend that they were simply another leasee, with a fixed ten-year term like others before. She knew all this from the long conversations she had had with her mother over the past three months since her grandmother, another ‘Annie’ in a long line of family names, had died in the old people’s home outside Versailles. It took her just seconds to make her decision, and she erred on the side of caution and simply said, “I think we’re here for a while.”

The old head continued to look at her, still friendly, and the eyes inquired for more information, no words seemingly necessary. Annie felt herself blush at her uncertainty, and then her good manners got the better of her.

“I’m going to start school in the village after Christmas,” she added, and the man watched her kindly as she stumbled with her thoughts.

Abruptly, he offered his hand, “I’m Christophe, my new little neighbour, what’s your name?”

Annie blushed a little further, “I’m Annie,” she muttered distantly, grasping the proffered hand that seemed warm and kind to the touch.

“Do you like apples?” asked Christophe, and he turned towards the trees. “I have so many this autumn I have no idea what to do with them. I used to make cider with them, a while ago, but now they seem to rot in my barn. He continued, “Come on, and I’ll give you a box for you and your parents,” and he turned and headed off across the orchard to the building through the trees.

Annie hesitated for a minute, and then followed him. She ran a little to catch up and said matter-of-factly, “My father’s dead, I’m afraid, but my mother and I would love some,” and she watched as Christophe turned to stare kindly at her as they walked.

“I’m sorry to hear that, my dear,” he said quite clearly. And he took her hand in a matter-of-fact manner before he asked the next question, “When did he die?”

“I was three when he died,” she said, and she felt sad suddenly and stopped walking. It must have shown, for Christophe also stopped, and gave her hand a squeeze. They had passed through the orchard, and he looked at her steadily, standing on the edge of a gravel drive closer to the house. Looking past him, she saw the house was old, and in need of repair. There were patches on the roof and wooden beams and window frames hung a little tipsily on what must have once been a magnificent facade.

He pulled her kindly into motion after him again and they set off again towards the main front door;  with a bark of welcome a dog came bounding out, wagging its tail furiously. It was a small black Labrador with a set of grey hair around its muzzle. They stopped to let the dog come bounding up to them, and it set itself at Annie with such a great jump of greeting that out of nowhere it knocked her backwards with some sudden alacrity. Her heels tripped over the side of the drive on a rock and she tumbled flatly backwards to the ground, striking her head on a fallen branch from a tree. Her senses sung, and before she really understood what was happening, Christophe was kneeling there beside her, the pale blue eyes hovering over her with concern as he struggled to raise her head and shoulders.

“Oh my goodness,” he cried with some alarm, and the dog stayed mournfully out of reach, tail no longer wagging, aware it had done wrong.

“Oh my dear girl,” said the old man, and he helped Annie to her feet, peering at the back of her head as he did so, “are you alright?” he asked concernedly, trying with all his might to give her some comfort.

Annie nodded, instantly aware that it hurt her to do so, and she stumbled a little in alarm.

“Come, give me your arm, let’s get inside and sit you down. I’ll go and get your mother if you want, but let me have a look at your head again,” and the pair limped across the gravel with the old dog following. Reaching the ancient stone steps that stood between the weathered sandstone pillars, they entered the house through a giant wooden door that opened with a groan into a room that stretched the full width of the ground floor.

Annie gasped out loud; the whitewashed walls were filled with a riot of colour. There were pictures and canvases everywhere, some small, and others huge, towering over her. The interior was nothing how she had imagined it to be, and instead of an old fusty elegance of tradition, the space was surprisingly modern, with clean lines and white-washed wooden flooring; this was the room of a man who loved colour, form and design.

She noticed with a start that Christophe was looking at her with a grin, and he led her to a small bench, sitting her gently down. He looked into her face, holding her hands, and said simply, “You didn’t expect this, did you?” and he wafted an arm at the walls behind him, “No one does,” he added a little proudly.

Annie sat there, her head throbbing, amazed and delighted at the images that crowded about her. This was art, wonderful real art, she decided. It was like a Parisian art museum, something her mother liked to drag her along to.

Christophe stood up, and said, “I’ll go and get a bowl of warm water and a cloth to clean that graze; you sit here for second, and then we’ll take you home with some apples,” and he disappeared down a passageway, his shoes gently tapping along the old oak floor.

Annie sat there, looking all around;  in front of her there was a rider on a magnificent grey horse jumping a log deep in the forest, and alongside hung a distant view of the church spire of some seaside town against a glorious sunset. By the stairs there was a powerful oil painting of a young elegant woman, reclining gracefully against the bonnet of a stately car. There were other pictures, sculptures and some precariously delicate furniture, but there was something odd about the woman and the car, and standing up Annie crossed the floor towards it.

The woman was looking at something off to one side of the frame, and Annie could not put her finger on what was bothering her. The picture was big, larger than life-size, and the woman was beautiful, fair haired and wearing a dress that bared her shoulders. Annie felt her gaze drawn towards the car, and then back to the woman, and then as she got closer the angle changed and the face came to life before her. Instantly the hair on Annie’s neck stood on end as she looked up at the young woman’s beautiful face, and she gasped in shock, her head prickling suddenly with huge premonition and recognition. The painting was of her mother – this was Isabella. A younger version, but with the same huge eyes and proud lips, and with blond coils of hair that were so familiar. It was all so real, and yet it could not be, for this was a painting from a distant age, from years long gone.

Annie stood there, her heart pounding fiercely, and reached out to touch the woman’s face. It was her mother, exactly as she must have looked fifteen years ago. It could only have been her, but then, so obviously, it could not. Annie’s cheeks flamed with unease. What was happening? Why was her mother here, in this house? The room spun a little and her head hurt again and before she knew it everything went black and she tumbled to the floor, dead faint before she even reached it, and the crash of her demise brought the old man running down the passageway with his bowl of warm water.

To be continued…

 

119 thoughts on “A Short Christmas Story

  • What a lovely and exciting first part to what will surely be an incredible Christmas story! I’m very much looking forward to next week!

  • Oh my…. and it started so well!!! I thought you ‘just’ told the story of How you got YOUR house and now it’s turning into a mysterious and very compelling ‘Page turner’…..
    You DO have a great way with words, Susan – you have so many gifts!!!!
    Can’t wait for part 2 of your Christmas story! Thank You – and encore et encore: Joyeuses Fêtes de Noël et Bonne Année 2017. Your card will come but as we discussed ‘in its own time’ – and you still will enjoy it even if it comes wahayyyyy after Christmas 🙂
    And yes, now I got your post immediately and I haven’t yet done anything about it – maybe my technology also Surfers from Seasonal Tiredness?
    I also would like to wish ALL YOUR FABULOUS READERS a very happy and joyful but also peaceful and gratifying Christmas and much joy in the New Year too!
    Love, Kiki

    • Thanks so very much Kiki, no relation to our house here really, although I wish there was, wouldn’t it be fun to find such a house at the end of the garden, my children would love this sort of adventure! I shall enjoy the car all the more whenever it gets here! I agree, wishing everyone a peaceful and happy Christmas and very much to you too. xxx

    • My ‘auto-corrector’ does the strangest things when I’m not on it constantly. I wanted to write ….. my technology also SUFFERS from Seasonal Tiredness…. sorry – Only see this now reading (enfin!!!) your kind replies to my postings.

      • Ha ha, you should see my auto correct! Sometimes I send the strangest text messages if I don’t check them when I am in a hurry, the problem is my phone has both the English and French keyboard loaded and it switches automatically between the two depending on which language I am writing in, and just occasionally it gets itself confused!!!

      • I have an additional problem – I have 4 keyboards but the iPad DOES NOT know any of them – and the phone is just hopeless…. It takes me longer to write an sms than writing a novel!!!!!

  • Oh thank you thank you. I love your stories. It made me late for work as I had to read it a second time, I was so absorbed – can’t wait for the next part

    • Thank you so much Jane, so glad you enjoyed it, as you probably know I love writing these stories and it is such fun to have people to write them for. Hope you have a very Merry and peaceful Christmas xx

  • Wow.. fantastic read so far. You had me so drawn in. I am awaiting the next installment..best of the season, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and all your readers.

    • Thanks so much, I am so happy you are enjoying the story, it is always such a pleasure to write these and to be able to share them. Hope you too have a very happy and peaceful Christmas xx

  • The people, the scenery, the house…it’s all very touching! I hope one day, in your busy life, you will find you want to write a book. There will be many buyers I’m sure.
    May God’s blessings be yours this Christmas & throughout the coming year!

    • Thank you so much Barb, I really do appreciate your kind words so very much. As you probably know I love writing these stories, my head is always buzzing with ideas! Hope you have a lovely happy and peaceful Christmas xx

  • My darling Susan, you write! Of course you do, but you WRITE! You have a book filled with wonder inside of you, I’m hoping you are writing it, and many to follow. You have a beautiful gift, of taking us with you in stories. I can’t wait to hear what happens next. And when you come out with your next book, sign me up to write about it on FrenchGardenHouse . Wishing you and your family a very Happy Christmas. Xo Lidy

    • Thanks so much Lidy, I really do appreciate it. I love writing these stories, my head is always buzzing with ideas, often in the most inconvenient of places, in the shower, whilst driving, you name it! Hope you too have a lovely happy and peaceful Christmas xx

  • Oh, excellent, already looking forwards to part 2! Particularly poignant for me as my Mum’s name was Anne, but she was always called Annie. She sadly died earlier this year, so it will be a strange Xmas without her.
    Wishing you & yours a wonderful Christmas Susan, I’m already looking forwards to seeing the photos! x

    • Thank you so much Janet and I am so very sorry for your loss. Christmas is always particularly hard after we have lost loved ones. Big hugs from France and I hope you have a happy and peaceful Christmas too xx

  • No relaxation at the Ranch this week. Terribly busy with loads still left to do and two days to be spent at the hospital volunteering with Sam. Awk…I’m out of breath just thinking about it! Wishing you and yours a lovely Christmas. ღ

    • There’s no rest for the wicked! Only joking, I think what you and Sam do is so fantastic and I am sure you bring so much pleasure to so many people, especially at this time of year. A very big hug for a lovely happy and peaceful Christmas xx

  • You had me entranced from the first paragraph, you have such a talent for writing, hurry up with part 2! Happy Christmas to you and your family

      • I shall pass this around for all the visiting family to read over the holidays, it will keep them out of mischief for a short while!

      • Thanks so much Amanda, I hope they all enjoy it. A little mischief is always good though! Our children are full of it, right now their favourite occupation is going through all the presents under the tree, feeling each one and trying to work out what is inside, I have to be really quite inventive when wrapping! But then I remember doing just the same!!!

    • Thank you so much Peggy, I love writing these stories as you have probably realised! and I am so grateful to have so many people to share them with. Hope you too have a very happy, peaceful Christmas xx

  • I am so happy, I love your short stories, you describe the characters so well and the photos, oh it’s all just perfect, can hardly wait for part 2.

    • Thank you so much Suzanne, your little cabin on the lake sounds gorgeous, I am already thinking of all sorts of stories that could be written around that one sentence! Hope you have a wonderful holidays xx

  • Ah, bliss – thank you Susan You can make the story last for four or five parts for all I care. You transport me to a place far away and into a world which I know will make sense by the end of it. Thank you and have a wonderful Christmas. Best wishes from both of us…..

    • Thank you so much Phil, this one will just be two parts, final one on New Year’s Day! Hopefully a few surprises in store, it’s always such fun to write and I am so grateful to have so many people enjoy reading them. Hope you both have a wonderful, happy and peaceful Christmas too xx

    • Thank you so much Debbie, I promise the final part on New Year’s Day. I am so grateful and so lucky to have so many readers that enjoy reading these stories, because I so love writing them! A very happy, lovely and peaceful Christmas to you too xx

    • Thanks so much Brenda and welcome to the blog, it is lovely to have you following along and thank you for taking the time to comment, always much appreciated. Hope you too have a lovely, happy and peaceful Christmas xx

  • What a fabulous read, I am intrigued, as others have said your writing is truly excellent, you are naturally gifted and I would buy your book in a heartbeat

    • Thanks so much Erin, I am so grateful to everyone for their fantastic encouragement. I love writing these stories and this appreciation makes it so worthwhile. Hope you have a lovely happy and peaceful holidays xx

  • Susan…please not just two parts….many more please. I’m forwarding this to himself because I’ve been making so much noise, he wants to know what this is about.
    Thank you…

    Ali xx

    • Ha ha thanks Ali, but this is going to be just two parts, but that leaves space to write another one in the New Year! Now you can picture the area where this is set, did you get down to the Marais at all for a walk, or is that saved for next year. Such a fascinating place in all weathers. It’s been so cold here, Izzi arrived and said it is colder than the UK, she doesn’t believe us when we say it has been so warm and has only just changed!! Hope you have managed to get your Christmas tree. Hugs to you both xx

  • My, you do torture your characters, don’t you? Good for you! 🙂
    My Inner Editor escaped from her closet long enough to say “lovely turns of phrase”. Looking forward to part 2.

  • As wonderful as ever, Susan, not sure Amy and I can wait till next week. Can we have a clue? Can’t wait to see the twists and turns in this story, of which there will be some, I am sure. Have a great Christmas…..

  • Oh, what a lovely early Christmas present!! I was enchanted by Part 1 and so look forward to Part 2. So many others have said it before me but your writing talent is extraordinary! How delightful to be the beneficiary of your imagination!
    Thank you and wishing you and yours a lovely Christmas and new years for of good health and much happiness.
    xo

    • Thank you so much Anne, as you probably know I just love writing these stories and my head is always buzzing with ideas, I am just so grateful to have so many people who seem to appreciate them. I hope you too have a wonderful happy and healthy Christmas and New Year. xx

  • Being new to your blog I hadn’t realized you write fiction too. What an unexpected pleasure this was, can’t wait for next week

    • Thank you so much Zoe. I do love to write short stories and every now and then include one on the blog, it makes a nice change. My head is always buzzing with ideas and I am so grateful to have an audience to share them with. So lovely to have you following along and thank you for taking the time to comment. Wishing you a very happy holidays xx

  • Susan,
    Lovely…This is such a WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS GIFT from you! Thank you. I can’t wait for your conclusion…Counting the days!
    I am so happy that I happened upon your blog. You never disappoint…Each and every post is charming…written from your ❤️!
    It has been such a pleasure to be able to come into your home and watch the love between each and everyone of you!
    To a VERY TALENT COMPASSIONATE CARING WOMAN I wish you and yours A Very Merry Christmas!
    Stephanie 🎄❤️☃️✨❤️
    PS….Izzi sent a thank you email to me concerning her project. The email was lovely! The project SPECTACULAR! You must be so VERY PROUD OF Her! 😘

    • Thank you so very much Stepahnie, Izzi said to me that she wanted to share her finished product with everyone who emailed her, she was so incredibly grateful and it made a huge contribution to her project, as this is her final year it is of major importance. So hope you too have a wonderful Christmas and yet again you have outdone me with the trees and hearts! Hope maybe we might et to meet you next year in France? Xx

      • Susan, you have to be so incredibly proud of Izzi! I TRULY believe she has a wonderful future ahead of her!
        I am actually planning to be in 🇫🇷 twice in 2017. I’ll give you the details in January. It would be FABULOUS to meet you!
        Merry Merry! ❤️🎅🏻☃️🎄✨❤️

      • Yes we are very proud of her, she has worked so incredibly hard. How exciting that you will be in France and we might get to meet, look forward to chatting more in January. Happy Christmas! Xxx

  • Hello Susan and a big “Thank-You” for a most welcome distraction and for cheering me up. Having just spent several days in bed nursing a chest infection, unfortunately brought on by a virus picked up on our “Christmas” visit to family & friends in UK, it was just what ‘the doctor ordered’ to lift my spirits. Looking forward to Part 2.
    I hope you and your lovely family have a very blessed & special Christmas and a wonderful happy, healthy & peaceful new year. xx

    • Oh you poor thing, the only bad thing about travel at this time of year, one tends to pick up all sorts of bugs! Hope you feel much better soon and in time for Christmas. Plus it has turned much colder here which I am sure can’t be helping if it is anything near the same in Brittany. I hope you have a wonderful, happy and healthy Christmas an New Year. Xx

  • I saved this for a quiet read this afternoon with a nice cup of earl grey and a slice of the most decadent chocolate cake, and I wasn’t disappointed, such a wonderful read, your level of writing is quite incredible, so looking forward to the next part.

    • Thank you so very much Nancy, I am so glad you enjoyed it and it certainly sounds like a lovely way to sit and read a story, I hope you were beside a warm fire if you are in colder climes or in a shady spot if you are in an area with hot weather! Hope you have a very happy holidays xx

  • I so enjoyed every word of this and I loved reading everyone’s comments. I would buy your book, please find the time and write one, there is definitely a place for you in the world of print. Happy Christmas to you and your wonderful family

    • Thank you so much Bev, I really do appreciate your very kind words. So glad you enjoyed the story, as you probably know I love writing them an my head is always buzzing with ideas. Hope you have a very Merry and peaceful Christmas xx

  • I love your stories! What a wonderful Christmas treat! Thank you so much!
    Merry Christmas to you and your family! I look forward to part two.

  • A wonderful way to start my morning – reading your wonderful part 1 of which is going to be a fantastic story. So looking forward to part 2. Lots of snow here in Ontario,Canada. which really makes it feel like Christmas. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and all God’s Blessings for the New Year. Regards Betty.

    • Thank you so much Betty, I am just a little envious of your snow, I always dream of a white Christmas but can honestly say I only remember perhaps two in my life. Here is it just drizzling and misty today and not particularly pleasant at all! But it is Christmas and the house is festive and the children are all terribly excited and so who cares! Enjoy your wonderful white Christmas and big hugs from France xx

  • Oh, boy, the whole household are waiting for Part 2. Susan is playing her cards very close to her chest with this one……..

  • I love your story of a little girls named Annie. I could visualize everything in the story thanks to the clarity of your writing. You have a gift and thanks for sharing it this Christmas with all of us. I can always use some cheering at Christmas, my Mom passed away on Christmas Eve in 2008. Be blessed. Lizzy from Kansas living on The beach in Florida. I blog too

    • Hi Lizzy, so so sorry about your Mother, such a cruel reminder at this time of year always. I hope you had a lovely Christmas on the beach in the sun in Florida, certainly warmer than a Kansas Christmas! I shall go over and follow your blog. xx

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