Here’s the second part of the Cole family’s Christmas, as promised! If you remember, we left them half-way through the day last time. I hope you enjoy this part…..
If you missed the first part you can find it here. A couple of people have asked about the other Cole stories, so you want to find out more here’s a Halloween story, and here’s another Christmas story called ‘The Three Wise Gifts‘).
Whatever you read, I hope you enjoy yourselves.
Most of all, have a wonderful New Year’s eve, and all of us here wish everyone a wonderful, happy 2018. XXX Many bisoux from me – to you all.
By 5.30pm the damage was done, the battle over, and the sitting room was an ocean of wrapping paper and boxes in varying states of aperture. Dotted about the room were small piles of salvage, each with an owner in varying states of bemusement. Simon and I had been good, and tried to work to a budget, but the twins were the proud owners of a small castle of presents each, and the room was somnolent with an excess of Christmas cheer and the warmth of a fire too well attended-to. Sylvie had fallen quietly asleep in her chair, and Simon was sprawled, head nodding, at the end of the sofa. Katie and Emma were exchanging comments on their presents, and Paul and Lisa worked as a team to keep the twins at a manageable level. Robert and Nadia had already left, to go back to their small flat above the bakery to sleep. Their one child had spent the day with grandparents and would be reunited with them later, I assumed. I wandered through to the kitchen to make some tea, disappointed that Simon’s present – a book – had not arrived in time, but happy that the day had gone well and no major damage limitation had needed to be applied.
I went back through to the sitting room with the tray, complete with a plate of slices of Christmas cake, and the twins came running over, one in a spiderman costume and the other wearing a pair of goggles to deflect some imaginary enemy fire.
Little Tom stopped in front of me, and leaning forward, gave me a hug, saying “Don’t worry Auntie Sophie, Santa will come back with Uncle Simon’s present, don’t you worry!”, and even as his little head jerked back with a smile of sympathy, Tiny Tim was there beside him, muttering scowls of argument.
“He won’t come, silly, it’s just a story,” Tim muttered as he went even darker in the face with disbelief.
“No it’s not,” argued Tom, vehemently, “we’ll leave a mince pie tonight by the fire, won’t we Auntie Sophie? And tomorrow, too – it’s bound to work”, and so the die was cast.
On the morning of the 27th, still aware by computer that Simon’s book was “out for delivery”, I was awoken at daybreak by the twins, who came screaming up the stairs to announce that Santa really had been, and that Simon’s present had been left under the tree. As Simon and I struggled to come awake I listened to their tale in some disbelief, but with a small hand pulling me out of bed, I was led downstairs to the sitting room by a very excited 5 year-old to a room awash with light from a Christmas tree that illuminated, quite beautifully, a wrapped present under the tree, accompanied by a message on a piece of faded note paper that apologised for the tardiness of delivery. I kneeled there, stunned with bemusement, and then Simon pointed to the fireplace, where the crumbs of a mince pie lay on an empty plate studded with black fingerprints, and where the glass door to the fire had been left open, and where a trail of four of five footprints etched with ash stretched back to the tree across the carpet. I looked up at Simon, but he was pursing his lips with narrowed eyes, wondering too. Absentmindedly, I wondered if the hoover would be able to deal with the footprints.
This was Tom the Believer’s moment of triumph, and he was not short in telling all and sundry about the magic of Christmas, sleighs, reindeer, men in red costumes and the power of belief. He danced around the room, singing about footprints and presents, mince pies and magic. Tiny Tim, the DisBeliever, scuttled around in the background trying not to get excited, but it was clear his brother had all the aces, and Tiny Tim turned, before our eyes, into that most ardent of admirers, Tim the Converted. I looked up above the noise to see Simon looking at me, eyes wide with wonder too.
It had to be the work of my Tim, or perhaps Katie, or Emma, I decided. Even Sylvie. One of them had some explaining to do – it was very clever, but I needed to know the story.
But by the end of breakfast it became apparent that everyone was as bemused as everyone else. They all swore, quite strongly, and in tones that the twins could not quite hear, that none of them had had anything to do with it. As we cleared the table we then dissected the day before, only to become aware that I had been at home most of the daylight hours. The house resounded with the sound of small children singing the praises of Santa and everything took on an air of mystery and enchantment. All of us found ourselves looking for other surprises, and matters took a turn for some serious thinking when Annie, old Mr Benoit’s niece, came to the door to give us a box of chocolates, gaily wrapped and ribboned. Annie was in her 70’s now and had lived in her father’s house for some years since his quiet dignified death in 2010, and when Emma took her aside to tell her about Santa’s mysterious visit, the hairs went up on the back of my neck as I remembered an enchanted Halloween from ten years ago. The two of them held hands and looked at us all, grinning with their shared supernatural belief.
At 11.00 or so Simon went into the village for some bread for lunch and we had another quick committee meeting which became quite animated when we all realised that really none of us, no one, was responsible for the secret delivery. I had a brainwave and checked the website for the delivery company, only to find that we could no longer access the tracking history.
It was left to the twins to tell us what happened.
“Santa came back, you sillies,” they sang. “He came back, left Simon’s present and then went home in his sleigh.” As logic would have it, it seemed the best answer.
The footprints did hoover out, and the fingerprints happily washed off the plate. And Simon adored the book, an out-of-print pictorial history of the Shetlands where his family had once come from. But the mystery of how the book had got under the tree continued to mystify me enormously. Simon simply shrugged his shoulders, and, I assume, thought I knew the answer and that one of us had done it. The mystery continued through the New Year, right up to the point when I drove Sylvie, Paul and Lisa, and the twins, to the airport a week later. All through that long drive the twins continued to crow about the “Power of Santa” and I went home half a believer myself. Katie went back to her second term of university in Bordeaux, and Tim went back to the UK to Southampton and his last spring term there. All of this depopulation of the house left just Emma, Simon and myself, alone with a new year stretching before us and a puzzle we seemed destined to never solve….
….until one day in late January, when I went to the post office next to the village hall one cold and grey Wednesday afternoon. Inside I put a small parcel on the counter and said “Bonjour’ to the woman behind the counter, a lady from the next village who was an occasional relief for Carole, our normal woman in charge. I was paying for the postage when the woman asked me something, quite quickly, in French.
I paused, coins akimbo, as time slowed existentially – after a long pause I asked her to repeat her question, aware my hands were blue with cold on the counter and that the notice on the wall in front of me advertising the arrival of Père Nöel in the Salle De Fêtes for the village Christmas party was coincidentally well out of date.
Was madam’s husband happy with his Christmas present, was the question, and I frowned a little, not sure I had heard right, but aware I needed to ask a question or two.
Tugging at a stray hair under my hat I nervously asked if the parcel had perhaps been collected from the Post Office? Mais Oui. On the day after Christmas, madam, le 26**.
My hand hovered in mid-air as I thought further.
Who had collected the parcel, I asked? Madame’s husband, of course.
Of course. I should have guessed. I had known him long enough…..
I stood there, aware my head was bowed and my heart was beating too fast. I thought perhaps I should faint a little, just to make matters more theatrical, but then grinned at the epiphany of it all. Instead I went home with a smile on my face and cornered Simon in the study as he sat there, typing away.
“YOU bastard!” I hissed in his ear in a fake fit of temper. “IT WAS YOU!!” and Simon looked up, startled and whitefaced.
“What?” He’d half-forgotten the parcel, I suspected.
“YOUR PRESENT!” I threw back at him, and he at last smiled faintly and then muttered something.
“How and why?” I continued, perching myself in his lap. “How did you manage that?”
And Simon put his arm around me and explained. On Christmas Eve he’d been going through a pile of cards on top of my desk when he’d discovered amongst them a typical French delivery note, that told of how a parcel had been left with the Post Office. I, the one in charge of Christmas cards, must have missed it.
He explained how he’d gone to the post office on Boxing Day**, and came back with his book. How he had carefully wrapped it, written the note on some very old paper from the boat-shed, and then left it under the tree the next night, together with the cunning clues of a mince pie and ash-trodden footprints.
We laughed together then, but I still had to ask one more question.
Simon looked at me, and laughed. “For two reasons. One, I love mysteries and it was fun to have you all guessing, but two, because I wanted to give Tiny Tim a special Christmas.” He paused, and then continued,”I knew if I could make him believe in Santa Claus a little better, he’d have far more fun,” and he looked up at me and grinned.
“You rotter,” I said, and stamped lightly on his foot as I hopped down. “I’d just got back to believing in Santa myself and you have to ruin it.”
We never did tell the others. None of them. It became the Christmas Mystery, and as well as the tale being told for years to come, I know Tiny Tim and Tom will look forward to many more wonderful Christmases, too.
**most French shops and services run as normal on Boxing Day