A Sad Christmas
A Short Story
From her vantage point in the lane at the back of her house, Elly peered over the fence that divided her home from the neighbors. Her parents were at it again worse than ever this time, the noise at a decibel level that sent the neighbors rushing outside to see what was going on. She knew it was time that her little brother Sammy had to be picked up from school but with World War III going on inside, it was likely he'd be forgotten again. Sliding down onto the ground with a thud, she clamped her hands tight over her ears and scrunched her eyes shut refusing the tears that threatened to fall. Leaning her head back against the wall she sat waiting for the pounding in her chest to stop.
It wasn't always like this but since Rosie had gone last Christmas, nothing had been the same again.
A loud thud interrupts her thoughts followed by the sound of glass smashing and her mother's constant wailing sound. It was one of the few sounds that she made these days. The smack of the door slams and a few seconds later she hears the screech of brakes as her father drives away in a fury.
Elly had to go. Leaping to her feet, she ran the three blocks to the school, without stopping.
She arrives at the school gate breathless and clutches the school fence for support and waits with the other parents just as the bell sounds signalling the end of the day. The lines of five and six year olds march happily behind their teacher toward the gate. All except for one little boy walking slowly, head down as if the weight of the world is placed firmly on his shoulders.
As she watches his dejected little face she decides she can't do it to him anymore, she can't put him through anymore sadness, anymore pain or the uncertainty of home. She can barely cope herself. And from the scene she'd just left behind at home she knew the decision she'd made when she got up this morning was the right one.
Elly shifts her backpack on her shoulder while mentally calculating the cost of the bus fare and how far her savings would stretch. With the cost of the first coach, food for two days and cab fare to the house most of her money would be gone. She wasn't sure how she was going to pay for the second part of the journey yet but somehow she would find a way. She must.
She waits as Sammy's teacher hands out the Christmas tree invitation to each of her small students, reminding her class to give it to their mommy or daddy for the concert later tonight.
There would be no concert tonight for Sammy.
The down cast face of the little boy stood out amongst the smiles and shouts of the rest of the class in happy anticipation of the holiday break.Releasing the children into the care of waiting family his teacher touched Sammy gently on the shoulder as he passed by, as if she knew the weight of what the little boy was feeling.
Needing to tell him urgently of her plan Elly resists the urge to pull him into a bear hug and makes herself smile as she takes his hand and pulls him away quickly from the crowd.
Making their way to the bus stop Elly explains the idea to him and as expected the look of relief on his little face suddenly makes it all worthwhile as they sit huddled together to keep warm silently waiting for the bus to arrive.
As the bus pulls away heading North out of town the sparkling fairy lights and bright decorations encircling each house tugs at Elly's heart with the reminder of a season that is supposed to be spent with the love of family. But there is no love in her family now, it is too late for them, too late for her and Sammy. Uncertainty of her decision to leave match the uncertainty of her decision to stay but she'd taken the plunge now the moment they stepped on the bus. There was no going back she made the decision to leave long ago, the last time her mother spoke to her.
She pulls Sammy tight against her as the memory of that night sends chills through her and she shudders with the painful reminder again.
Rosie was six months old when it happened. A baby arriving later in her mother's life that was supposed to be a mistake, they said, but everyone knew she was the joy of her mothers life. It was an accident the police said, a heart breaking sad accident, and from all reports it was one that could have been avoided, if only......
If only. The thoughts swirled around and around in Elly's head until she felt her head would split open.
"There is no if only's" she heard her father shout harshly at her hysterical weeping mother six months later while she and Sammy lay hidden upstairs under her bed, too afraid to move. 'There is nothing we can do to bring her back now, nothing, do you understand, she's gone"
That was in the early day's soon after when her father was still at home, when he was still trying to understand the depth of a mothers grief, when he was trying to work out what to do, when he still cared. But he'd gone now. Wrapped up in an avalanche of guilt he'd walked away. Walked away as if we never existed.
We were to blame too, her mother screamed one night when the world turned upside down and the sun stopped shining. 'Maybe if you'd been there it wouldn't have happened'
But we were in school when we got the the news that changed our family forever. The day that Sammy stopped speaking.
Elly pushed her fists into her eyes and wiped the tears away that smarted in the corner of her eyes and felt like hot spice. She swallowed hard to get rid of the lump in her throat that had taken up residence there the last couple of weeks refusing to budge and pushed her thoughts back to the moment. How would they make it to their destination? She barely had enough money to buy food for the two days it would take to make it there with the cost of a connecting ticket interstate.
She looked down at Sammy's sleeping face and decided that whatever happened she wouldn't let him down too, like they had. His future was now in her hands.
Rosemary Gardner stood resolute at the kitchen window a lone tear trickled down her cheek. Across the street the snow man that the neighbors kids had built yesterday still stood upright facing the road with a lopsided smile on his face molded from leaves and twigs and the work of tiny fingers. She sighed inwardly and longed for the happier times she had had at Christmas with a family that was almost non existent now. She brushed the tear away and wondered after all this time how there could possibly be any left. Waiting for the kettle to boil she ran through the plan again in her mind and smiled to herself as she thought of what Seth would be thinking right now. She could almost hear his voice reassuring her, " you need to do this Rose, you know it's the right decision"
Taking her morning mug of tea out to the verandah, she was surprised that the stunning view over the snow capped hills could still take her breath away as it had the first time she came here. She stood for a few minutes longer cherishing it for one last time. Finally turning back to her desk she sighed again deeply, and hoped and prayed she hadn't left her decision too late.
She was still jiggling her tea bag when the distant sound of her mobile going off in the kitchen interrupted her calm. Hurrying inside before it rang out she chided herself on why she hadn't brought it out with her as she moved quickly to answer it knowing she was expecting the agent to call this morning to finalize the deal.
Gripping the edge of the kitchen bench so hard her knuckles turned white, she steadied herself so her legs didn't give way as she received the news she had been expecting.
Steeling herself for what was to come she speedily dialed the agent and left instructions for the completion of the sale, threw her phone in her hand bag, grabbed her coat and overnight bag and made for the front door. Taking one last sweeping look at the home she loved and had held so many memories, she opened the door heading out into the cold unknown and didn't look back.
Elly tipped the contents out of her wallet into her hand and counted the last of her savings again. Her eyes scanned the coins. She was so sure that she'd had enough for the bus fare, she was certain of it. Then she remebered that was before she bought the juice and burger for Sammy through the night. 'Damn' she muttered under her breath. What the hell was she to do now.
"I'm sorry young lady but you are nine dollars 60 cents short and unless you can come up with the rest of the cash I can't let you on the bus'
' Please sir you've got to let us on, we are a long way from where we are supposed to be and we don't have any other way of getting there'
' Look I'm sorry but if everyone on the coach couldn't pay we couldn't run the coach' Can't you ring someone to come get you?
'I I can't get through to anyone,please, please let us on, I'll get the money as soon as I get there, please sir you have my word'
Elly was frantic, if they were stranded here, she didn't know what she could do, it was still over two hours away to their destination, and with Sammy to look after hitchhiking was far too dangerous. She was just about to beg the coach driver as soon as he had finished checking other passengers onto the bus when she felt a tug at her elbow and looked down at the little boy she thought was still a sleep on the bench at the coach stop.
'What, what is it Sammy? she uttered in exasperation at the sound of Sammy's voice and watched the small boy wipe the sleep from his eyes, fresh from waking.
'Here take this' he said and held his hand out toward her with a scrunched up note and handful of coins.
"It's my pocket money' he smiled at her and yawned, and held up a $10 note. 'I got it out of my tin yesterday'
At the sound of his voice Elly felt the lump in her throat swell so large she could barely swallow. Through a wet blurr her eyes caught the smile on Sammy's innocent face and her heart leapt inside of her and in an instant she crushed him to her side holding him so tight he squirmed against her and she released her hold.
Turning to the coach driver she was just about to hand him the money for the tickets when suddenly the sound of a longed for familiar voice caught her attention.
'Elly! Elly! Sammy! Oh my darlings what are you doing here?
'Nanna' the little boy shrieked at the site of his beloved grandmother and hurtled himself into her arms.
Elly couldn't move, she felt faint, a sob escaped her throat but the lump, still in her throat unmovable, stopped any sound from coming out of her mouth. The site of Sammy safe in her grandmothers arms was almost more than she could bare and the tears that she had fought so hard to stop burst from her eyes and settled in a steady stream soaking the front of her shirt.
'Elly come here darling' her nan's voice sounded warm and soothing like hot chocolate on a cold night as she melted into the only arms of love and hope in her world.
Rosemary stepped off the coach impatient with the inconvenience of having to depart this terminating coach and waiting the 20 minutes or so for the connecting coach to arrive. Any other time she enjoyed the long trip to her daughters making the most of her time catching up on her reading for her studies. But today she was desperate to get to her destination, bemoaning the fact that there was no faster way to get there, the coach after all got her to within 15 minutes of her daughters house, a quick cab ride. If she had taken the flight she had planned earlier she still would have been 2 hours away.
Collecting her bags from the driver she couldn't help but catch the desperation in the voice of the young girl pleading with the driver of the coach in the bay next to hers. As she paused, thinking she might be of asisstance to the young one, her breath caught in her throat at the sight of the two children huddled together beside the coach.
Recovering from the shock of seeing her beloved granchildren before her, Rosemary called to them, offering a silent pray of thanks for the miracle of this moment and knew, now, in her heart of hearts that if she could just get to her daughter, that everything would finally be alright.