In our ‘Countdown to Christmas’, The Kilkenny Observer is delighted to welcome Keela Ayres as our third contributor in our Christmas short story section.
The Kilkenny Observer wish to thank all three contributors to our Christmas short story series. Enjoy
By: Keela Ayres
Aoibheann already knew exactly how Christmas would play out this year. Granny would join the family dinner and insist on how it didn’t ‘feel like one without her son there’, to which Mam would nod quietly while trying to swallow back her grief along with coarse turkey. She’d be sitting alone at the head of the table when the seat beside her should have him in it. The twins would fortunately be immune to the silent sadness that drowned the room, left to only question why they couldn’t buy lights to top off the tree they had so proudly decorated. The thought plagued her mind as she made her way through the bundle of chattering students, the air wrapping its icy grip around her as she trailed down the street on her usual route home.
The houses were bathed in the glowing light of Christmas trees, illuminating her frosty street. Aoibheann caught the glimpse of her neighbour’s living room. It was Aidan’s family, frantically attacking their tree with baubles. Despite herself, she couldn’t stop staring. She felt bitter jealousy consume her as tears escaped and slowly trickled down her face. He deserved to be happy. But so did she. She made an abrupt turn towards her own home, praying he hadn’t seen her.
Mam was at the kitchen table, hiding behind enough layers to make her disappear. Her eyes were cloudy, hiding behind thoughts never said out loud. Ice traced the window panes, as if it was trying to creep in to get them. “Obviously the heat stopped working then?” Aoibheann asked her. She remained rooted in her chair, nodding guiltly. During the year, their financial problems only increased while their moods had plummeted . She wrapped her arms around her mother, who could only collapse into exhausted tears. The twins next door pretended not to hear but even the silence in between sobs was too loud.
The dark blanket of night began to wrap itself around the town but the cold was here to stay. After a vapid dinner, Aoibheann dragged herself up to her room before sinking into her duvet. Reality finally began to bear its weight on her shoulders but she let herself succumb to sleep.
A swift thud at the door. Aoibheann shot up her hair in a wild tangle. “What was that?” She chanced a glance out into the street below but it was vastly empty. Inching her way down the wooden stairs, she gently opened the door. On the concrete stairs lay a crimson package topped with a crumpled note; “I know your family had a hard year but you deserve to have a good Christmas. I’ll always be your shoulder to lean on Aoibheann.” Her smile only grew when she lifted the lid to reveal the handful of gifts laying inside.
A stack of Christmas lights in desperate need of a tree lurked under the small mountain of ornaments and sweets. There lay a small envelope with “Give to your mam” in the same loopy letters. But the best surprise was a crystal bauble containing an old photo of her dad inside, grinning at the camera. It was as if someone had reached inside her head to pull out all her dreams. It was like magic. She bundled the box and dashed into the house, hollering loud enough to wake her family. “everyone, come down the stairs”.
Her mother and the twins came down in a drowsy line, the annoyance from interrupted sleep plain to see. “Don’t be so loud Aoibheann” wailed Jack, his hair reaching hedgehog height. Mollie held on to her mother, eyes still heavy from sleep. Aoibheann landed the box with an excited thud. “It was on our step. I heard a thud this morning and I found this. Look inside!” The twins trampled over each other to peer into the mysterious box and erupted into joyful squeals. “Look mam, we can have a perfect tree now!” They began grabbing sweets by the handful before pausing at the crystal bauble. “Dad?” Jack and Mollie questioned in unison.
Mam raised a sceptical eyebrow, “What do ye mean?” Mollie cupped the bauble in her tiny palm to show her. Mam took it from her grasp and turned it around, finding her husband waving through the frosted glass. Almost like he was waving at her.
She broke into a teary laugh. “It is him! Back when he still had all of his hair. This must have been before the diagnosis. But who got this photo? I can’t remember when we took it.” Jack and Mollie shrugged at each other, eyes wide with curiosity.
Aoibheann smiled to herself. She did. The neighbours next door were invited over that year. Then she caught a glimpse outside at their miracle worker, wearing a big smile. It was Aidan.
This is Keela’s first Christmas short story for the Kilkenny Observer, although she has submitted three short stories throughout 2022 in the series ‘There is something about Debbie’. Keela is a student at The Presentation secondary school in Kilkenny