“Hurry up, Mummy!” Claudia was jumping up and down in the hallway. “I don’t want to miss it.”
“Just a minute!” her mother called from upstairs. In the bathroom, Helen pouted, from annoyance with her daughter and in order to apply lipstick. The child was becoming insufferable and with Christmas fast approaching, she was getting worse. What am I talking about, ‘fast-approaching’? Christmas is still five weeks away, for crying out loud. People need to slow down and stop tearing around like mad things. Already, Claudia was pestering her to get the tree. Helen had snapped, “There are only twelve days of Christmas and none of them are in bloody November.”
She looked at her reflection and supposed it would have to do. You never know who you might meet at these events. Perhaps some hunky single dad – or better yet a singleton who hadn’t found the right woman… If only she didn’t have Claudia in tow – but then, without her I wouldn’t bloody be going to see the bloody Christmas bloody lights switched on, would I? Sometimes I wish – I wish she didn’t exist! How’s that for a bloody Christmas wish?
She came downstairs to find Claudia jumping on the doormat, trying to reach the latch.
“Don’t you dare!” Helen cried, hurrying down the last few steps. She was too late. Claudia’s fingers seized on the button, unlocked the door and, before her mother could grab the hood of her coat, was tearing along the garden path to the gate.
“Come back here!” Helen lurched after her. At the gate, she turned her daughter around and shouted at her. “You can’t go running off like that. There’s going to be crowds. You’ll get lost.”
Claudia sulked. “We’re going to be late.”
They made it to the bus and had to stand the whole way into town. The windows were steamed with condensation and the air was warm with bodies in thick coats pressed together and noisy with excited chatter. Oh, grow up, thought Helen. It’s only some bloody lights being switched on.
She found herself being dragged by the arm as Claudia raced through the market place, dodging shoppers. Helen had to admit the arrival of the wooden huts selling German merchandise made the town look rather pretty. It was just too bloody soon. Why couldn’t anyone wait until December at the earliest?
The scent of frying onions was so enticing, she paused to take it in. Perhaps they could have hot dogs on their way back. Nothing too Christmassy about hot dogs. Another stall was selling turkey drumsticks. And people were buying them! Idiots! The whole idea of Christmas dinner was to have it on the day, otherwise you spoil the special nature of the event.
“Come ON, Mummy!” Claudia wailed, breaking free of her mother’s grasp.
“Claudia!” Helen yelled but Claudia kept running.
“Having trouble?” said a male voice. Helen stopped in her tracks and found herself facing a handsome man with bright eyes. His nose and cheeks were painted red by the chilly air. “Kids, eh?”
“What, oh no,” Helen patted her hair. “She’s not mine, she –”
The rest of her sentence was cut short by a loud thud and people screaming. The crowd moved toward the source of the commotion. Helen and the man found themselves swept along.
“Call an ambulance!” cried someone.
“Too late!” said someone else.
“Whatever’s happened?” the man next to Helen asked.
“A little girl,” said a woman, her face ashen with shock. “Ran into the road. Was hit by one of them lorries delivering pop. You know, the ‘holidays are coming’ ones.”
Helen’s legs buckled. She held onto the man’s arm for support.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” she said, pleased to see the concern in his bright eyes. “Christmas just came early, that’s all.”