Near the turn of each year, in “Household Words” and “All the Year Round,” Charles Dickens published his Christmas stories. The Inimitable is gone. Instead, we are treated to treacle from the Hallmark Channel.
This must have been cooking in my head last night like an underdone potato. When I emerged from dozing in my chair this morning, the following strange tale sat newly inked in my typewriter. I share it with you simply to get it out of my noggin, where it is renting space needed for more valuable ruminations. So here it is:
It was late on Dec. 24. Eve had spirited herself far from her home in Bethel by the sea. Sent to buy roses to dress up the holiday table, Eve had brought home the wrong ones: white instead of red.
“Can’t you do anything right,” snapped her mother.
Smarting from disapproval, Eve took off down the road, roses clutched to her. She ran and ran and ran.
Eventually Eve tired. But as she looked about, she didn’t know where she was. Night was coming on, a lonely time even close to home, let alone lost. Whenever she was sad, Eve sang to herself. She did so now, gazing out at the waves. Suddenly she heard a small splash. Then another. And another. In the fine mist that hung over the water as the sun winked its last, a dim apparition slowly appeared.
A little wobbly in the knees, Eve sat down. The sand was a cool comfort after her long run. In the moonlight, the figure from the sea came closer. It was a boy.
“I heard you singing,” he said. “It was lovely.”
The boy sat down beside her. He began to shiver in the night air.
“Here,” said Eve, “take my jacket, you need it more than me.” With that, she tugged her way out of her coat of many colors. She placed it round the boy’s shoulders.
“Say,” he inquired, “what are those flowers you are carrying?”
Eve cried bitterly. “They’re the wrong ones. They were supposed to be red. Mom got mad at me and I ran away.”
The boy let out a long sigh. He reached down, took the bouquet from her grasp, and slid his hands up the stems of the flowers. He cried out as the thorns bit into his flesh. “Let us sleep now,” he said, his voice breaking from the pain. Eve was grateful for his company, and sad that he had hurt himself. Her eyelids grew heavy, like blankets over her eyes, and she sank into the sand, sound asleep.
As morning broke, Eve awakened. She was alone. She had no idea where she was, and but a dim memory of the night before. “It must all have been a dream,” she thought. But as she sat up, she couldn’t believe her eyes. In her hand was a brilliant bouquet of crimson roses. On the thorns there were dark droplets, almost like dried blood. Slowly a smile spread across her face. Amazed, she jumped to her feet and started to run. Eve’s feet seemed to spring from the sand as she ran, faster, faster, faster, until her lungs felt like bursting.
The next thing she knew, Eve was back by her house. She timidly approached the door, her gloriously red flowers held before her as an offering. Eve knocked. Her mother’s face, sad and drawn, appeared in the doorway. “My dear, I was so worried about you. The police have been searching all night. I thought my heart would burst.” She shook her head. “I must be getting old. The roses are red after all. I don’t know what got into me. Can you ever forgive me?”
“There’s nothing to forgive,” said Eve. Tears of joy rolled down both of their cheeks. They reached out and hugged, it seemed forever.
“But where is your jacket, my dear,” asked her mother, “the one I quilted?”
Atop the house, invisible to all, the boy sat on the roof in his new coat of many colors. He heard Eve reply, “It’s hard to explain. But I feel like it will find its way home, too.”
The boy got up. He hopped off the roof, as if he were lighter than air. He strolled back into the waves, the foaming arms of the ocean pulling him and his coat into its eternal depths. In the light of the Christmas sun, and for many years after, before Eve grew up and moved away as all children do, a strange marking could be seen upon the roof. If anyone cared to look closely enough, it was in the telltale shape of a heart. If no one ever saw it, still, by sun and by moon, it was there.
Merry Christmas to all.