A Table for Christmas
There was no question about the quality of the table in my workshop. "Do you have more pieces by the craftsman who made this?" my customer asked.
I told him that it was the only piece I had.
"Where can I contact him? I might commission him to make some something for me."
I said that I had no idea who the craftsman was. He had made the table in return for a favour.
"Such a pity," he said. "He certainly was talented, whoever he was."
"He arrived on an evening like this," I told him, "bitter weather with the promise of worse to come. My wife was preparing supper while I counted the few coins I had earned that day. I had locked up for the night when I heard a banging on the door. I slid open the bolt on the door and saw a young man, huddled against the doorpost. He looked tired and bedraggled.”
"I could smell the wood chips and the sawdust," the stranger said. "My line of business. My wife and I didn't plan our journey well. I am hoping we could stay somewhere until this storm blows over. I have little money, but I could work as compensation."
A young pregnant woman stood shivering behind him. She's only a girl, I thought. I couldn't turn them away.
"Just for tonight," I said.
"I will repay you," he said. "Let me be useful in your workshop."
I assured him that I needed nothing. I wished them a good night's sleep.
On the following morning, I brought food to them. In the workshop I saw the young girl tidying my workbench and the young man finishing off an item of furniture.
"Forgive me," he said. "But I had to repay your kindness in some way."
I looked at the piece of work he had completed.
"That's a fine table," I commented. "You know your craft."
"Thank you," he said. "There are a few other items I could finish for you, in return for another night's stay here, at least until the storm blows over."
"Your wife," I said, "she is near her time. Your first child?"
“Yes,” he smiled.
"Until the storm blows over," I said.
Two days later the storm passed. I went to the workshop. The sounds of the saw and hammer were not to be heard. The workshop was tidy, another piece of furniture, the table in question, was finished. The travellers had gone.
"That was the last I saw of them," I said to my customer. "No. I am wrong. I did see them one more time. They were returning this way to their own town. It was shortly after the census."
"Ah, yes, that census," he said.
"They stopped here to thank me again. By then their child, a little boy, had been born."
"And you never heard from them again? he asked.
"No. They passed into obscurity. Like the rest of us, it's unlikely anybody will remember them in a hundred years."
A Promise of Snow
We sat, the four of us, beside a blazing hotel fire, surrounded by tinsel and used Christmas crackers. I had joined the few remaining members of our staff, John, Phil and Bergen from Accounts. Another Christmas Staff Dinner was over. I usually avoid them, but because it was Bergen’s first Christmas with us, I felt that I should attend, if only for his sake.
The conversation moved to the topic of snow. John complained about the weather forecast.
“Snow, that’s what we’ll have to put up with next. Isn’t it enough to have to tolerate Christmas and the stupidity of overspending that goes with it?”
I wouldn’t have expected him to say anything else. John was our Scrooge in modern dress. Phil was quiet, as usual. As for Bergen, well, he was different. He had brought a touch of the exotic to the office. After all, he was not exactly one of us. He was a foreigner. But in this day and age, one can’t say that. Political correctness gone mad, in my opinion But, I referred to him as the foreigner, and it didn’t seem to bother him.
“You Irish have no idea of what a proper Christmas is like,” he said. “You should live through a Norwegian Christmas. Snow, crisp and white, frost at minus ten degrees at least, and silence like you’ve never experienced it. That’s what the snow does. It’s like a lid on the noise we have to contend with each day. So, particularly at Christmas we welcome the falling of fresh snow. We look on it as the extra gift that makes the season special. In our country we say that a wish made when the snow falls always comes true.”
“Bloody nuisance, if you ask me,” John muttered.
I was about to tell him that I had no intention of asking him anything, but it was the season of good will, so I said nothing.
“The children add a special wish on Christmas Eve, that snow will fall,” Bergen continued.
John ordered another round of drinks. I was glad of the distraction of an extra hour or so sitting at an open fire. It was preferable to going back to my empty apartment.
Until then, Phil had said very little. When he was quiet like that it usually meant that he was building up to something.
“Did you ever wish for something you knew you couldn’t have, no matter how much you wished for it?” he asked.
Phil was the sort who posed questions without really expecting any answers.
“I was about six years old," he continued. “A wooden train set was all I wanted. Nothing more, just that.”
He stared into the fire.
“I never got that train set. I guess I didn’t wish when the snow fell.”
“That’s it? Don’t tell me you still haven’t got over it,” muttered John.
“Just reminiscing,” Phil said. “It was a long time ago.”
We finished our drinks and left the hotel bar. Phil said his goodbyes and John muttered something about a Happy Christmas. I walked with Bergen as far as his house, said goodnight and continued towards my apartment.
I thought about what Phil had said. Just for a few minutes he had been a boy again.I passed a late night store and decided to pick up a few last minute gifts. I always leave things too late.
With only two days to go before Christmas Day, I’d be lucky to find everything I needed. I peered through the window of a second-hand shop and looked at the discarded items which were now only someone’s forgotten memories. Sets of china cups, chipped Tiffany lamps and scarves which would not have been out of place on a character from a Dickens novel. On a cold night such as this I decided to purchase one, my gift to myself at Christmas. I made my purchase, wrapped the scarf comfortably around my neck and rummaged through the items on display. Just as I was about to leave, something in the corner caught my attention. I asked the shopkeeper to wrap it for me. That would take care of one last gift.
Very late on Christmas Eve I had one more visit to make. The streets were almost empty. They would be, at this stage. In houses all over town, families were waiting for the morning, to hear the excitement of children laughing, to watch them tearing open carefully wrapped presents, to watch magic becoming real.
In one house, a wooden train, with peeling paint, would surprise someone.
It was going to be a cold night. The sky, filled with pinpoints of stars, foretold a heavy frost. And, if I wished for it hard enough, there was always the promise of snow.
Word Count: 796
[Word count: 503]
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