• Liza Stirlinglass

Diversion - A Christmas Story Part Ten

As the taxi turned into Albert Crescent Elaine sat up with a jolt. Every house on the street was lit, it looked like a set from a Christmas Film. There were snowmen, and reindeer and lights everywhere. “What on earth” exclaimed Elaine.

The taxi driver smiled as he caught sight of her face through the rear view mirror.

“Pretty isn’t it.”

“Yes, it’s amazing.

“The lights usually go off by eleven, you’re lucky to have caught them on this late. It’s a fundraiser.”

“Oh, I see. Well, good for them, my mum didn’t tell me.“

“Which one is your mum’s?”

“Over there, on the right, number 75.” As the taxi pulled up to the house Elaine took in the spectacle of the modest Victorian Villa where she had grown up, after the family moved there from Scotland. The house was decorated from top to toe with lights, and a big red bow shone out from the middle of the brickwork. “This must have taken hours to put up.”

“Yeah, it’s been in all the newspapers, Mrs. Bennett organised it for the children's cancer ward.”

“Mrs. Bennett?” Elaine repeated, “Are you sure?”

“Yes, she’s been all over the papers, television and on the radio this past week. £7.50 love, cash or card?”

The name must be a coincidence thought Elaine, as she paid the driver and retrieved her bag. Her quiet unassuming mother would be the last person to be all over the newspapers and on television, especially now she was ill herself. Elaine let herself into the house. The downstairs lights were still on and the radio was on in the kitchen.

“Mum?” she called.

“Elaine, I’m in here.”

The kitchen smelled of cinnamon and gingerbread and hot chocolate as Elaine opened the door. Her mother was sitting at the kitchen table, it was laden with shortbread, gingerbread men and star shaped sugar cookies. She was sorting the biscuits into small gift bags and tying each one with a red and green ribbon.

“Hello dear. It’s so lovely to see you. Sorry we can’t hug.” Elaine’s mother, dressed in a pale blue dressing gown, with a soft turban head cover remained seated, her naturally pretty face glowed as she looked up at her daughter. She looked every inch the picture of good health.

“Mum! I thought you’d be in bed. The street, all these biscuits, what’s going on? You look amazing.” Elaine gushed. This wasn’t the scene she had been expecting at all. Barbara hadn’t prepared her for a winter wonderland.

“We reset the timers on the lights to stay on later, until the end of Boxing Day. We’ve raised almost twenty five thousand pounds so far. Something about it going viral.”

Elaine laughed, trying to take it all in. “Are you the Mrs. Bennett the taxi driver said was in the papers and on the television?”

Her mother flushed. “I’m afraid so dear. What would your father say if he was still here?” As her mother shifted her body to lean forward Elaine realised she wasn’t sitting on one of the kitchen chairs, she was in a wheelchair.”

Her mother caught her daughter’s face. “It’s alright dear, this is just temporary, an effect of the chemo. I will be up and walking again soon, which is why all the lights are on downstairs. I hope you don’t mind, the dining room is my bedroom, just for now. Your room is already for you. Barbara made it up.”

“Why didn’t you tell me, why didn't Barbara?”

“Because neither of us wanted you to stop doing your training and think you had to come home. You waited too long to do what you wanted. And I am going to be fine.”

Her voice was determined.

“Who are you and what have you done with my mother?”

Her mother smiled. “Mortality is a great teacher Elaine, when time seems like it might be short there isn’t any to waste. I couldn’t just go on being boring Mrs. Bennett who used to work at the bank.”

“You were never boring mum, just safe, always here, whenever Barbara and I needed you. And Jonathan, if he… .”Her voice trailed off. Her brother had died when he was a toddler, one of the reasons the family had moved.

“Well, he’d be very proud of you if he was still with us, and so would your dad. Here, I made you a snack in case you were hungry.” She opened a fridge laden with food, all the usual treats her mother bought at Christmas. It was as if nothing had changed, and yet so much had.

Elaine tucked into the plate of food her mother had prepared for her and told her about the journey from Cardiff, the baby born on the train and about Mark whose mother was missing. She didn’t mention Martha or the singing nuns. But as she went to bed that night and fell into a deep sleep it was Martha she dreamed of. In the dream Elaine followed her through a copse, snow was falling and as they came through the other side she could hear singing. It wasn’t the sisters, it sounded like a church congregation. “O come O come Emmanuel.” When she woke, she realised the church she had seen in her dream was the one she had attended as a child, where she had played Mary in the Sunday School Nativity. She lay in bed, but she couldn’t settle, the wind was picking up, the lights decorating the house outside started to jingle like chandlery. It was still dark. The words of the carol she had heard in her dream haunted her, as did the image of Martha beckoning her to follow. It all seemed so real, the way dreams sometimes do. And as the wind blew harder Elaine could swear she heard a child’s voice saying “come.” She dressed quickly, compelled by something she didn't understand. Her mother was still asleep as she let herself out of the house. The street lights reflected the white covered pavements. The road would need to be cleared before any of the cars could move. Leaving a trail of footprints in the fresh layer of snow, Elaine set out towards the old church, conscious that she was behaving irrationally, yet she felt driven by something beyond herself. She pulled her coat closer around her body, battling the weather. The combination of snow and wind was biting her flesh, stinging her face as she walked head on into the wind. She heard the child’s voice again, “come, hurry, come,” encouraging her to walk faster. By the time she arrived at the church she was covered in snow, her hands and feet were frozen, this was a fool's errand she thought as she walked up the path towards the building. Cursing herself for letting her imagination take over. The gravestones, buried beneath the undisturbed pristine white powder lined the pathway, it’s definition almost lost. Each footstep crackled as she broke the layers of snow with her boots.

“Hurry, come,” there was the voice again, it definitely sounded like a child. It had to be the wind surely, what would a child be doing here alone before sunrise? She turned around, there was no one there, and there was no one in front of her, at least, there were no footprints in the snow. The weather was getting worse, with every fibre of her being she wanted to turn around, go back to her house, but she couldn't, something was driving her towards the building. As she came closer, her eyes half closed to protect them, she saw a shape on the old bench just inside the porch. It was a woman, she tell that much, she was lying down. Her legs were tucked in, but she was very still. Elaine felt her face, it was freezing.

“Hurry.” The voice was behind her, but as she spun around there was no one there, then again. “Hurry.”

She pulled her phone out of her pocket. “Ambulance please” she snapped as the operator answered. She pushed on the door of the church but it was locked. She knew she needed to get whoever this was warm somehow. There was a pulse, but it was faint. Elaine felt hopeless, she was tired and this, this was too much after everything that had happened yesterday. She wanted normal, she didn’t want to hear voices, or find people in need. She wanted her mother.

And as if she had expressed her thoughts out loud an answer came, the child's voice again. “You are the mother here Elaine, you are enough.” Suddenly her training took over and she knew what to do, how to create heat, how to stimulate and revive her ailing patient. And as she gathered the woman into her arms, as if she were a child, Elaine looked up and saw the face of a small boy. He was smiling.

The ambulance crew arrived within minutes and Elaine went with them to the hospital. She phoned her mother to tell her what had happened. “I’m in the visiting area, they are trying to find out who she is, I’ll be back soon.”

“Don’t you know Elaine, who she is?” Her mothers voice was quiet.

“No, how could I?”

“Think Elaine, you have always had the gift. You have always known things that take other people time to figure out. You lost it for a while, when you were with Gary, but it’s back now, I could see it in your face last night, when you told me about the baby, the boy from Canada. You knew what to do.”

“You always called me knowing what to do my overactive imagination mum. But yes, you are right, I think I do know who she is.”

“Well tell them then, put them out of their misery searching. You don’t have to say how you know.”

“But how did you know?”

“My mother, she knew what was going to happen to Jonathan. After that night when I fell down the stairs, remember, he was in my arms. My mother told me, we wouldn’t have many more years together, that what you had seen was not made up. I’m sorry, it scared me to be honest, sometimes the way she would see things that others didn’t. I didn’t want that for you, so I told you then and at other times not to be so over imaginative. It was wrong, you have a special gift. I see that now. By following the unknown, you saved that woman’s life.”

Elaine took a breath. So it was true, all the things she had thought she had seen and heard when she was growing up, and since, the way she sometimes appeared to be in the right place at the right time to help someone out, it hadn’t all been just her imagination or a coincidence. She looked at her phone, there was a message from Mark Still no sign of mum. Elaine texted back.

I think I know where she is, so please don’t worry. She is safe and all will be well. Merry Christmas.

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