December 24, 2011
No doom, today. Just a little Christmas story that I wrote after a discussion with a seven-year-old a while back that, oddly enough, had nothing to do with Christmas.
Best wishes for a happy holiday season and enough peace and contentment to last through the coming year.
A CHRISTMAS STORY
“Oh, Sister, I wish we could spend just one more Christmas in the old house.” Hester Bromley sighed and turned from the picture window in the parlor. The late afternoon sun crept under the roof of the porch with its elegant gingerbread trim, through the white sheers, and past the large Boston fern on its ornate rosewood stand, leaving complex, elongated patterns on the parquet floor. “It’s good to see it restored with such care, isn’t it?”
“Now, Hester, we promised ourselves we would not do this. The new family will be here in a few minutes.” Esther Bromley ran her long, thin fingers across the newly restored oak mantle that held someone else’s family pictures; she turned away with a catch in her throat. “We shouldn’t be here. It’s wrong.”
Edwin Bromley, their father, had built the small brick Victorian before they were born. Their mother, Genevieve Bouvier Bromley, had died giving birth to them upstairs in the north bedroom. Everyone who’d known her said, with their chestnut hair, green eyes, and cupid bow mouths, the twins were the very image of her.
Although, no one would say that now. The years had taken their toll – on the sisters and on the house they had been removed from bodily, ten years previous, by their cousin, George.
“What’s the first Christmas you remember here?”
Hester thought for a moment. “I believe our third.”
“Oh, yes. Wasn’t the tree lovely? We went with Father and Nana to the country, just to select that lovely cedar.”
“I can still smell it. It seemed huge at the time.”
Hester turned. “And Nana showed us how to string popcorn for decorations. Father was so proud …” Her voice trailed away.
Esther sat down on the red velvet settee, with its carved mahogany frame, and primly smoothed the skirt of her long, faded black dress. “I’m so glad that nice young man kept the furniture.” She fingered the ivory cameo at her throat.
“Why, it would have cost a fortune to replace it these days. Do you think his wife will like it?” Hester brushed at a stubborn piece of lint on one of the matching tufted parlor chairs. “I do hope she’ll take good care of it.”
Esther glanced toward the small tree in the corner, hung with tiny lights and silver garlands. “Not very many presents, are there? I’m glad that young man found our Christmas angel.”
“I suppose they spent more money than they expected renovating the house. We did let it fall into disrepair over the years, what with father’s fortune gone to take care of him.”
Esther sighed. “What was your favorite Christmas?”
“The year we were ten. Don’t you think?”
“Ah, yes. Nana outdid herself that year. The perfectly crisped goose, the plum sauce.”
“And her mashed potatoes. Not a lump in that gravy either. I think it was Father’s favorite year, too.”
Esther looked away and rubbed her arms. “And the worst Christmas?”
“Any of the ones after we were teens. Father was always away somewhere. If it hadn’t been for Uncle John and his family, and Nana, of course, we’d have had no Christmas at all. It’s difficult to believe that horrible George was their son.”
“Nana told me, once, she thought Father stayed away during those years because we reminded him so much of Mother. And he couldn’t bear the pain.”
“Really? I never knew that.” Hester’s eyes brimmed with tears. “I thought he just quit loving us.”
“Oh, no, dear.” Esther patted her sister’s shoulder. “He always loved us. I think, after Mother died the way she did, he just had difficulty showing it. Poor Nana.”
“What do you mean, poor Nana?”
“Don’t you think Nana was in love with Father?”
“Esther! How could you? She was a common servant.”
“Not so common as you think. I heard she came from quite a good French family, though from the poorer side, of course. She could have gone back anytime, but she chose to stay and help us nurse him after the stroke. And I happen to know, she never took a penny of salary after he became sick. Although Father gave her some very nice presents all those Christmases.”
“He lived too long.”
Now it was Esther’s turn to gasp. “How can you say that?”
“Oh, I don’t begrudge the years we spent nursing him after Nana died. But, he was miserable after his second stroke. She had a way with him. And a merchant of his reputation and energy, left so helpless. As hard as we tried, I don’t think he ever had a happy day after she passed.”
“Neither did we.”
“Oh, sister.” Hester stood and walked to the mirror over the fireplace as Esther joined her. Identical twins, they had once been much sought after by the young gentlemen in their father’s wealthy circle . Now, they were a sad study in grays and blacks. Even the jade eyes had faded to a gray green. They turned away in disgust.
“We let life pass us by, didn’t we?” Esther grimaced. “Though, with Father requiring so much care, I don’t suppose we had a choice.”
Hester nodded. “I am ashamed to confess, Sister, I was relieved when Father passed.”
“I know. Even the house had become a burden.”
“Perhaps we should have let George sell it sooner. But we did have so many lovely years here.” Hester tilted her head in sudden anger. “He wound up with all of it anyway, that terrible man.”
“Now, now. He was Father’s only surviving male relative. As such, he was duty bound to take care of the house – and of us.”
“But to have us hauled out of here in such an undignified way … and to that awful place.”
“Well, we were quite –” Esther whirled around at the sound of steps on the porch. “They’re here. We must go!”
They sailed past the large dining room table and breakfront, into the kitchen as a key turned in the lock and the front door opened.
“Merry Christmas, sweetheart. I hope you like our new home.”
“Oh, Bill. It’s beautiful. You did a wonderful job of restoring it.”
The two sisters stopped and peered out at the brown haired woman who’d thrown her arms around her lanky husband’s neck.
“You really like it, Jennie?” He smiled down at her.
“Honey, when I think of what it looked like when we first saw it …” She smiled. “I love you.” She moved around the room, touching one piece of furniture and, then, another. “Where on earth did you find these?”
“They came with the house. They’d been stored in the attic. But they had good, heavy dust covers, so …”
“Well, all I can say is, the Bromleys had good taste.”
In the pantry, the two sisters smiled and grasped each other’s hand with delight.
Esther and Hester whirled around to see a dark haired girl of about seven smiling up at them.
“Who are you?” They whispered, in unison.
“Mary Kathleen Davis. But you can call me Kate. Everyone does. I was named after my two grandmothers.” She looked around the pantry. “Do you live here, too?”
The sisters looked at each other. “No, dear. We used to, but …” Hester stopped, not sure what to say.
“We just wanted one last look. But we’re leaving, now.” Esther assured her. “You won’t tell –”
“Kate? Where are you honey? We’re going to light the tree and open presents.”
The two sisters hurried to hide behind the door.
“In the kitchen, Mom.”
Jennie Davis entered the kitchen and peered through the pantry doorway, glancing around. “Who were you talking to?”
The sisters put a finger to their lips.
“No one. Just myself.”
“Well, come on, then. We’re ready to start.” She turned and walked back to the parlor.
The little girl gave the sisters a conspiratorial smile. “I won’t tell,” she whispered, as she ran to join her parents.
“We have to go,” Esther said. “Now.”
“Can’t we stay just a little longer?” Hester looked at her sister with such pleading in her eyes.
“I suppose we could just watch for a few more minutes. After all, no one will miss us.”
They gasped with delight as Bill Davis plugged in the tree and a hundred tiny colored lights reflected around the polished woods of the darkened room.
They clutched each other and smiled at the expressions of delight from each of the three family members as they opened their gifts.
At last, Jennie said, “How about some milk and cookies before bed?”
“I’ll get them, Mom.”
“Thank you, honey. Be careful pouring the milk.”
Kate bounced into the kitchen, and peered into the pantry. “Would you like some milk and cookies, too?”
“Oh, no, dear,” Hester said. “We really must be going.”
“But it was very kind of you to let us share your lovely Christmas,” Esther added.
Then, as Kate clapped her hands to her mouth and stifled a giggle, Esther pushed with her feet, rose, and disappeared through the pantry ceiling.
Oh, dear, Sister,” Hester, gave an awkward push and followed her. “I do wish you would learn to drift up the stairs like a proper ghost.”