By Alice Morgan
If you were stood outside a particular church in the early hours of Christmas morning, when the black sky was interwoven with stars and the winter wind was breathing down the back of your scarf, you may have heard the triumphant sound of an organ emitting through the old, stone walls. You may have heard the voices of a choir as they harmonised those beautiful notes of the traditional Christmas hymns written so long ago; the light from the huge arched windows casting a glow over where you stood on the cold pavement. And saints of times past watching over you from the stained glass.
The final hymn was sung and the people were leaving Midnight Mass, exchanging Christmas greetings. Peter, a tall man with black hair brushing over his eyes, carried his little girl on his shoulders, her red coat buttoned up to the top and a bobble hat bouncing along with every step her father took. Walking a few paces behind them were his wife Iris, a slim lady with long dark hair that fell around her shoulders and draped over the head of their sleeping baby boy in her arms.
‘I’m going to have a really big car for Christmas, Daddy,’ the little girl said as she held onto her father’s hair.
‘Are you, love?’
‘Yep. Father Christmas is bringing me one.’
‘Wish he’d bring me one.’
‘I’ll ask for one for you, Dad. He won’t mind.’
Peter smiled to himself as he lifted little Molly from his shoulders and put her into her car seat. Iris was shifting baby Leo uncomfortably from arm to arm as she attempted to place him in his car seat next to Molly until Peter took him from her and tucked him in safely. Iris smiled gratefully and slipped into the passenger seat.
‘Pete, can we put the heating on? It’s freezing!’ she said as she toggled with the buttons. In approval of her mother’s suggestion, Molly shivered overdramatically and Iris turned and winked at her. Peter climbed into the driver’s seat, adjusting the heating so that warm air blew onto their faces and demisted the windscreen. He rubbed his hands together quickly to try and thaw out the icicles that felt as though they were attached to his fingers. Iris wrapped her hands up in her scarf while Molly pretended to be a dragon, watching her breath float in front of her before it disappeared.
‘Do you know where I think we should go? Where no one else at all will be on Christmas morning?’ Iris asked Molly.
Molly shook her head while Peter looked on curiously.
‘The beach,’ Iris whispered excitedly. ‘We can have the whole place to ourselves and see the stars.’
‘Yeah!’ Molly replied.
Peter sighed to himself as he knew this was an argument he would not win. Turning the keys in the ignition, he put the car into gear and pulled away.
‘You’re crazy,’ he told his wife, smiling as he remembered this was the reason he had fallen in love with her.
And so they drove to Barry Island, abandoned as everyone else was either awaiting Santa or playing him. Peter took Molly out of the car while Iris stayed behind so as not to disturb ‘her sleeping lump of Leo.’ Molly held her father’s hand as they walked to the east end of the promenade and ran down onto the sand together. The only light upon the beach was thrown upon them from the stars above and the moonlight that shone on the sea. Molly ran away squealing while her father chased her and suddenly stopped when she came to the edge of the water, the tide trying to catch her little black shoes with its liquid fingers. Peter scooped her up, adamant that he wouldn’t let the crafty sea steal his little girl and ran around with her as she laughed uncontrollably and threw her head backwards.
‘Where do the stars live?’
‘In the sky. They look after you in the dark.’
‘Do they look after me when I’m sleeping then?’
‘Yep. So one day, if I’m not here, you won’t have to be scared ‘cos they’ll be watching you, see? And if you have nightmares, the stars will rummage through your head and pull all the bad dreams out, just like I do.’
Molly found this an extremely funny thing for a star to do and she wriggled out of her father’s arms and ran ahead of him, all the way to the west end, laughing and screaming. Suddenly she stopped and turned to him. Her face was very serious.
‘Dad? When are you not gonna be here?’
‘Never. Never, ever. I’m always going to be here.’
Molly grinned and ran back to her father’s open arms.
‘Good,’ she said, ‘I’d miss you very much if you weren’t here.’ She squeezed his face between her chubby little hands and put her face against his; her big blue eyes staring at him without blinking. Peter smiled and gave her a kiss.
‘Come on you, it’s too cold to stay out here. Let’s get you home and cosy, shall we?’ he said as she nodded and nuzzled her head into his neck.
He carried her back to the car and drove his little family home to their small terraced house. They had left the hallway light on and the warm glow invited them inside. From Molly’s bedroom window, she could see a small star shining in, looking after her. After Iris and Peter had changed the children into their pyjamas, they arranged their Christmas presents around the tree, sneaking some up to the bedroom to put in the children’s stockings. Safe in the knowledge the children would be truly happy to receive just what they wanted in the morning, they cuddled up next to their small coal fire.
Unlike the children, they would be not truly happy because of what they received. But because of what they already had.
Read more of Alice’s work at www.alicemariarose.com