THE PERFECT PRESENT
A poignant message from long ago offers a whole new perspective for an anxious newlywed hostess…
The envelope lay unopened in my palm, a curled and yellowing square with all the fragility of winter’s breath. “What a place to put a letter,” I mused aloud, looking sideways at the plain metal box where it had lain.
“You’d be surprised what some folk hide up chimneys,” said the expert I’d called in to clean the fireplace of our new home, currently on his knees in the hearth, head cocked, as he re-hung a soot sheet across the cavern. I frowned. “Must have been something important, surely, to be in a fireproof box.”
“Well, whatever, it’s your property now, lass.” The sweep gestured to the neat vacuum he was about to power up. “Cover your ears. This could get noisy.”
Setting the envelope back in its box, I turned to watch decades of soot and dust get sucked up from the hearth. Then I got down on the rug so the methodical Mr Mallard could show me how to lay kindling and wood (apple, for that extra-special smell), so that we’d get the best blaze for the rest of the winter.
Later, I stood back and watched flames lick at the logs with a glow of triumph. This was just what we’d wanted, Simon and me. This cosy, oldfashioned setting in a home of our own. It was why we’d saved so long and hard after an extremely small wedding, and lived in my parents’ caravan for months. But boy, it had been worth waiting for.
Now if only everything else could be as perfect for our first Christmas together as husband and wife, just two weeks away, life would be so sweet.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a Mr Mallard round every corner to help make that happen.
Reluctantly, I left the golden hearth to go and finish dinner. Away from its warmth, I could feel a cold finger of fear.
This was the first festive season Simon had spent away from his mother, a woman whose cooking and organisational skills were the stuff a new wife’s nightmares were made of. I couldn’t bear it if all the while we were here in our love nest, Simon was wishing he was at his parents’, filling up on his mother’s turkey.
Besides the crushing disappointment I’d feel, there’d be the question of whether I could ever live up to expectations, and the marriage would be doomed.
I wasn’t about to let that happen; I loved Simon so much. So I had to find a way to improve my limited skills in the kitchen and create a festive ambience worthy of Charles Dickens. Oh – and buy my husband the perfect present to be waiting under the tree on Christmas morning, all in two weeks.
Nothing too challenging, then.
It was not until I was huddled up with Simon and a glass of Shiraz on the sofa after dinner, dreamily watching the flames finally fade to grey, that I remembered the letter in the box.
“Open it up,” Simon urged. “Let’s see.”
With due reverence to its age, I peeled back the flap and drew forth a note written in a neat, youthful hand.
“DearFatherChristmas,sir,” I read aloud. “Thisyear,Idon’taskfordollsor anewskippingrope.AllIreallywantis Bartie.If youcouldfindhimandsend himhome,itwouldbethebest Christmaspresentever.
“IdohopethattheNorthPoleis nottoochilly. “Yoursfaithfully, CecilyAnnDent.” “Well, look at that,” Simon murmured. “A note to Father Christmas, stuck up the chimney. Clever girl, knowing he’d find it on his way down! Is there anything you might fancy for a gift yourself, by the way?”
“I was about to ask you the same
“I wonder if Father Christmas really did exist for her that year”
thing,” I said abstractedly. I couldn’t drag my eyes from the carefully formed letters, now faded a little with the passage of time.
I could picture the young Miss Dent – in ringlets and starched apron, I imagined – writing her request in this very parlour one Christmas past.
“I wonder how old this note is, and who Bartie was.”
“A treasured teddy bear, perhaps,” Simon suggested as he set me gently aside to head for the kitchen. “Or a lost dog, maybe. As to age, it could be any time this past century, I’d say. Do you fancy a cup of tea while you wonder?”