The Brightest Star
A favourite book is remembered in this gentle short story by Wendy Clarke.
It was Adam’s favourite story, but his dad wasn’t there to read it to him . . .
EMILY brushed Adam’s dark hair away from his forehead. “Night, darling. Sleep tight and don’t let –” “The bed bugs bite!” Adam finished for her.
Reaching out a Spiderman-covered arm, he held up three fingers.
“Only three more days, Mummy, and then Christmas will be here.”
“Don’t you mean Father Christmas?” she asked. bending to kiss her son’s cheek.
Adam turned to face the wall, pulling the duvet up so it covered his face.
“No, just Christmas.” Emily’s heart contracted. She knew she should ask why he’d said that but, fearing his reply, she didn’t.
Above their heads, a mobile gently spun. It was one she hung up every Christmas from a hook that her husband, Tom, had fixed to the ceiling.
Three shining silver stars and one large golden one, hanging lower than the others. They glinted when they caught the light from the lamp.
“The brightest star,” Tom used to say, as he gently blew on it to make it turn.
“Would you like me to read you another story, Adam?”
They’d already had three, but Emily didn’t want to go downstairs. It would just be another evening the same as the one before: she’d close the curtains against the night sky and flick through the usual Christmas films and reruns of old sitcoms.
She sighed. Without Tom, things that she’d once enjoyed held little pleasure.
“Can I have a Christmas one?”
“If you like.” Reaching up, Emily pulled a book from the shelf above the bed. It had Father Christmas on its cover. “What about the one where Santa gets stuck in the chimney?” Adam shook his head.
“No, not that one.”
“Why not? I thought it was your favourite?”
“It’s not.” He folded his arms and his bottom lip trembled. “I hate it. It’s stupid.”
“You liked it last year.” Picking the book up,
Adam threw it across the bed.
“Father Christmas isn’t even real!”
Emily watched in surprise as a tear slid down his cheek.
“Adam, sweetheart, what’s the matter?” It broke her heart to see her son cry.
His reply was so quiet, Emily could hardly hear it.
“I wish Santa was my dad.”
Emily quickly blinked away tears.
In the past it had been Tom who filled Adam’s stocking, but not this year. This year, she would be the one creeping into the darkened bedroom and placing the bulging stocking at the foot of the bed, hoping her son wouldn’t wake.
Tom would be with his parents, making plans for a new life without them.
Emily lay down next to her son.
“You wouldn’t want a dad like Santa. He’d have a long white beard and a big belly.”
Adam turned to look at her, his lashes wet.
“Yes, but Santa’s always there on Christmas morning. Wherever you are, or whatever you’ve done. Briony said that he came even when she was in Australia visiting her auntie.”
Struggling to keep her emotions in check, Emily forced a smile.
“Your presents will be here on Christmas morning, just like always, Adam.”
“But Daddy won’t be.” Emily pulled Adam to her. All the presents in the world wouldn’t make up for the fact that Tom wouldn’t be there.
The agreement was that he’d see Adam on Boxing Day. It had seemed the right decision at the time.
“I want the story about the star.” Her son’s voice broke into her thoughts.
“We don’t have that one, Adam. It’s from the book of Christmas stories at Granny Tessa’s.”
In the past few years, in