The Bright­est Star

A favourite book is re­mem­bered in this gen­tle short story by Wendy Clarke.

The People's Friend Special - - HELPING OTHERS -

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

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