Ev­ery Cloud

Grace was de­ter­mined that every­one would look on the bright side this Christ­mas . . .

The People's Friend - - News - by Chris­tine Bryant

ASTRAY snowflake melted on Grace’s warm cheek as she stepped on to Mar­ket Street that morn­ing.

Was that snow? She looked up, blink­ing with de­light into an­other lit­tle flurry of flakes. It was!

The snow in­creased steadily as she crossed the road and turned off down Par­adise Lane.

The chil­dren will be pleased, she thought.

As she walked along, Grace thought about chil­dren.

Not only her daugh­ter, Sheila, now in her thir­ties and with chil­dren of her own, but all the other chil­dren. The hun­dreds she’d looked after over the years of her long ca­reer as a head­teacher, and the new lit­tle ones she met in the play­ground when­ever she col­lected her grand­son, Rudy.

They would all love a white Christ­mas.

Sheila had asked her to col­lect Rudy that af­ter­noon, which ex­plained the iced bun she’d made sure of buy­ing in the baker’s. It nes­tled in her bag along­side some crusty rolls.

Grace smiled to her­self. Rudy was al­ways hun­gry, bless him. In her ex­pe­ri­ence, chil­dren usu­ally were.

The crusty rolls were for Barry, her neigh­bour.

Barry Matthews had him­self been a teacher, though not at the same school as Grace.

He had taught at the lo­cal gram­mar school, and over the years he and Grace had met of­ten on var­i­ous cour­ses.

Grace wasn’t sure who was the more sur­prised when she re­tired to the lit­tle bun­ga­low in Mount Close and found Barry liv­ing just a few hun­dred yards away.

They be­came good friends and of­ten popped in to each other for a cup of tea, but this week Grace was do­ing all the vis­it­ing. A fall from his bi­cy­cle had left Barry with a sprained an­kle.

In be­tween hob­bling about with a stick, he’d been sit­ting star­ing mo­rosely at the floor, get­ting de­pressed.

To­day, in an ef­fort to cheer him up, Grace planned to sur­prise him with lunch.

“Only me,” she called, let­ting her­self in.

“Morn­ing, pet,” he replied.

He of­ten called her that, and though she pre­tended she didn’t like it, she ac­tu­ally found it rather en­dear­ing.

He sounded pos­i­tive, at least, Grace thought, as she turned into the kitchen and switched on the ket­tle.

“How’s the foot?” she called.

Barry was sit­ting by the fire, look­ing de­jected. So much for pos­i­tive.

“Not too bad,” he said wearily.

“Good, good.”

He gave a long sigh. “It’s not,” he said. “I’ve just got to face facts, Grace. I’m get­ting old.”

His shoul­ders lifted in a heavy shrug.

“I don’t know what I was think­ing of, putting my name down for that half marathon.”

Grace made no com­ment about his en­ter­ing a half marathon at the age of seventy. Seventy was the new sixty, wasn’t it? Or was that fifty? Pity no-one had told her hips.

Barry kept him­self very fit. Grace had no doubt he would not only fin­ish, but also fin­ish in good time.

“It’s only De­cem­ber,” she said. “You’re not run­ning it un­til spring. Plenty of time for your an­kle to mend.” He shook his head. “There’s some­thing else. I don’t know if I’ve men­tioned it, but I promised I’d play Santa for the lit­tle ones at the play­group.”

“Re­ally?” She fixed her gaze on his stub­bly chin. “That’s very nice of you, Barry. You’ve cer­tainly got the hair for it.”

His hair was thick and wavy, and com­pletely white. He ran a hand through it, laugh­ing.

“I have, haven’t I? That’s what Mrs Jef­fries at the play­group said. I’d hired my­self a beard and ev­ery­thing. Not that it mat­ters now.”

He sighed again. Grace closed her eyes. This de­featist at­ti­tude was so un­like him.

“I can’t help you there, I’m afraid, Barry. The kids wouldn’t be happy with Mrs Claus.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” He smiled at her. “I think you’d make a very fetch­ing Mrs Claus.”

“Praise in­deed.” She laughed. “Eat up your lunch.”

****

“Yes, that’s right, Mrs Gra­ham.”

Grace looked at Rudy’s teacher. Miss Clovelly was young and pro­gres­sive, with a pink streak in her hair and the sort of ear­rings that would have been strictly off lim­its in days gone by.

But Grace knew a good teacher when she saw one, and the chil­dren clearly adored her.

“Oh, I see,” Grace said. “I wasn’t sure Rudy had it right when he told me he was a cloud in the na­tiv­ity play. He’s a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed.”

Miss Clovelly crouched down to

talk to Rudy.

“It’s an in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant part. There weren’t only kings and shep­herds and an­i­mals to wor­ship at the birth of baby Je­sus.

“There were trees and flow­ers, birds and clouds in the sky. The clouds were right next to the Star of Beth­le­hem!”

Rudy bright­ened a lit­tle. Stand­ing up, Miss Clovelly leaned closer to Grace.

“We have rather a large in­take this year.”

Grace nod­ded. If any­one knew about Christ­mas plays, she did. “I un­der­stand.” Tak­ing Rudy by the hand, she walked away.

She did un­der­stand, and if the po­si­tions were re­versed, she’d be re­as­sur­ing Miss Clovelly in just the same way. Still, Rudy was down­cast.

“It’ll be fun,” Grace said as they walked home. “Clouds are very im­por­tant. With­out clouds, we wouldn’t have rain, and then where would we be?”

“I know,” he said. “But I wanted a shiny crown like Jake and Rus­sell. And all the girls have got sparkly wings. It’s not fair.”

Slip­ping a hand into her bag, Grace pulled out the iced bun and passed it to him.

“Never mind, love,” she said. “We’ll make you a nice cos­tume.”

At home, Rudy stomped across her lawn mak­ing first foot­prints and they spent a happy time build­ing snow­men be­fore go­ing in for din­ner.

“It’s snow­ing again, Nan!” Rudy was at the win­dow, nose pressed against the pane, watch­ing as the flakes flut­tered down.

“When I was a child,” Grace said, “I used to love look­ing up into the snowflakes.”

Rudy rushed for his boots.

“Let’s do that, Nan!” Grace just had time to slip on his coat and a coat of her own be­fore he darted out into the back gar­den. The snow­fall was steady now in thick, heavy flakes.

She and Rudy man­aged to keep their eyes open long enough to stare up into the down­pour. Flakes flut­tered pret­tily on to their faces and they felt drawn up­wards, al­most lifted into the sky.

Grace felt full of won­der. How beau­ti­ful it was . . .

“Oh, my good­ness, of course!” she said sud­denly. “The very thing!”

****

Later that evening, when the house was still, Grace sat cut­ting and stick­ing, sew­ing and trim­ming, un­til a cloud was born.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, she popped in to see Barry, who was still in the dol­drums.

“You were re­ally look­ing for­ward to play­ing Santa, weren’t you?”

“D’you know, I was,” he said. “Truth is, I miss the kids. But with this an­kle and now this lot . . .”

He nod­ded his head to­wards the car­pet of snow out­side.

“Lovely for the kids, I know, but there’s no way I can get about in it.” Grace shook her head. “You’re so right, Barry,” she said brightly. “You can’t be too care­ful at your age. You’d bet­ter stay in­doors.”

She passed him some tea very gin­gerly, as though the cup were made of glass.

“Care­ful now.” Barry looked at her steadily, then laughed.

“Point taken. But what am I go­ing to do about the kids, Grace?”

He glanced out of the win­dow.

“I’d have made a great Santa, as well. Look at those clouds; there’s more on the way.”

“We’ve seen worse snow. That’s just a dust­ing.” She squeezed his arm.

“Come on, Barry, it’s not like you to give up. My Sheila’s of­fered to drive you. Santa ar­riv­ing in the snow? The kids will love it!

“Then we can pick you up later and take you to Rudy’s re­hearsal with us.”

“Re­ally?” Barry’s face lit up. “That’s good of her. Of course, all the kids will ask about my an­kle.”

“I’m sure you’ll think of some­thing. We’ll put a Christ­mas sock on it. And we can dec­o­rate your walk­ing stick.”

Barry leaned across and kissed her cheek.

“You’re an an­gel.”

****

Later that af­ter­noon, Grace sat be­tween Barry and Sheila in the hall at Rudy’s school. Barry was in a com­fort­able seat on the end of the row, with his foot propped on a cush­ion.

“I for­got to ask,” Grace whis­pered as the chil­dren filed in. “What did you tell the kids about your an­kle?”

“That’s the funny thing,” he whis­pered back. “When I first hob­bled in they were all ter­ri­bly shy. I don’t think Santa is sup­posed to have a ban­daged foot and a walk­ing stick!

“Then I told them the story of how Ru­dolph was try­ing to help and ac­ci­den­tally trod on my toes as I was putting the presents in the sleigh. They ab­so­lutely loved it!”

A hush fell over the hall as the dress re­hearsal got un­der­way and the chil­dren gath­ered around the edge of the stage, wait­ing for their cue.

Fid­gety kings tugged at their crowns and min­gled with the shep­herds, while Joseph and Mary squab­bled over which of them should hold baby Je­sus.

Be­hind them, two fluffy sheep bobbed up and down, wav­ing wildly at the au­di­ence.

The don­key, al­ready perched on the stage, swung its hooves steadily back and forth.

Noth­ing changes, Grace thought, chuck­ling. She turned her at­ten­tion to the back of the stage, where an ex­cited Rudy had al­ready taken his place, stand­ing be­tween two other clouds on a wooden block.

So far, so good: there were no leak­ing joints or way­ward seams. All was well with the cos­tume, Grace noted with re­lief.

She’d had a quiet word with Miss Clovelly when they’d ar­rived and hope­fully it would be OK, but noth­ing was cer­tain.

The hall buzzed with ex­cite­ment and the story of Christ­mas be­gan.

Half­way through the re­hearsal, a burst of heav­enly cho­ral mu­sic filled the air, and down the cen­tre aisle sev­eral beau­ti­ful an­gels shuf­fled their way for­ward, pulling ner­vously at their cos­tumes and wav­ing shyly at their par­ents.

They clam­bered on to the stage and kneeled down, jostling with each other for room.

Grace waited with bated breath.

The mu­sic rose, and then, as the an­gels shone in all their glory, Rudy pulled on a tape, re­leas­ing a lit­tle piece of the card­board cos­tume which

“I wanted a shiny crown like Jake and Rus­sell”

flew open, send­ing a cas­cade of sil­ver stars flut­ter­ing on to the scene be­low.

The chil­dren squealed in de­light at the un­ex­pected shower, and it was sev­eral mo­ments be­fore they could re­store or­der.

Grace glanced rather sheep­ishly at Miss Clovelly.

“Ev­ery cloud has a sil­ver lin­ing,” she said.

Miss Clovelly smiled. “It was a lovely idea. A shower of stars to cel­e­brate the in­fant’s birth –won­der­ful! Now, how quickly can you make two more?” ■

The chil­dren gath­ered around the stage, wait­ing for their cue

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.