Let It Snow
AYE, it will be a white Christmas this year.” Danni stopped splashing through a puddle. There was no-one in sight.
She peeped over a garden wall. All she could see were shrubs thumped into submission with the rain that never seemed to let up.
She walked on cautiously, expecting to be ambushed by the voice again.
“You mark my words, a white Christmas.”
Danni stopped again and twirled round.
At the end of the school day, her classmates had all rushed from the class into waiting cars, even though the village wasn’t that big.
Her mum didn’t have a car. Besides, she was happy to walk; she was seven now, and her house was only along the road Nothing could possibly happen to her.
But Danni hadn’t considered a voice from nowhere.
She looked at the darkening sky.
“How do you know it will be a white Christmas?”
It seemed a reasonable question for her to ask, and she fully expected a reply. Especially as snow hadn’t been mentioned in any weather forecasts. Danni knew that, because snow for Christmas was what she longed for most. “What?”
Jacob appeared from a gap in the hedge.
He was in her class and lived at the edge of the village. Earlier, in the school playground, he had told everyone that he wanted a sledge for Christmas.
“You need snow for a sledge,” his pal had said.
“We’ll get snow,” Jacob had replied, “and when we do, I’ll take the sledge up the Braes.”
In spite of the scoffs, he’d held stubbornly to his belief.
“You said that we’ll get snow for Christmas,” Danni said. “I heard you.”
“No, I didn’t. I said it earlier.”
Danni opened her mouth to argue, then shut it. She was the new girl who wanted to fit in.
“Jacob!” An older boy, hunched in an anorak, kicked his way through the puddles towards them. “I told you to wait for me.”
“My brother,” Jacob murmured. “See you.”
Danni thought he was strange. She thought the village was strange.
As the rain dripped off the hood of her coat, Danni wished she was back in the flat above the café, where she could look down on the bright lights of the shops with all the shoppers flitting in and out.
The café was closed now. The couple that had owned it had retired.
She walked on and saw her mother standing at the gate waiting for her. Danni started to run to the one person she loved most in the world.
“Do you think it will ever stop raining?” Danni asked after tea.
It was only her and her mum, who said that Danni had been a gift from her father before he died.
When she’d first heard that story, Danni imagined herself in a box with a big ribbon and it had made her feel special.
Lisa, Danni’s best friend, had made her feel special, too. But lately when they Skyped each other, Lisa talked about her new friends. And the calls had become shorter.
“Poor baby,” her mum said, giving her a hug. “You haven’t seen the best of this place, have you?”
Danni shrugged. Her mum had come back to her roots; she belonged here. People stopped and spoke to her, and Danni’s granny and grandpa lived nearby.
Danni had been brought up on the stories from her mum’s childhood: the piggery where a pig broke loose and went feral, the woods where deer lived, Old Mags in his workshop and the sledging on the Braes.
Was Jacob right when he told Danni they would have a white Christmas? She hoped so!
It was this last bit that had excited her. Snow in the town lasted only hours before turning to slush. In the village, the snow could become so deep that they’d be cut off.
It reminded her of illustrations in picture books. The magic of it touched something deep inside her, and for some reason, she thought the snow would bring with it a sense of belonging.
“I will when it snows,” she told her mum. “Jacob says that it’s going to snow.”
With her words came a conviction that Jacob was right.
She looked out for him over the next few days. He was her touchstone to what could be.
At first she kept well back, but gradually she joined in his games of floating sticks down the water in the overflowing gutters and jumping the dubs.
“Dub.” She tested the word out loud. It was Jacob’s word for a puddle.
She was learning a whole new language and a way of being. Playing with the elements rather than sheltering from them.
Sometimes, Morgan, who sat next to her in class, joined in.
Morgan was cast as Mary in the school nativity, while she and Jacob were the donkey. Sometimes Morgan would go off in a huff as they teased her about her star role.
But still there was no snow.
Danni missed the smell of cinnamon wafting through the floor from the café below, where her mum had worked; the car lights which strobed her bedroom at night; Lisa’s laughter as she tried to tell a joke.
Sometimes she would wake up in the night and feel the empty silence around her and look into a darkness so complete that she felt like the only person in the world.
It was after such a night that Danni went in for the last day of school with a heavy heart.
Lately Lisa hadn’t picked up her Skype calls. She had moved on.
“What’s wrong with your face?” Jacob asked.
“Nothing,” she replied, then added, “Butt out, Jacob!”
“Oh,” he said to some of the other boys. “Get that!”
They teased her then, and in their teasing there was an edge of cruelty.
Danni, used to the ways of a much bigger school, held her own – until Jacob walked away.
Morgan tossed her hair and hissed.
Then she linked her arm through Danni’s and they headed for the classroom.
By lunchtime the weather had grown colder. The sheep huddled in the shelter of a drystone dyke and, cudding on hay, lifted their heads to the sharp edge of the wind.
Danni swung on the field gate and watched them.
“Is it going to snow?” she shouted to them, but the wind snatched her words away.
Danni walked home slowly, thinking of Christmas. It would be different this year. Quiet.
“Mum,” she asked later that day. “Do you miss the café?”
“Yes, very much,” she replied, brushing Danni’s dark hair back from her face. “But when Gran and Grandpa come we want to show you something.” “What?”
“Wait and see.” Danni could feel her mother’s excitement.
When her grandparents arrived, Danni and her mum went to meet them at the train station.
Dusk was settling and a film of ice covered the puddles, reflecting the street lights.
They stopped in front of an old cottage with some slates missing from its roof.
“This,” her mum said, “used to be Old Mags’s workshop.”
Old Mags was her grandpa’s daddy, but he’d died before she was born. To Danni he was just a story, and it took her a moment to realise that he had once been a flesh and blood person.
As her grandpa opened the door, she almost expected him to jump out. Gnarled and old, like something out of a fairy tale.
“Come in,” her grandpa said, rubbing and blowing on his cold hands.
Danni’s eyes were wide. This place spoke of secrets and times past.
Her mum took her hand. “Danni, this is going to be our new café,” she said with a strange wobble to her voice.
Danni looked to her mother to see if it was a joke, but she could tell that it wasn’t.
Suddenly Danni didn’t see the cobwebs, bare lightbulbs, scarred work benches, ancient tools and shoe lasts.
Instead, she could almost hear the burr of the grinder, and the banging, clanking, humming and gurgling of the coffee machine. She could see the deft hands laying out the coffee cups, sprinkling the chocolate and slipping pastries on to plates.
“A café,” she repeated in wonder.
Jacob could come with his brother and parents – if he was still speaking to her. Morgan, too. Maybe even her teacher and all the people who spoke to her mum at the village shop.
The possibilities were endless. A café in a village where a voice spoke to you out of nowhere and promised snow.
Later that evening, snow did come. But it tantalised and teased and melted like one of her mum’s meringues on her gloved fingers.
On Christmas Day, when Danni woke early, there was a light and hushed quality to the morning. She rushed to the window.
Outside was a blanket of deep white snow, rutted on the road into knife-like flicks of icing on a Christmas cake. Even the telephone wire hung heavy with snow.
The voice had been right – it was a white Christmas.
“You were right, Jacob!” she squealed when he came to show her his blue sledge on Boxing Day. “We’ve got snow. Lots of it!”
“Of course we’ve got snow,” he replied, smiling at her excitement.
He was with his parents and she and her mum went with them to the Braes. Other families were there, too, as was Morgan.
Some of the children had real sledges, others had trays, and some, like herself, used a bin liner. It was very effective and Danni squealed her delight.
It was as she was trudging back up the hill that she heard the voice again.
“See, lass, I told you it would snow.”
Danni stopped and cocked her head. It was the voice of the old man.
Jacob and Morgan came puffing up behind her.
“Did you hear that?” she asked. “I think Old Mags, my grandpa’s daddy, spoke to me.”
“Old Mags the cobbler?” Morgan asked. “But isn’t he dead?”
“Aye, lass,” Jacob said, “so he be. Dead as a dodo.” Danni stared at him. “What did you say?” Jacob, with a wicked grin, repeated himself.
“Didn’t you know that Jacob is a great mimic and can throw his voice?” Morgan added in complete innocence.
“Jacob! I’ll kill you!” But Jacob was already running, his breath billowing out like steam from a coffee machine.
Danni, unable to catch him, pelted him with snowballs under the snow-laden sky.
Then she ran out of steam and just sank down into the snow.
She started to laugh as more and more thick flakes of snow fell upon her upturned face. ■
Danni’s eyes were wide. This place spoke of secrets and times past