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July 26, 2020

Boxing Day in July: A Not-Quite-Fruitless Christmas Tale, By Linda McMullen


To solve our little problem, my husband, Tom, had proposed consulting a witch, or planting barleycorns a peasant woman offered us—but those ideas accorded ill with my notion of what was due God, so I dissuaded him. I reminded him that we had one another, and we had our bakery to look after.

 

Tom rejoined, “And who will look after us when we grow old?”

 

A month came and went, then a year, then another, and our family size stalled at two. Tom’s mouth tightened a little more each time I shook my head: the anti-annunciation. But he gamely attempted to recover his golden-rulebook and produce a smile. “Better luck next year?”

 

“We had best finish packing,” I said. We planned to visit Tom’s parents, and our horse and buggy stood ready in the yard. Tom let loose a very un-Christmas-y exclamation.

 

The journey stretched for hours. We passed travelers walking, travelers riding, most of them calling “Merry Christmas!”  When we stopped for lunch at an inn, we found several young mothers tending their infants, who wailed in three-part harmony. But each rebuffed my efforts to help. I hid my hurt.


Finally, we arrived. Tom’s parents clapped him on the back, paused, shook my hand. But hugs, kisses, and exclamations rained down when Tom’s sister Mary turned up with her husband, her brood of four, and a fifth blessing in progress.

 

Tom’s mother, a grandma of the first rank and (of course) a baker’s wife herself, had treats ready for the children to decorate on arrival. I helped Mary’s eldest three create their gingerbread boys and girls while their mother and the youngest napped. “You will surely want to do this with your own little ones someday,” Tom’s mother said. I helped the eldest child adjust his gingerbread man’s buttons.

 

Tom’s father stopped to observe our progress.

 

“You’ll be a wonderful mother,” he said finally.

 

I made a noncommittal noise.

 

“You and Tom have been married—eight years?”

 

“Nine.”

 

“Nine,” he repeated, drawing out the word, his tone barren.

 

The eldest child saved me the trouble of replying by spilling the dyed crystals, dusting us all in blood-red sugar.

 

I called upon the Lord, to bear me strength.


The children hurried outside to enjoy the falling snow. I helped Tom’s mother prepare the evening meal, and hung the children’s stockings by the fireplace, and led the entire family in carols on that cold Christmas Eve. After the children went to bed, Tom’s sister Mary said, “Sister, you have been a blessing in helping with the children today… when shall you have your own?  What are you waiting for?”

 

“A sign?” I choked out.

 

“Really, sister—” she continued, blithely.

 

“Really,” I agreed.

 

“But—”

 

“Can you not take a hint?” I demanded. Mary had the gall to look affronted. I stormed out of the room.

 

Christmas Day dawned clear and cold, but our pew remained somewhat subdued. I nursed my grudge tenderly until the choir began my favorite carol. Then, only then, I unbent enough to allow the loveliness to resound through me.

 

And then...

 

Possibly…

 

It might have been a trick of the light. I certainly couldn’t credit my own eyes.

 

But up, far over the altar, near the shadowed ceiling, a carven angel seemed to tilt her head toward me—and nod.


***


Bio: Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over 60 literary magazines, including Drunk Monkeys, Storgy, and Newfound.

7 comments:

  1. Very touching. Nice story, Linda

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  2. I love the sign that comes at the end of the story and the contrast between the fruitful sister and the narrator. I actually found out I was pregnant with my second son on Christmas Eve (many years ago), so this story was beautiful to me!

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  3. A sweet story. I love how the relationships between the family members are revealed with just a look or spoken word. Lovely ending.

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  4. A charming story, with a great historic nod :).

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