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'Twas the Week Before Christmas: The Red Scarf

The second story in our holiday series, 'Twas the Week Before Christmas, is by Coquitlam writer Danielle Bauer.

For Bennett....

It was Christmas Eve again and it was cold — very cold — but there was no sign of snow just yet. Cold or not, I shuffled through the park to the old bench where I often came to feed the birds. I chuckled, thinking that tonight, I was their Santa Claus. I had dressed for the occasion, red scarf and all, which I clumsily adjusted around my neck. The poor old thing had seen better days. It was a Christmas gift from my mother that had somehow managed to survive all these years. While I gently thumbed the soft yarn, I imagined her nimble fingers passing over each stitch as she lovingly knit it. I was older now than she’d ever been. It was hard to comprehend but there was no denying that I had become an old man — an old man sitting on a park bench, surrounded by his birds. “Well, at least I’m not all alone on Christmas Eve,” I shrugged, turning my attention back to the flock of impatient avians that had gathered around me.

A sudden motion startled my companions, sending them up and away in a tornado of flapping and feathers. Spotting the culprit, my brow furrowed. “Hmm,” I grumbled. It was a young boy wielding a stick like the conductor of an invisible orchestra, his parents following a few steps behind. My frustration evaporated the moment I saw his face. He was beaming — eyes wide and a smile that stretched from ear to ear. I gave a wink when he glanced my way. He stared back rather quizzically, returned a shy smile and without missing a beat, marched on, his stick waving even more wildly than before.

The boy and his parents continued down the path and my birds returned cautiously, one by one. As I scattered handfuls of seeds, my mind drifted back to the little family and I felt the tugging of some vague, distant memory from my childhood. Lost in thought, unblinking, I stared off into space. My vision blurred and my hearing seemed muffled. The sounds around me were lower — slower. Then, everything fell silent. Like floodgates being opened, every treasured Christmas memory rushed back to me and somehow, a single, magical thread bound them all tightly into the present. Yet, more than memories — suddenly, I was a child again and filled with all the wonder and delight of Christmas.  I was actually there, sitting on my father’s knee next to our Christmas tree. We swayed gently as my mother’s angelic voice sang, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” It was my favourite.

A distant voice whispered to me. “Not now,” I pleaded.

Again the voice called, this time a little louder, “Sir…? Um, sir…?” and a small hand reached out towards me. Unconsciously, I moved to meet it with my own —except that wasn’t my hand! It was the hand of an old man, withered and wrinkled! I desperately longed to stay with my mother and father but the vision abruptly vanished. With a jarring start, I came back to reality, recognizing my own old hand.

“Sir, you dropped this,” the little boy from earlier was thrusting something towards me, an endearing look of worry on his face.

It was beginning to get dark. “I must have dozed off,” I mumbled.

“Are you okay?” he asked kind-heartedly. “I like your red scarf. I have one too!” he chattered while passing me my walking stick, which I must have dropped. Before I could say a word, he darted away to rejoin his parents, his father offering me a polite nod.

I waved clumsily and mouthed, “Thanks.”

Dusk had settled over the park but my surroundings were anything but gloomy. The colourful glow of Christmas lights illuminated many of the nearby houses. Not far off, I could make out the boy and his parents approaching one of them. It was adorned with a myriad of dazzling, multicoloured bulbs.

An icy gust of wind reminded me that it was time to head home. “Just a little longer,” I convinced myself. I tossed more seeds until my hands were so cold that even my breath couldn’t warm them. “I really should be going now,” I muttered to one bird in particular, who looked back at me with a peculiar, knowing expression. Reaching for the last handful of seeds in my pocket, something soft tickled my nose. Snow! The sight of a million gleaming snowflakes took my breath away. “A Christmas miracle,” I marvelled. Soundlessly, the flakes danced — swirling in the lamplight, a hush having descended over the park. Smiling, I closed my eyes and drew in a long, deep breath. I wanted to remember this moment.

At the sound of approaching footsteps, I opened my eyes and was surprised to find the same family from earlier. The boy’s parents gently nudged their son in my direction. I looked at him curiously. He reached for my hand and said, “Come on! It’s time to go.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had nowhere to be this Christmas. “Come with me!” he insisted. Surprising myself, I obliged the child and took his tiny, outstretched hand. He led me back toward his parents, who greeted me cheerfully and together, we started in the direction of their house.

From their porch, I heard the sound of Christmas carols playing within. Swept up in the moment, I followed the family inside. I was greeted by the inviting scent of fir boughs and fresh gingerbread. The warmth of the room seemed to thaw my numb fingers and toes in an instant. As I looked around to take in my surroundings, I overheard the boy’s mother say, “Please take your shoes off, George.”

“How about that?” I thought with vain amusement, “Another George, like me.” Glancing around for the boy, who was now nowhere to be seen, I turned back to my hostess, gave a little shrug and bent down to remove my own shoes. “What in the world…?” I gasped. Entwined in my fingers were the laces of impossibly small boots — the sort I wore as a child. It didn't make any sense. “What… is… happening…?” I faltered.

“Come on now my Georgie. Santa will be here soon,” she continued. Bewildered, I looked back at the boy’s mother.

The air shimmered.

No, not the boy’s mother… my… “Mommy…?” The word came out in a slow, astonished whisper. My mouth fell open and I could feel my heartbeat pounding in my ears. Not wanting to take my eyes off her, I managed to tug off my little boots, revealing equally tiny sock feet. My hands, I discovered, were soft with slightly plump little fingers, which I wiggled in delight. I looked back up. “Thank goodness,” I sighed in relief. She was still there.

She beamed and reached for me, “It’s time, my love.” Without a moment’s hesitation, I took her outstretched hand and felt the warmth of her arms as they encircled me. “Ah, you’re still wearing that old scarf,” she tutted, nuzzling me gently on the cheek. I wrapped my arms tightly around her neck, breathing in the scent of her perfume.

Mommy carried me upstairs and I forgot all about the park and my birds. My only thoughts were of her, Daddy, and that Santa would be here soon. Tucked into bed, sleep came easily as her voice softly sang,

“Christmas Eve will find me, where the love light gleams.I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

* * *

It was Christmas Eve again, and it was cold — very cold. The snow had just begun to fall.

Brad and I were strolling through the park after dinner, clutching each other — and our hot chocolate — tightly for warmth. Up ahead, we noticed the familiar figure of the old man who came to feed the birds.

“Clara…?” he began, lifting his chin to point in the man’s direction, “He’s here a bit late, huh?” Brad took a gulp from his mug and blew out a long, exaggerated breath, “Haaaaaah.”

“Brrr!” I shivered aloud and took my own greedy sip before agreeing, “You’re right. He’s usually gone home by now.”

Nearing the bench where the man sat, I could see that his scarf had fallen off on one side and lay puddled next to him on the seat. Nestled in the soft, red yarn was a curious little bird who appeared to be keeping him company. The man’s eyes were closed and he wore a tender smile that suggested he was having a pleasant dream. His open hand, full of seeds, lay perfectly still on his lap.

Brad whispered, “We should wake him,” each softly spoken word blowing little puffs of breath into the cold air. I looked back at the old man…

That’s when I realized.

“There’s no need,” I whispered back, squeezing Brad’s hand.

We stayed with him until help came—so did the little bird in the red scarf.

Do you have an original short story for our 'Twas the Week Before Christmas series? Email it (and photos) to [email protected].