A Christmas Homecoming


20 December 2022
The festive season can be a lonely time for some, but joy can come in the most unexpected way. A short story by Lynne King.

Edith glanced down at the fireside rug. Sighing heavily, she thought of all the Christmases in years gone by. She so missed her cat Henry’s company; of having someone to care for.

Giggling voices followed by an out of tune Christmas carol broke her melancholy. Rising up from the armchair, she made her way to the hallway and stooped unsteadily by the door curtain while she listened to the chorus of Little Star in Bethlehem. A small smile followed. Gathering up some loose change from the telephone table, she opened the door.

“Merry Christmas, Mrs Jones,” said the man followed by, “Happy Christmas,” from young voices surrounding him. In each child’s arms was a carefully wrapped parcel.

Stepping forward, a dark-haired girl held out her present: “This is for you. I packed it myself and put your favourite biscuits in because mummy said how sad you are now that Henry’s gone to heaven.”

“That’s very kind of you, Lisa…” Edith replied as she dabbed the corner of her eyes with her handkerchief.

“I think it helps the children understand that Christmas is about giving and not just receiving,” said the man. Once under the light of the hallway, she noted the white collar above his dark jumper. This was the new vicar Lisa’s mother had spoken about.

“Thank you,” she smiled. “Would you be kind enough to allow the children to sing one more carol?”

‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ drifted across the gardens.

A group stepped out from a pub, pulling scarves tighter around their necks, hands buried into pockets. Giggling and kissing each other on the cheeks, their breath hung in the air.

In the darkened shadows, wide, frightened eyes stared out.

“Look over there,” one of the revellers cried out.

“He looks half starved, poor thing,” another voice responded.

Backing further into the shadows, he skulked away as if fearing their presence and trusting no one. He had no experience other than around the streets he knew as his home, it was his only security. It was back to this place that he finally came.

The ground glistened with sugar white frost as he made his way stealthily up the path. A light seemingly reached out as his pace hastened towards the patio windows. The curtains weren’t drawn, the room looking warm and inviting. In the corner, a Christmas tree stood covered in twinkling lights. He blinked, eyes open wide again as if mesmerised by the brightly coloured balls catching the light as strands of gold and red danced before him.

“Get away from here,” a man’s ugly tone sounded. Young excited barking grew louder as the patio door slid open.

Moments later, the screech of brakes came too late. The black shadow which had shot across the road now seemed to have disappeared into the blackness. The driver, however, had felt the bump and knew with a sickening reality it hadn’t been a lucky escape.

Edith rose early Christmas morning with a purpose: she was going to church. Christmas carols drifted across the room from the radio and she started humming to them. Placing her best hat, scarf, and gloves on, she was ready.

She met a few neighbours on route including Lisa’s mother who insisted she be seated with them. Edith listened to the readings, sang the familiar hymns, and promised herself that from now on she was going to become a regular. After a beautiful service, she chatted with the new vicar as he accompanied her down the church pathway.

“My husband died fifteen years ago and with no children, I guess one gets accustomed to being alone. I value my friends but in recent years they have become fewer. And, of course, I miss Henry.”

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“Henry, yes, I heard Lisa mention him?” the vicar raised his eyebrows with a questioning look.

Edith smiled, “Ah, yes Henry, he was a great companion….”

At first, Edith thought it was the wind until she heard it again, so soft was the cry. She noticed the vicar look round.

“Did you hear it?” “Yes, I’m trying to figure out where it is coming from, sounded like a small child or an animal,” he replied.

“Listen, behind there.” Edith pointed to a gravestone at the edge of the path.

They both walked over to it, the vicar getting there first. “Oh! You poor little fellow.”

Edith stepped round to where the vicar stood. Huddled up against the cold grey stone was a small black cat, skin and bone with wide green, terrified eyes staring up at them. It didn’t try to run away when Edith bent down and gently stroked its head, her voice soft as her hand carefully felt its way down discovering the injured leg.

We must not forget St Francis of Assisi...

The vet took one look at the pathetic creature in Edith’s arms and let out a deep sigh. “This poor fellow has been living rough for some time. His leg is going to cost a small fortune to put right and no-one is going to want to claim him.”

Edith couldn’t help it, he reminded her so much of Henry that her eyes welled up. There was no similarity looks wise; Henry was a robust tabby right up to the end, when age finally claimed him in his sleep. No, it was the way they both needed someone to take care of them, to love them and in return was willing to place their trust in them.

“If you can make him well again, then he has a home with me. I will try and find the money somehow,” she stated. Taking a handkerchief out of her bag, she wiped away the tears.

“There’s no need for that. We must not forget St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and, like St Nicholas, both were known for their kindness and generosity towards children and all creatures great and small. Why, St Francis was responsible for setting up the first Nativity to celebrate Christmas.”

Edith and the vet looked at the vicar as if wanting to hear more so he dutifully obliged. “Well, he used real animals to create a living scene in the town of Greccio, near Assisi, so that the worshippers could use their sight and hearing, and therefore contemplate the birth of Jesus.

“I didn’t know that,” Edith replied.

“Neither did I,” the vet added. “So, we can hardly let this poor fellow down. The church will provide the funds and you can offer the comfort and love he so obviously needs.” A beaming smile met Edith’s. “Now how about you come back with me to the vicarage and have Christmas dinner with my wife and I?”

This time, Edith heard herself accepting the invite and hoped they had crackers to pull, she did so love wearing a silly hat while tucking into her Christmas pudding.

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