It’s the last Saturday before Christmas, and the last authors’ Round Robin of the year.
Our topic this month of December is to write a short story or release an excerpt from one of our books.
This has been such a terrible year for so many. I’m sure I’m not the only one looking forward to a new start in the New Year. I thought long and hard about what to write, and this is the story I decided on, to reflect the trying and troubling time for so many, and – I hope! – end on an optimistic note for the future.
Thanks to everyone who has followed my blog this year. Wishing you a safe and peaceful Christmas.
And here’s my short story…
Have Yourself a Merry Lockdown Christmas
Every Saturday at 2pm, weather permitting, the staff of the Sunnyside Care Home wheeled Joy’s granddad and his friend Charlie outside. There was a low wall surrounding the grounds, and the two old men would sit in their wheelchairs, wrapped up in their overcoats and scarves, while Joy and Charlie’s grandson stood in the car park on the other side of the wall, at a safe social distance.
Today Joy was a little early. She shuffled her feet and clapped her mittened hands together to ward off the cold. This time last year there’d been a Christmas party in the warm indoors, with a buffet and wine, fruitcake and cheese. Someone had played the piano, and there’d been singsong. Granddad George liked a singsong.
Joy blew out a steamy breath, trying not to dwell on how low her granddad had become recently. And Charlie, too, come to think of it. Charlie and Granddad George had been friends for years, ever since they’d worked in the same pit, in the days the pits were open. They were a double act, like Morecambe and Wise. Cannon and Ball. Ant and Dec.
Only last Saturday they’d been more Statler and Waldorf, the two cantankerous puppets on the Muppet Show. Joy sighed. It had all kicked off over nothing. Granddad George had said he wished he could visit his daughter in Spain, and Charlie told him of course he couldn’t, the world was locked down and there was nowt anyone could do about it, and he wished George would stop moaning.
Then Granddad George had called Charlie a ‘silly old codger’, and Charlie said he wished George would bugger off to Spain.
And now here was Piers, Charlie’s grandson, making his way towards her. There was a slim black case under his arm. He was wearing a dark green bobble hat. Underneath the hat he had striking red hair. Joy knew, because she saw him every Saturday.
Piers came to a halt a safe two metres away and nodded a greeting. The bobble on his hat bobbed, in a cheerful way.
‘I’m glad I’ve caught you,’ he said. ‘I got here early, specially.’
‘Oh?’ Joy felt her cheeks go pink. She didn’t like confrontation. ‘Listen, if it’s about Granddad last week, he’s not normally that grumpy, it’s just –’
‘I know. Wheelchairs at dawn.’ Piers chuckled. It was the first time Joy had seen him laugh. Like everyone else these days, he normally looked so serious. Now his green eyes were dancing, and she couldn’t help laughing back.
Then Piers said, ‘It’s hard for them both, that’s why they’re irritable. I used to wheel Granddad down the pub. Have a half and a game of doms. But you know how it’s been.’
Joy nodded, relieved he understood. ‘My granddad’s going stir crazy, too. It’s hard to know what to do.’
Piers unzipped his case. ‘Look, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve brought this.’ He drew out a large, slim tablet. ‘My granddad’s a big fan of Judy Garland, and –’
Joy interrupted him, astonished. ‘Charlie likes Judy Garland?’
Charlie had trouble with his lungs now – all those cigarettes and the coal dust – but you could see he’d once been a big, brawny man. He’d been arrested in the miners’ strike. The least likely Judy Garland fan you could imagine.
Piers laughed. ‘Yeah, I know, right?’ He flicked on his screen. ‘I promised to play him his favourite song.’
Joy thought of the grumpiness between the pair the previous week, and what her granddad might have to say if forced to listen to musicals. ‘Listen, Piers, perhaps my granddad –’
But just then, two members of staff appeared at the door of the care home, each pushing a wheelchair.
‘Hello, Joy,’ Granddad George called out.
‘Here’s our Piers,’ Charlie said.
‘Piers and Joy.’ Granddad gave a hearty laugh as their wheelchairs crunched over the gravel. ‘Do you get that, Charlie? Piers and Joy. Peace and Joy.’
The double act were back, with the same jokes.
‘Aye,’ said his friend drily. ‘Ho, ho, ho, George.’
‘And our Joy is a joy, and all,’ said Granddad George, his grey eyes lighting up with his smile at the sight of her.
Joy thought of the hug that normally accompanied these words. The carers wheeled the chairs into their distanced positions on the other side of the wall, and for a moment her throat tightened. She put the arms that were longing to hug him by her sides.
‘Just twenty minutes today, lads,’ a carer said. ‘It’s a bit nippy out here.’
Granddad George grunted, and Charlie rolled his eyes as the carers walked away. They seemed about to get grumpy again. Joy opened her mouth to speak, but Piers said quickly, ‘Never mind, Granddad. That’s still plenty of time to play this.’
Charlie’s rheumy blue eyes sparkled, and he sat up straighter in his chair. ‘Champion. Are we having Judy Garland?’
Joy cast Granddad George a swift glance, expecting him to snort, but to her amazement he sat up, too. ‘Oh, I love a bit of Judy Garland.’
She looked at him, flabbergasted. ‘Well, I never knew you liked Judy Garland, Granddad.’
George met her gaze, an unusual softness in his expression. ‘She was your nan’s favourite, love. Specially at Christmas. Meet Me in St Louis.’
Piers held up the tablet. ‘Right, I’m going to press play. Can you both see it?’
‘How will it work out here?’ asked Granddad George.
‘It’s got a battery, you daft berk,’ said Charlie.
‘I’m on about the box,’ her granddad said. ‘You need a box. For the internet, like.’
‘I can work my tablet off my phone’s internet,’ Piers explained. ‘It’s called a mobile hotspot.’
Charlie raised his bushy eyebrows at Granddad George in sly triumph. ‘There, see, George. What did I tell you? He’s a quick lad, our Piers.’
Granddad George gave his friend a sidelong look. ‘He’s not that quick. What about asking our Joy out?’
Joy’s mouth dropped open.
‘Aye, good point,’ said Piers’ granddad. He gave Piers a stern glance, the twinkle in his eyes softening his words. ‘Why haven’t you asked her out yet, lad?’
Joy felt her cheeks flame. She could hardly bring herself to look in Piers’ direction. What must he be thinking? She kept her gaze fixed on the windows of the home.
‘That’s my business, Granddad,’ Piers said firmly.
Joy glanced across. Piers didn’t look her way. There was a band of colour on his fine cheekbones. He shook his head at Charlie and cleared his throat.
‘Now then, are we all ready?’ He pressed the screen and turned the tablet to face the grandfathers. The soft sound of violins began to spill out, and Judy’s clear, beautiful voice floated across the wall.
‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.’
Charlie and George fell silent, their eyes glued to the screen.
‘Next year all your troubles will be out of sight.’
‘Aye, let’s hope so,’ George murmured. He looked down at his strong hands, now gnarled with age, and Joy’s heart squeezed.
The lyrics had never seemed more poignant. When they reached the part, ‘Someday soon we all will be together, If the fates allow,’ Joy had to swallow hard. The sight of her granddad sitting so far away was hard to bear.
But then both grandfathers looked at each other with a grin, and, in their wheezy voices, they sang as one, exactly on cue, ‘So have yourselves a merry lockdown Christmas now.’
Piers laughed, and his granddad chuckled. ‘That was grand, lad.’
Granddad George gave a loud sigh. ‘Eh, but I wish we were all together.’
Joy looked at his downcast face. ‘I know, Granddad. But maybe at Easter. I’ve got Easter Parade on DVD. If it’s all over by then, I could bring it round.’ She looked at Charlie. ‘We could all watch it together.’
George’s face lit up. ‘Aye, good idea. Easter Sunday. It’s a date, lass.’
Charlie nodded, and Joy turned to Piers, raising a brow in enquiry.
He held her gaze, his handsome smile spreading across his face, warming his eyes. ‘It’s a date, Joy.’
I hope you liked my merry lockdown story :) If you’d like to listen to Judy Garland singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, you can hear her lovely voice here on YouTube.
And if you’d like to some more stories to read, please do check out the links below to drop in on the other authors in the Round Robin. I’m looking forward to some reading over Christmas!
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-29F
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com