Thursday, 6 December 2012

Christmas Shorts with... Linda Mitchelmore

Today's Christmas Shorts feature post is a whimsical short story provided by Linda Mitchelmore.  

Over the years Linda has written hundreds of short stories, many of which have been published in most of the popular magazines, before the publication of her debut novel To Turn Full Circle I hope you enjoy reading this.
A New Dress for Christmas 
Cassiopeia - Cassie for short to the rest of the family - sighed.  Another Christmas morning
and she was in the same old, same old - a childish froth of white lace with a thin silver belt.  Likes a flippin' Christmas tree fairy.

Why couldn't she have something more grown-up?  Something new, a new dress for Christmas Day like she knew Melissa and Kirstie would be wearing, because they'd been going on about it for weeks - how wonderful their dresses were and how much they had cost.  

Oh no - talk of the devil.  The twins were coming.  She could hear them giggling as they ran down the stairs. Any minute now that moment of peace she always enjoyed on Christmas morning before the rest of the family came down, noisily ripping paper off presents, and shrieking with delight at even the smallest, simplest thing, would be shattered. And Melissa and Kirstie would crow about their new clothes, like they always did.

Just because Cassiopeia hadn't put on weight since last year like the twins had, didn't mean she had to wear the same Christmas Day dress, did it?  Well, she didn't think so - but try telling Mum that.  Huh!

"Happy Christmas, Cassie," Melissa giggled, bursting into the room. " Do you like our new dresses?" 

Well, the question didn’t really need answering, did it? What could Cassiopeia say anyway? And besides, Melissa didn’t really want an answer. There she was now, twirling around in front of Cassiopeia, hands on hips, pouting her lips. And she was only nine for heaven’s sake!  

"Cassiopeia is a stupid name," Kirstie said, doing some twirling of her own.  She didn't even look at Cassiopeia as she spoke.  "I wonder why Mum and Dad called her that."

Cassiopeia ignored them.  

But if she could have been bothered to explain she'd have said that Cassiopeia is not a stupid name.  It meant 'scent of flowers'.  She'd heard Mum say so one Christmas when she'd been crying because the twins were just so small and had to spend their first Christmases in hospital and not at home with everyone else.  And Dad had said, 'Ssh, sweetheart, they'll be fine.  And we've got Cassie, haven't we?  Same as we always have.'   And Mum had said, 'Not Cassie.  Cassiopeia.  It means scent of flowers.  Remember that meadow in Grasse and how wonderful the flowers were?  It seems such a long time ago now.'  And Dad had hugged her tight, kissed her.  And Cassiopeia stopped listening and looking then.  Grown-ups can seem so soppy, can't they?

But now, Cassiopeia wasn't going to bother telling the twins any of what Mum and Dad had said.  They were too young to know about things like honeymoons.  But oh, how she wished she could preen and twirl and show off a new Christmas dress, just for once.  It was as though, now she'd got the twins who were dark-haired like her, Mum had stopped seeing Cassiopeia somehow.  And Dad.  She remembered how he'd lovingly lifted her up to the top of the tree, how safe she'd felt in his arms, even though the bright lights had startled her at first when she was younger.     

"Ooooh," Melissa squeaked, ripping paper noisily off a parcel.  "I've got curling tongs!"

"And me!"  Kirstie squealed with delight.  "Hey, shall we curl Cassie's hair?"

Just you try, Cassiopeia thought.  No way was she going to let those two loose on her long, blonde hair.  She liked it just the way it was, thank you very much.

There was a bit more present unwrapping and a lot more squeals of delight and then Mum came in.

"Now then, girls," she said.  "I want you to be very, very good today.  And very, very kind.  Auntie Grace is coming to lunch." 

"And Uncle Ralph?" Melissa asked.

The twins liked Uncle Ralph much more than they did Auntie Grace.  But I liked her best.

"Er, no," Mum said.  "Uncle Ralph's not coming this year."

"Oh, I expect they're getting divorced," Kirstie - who thinks she knows everything - said.  

Honestly it's amazing what nine-year-old's know these days.  I didn't know about things like that when I was nine. 

"Yes, they are," Mum said.  "And Auntie Grace is very sad about it."

And then she left the room.  I think she was crying.

And it seemed only seconds afterwards that Auntie Grace arrived.  She looked the same as ever to me, wearing a dress with every colour in the paintbox in it, and lots of necklaces around her neck.  Bright red lipstick.  Very high heels.

Well, as it was Christmas everyone did as Mum asked and we were all very well-behaved.  But when Auntie Grace said, yes, she did think she'd have another sherry, Mum sniffed a bit.  Then Auntie Grace kept pouring more wine from the bottle on the table into her glass and Mum sniffed a bit more.  I did think about telling them that the poor woman was only trying to drown her sorrows, but I doubt I'd have been thanked for my pains.

So I kept quiet as usual.  Hardly anyone notices me anyway these days.

But after their third brandy-laden mince pie, Auntie Grace said, "Well, the twins look nice, sister dear, but don't you think Cassiopeia could do with a make-over?" 

"Cassie?" Mum said, as though she'd only just remembered I was part of the family.  "A make-over?  What do you have in mind?"

The twins giggled and Dad went a bit pale.  He sloped off to do 'something in the shed he'd just remembered needed doing.' 

"Yes! Cassiopeia!"  Auntie Grace giggled.  And I warmed to her some more for giving me my full name.

And then there was a horrified silence as Auntie Grace took one of the gold doylies off the table and began cutting it up.  Then she rushed across the room and grabbed a length of purple satin ribbon one of the twins had discarded.  With the pointed ends of the pair of the scissors she made the ribbon go all curly.  Then she cut a long strip of fabric off the hem of her dress.

"Ralph bought it,"  she said.  "A guilt present.  I won't be wearing it after today.  Needle!  Thread!"

Mum, too shocked to do anything else, obliged and in no time at all Auntie Grace had fashioned me the most beautiful, the most glamorous dress imaginable. 

"There we are, Cassiopeia," she said, taking me down from the top of the Christmas tree.  As carefully as a rather tipsy woman can manage she took off my old tinsel and nylon creation and helped me into my new dress.  A perfect fit.  "Very Vivienne Westwood, even if I say so myself.  Don't you think so, Cassiopeia?"

Oh, I did, oh I did.  And I rather hoped Auntie Grace would get divorced and get tipsy again next year if I could get a new Christmas Day dress out of it....