Comfort and Joy: A Christmas tale

For the next week, I am running short fiction inspired by the holidays. This short series begins my literary celebration of the season. Inspired by of all things, my own Christmas decorations, Comfort and Joy introduces you to the lonely nutcracker and the grieving angel and all the cohort of angels, Nativity characters and snow people around them. It’s sweet as a Christmas cookie but written with love.

PART I: Pyotr Ilyich, the nutcracker

The family had barely walked away, their decorating finished when two angels put their instruments down on the polished wood of the sofa table and looked at one another. And boy were they angry. Farther down the table, the snowman, a big round ball of a being dressed most inappropriately for indoors with ear muffs, plaid scarf, and a heavy green jacket, was tickled pink.

As for myself, I was not used to being in such company. Usually I stood beside my smaller counterpart and watched over the front of the house. Baron Ernst was silent as the grave, content to stand at attention, as his duty required.

“What you looking at, nutcracker?” Addressing me was a smaller snowman, this one in a top hat with a carrot for a nose, poor fellow. I do admit I was staring. He had impossibly pink cheeks that made him look so merry. But as happy as the other snowman was, he was miserable. 

“Sorry, sir. I haven’t properly introduced myself. I am Pyotr Ilyich and this is Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffman serving here with me. He’s a baron, you know.”

“I don’t care if he’s Herr Drosselmeyer. Why you are staring at me?” 

I wanted to explain that he couldn’t be Herr Drosselmeyer because…oh it didn’t matter. I apologized for staring. “You see I don’t get out much and I can’t remember the last time I saw a snowman.”

“Don’t worry about him, Pyotr Ilyich.” The big jolly snowman was shaking his head and elbowing his little friend. “At least I remember my manners. This is my friend Kris. I am Frostine.”

I did a double-take when Frostine spoke. It turns out under that heavy coat was a snow lady with a sweet high voice, a musical giggle and a warm heart. Kris, her friend, had a rough, raspy voice—like he’d been smoking that corncob pipe way too long. These two snow people seemed to be at odds over everything. Right now, Frostine was laughing at him.

“He thinks this room is so noisy but I think this is much better than our previous assignments. We’re usually stuck on a shelf in a bathroom, the two of us snow people spending the Christmas holidays in almost total darkness. When we do have visitors, they usually don’t even bother to look at us.”

“At least it was quiet,” Kris complained. “We didn’t have to worry about angels grumbling next to us or, worse, tuning their instruments all the time. If I hear that little girl tune that guitar again, I’m gonna whack her with my broom.”

The merry snowman tsked. “That’s enough, Kris. She’s a sweet little angel whose been practicing all year for this moment and here she is on the wrong shelf.” 

“Yeah, mine. So shut up, Frostine!”

I had to laugh and when I did Kris turned his frown on me. “Hey, Russian dude, don’t you be laughing at me.” 

“Forgive me, sir.” Chastened, I bowed stiffly and returned to my duties, standing guard on the bottom shelf of a long, narrow table. It was a busy place, to be sure. I wasn’t in the kitchen but I could see it from my station and I soon discovered it to be often full of good smells of the season, nutmeg and turkey, and my favorite, baking cookies. I watched it throughout the days and nights. 

Sometimes it was a crowded place, other times a solitary woman bustled around. Ernst stood beside me, content to watch without uttering a sound. He used to be quite the talker, back when we lived in another house. He still missed the people who lived there, an elderly couple who sat beside one another to share old stories. They laughed often and were content in each other’s company. Nothing was ever as peaceful as that in this new house with this rambunctious family, Ernst told me early on. He missed his other family and their slower ways. I preferred our new assignment this season. 

We were in the midst of everything, not like the past years when we stood guard in the front of the house where people rarely stopped. There I stood sentry over things. Here I was watching over people. I liked that better.

I was intrigued by the three angels. Two of them were always busy. One sat atop an ivory ceramic bell, bowing a fiddle. The other strummed chords to old Christmas carols on her guitar and sang in a clear voice. Exactly what you’d expect from an angel. The third angel, the one without a musical instrument, didn’t look a bit happy. She held her folded hands under her chin and said very little. Occasionally, I saw her swipe a tear from her smooth porcelain cheek. 

I’d never before felt any emotion for another decoration. But for her, I made room in my heart. It became my mission to watch over her especially. 

Tomorrow: Clara the angel, is missing her friend Lucy, her carefree angel friend who went to “live” at another house.

(c) Mary K. Tilghman

Inn By the Lake, my sweet modern love story set at Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland, is available for pre-order now.

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