This 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 II: CLARA THE ANGEL
It broke my heart when Cecilia and Martha bickered over our placement on the wrong shelf. Of course we belonged on the table top with the Nativity scene. That’s where the family put us every holiday season. So naturally, the two girls spent the entire year practicing their music to play for the Holy Family. And now, here we were stuck on the table’s lower shelf, away from the animals and the hay-strewn stable, the shepherds and Kings and, of course, the family.
Cecilia and Martha were feeling put out. This year, I didn’t care. I couldn’t be happy no matter where I stood. It didn’t feel the same without Lucy. For many long years, more than I could count, she and I watched over the manger scenes, singing carols, her rich alto mixing with my soprano. Ever since the family placed the Nativity scene on the table for the first time, they collected the four of us to stand beside the big brown camel. My fellow angels and I became friends that first Christmas season. Lucy had such her wicked wit and adventurous spirit.
But when the family packed us all up last year, the oldest daughter wrapped Lucy in brand new newspaper and placed her in a different box. Now a grown woman, she wanted Lucy for her new family. Lucy was thrilled as she waved goodbye. I was happy for her, of course, but sad for me.
“You know you can move.” A deep voice with a clipped German accent called out from above us. It stopped Cecilia and Martha’s complaining immediately.
“What?” Martha put her fiddle in her lap and scratched her head with the tip of her bow.
“Who said that?” Cecilia leaned her guitar against her skirts and looked around.
“I did.” We heard the clomp-clomp-clomp of a set of heavy hooves on the table. Then with a grunt, the speaker tumbled down the back cushions of the sofa. It was Hummel, the large brown camel from the Nativity scene.
The clomp-clomp-clomp was muffled for a bit and then much to our surprise he ambled toward us, though it appeared he had a bit of a limp. I did worry that he might have been injured on the way down from the table.
He bowed, his long eyelashes fluttering and the many tassels of his multi-colored reins dancing around his head and long neck.
“Oh, it’s Hummel.” Martha clapped her hands. “However did you get here?”
“As I said, dear girl, we all can move. We are stuck to the table with only a little sticky wax.”
He held up his big back hoof where a little of the whitish goo was still stuck. So he wasn’t really lame, he just had to contend with the stuff still adhering to his foot as he stepped.
Cecilia furrowed her brow. “That’s not the point, Hummel. We were demoted from the table to the shelf, away from the Holy Family.”
“Okay then, but with all your complaining I thought you didn’t remember. Your friend Lucy liked to fly around now and then.”
“Oh her.” Cecilia rolled her eyes. Yes, she was given to dramatics but she was so musical we tried to overlook those moments. “She’s lucky she didn’t break into a million pieces. You remember that time, Clara?”
I certainly did. Lucy got it into her head to fly just after Christmas last year.
Against all the rules of Christmas decorations—we aren’t really supposed to move from our assigned places, you see—she worked her feet out of the wax that affixed us to our places. Though it couldn’t keep us from moving, the wax helped when faced with the flick of a dog’s tail. Then Lucy flapped her wings until she hovered above the stable. She looked beautiful up there, her glass face gleaming with a delight I’d never seen before.
It lasted only a minute. I don’t know what happened but she tottered and fell, softly crashing onto the green wool upholstery of the sofa behind the table. Dazed, she didn’t have the strength to move right away. For a heart-wrenching moment, I was afraid someone would come and sit on her lacy glass body and she’d be broken beyond repair. Then she laughed as she soared above us and lit down gentle as a lamb.
She nudged me with her elbow. “Come on, Clara. It’s fun.”
I said no but now I wish I had said yes. What did I gain by standing there like a good little angel when I could have shared an adventure with my best friend?
The other two angels, who never considered abandoning the stable, were now listening to Hummel with great interest.
“Luckily, the family only sticks my back foot to the table. When no one’s looking, the lambs and I like to look at the decorations around the house. Mary and Joseph—the Carpenters aren’t the real Mary and Joseph you know—don’t mind when we take off.”
Cecilia nearly dropped her instrument. “Are you telling me there are other decorations?”
“Of course. The family has a choir of angels in the dining room and there’s a tree filled with silver and gold ornaments in the hall. I’ve seen the nutcrackers standing guard in the living room for years, though I never ventured into the bathroom to meet the snow people. ”
Hummel lifted a hoof in salute to the nutcrackers before whispering to the angels. “They’re such stiffs. You know, duty and all. They said they wouldn’t dare leave their stations, lest something happen while they were AWOL.”
“I heard that,” the taller nutcracker, dressed in a blue uniform, called. “But you are correct. It would be unseemly to leave our posts.”
A red-clad nutcracker nodded crisply. “Not at all proper.”
Two little lambs cavorted on the floor below us, followed by a much bigger wooly ewe. “Raphael! Gabriella! Mind your manners.”
“Aw, mama. We’ve been still for so long.” One lamb, smaller than its sibling, took off to slide across the smooth wooden floors. It ended by crashing into the leg of the table.
When it started to cry, its mother looked stern. “That’s how you get hurt.”
The slightly bigger lamb nosed his sister. “See, Gaby? I told you we’d get in trouble.”
“But I want to see the Christmas tree. The family decorated it last night. I want to see all the pretty lights.” It brushed off its thick white wool and peered into the adjacent room.
“What tree? There’s a tree in the house? I have to see this!” Raphael followed his sister to the wide doorway.
Frostine didn’t suffer the indignity of sticky wax since her flannel-covered self was unbreakable. She rolled off the shelf and even before picking herself up, she gasped. “Why, little lamb, you’re right. There’s a giant tree right there, covered in bows and balls and lights.”
Kris tumbled off the shelf right behind Frostine without losing his top hat or his broom. Grumpy a minute before, he let loose with a low chuckle. “Well, what do you know?” The two of them toddled off to the other room.
Easy as it was getting down was for the snow people, it was a struggle for Cecilia and Martha. They were made of breakable stuff and the family had taken care to stick them to the wooden surface.
Martha’s fiddle clattered to the shelf as she wiggled her bare toes in a valiant effort to unstick them. Cecilia’s dress was stuck just as tightly.
“Would you hold this?” She held up her guitar in front of my face and I grabbed it before it fell. Then, bending down, she tugged at the hem of her gown until finally she was free.
The two girls laughed loudly as they stood on the edge of the shelf and leaned toward the doorway to see the tree.
Still giggling, they jumped off the ledge and ran into the next room.
As for myself, I welcomed the quiet. I wasn’t myself this year, still hurting over losing my best friend ever.
A moment later, Cecilia skipped back and looked up at me still perched on the shelf where I had been placed. “Aren’t you coming?”
I shook my head and tried to smile. “No, you go on and enjoy yourself. Maybe later.”
“Sir?” On the other side of the shelf, Baron Ernst was saluting the taller nutcracker. “Permission to speak.”
“Relax, Ernst. It’s fine to call me Pyotr.” He put out a hand to his colleague. “We’ve been on this assignment together long enough for you to consider me a friend.”
The shorter nutcracker put his arm down and seemed to loosen up. “Sir, I mean, Pyotr, I’d like to see the tree if you don’t mind—I mean if you think it’s all right. I don’t want to abandon my post and leave the house in danger.”
“It should be all right. We haven’t had to fight off the Mouse King and his army for quite some time.”
“Thank you, sir. Would you like to come too?”
I saw the nutcracker glance over at me. To avoid his gaze, I looked down and fretted over the guitar in my care even as I could feel the pink roses in my cheeks turning a color much closer to scarlet.
“No, Ernst, I think I’ll keep watch for now. You go on and enjoy yourself.”
The shelf was empty. Two silver bells and a bit of greenery were all that stood between the nutcracker and me.
He cleared his throat but I didn’t want to look over at him. I just wanted to be left alone.
“It feels so different this Christmas, don’t you think?” Pyotr’s voice was gentle, almost kind enough for me to want to pour out all my troubles to him. But I didn’t know him at all. So I nodded a little, put down Cecilia’s guitar and closed my eyes, a sign, I hoped, that I wanted to be alone. It was a very different Christmas without my dearest friend.
Tomorrow: The story continues as the angel and the nutcracker kindle a friendship.
(c) Mary K. Tilghman