Colleen has a Master’s degree in English Literature and is an author of stories and articles focusing on the dynamics of human relationships
The Christmas Tree Brooch And An Unsent Letter
Story one: under 800 words.
I found the brooch, shaped like a Christmas tree, the one you bought me at that fair; might you remember? If you do not, in fact, have long forgotten, how can I blame you? It was how many years ago, passed twenty-five? Our time together was so brief. We both knew it to be an interlude, a season, one final, long, deep sip of liberty, before we let the yolk of full adulthood absorb, engulf us.
You were a student from Australia, completing your dissertation on philosophy. I was a Danish tourist on a spree, all but guaranteed an English-teaching job when I returned to Copenhagen. We met in a café, over a jar of mustard, spilling some onto the table, given our haste to pass it back and forth to one another, dancing in that laughter which says yes, oh yes!
We left together; it was understood. In fact, there weren't a lot of words between us, or much touching then or after. Intimacy, when it came, was light, friendly, tender. I had a boyfriend, you a fiancé, yet, somehow we knew we had not betrayed either of these, in thought, word or action. Instead, it felt as if we two enjoyed one island, shaped from sunlight, trees, birdsong, flame, urging us to mate as fireflies, our spark as fleeting.
Then Came That Christmas Fair Two Days Before My Time To Leave
We held hands, much as children do, glancing at each booth and stall, but rarely halting; our cash all but gone. I can't recall your purchasing a thing. For my part, I bought souvenirs: a unicorn, shaped from dried bread dough, its small horn an auger shell, or so the craftsman told me when I asked. (I've always liked to garner information, of negligible worth, but fun to keep for no real reason, beyond its savour. Maybe that’s why I've kept this Christmas tree; more on that later.)
The unicorn was for my mum. She liked them, in fact, through the years, had created a collection-quite a clutter. Now, each one of them stands in its own spot, upon my mantelpiece; I’d like to think she would feel pleased, were she to see them. Perhaps she does somehow from her hereafter.
Then, for my dad, I chose a boat, hand-carved from driftwood. On walks, while reminiscing on his times as a marine, he often said he hoped one day to sail again, far-off upon some ocean. I wish I could have offered him that chance, but now I cannot.
Returning to that Christmas fair, having run through my holiday fund, and somewhat more, that should have been the end. Why did I feel impelled to stop to gaze a moment at one brooch? Noticing, you said, “You like that little tree.”
“I do,” I said, “but I’m just being silly. It’s just a scrap of clay with a few glints of green on its branches, with a vague outline of a star on top?”
“I think you've just described life,” you responded.
“I’d forgotten you are a philosopher.”
Easing Your Hand From Mine, You Bought The Brooch
”Now, let's go on,” you said, grasping my hand. As we walked on, you pressed that tree into my palm; I felt its shape before I glanced down at it.
“You shouldn't have bought that for me,” I said.
“Why not?” you asked.
“That's hard to answer. I guess it is because I have nothing to give you in return.”
“There you're mistaken. These memories of what we've known together will warm me inside, no matter who I marry, grow to love, or wherever I might travel.”
“For me too,” I said, sliding my lips towards yours. You kissed them softly. I can't be sure that's what we said or did. Although it is my deepest recollection, as we grow older, memories tend to blur the real with the idealized. Still, over-all, that was our essence.
I Will Not Send This Letter-Never Meant To
Why did I write it then? Just for myself I guess. For all I know, you are still in Australia, but then, you might be anywhere, even assuming you are alive, on earth. In any case, why try to reach you now?
I guess I scrawled this note tonight because it was the evening when I do my end-of-year sort through. Thus, once again, sifting through jewellery, I unearthed our tree. I suppose it looks the same, although its glints of green have greyed; its starlight fading. Yet, I cannot discard it, never will. Lord only knows the last time I have worn it, if ever. Still, placing it back within its satin lining, it speaks to me of bright, young memories of you, of youth, of hoping.
Christmas Eve And Christmas Night
Story two: under 400 words
On Christmas Eve, tucked up and snug in bed, soft glows of lights, bells, carols intertwined into enchanted sleep with dreams and fancies of what the coming day seemed bound to bring.
Then, after dawn, that racing towards the tree, where I would unravel ribbons, tear off bows, then rip away the wrapping paper of each gift, hold it and revel in it for a moment, then reach towards another, then the next. Why did I, after opening the last, feel an odd sadness?
Still, this did not continue, linger long; how could it, given the sheer plethora of presents, to explore and savor?
This pleasure would continue until noon when we would trek to Grandma’s home for dinner. Before the feast would come those hugs from uncles, accompanied by oozing from the aunts about what a big girl I was becoming, how much I had grown in the past year- had I yet found a best or special friend and how did I get on with my new teacher?
Our dinner done, out came those nuts and sweets, treats we were free to eat without restraint, beyond mild warnings not to be too greedy, unheeded.
Then, after that, each hour seemed to grow from slow to slower.
Watching my grandpa drowsing in his chair, an empty brandy glass loose in his hand, I felt glad nobody could know my thoughts, but him especially. This was because any of us who sparked his aggravation, no matter the misdeed, its cause or culprit, was called “You mutt.” Or “You ungrateful dunce” or often both.
Whilst maybe not a mutt or dunce, I felt guilt at what I knew must truly be a lack of gratitude. Yet, given how I felt, what could I do but count the weeks, the days, until next Christmas-or, now I realize, next Christmas Eve with its anticipation.
A First kiss, Near Christmas
Story three: under 1000 words
Given the mores of our day, it might seem mawkish to recollect and recount my first kiss. Still, I believe there are many who, like me, do not dismiss such thoughts as juvenile; they are a part of us.
Buds of Affection
Rick and I went to the same boarding school. A year ahead of me, he seemed more manly than other boys in that his voice had changed, indeed matured so much that by age twelve, he could no longer sing in our children’s choir Christmas concert. Still children then, we barely noticed one another. Then, when I was fifteen, we acted in our school’s play together. Something sparked, although it stayed unspoken for some while. After one break, when I asked him what he had done during school vacation, he replied, “I thought about you a lot.”
“I’m glad. What did you think?” I asked.
“That you’re pretty nice.”
“That makes me happy.”
What Then Kept Us Apart For Half A Year?
It was because I was denoted “weird”, by the self-designated “in crowd.”
At first, I had enjoyed this seeming stigma, sensing in it hidden admiration for reading classics just because I liked them, rather than due to their having been assigned as part of the curriculum. A further show of my disdain to gain good will lay in my refusal to use words such as “armpit” “Asshole” and the like, as signs of comradeship among the cool.
Tears Caused By Taunting
Oh yes, I was a snob in being glad to be the only one who chose those books I did. It gave an added frisson to their enjoyment. And yet, I cried when on the morning of my sixteenth birthday, I found, scrawled in red chalk upon my locker door, “Happy death-day, spinster.” This taunting touched a fear so deep inside, I tried to hide it, even from myself. Could these words contain a ghoulish prophecy?
Just for the moment though, I thought of Rick. This mockery meant any boy who risked being my boyfriend might be ridiculed; could he accept that? When he was with me, by ourselves, Rick was lively, lusty but polite and gentle. Still, while not a member of the crowd exactly, when near them, he could become loud and rude. The spinster comment made the question clear: which sphere would win him?
Victor For A Time
I was the winner, at least for some while. My sense of exaltation crystallized when I walked into the Christmas gala held by the debating team. Seeing me enter, Rick said, “There she is.” Then, striding towards me, the corsage in hand provided for each girl on this occasion, he pinned it on my blouse without first asking. At last I felt delighted, validated: I was Rick’s girlfriend. I smiled; Rick smiled; then we sat down as one.
Glancing around, not certain where to start, he asked, “I’ll get some punch for us, shall I?” I nodded. He walked to the buffet, then brought back two paper cups of fruit punch with a touch of rum. Sitting back down, he slowly took my hand. I squeezed his hand then sipped my punch. After a moment, I felt odd, sensing he did as well. What did we say to one another now, as we had finally become a couple? I thanked him for bringing me the punch. He said, “You’re welcome.”
Then, after a silence, urged, “Say something, can’t you?”
Unable to think up a quip, I said,
“I like this corsage; do you think it’s pretty?”
“I like what’s underneath it a lot more.”
“You have a foul mind, haven’t you?” I laughed.
“Right and you like my foul mind; don’t deny it.”
“I like it, and I like you, Rick. It seems I almost always have.”
“You never said so.”
“Still, you knew.”
“I guess I did.”
He stood up then, and, pulling me up to face him, said,
“So, want to dance?”
“To Christmas carols?”
“Does the music matter?”
I stepped a step towards him.
When The Dancing Stopped
Like other couples on the floor that night, we did not so much dance as meld together, clutching each other. All the while, our debating coach/chaperon looked elsewhere. Then, as midnight neared, he said, switching off the music, “Hey, you guys, the party has to end. I’m sorry, but I know your curfew. Say your good-nights, but please don’t linger long. Don’t get me fired.”
So Now What Happens?
Thus, Rick and I hurried from the building, abruptly caught in the December chill. He touched my hair; I liked that; then he said, “That's a boy's haircut, isn't it?” Ouch! That was true. A recent hairdresser had indeed cut it an inch too short-I ached to see it grow. Mainly though, I felt hurt that Rick had said that.
I said, “Since you think my hair is that horrendous, see if I ever dance with you again.”
He said, “Hell, how important do you think you are?”
“Good-night, Rick,” I said, half-turning from him.
Then I felt his arm around my waist, warming me as it always had before. He said, in the soft tone I had grown used to, “I thought we might end our evening a bit better, like maybe with a little kiss, OK?”
“OK, I guess.”
Then, leaning sideways, in the dark, he aimed his lips towards mine, but wound up kissing somewhere between my chin and lower lip. So that was done. Reaching the front-door of my dorm, seconds before the curfew bell would sound, we both, I'm sure, felt some relief when he said, “I guess that's it; I can't go any further.”
End of A Season
After that evening, back-and-forth we went, until things ebbed, eroded, ended, as nearly all such things do, during those years. So why write of it now, these decades later? I cannot explain, except to say, more-or-less as I did at my beginning, memories matter.
© 2014 Colleen Swan
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on December 23, 2014:
Thank you Peggy for your kind words. I too am from America, but was raised on the east coast. I live in England now, but retain precious memories of my growing up years, as I am sure you do of yours.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 22, 2014:
What beautiful memories you have Colleen and you have a true gift of writing them down in a special manner so that others can enjoy them vicariously as well. Wishing for you a special Christmas and a wonderful new year ahead.
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on September 02, 2014:
Thank you Manatita for your kind words.
manatita44 on September 01, 2014:
Going over the memories, Colleen. Not too far off, I suppose. The usual story. Those who are God orientated will find a way to spiritualise it, no doubt. The commercial ones will carry on, seemingly dead to the beauty within their hearts.
We will pray together, Colleen. You and I and wherever we are, our thoughts will carry their messages of Light into the ether, God's willing. I bid you much peace today. Namaste.
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on August 30, 2014:
Thank you Annart. Yes Christmas is a stressful time. I have felt the anger of people frantically shopping before the Eve. I believe the less commercialization the more enjoyable it becomes.
Ann Carr from SW England on August 30, 2014:
What lovely stories; such variety under one theme.
You're a great story-teller and I look forward to reading more.
Yes, Christmas is much too commercialised. Fortunately we keep it cosy and friendly with a family gathering and our favourite dishes and drinks. I love it but it can be stressful for lots of people.
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on August 29, 2014:
Thank you Gilbert. I am going to write a few more short story hubs. Must be that time of year.
Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on August 28, 2014:
I thought it was nice that you wrote a Christmas piece, Colleen, and it wasn't too commercialized. I sensed your creative story verged close to poetry, a beautiful job.
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on August 28, 2014:
Thank you Bill for looking in. This is my first hub containing stories. I am inspired to write more.
Bill Russo from Cape Cod on August 28, 2014:
Good job on this. Well constructed and edited.
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on August 28, 2014:
Thank you Richard. True, when we dig deeper there are often negative attachments, but we know that if it was today we would do it all differently.
Thank you DDE. You are lucky to live in such an area. It is awful to witness how Christmas has been abused commercially in many countries.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on August 27, 2014:
It is true! Christmas is a traditional time in the region where I live and is not commercialized. A time of the year when people get together and enjoy the day quietly.
Richard Bivins from Charleston, SC on August 27, 2014:
Great stories... Sometimes all we are left with is memories to cherish and sometimes those are better than the actual event. It's strange how the mind will lean toward the positive things and try to block the negative things.
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on August 27, 2014:
Thanks MsDora for your mention of the precious It is true that a memory once thought discounted can erupt into an important event that we never realized affected our lives.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 27, 2014:
"Memories matter" and these are all precious. Even if the events when they happened were not as joyful as the memories make them now, you can't help but think how much worth they have added to your life. Good reading!
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on August 27, 2014:
Thank you Homeplace, glad you you enjoyed these.
William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on August 27, 2014:
What fun! Thanks for sharing!! ;-)