It would be the last of its kind.

My sister and I bought five shillings worth of toys from the charity bazaar for our tree. Beads, tinsel, paper ornaments, a popcorn string, jeweled baubles of all kinds, and two oranges—we’d have them after a long day of adventure.

***

Several hours later, Jane and I started on the Christmas Tree. The beauty of it touched the damp on the ceiling. We did up part of the presents – the principal ones were covered in assorted colored paper. We allowed mother in the living space, but she wouldn’t assist us because father was growing increasingly annoyed by our fevered clamor. The tree looked lovely– it ought to have been a huge success. We couldn’t understand why my father remained steadfastly stern. I don’t know how to explain his daily countenance in those times, but to say wood, his face had hardened. He had no interest in Yuletide affairs.

On the other hand, we girls had never seen a tree look more winsome. It was simply crammed with childhood contentment.

***

Mother had gone back into the room, the room with father. One naughty wink from my sister Jane was all it took. We were headed towards the room, stilly to meddle in our parents’ affairs.

We placed our prying ears to the door, ever so gently, and we heard him say:

‘My hours are going down— we can’t afford these. We can’t afford these godforsaken—’

Their conversation was cut short. Our little feet could be heard absconding from possible consequence.

***

Christmas arrived, and father transpired once more— he tottered out of his room. He was cross, his face was wood.

Blind happiness had abandoned us; quickly it was replaced with sustenance. I passed father an orange, I had forgotten all about its existence.

His sternness briefly melted… or maybe this is just the story we share every Christmas thenceforth. It places a twinkle upon my sister’s countenance, at least.

There isn’t much Yuletide to be found in a workhouse. Nor are there any more oranges.

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Margarida Brei
Margarida Brei(@margarida-brei)
2 months ago

What a powerful last line, Melissa! I enjoyed the sisters’ lightheartedness in decorating the tree, your traditional words like “winsome”, alliteration and contrast of stern father against carefree daughters. Sweet touch to make the oranges a symbol of well being.

Allan Neil
Allan Neil(@allan-neil)
2 months ago

A lovely story of a child’s seasonal happiness, albeit muted by father’s glumness, the story tinkles happily along until the sad crunch at the end. Only then did I grasp the hint with the mention of damp in the ceiling. A very well told tale.

Nifemi Banigbe
Nifemi Banigbe(@nifemi-banigbe)
2 months ago

This was so well-written, Melissa! I especially loved the contrast between the children’s joy and the father’s harshness. But the flicker of hope at the end, symbolized by something as simple as an orange, tied the story together very well! I really enjoyed it 🙂

Christer Norrlof
Christer Norrlof(@christer-norrlof)
1 month ago

You have caught the contrast between the stern father and his excited daughters very well, Melissa. It’s easy to imagine life in a workhouse from your description of it, with the parents’ worries about money and the children’s innocent happiness about Christmas. I always love your matter-of-fact titles. In this… Read more »

Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
1 month ago

You have well portrayed the stern father and his excited daughters. Such lovely stories that lighted more spark as you add something orange to your tale. Well done.

Merry Christmas to you and your family, Melissa.

Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
Reply to  Melissa Taggart
1 month ago

Sorry for the late response, Melissa. Happy and prosperous new year.

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