Copyright Oggbashan November 2010 The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.
Our local Chamber of Commerce holds a Window Dressing Competition every Christmas. We have done that for over a hundred years. The rules have remained the same. The window must celebrate the Christian Christmas, not Santa Claus. Most have a variant of the Nativity theme. Often the three Kings are carrying presents that can be bought in the store, but the best windows have no commercial message at all.
Over the last twenty years we have also had a Father Christmas grotto in the small shopping mall in our High Street. Unlike many, our Father Christmas grotto has been totally free, with the gifts donated by our Chamber of Commerce members.
You would think we would be overrun because we were offering free presents to children, but we weren't. Our Father Christmas knows all the local children. He is a governor at our Primary and Secondary Schools and a former teacher. He doesn't object, nor do we, to giving presents to visiting children as well but he is firm. Each child can only visit once and will get only one present.
This year we have a problem. A new larger shopping mall has been built on the site of a disused factory. It opened just after last Christmas and the mall managers have told us they intend, next Christmas, to have a larger, glossier, noisier Santa's Grotto, with a charge for entry. Their presents will be better than ours could ever be. We have to decide whether to continue with our smaller grotto or change.
The debate at the Chamber meeting in June was heated. Almost all of our children had visited the Chamber's grotto and want it to continue. It had been a feature of their childhood, and they want it to be there for their children. But our Father Christmas is getting older. Even if we continued, he couldn't keep the role for more than a few years longer. His knowledge of the local children had been invaluable. The presents might have been inexpensive but Father Christmas would choose for each child the most appropriate one from what he had in his sack. Eventually we reluctantly decided that we had to change, to offer something different this year.
The next item on the agenda was the Window Dressing Competition. I suggested that since that was themed on the Christmas message; perhaps what we do in the small mall should be as well. I shouldn't have spoken out. The committee agreed and told me to bring ideas to the next meeting.
When I got home Helen was already in bed. I joined her.
"Another long meeting, James? What do you find to talk about?"
She knew the answers. Sometimes she goes to the meetings when I can't. As small shopkeepers we are all trying to survive against competition from the big companies. The new shopping mall might bring more shoppers to our town, but how many of them would go further than the mall?
I gave her an outline of the discussions and that I had to think of something to replace Father Christmas' grotto.
"Why don't you talk to Adrian? He's chairman of Churches Together this year. You could ring him from the shop tomorrow morning. You and I are too tired to think now."
She rolled over and turned out the light. I was disappointed. This would be another night without sex. I knew why. We were constantly tired. Running a shop takes long hours. Even when the shop was shut we had the accounts to do, the stock to replace, and the odd things that needed doing. By the time we got to bed one of us or both were too tired to do anything but sleep.
We wanted to start a family but so far nothing had happened after we made love. We had started thinking about getting medical advice, fertility testing perhaps, but maybe we were just too tired and run down to produce babies.
In our garage my pride and joy, a massive ex-Army six-wheel drive truck, sat neglected. It was in running order, road-legal, but needed cosmetic attention if I was going to take it to rallies. I hadn't got time for the work and no time to go to rallies unless we recruited an assistant. At present the business couldn't justify the cost of an assistant. Every time I went in the garage the blemished paintwork was a reminder that I needed time. Looking at Helen's still-flat stomach, while pleasant, also reminded me that we weren't concentrating on what we wanted to do.
Next morning I spoke to Adrian. He started to give me some thoughts but then three customers walked into the shop and Helen was already dealing with a customer. Adrian agreed to put it on the Churches Together agenda for their next meeting.
I forgot about it for the next fortnight. We'd made love twice in that time. Neither coupling was passionate, probably no more than just futile, despairing attempts at making a baby.
I remembered that I'd have to report back to the next Chamber meeting so I rang Adrian to see if he had any news.
"Yes, James," Adrian said. "We're enthusiastic about the project. Two churches are working on proposals. They'll email them to you this week at the same time as copying them to all our member churches. You'll have details days before your next Chamber meeting."
I thanked him. I had some experience of the slowness of our town's organisations. I would be surprised if I did get the information in time.
Two days before the July Chamber meeting an email with several attachments arrived in my inbox. I printed it all and, without looking at the printout, I put it in my briefcase to read at home. An hour later the other church sent an email. I printed that too.
At home Helen and I spread out the paperwork and started to read. The proposals were similar -- both suggested a Nativity Scene where we had put Father Christmas's grotto. One proposed a continuous recording of the Christmas story from the modern Bible with recorded carols in between each playing of the story. The other suggested live Carol Singing at set times with live readings of the Bible story. Their version might be like a full Christmas service with readings, carols, and prayers.
Helen and I discussed the merits of the suggestions. I'd have to present both to the next Chamber meeting but with my recommendations. If we chose one, the other church might be offended. I hoped that I could use parts of both and involve ALL the churches in our town, somehow.
When we went to bed Helen told me that our next door neighbours, Claire and Danny, were expecting their first child about Christmas time. Although we were happy for them it emphasised our own lack of success. We tried again but our hearts weren't in our performance.
My recommendation to the Chamber meeting was that, with the help of the churches, we should produced a Nativity Scene. At certain times of day, all day on the Saturdays before Christmas and on Christmas Eve itself, we should have a programme of live events. The events should include readings of the Christmas Story, some aimed at young children; Carol singing; short sermons on Christmas from the different churches, and at least once each day a dramatised version of the Christmas story, narrated by the adult Jesus.
By the August meeting the Chamber of Commerce and Churches Together had agreed the modified proposals and we working towards implementation. We had the scenery being built, the costumes being made, the programme taking shape and everything seemed to be going well.
In October disaster struck. We hadn't cast all the parts for the dramatisation and the churches couldn't agree on who should be the narrator, the adult Jesus. There was real friction over the proposed candidates. Someone acceptable to one church was anathema to another. It was all falling apart.
One Sunday evening we were sitting in our living room after hosting a dinner for with our neighbours, Claire and Danny. Danny had spent most of the day helping me service the truck and we had taken it for a test run. Claire's bump was obvious. While the rest of us were drinking alcohol-added coffee, she was drinking slightly-flavoured water.
"When's it due?" Helen asked.
"About Christmas," Claire replied. "The official date is Christmas Day but I'm not so sure. I think it will be a week later than that. I don't mind when it arrives but I'll be pleased when it's born. I'd like to get back to a normal diet and a glass of wine from time to time."
Among other things, such as the uselessness of my truck as a regular form of transport, we talked about the Chamber's nativity project. Danny laughed when I told them that the churches were arguing about who should play Jesus.
"The Operatic Society had a similar problem a few years ago when they produced Jesus Christ Superstar," he said. "Their casting of Jesus was inspired."
"Who?" Helen asked.
Danny asked us to guess. We had named almost all the men we knew as members of the Operatic Society as Danny shook his head again and again.
"Hussein," he eventually told us.
"Hussein? But he's Muslim!" I retorted.
"So he is," Danny laughed, "but the churches couldn't object that one of theirs had been preferred over another, and Hussein was the right choice. He's from the Middle East, has an imposing beard, and looks like the Victorians' idea of Jesus."
I wondered. Would Hussein do be our Jesus? Would Churches Together accept Hussein, again? I'd have to see Hussein first, ask him, and then play the diplomat.
That night, lying beside Helen, her jealousy of Claire's pregnancy was obvious.
"I wish I was as pregnant as Claire," she said. "Can we try again?"
I was tired after working on the truck but if Claire was willing I wasn't going to plead tiredness. She rolled towards me. I made a production of stripping off my pyjamas and her nightdress. Then my hands and tongue began to explore her body. She writhed sensuously, pressing her breasts against my mouth, then her tummy and I ended up licking between her legs as her thighs gently squeezed my head.
I extended my tongue. Her thighs spread. Her hands pulled my face closer so that my tongue could reach deeper into her. I probed, twisted, sucked, licked as her body became warmer. Her hands became insistent, dragging me closer until she arched her body and shuddered.
"Now!" She cried. "Do it now!"
My erection slid inside her wet pussy. Her arms and legs wound around me. I thrust as hard as I could as she juddered beneath me. Her lips found mine and we lost overselves in each other as I came inside her. As I relaxed her muscles squeezed so that I wouldn't withdraw. We continued to kiss and cuddle until I was ready again.
This time Helen rolled us over. She rode me to my next erection before slumping on my body. She dragged the duvet over us and went to sleep, my penis still resting inside her. I slept for a while, but it must have been several hours, because when Helen started to move again my erection returned. Finally sated, she rolled off my body, rested her head on my shoulder and we slept until the alarm clock woke us.
It had been our best sex for many months and was the start of several similar nights over the next few weeks.
Hussein agreed to be Jesus for the Nativity Play. Churches Together, and one by one the individual churches, accepted Hussein as a compromise candidate, and the Chamber's plan was back on track. I still had many details to arrange but we should get the project done with reasonable luck.
By the start of December the project was ready to go. The dress rehearsal was attended by representatives from Churches Together. They liked it.
When we opened the Nativity Scene with live Bible Readings, with the Nativity Play once a day during the week and twice a day at the weekend the crowds thronged to our small shopping mall. Many of them also went to Santa's Grotto in the large mall as well. We didn't mind as long as they came to us too.
Hussein's part, and those of the other actors, had to have substitute players and understudies because no one could do all the shows. Hussein's two brothers alternated with him. Some people didn't notice that his brothers weren't Hussein. Almost all the schoolchildren came in groups to see the play. It must have been good because they sat through it quietly and discussed it later when back at school.
I was happy. The Chamber of Commerce and Churches Together were delighted. Hussein and his brothers were enjoying themselves, so were the other actors, and the various people doing the Bible readings. They had never had such attentive audiences.
The only spot on the horizon was that Helen's pregnancy tests were still negative. We were making love more frequently, more enthusiastically, enjoying doing it, but not producing the result we wanted. We kept trying several times a week and several times a night. We went to bed naked every night so that we could make love as soon as we wanted to, and we did want to, often.
The Nativity Scene and the activities were due to end the day before Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve the churches were holding more formal services and carol singing in our mall during the day. After the last performance all the participants gathered together for mulled wine (some non-alcoholic) and mince pies. I thanked everyone for their hard work. We gave three cheers for Hussein and his brothers.
An unexpected bonus came from Adrian, Chairman of Churches Together. He announced that the committee had decided to ask the local mosque to join Churches Together. Hussein stepped forward and said that the mosque had agreed and welcomed the opportunity to work with the faith community of our town for the benefit of the whole community. It was obvious that Adrian and Hussein had pre-arranged their announcements, but we gave three more cheers before singing some carols.
My truck was useful on Christmas Eve. We had to dismantle and remove the scenery. It was pouring with rain, as it had been for the last few days and there were deep puddles. I was able to reverse the truck through the puddles, up the bank at the back of the mall, extend a tarpaulin from the truck's canvas tilt to the loading bay, and everything went in. I drove to the Operatic Society's store, rigged the tarpaulin again, and we unloaded.
That night I was really tired but happy. As we watched the late night news the rain was beating against our windows. The weather forecast warned of more heavy rain during the night and probable local flooding.
We went to bed early and made love but Helen had to do most of the work, riding me to completion several times. I went to sleep with Helen resting on me and the sound of the rain almost drowning every other noise.
Our telephone rang. Helen reached for it. As she did so I slid out of her and felt a sense of loss. She listened before saying:
"Hang on, Danny. I'll ask him."
She put her hand over the phone's mouthpiece.
"Claire's waters have gone. Her contractions are getting more frequent. Danny's called an ambulance but they can't get here because of the flooded roads and the other emergency calls they've had. The midwife is the other side of the river and she can't get across. He's asked whether you could get the truck through to the hospital?"
"Of course I'll try," I replied as I threw some clothes on. "It will get through anything less than five feet deep but how will Claire take being bumped around?"
Helen didn't ask Danny.
"She's desperate. She'd take a canoe if that would get her through."
"Tell Danny I'll have the truck outside in five minutes."
I dashed downstairs as Helen relayed my message. I grabbed the emergency case we had prepared for difficult trips in the truck, my waterproof jacket, a torch and hoped.
"I'm off!" I shouted up to Helen.
She appeared at the top of the stairs.
"Take care, James, but get Claire there -- safely."
"I'll do my damnest."
Danny was supporting Claire in their porch. He helped her climb up into the truck's cab. She sat in between us, tightly wrapped in layers of coats. Danny pushed her suitcase of birth essentials behind the seats as I banged into first gear. Claire gasped as we crashed over the speed bumps in our road. Once into the wind on the major road the ancient screen wipers totally failed to clear the windscreen. Over the noise of the engine I yelled at Danny:
"Cover your faces if you can!"
I opened the windscreen on my side. The wind and rain whistled in as I pulled the motorcycle goggles over my eyes. The raindrops stung my face but I could see better. The headlights shone on the wet road and reflected from the falling rain. Spray sheeted sideways as the truck's tyres splashed through the deepening puddles. So far most of the water was off the road, not on it but there were dips ahead that flooded in heavy rain.
As we approached the first low point there were blue flashing lights ahead. I pulled up behind a police car. A policeman came to my driver's door.
"It's two feet deep but you should get through if you have to."
"She's in labour!" I shouted.
He waved me on. I drove through the water at less than ten miles an hour but this place was no real obstacle. The worst section was a mile ahead. My face was stinging from the driving rain. Claire's face was pressed into Danny's shoulder. The back of her coat was dripping wet.
At the next dip my headlights showed water right across the road, just sitting there, not flowing but raindrops smashing into its surface. I edged the truck to the centre of the road where the camber was highest.
"Get your feet up!" I yelled at Claire and Danny.
I revved the engine, changing down to second gear in low ratio. We entered the water at five miles an hour with the engine revving hard. The radiator ploughed through leaving a bow wave. The water came in under the doors. My foot, jammed on the accelerator, was covered in freezing water. It rose up my leg but stopped halfway up my shin before dropping slightly. It rose again, not as far this time, and then drained away as we slowly left the flood.
The water ran out, under the doors and through the bolt holes in the floor. Only then did I think that Claire's suitcase would have been soaked. I glanced across. Danny was holding the suitcase on one knee. At least one of us had some sense.
The rest of the journey was damp but uneventful. I dropped Danny and Claire at the Maternity unit's door, parked the truck, closed the windscreen, collected some items from my emergency suitcase, and then squelched after them. A nurse met me at the door.
"James?" she said quizzically.
"If you want to change out of your wet clothes we might have something."
I lifted the bag I was carrying.
"That's OK. I've got dry clothes."
"Then you can change in the toilets." She pointed in their direction.
"Tea? Or Coffee?"
"It'll be here when you've changed."
It was. Proper coffee, not hospital machine dispensed slop.
I settled myself down in the expectant partners' waiting room. Danny joined me about an hour later. I raised an eyebrow.
"Claire's OK. So's the baby but we've probably got to wait another hour before it arrives. That would have been long before we could have got here by ambulance if we could have..."
"Forget it," I said, "What are neighbours for?"
He shook my hand. Then he wanted a cigarette. He doesn't smoke. Neither do I -- normally. But he had a packet of ten. We went outside, huddled under a porch and watched the rain fall as we puffed awkwardly.
The rain seemed to be less heavy, less driving, but the roads would still be flooded. Unless the rain eased a lot more I wouldn't be getting back to Helen for hours. There might be a drier way round. If there was, I didn't know it.