Stranger in the SnowbyMaxSebastian©
The usual gloomy calm trapped by grey stone walls and ancient oak pews was different now as she knelt there on a small frayed cushion, her hands locked together, eyes closed in solemn, silent prayer. Sparkling colours and hauntingly beautiful music diffused through the air to blend a hint of enchantment into the tranquil church.
In the bleak midwinter,
frosty wind made moan,
At the end of the nave, in front of the altar and beside a majestic Christmas tree, a host of innocent faces protruded from tattered song sheets, singing in exquisite harmony as the cluster of a congregation in front of them sang along under the watchful eye of the old priest.
earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone;
Kneeling there at the rear of the church, the young woman did not join in with the carol singing. Her brow furrowed in purest concentration, she seemed more than a little troubled, despite the festivities going on around her. Beneath her shabby, unbuttoned coat, a spotless white uniform could be seen - the uniform of a nurse, in fact, though the tightness of the garment around her shapely curves might have made it tricky for her to carry out long medical shifts.
snow had fallen, snow on snow,
snow on snow,
A brief look at her watch, and she pulled herself up onto the deep-polished pew. Without a sound to disturb midnight mass, she tiptoed towards the heavy door of the church and out into the freezing snowscape.
in the bleak midwinter,
Wincing from the biting chill, she dodged between the doddering vehicles, her hopelessly high-heeled shoes slipping in the abundant snow, to cross the street towards the inviting yellow glow of the small coffee shop. Inside, the gentle aroma of roasted coffee and the glorious warmth provided a cosy welcome, even going so far as to produce a relieved smile on her pale face.
"Lisa!" the big ham of a man behind the counter wondered up towards her.
"Well how you doing there?"
"Hi Hank," she said, forcing a grin. "Can you get me a coffee, huh?"
"You working tonight?"
"Just finished," she answered him, a vacant stare fixed on a strand of tinsel strung along the mirror behind the counter.
"That's a shame," he said with a wry smile, his eyes flicking down to blatantly goggle at her chest, "maybe next time, huh?"
"Yeah, but you'll have to ask your wife first."
He looked crestfallen at that, his lustful fervour subsiding into realisation that she spoke the absolute truth as he handed her the two drinks with a slight shrug of the shoulders and a more respectful nod.
She took a seat by the window, holding her coffee in both hands to absorb the much-needed warmth as she watched the cars driving by, their headlamps straining for visibility in the flurry of dancing snowflakes as they crept down the main street.
"Oh Lisa, I'm real sorry I'm late…" She looked up to find another young woman entering, breathless and rosy-cheeked with a small boy in tow.
"Hey, not to worry." Lisa's eyes lit up as the boy ran up to her and jumped onto her lap.
"Hi honey! You tired?" he shrugged his shoulders.
"You wanna go ask Hank for a chocolate shake?" She handed the six-year-old a few coins as her companion took a seat opposite her, and the boy bounced up to the counter.
"Thanks for doing this, Lorna," she said earnestly, "it's so good of you."
"Hey, I wish I could do more. It's a real bitch having a shift on Christmas Eve."
"I need the money. God, I don't even have enough to buy Stevie a decent Christmas present," her voice quivered slightly as she fought back tears.
"Look, why don't you come over to ours for some Christmas lunch, huh?" Pity had flooded Lorna's face, but it was uneasy pity. Lisa wasn't the type to accept charity, she was just too proud.
"Thanks but no," she said. "I couldn't."
Lisa looked to the counter, where Hank was cheerfully preparing her son's shake, nattering with the boy about this and that, most probably what Stevie hoped he was getting for Christmas. She didn't like to think about that – whatever happened, Stevie was going to be seriously disappointed come the morning, and that was the most soul-destroying thing for a young mother like her. All the kids at his school would be getting countless expensive toys for them to show off as soon as they went back to class in the new year, but Stevie would have nothing.
"How was work?" Lorna asked.
She heaved a huge sigh, and said: "Christ, Lorna, I think I'm going crazy in there."
"I was dancing for this guy…he was awful, I mean real dirty. Just some trucker from Minnesota, and he was all unshaven and all…so I was dancing, and then I just kind of got into it…"
"That's great!" Lorna grinned. "Was he hot?"
"He was horrible. I don't know what came over me, I just started grinding against his hard-on, you know? I never do that." She shuddered. "Something just kind of happened to me – next thing I knew, my thong was off and I had his horrible hairy face locked between my thighs."
"So did you get his phone number?"
"God, no! I have never been so embarrassed!" she seemed shocked, but controlled herself since her little boy hopped up onto the seat beside her.
"You haven't been with a man in ages, Lisa. It's only natural…I mean, how long has it been?"
"Five years. Stevie was one."
"You have to move on, Lisa, you really do. I know it's tough, but you can't go on like this. You don't deserve it."
"It's just…the men in there…it's kinda dirty…y'know?"
"A lot of the girls do it, Lisa," Lorna leaned back in the chair, "if you don't meet guys anywhere else in your life, there's no other way you'll ever meet someone."
"God, but it's so disgusting. I mean, those men…you have no idea where they're from, what they're like…it's not like you get to talk to them much while you're cavorting all over them."
"But you need someone, Lisa." Lorna was very serious.
"Yeah, I know."
The trouble was she just didn't know how.
It was well into Christmas Day by the time they got home. Stevie had already drifted off to sleep on the journey, and after she unlocked the front door of her crooked little house, she had to lift him up off the front seat of her rust-bucket Ford and carry him inside.
She lay him down on his bed and tucked him under his sheets, staring at him for a while as he slept. He was so perfect, a real little angel. The simple truth of the matter was that if it hadn't been for Stevie, she might have ended it all by now.
There was such a huge, painful knot in her stomach reminding her of how excited he had been about Christmas coming, and the long letter he'd painstakingly written to Santa, embellishing it with little pictures of happy people and snowmen.
He'd be so disappointed when he found the reality in the morning. They just about had enough money to cover the rent on this miserable little house miles from anywhere, presents were just not urgent. Even their kitchen was empty, no food on the shelves save a loaf of bread and a pint of milk.
She closed his bedroom door, her heart full of pain. Why was life so hard? Why did everything go so very wrong for her? What she hadn't said to Lorna was that while she'd been with that guy at the club, she'd had an orgasm for the first time since Martin got ill. It had been such a weird thing, it had felt so very good, yet she had felt so guilty afterwards.
The man had got up afterwards and had started undoing her belt. She had come to her sense then, seeing just how horrible this guy was, his unshaven face wet with her own juices. There was no way she was going to let him have her – no way at all. The other girls did with customers sometimes – and got well paid for it, too – but she wasn't that kind of girl.
The guy lost his temper and slapped her round the face before she screamed for Jess, the manager, to throw him out. And Jess, naturally hadn't done that, because Jess was a creep and was only interested in money. The rest of the evening had not improved.
Silently, she moved through the cold, empty living room and into her own bedroom. The house was so lifeless, so unwelcoming, and when it came to Christmas morning, it was going to be more miserable than ever. They didn't even have a tree. Maybe next year she might have saved enough to make it a happy occasion for Stevie.
Pulling off that stupid nurse's uniform that no self-respecting nurse would be caught dead in, she felt a little better, but that dread of what was going to happen in the morning had saturated her completely. She slipped off her damp underwear and dropped a nightshirt over her curves before getting into bed, her body still shaking slightly from the experience she been through that night.
Perhaps she did need a man – hell, of course she needed a man. Her own body was telling her that much. And lying there in bed, she could help but slip a finger between her legs, touching the warm moisture there, wondering if she'd ever find a man good enough to take away her pain.
She touched herself for a while, recalling just how good it had been to have contact with another human being, feeling his tongue tickling her clit, his lips dancing with her labia, drawing out her juices with the waves and ripples of pure sexual indulgence. He had been quite talented between her thighs, she had to hand that to him, although his prickly face hadn't been pleasant against her sensitive regions.
But lying there in her bed, she began to think of Stevie's happy little face, and then about how unhappy he was going to turn in just a few hours, and the sexual desire leached out of her tired body. How could she possibly deal with his disappointment?
And not for the first time she ended up crying herself to sleep.
She awoke with a groan. How did he do it? He must have had less than six hours sleep, yet here he was, running into her bedroom, full of life, light and energy. She felt awful. Maybe she was getting old after all. Maybe she was over the hill for a man. She'd be thirty in five years – and that was practically middle age, wasn't it?
"Mommy, Mommy!" he flung himself onto the bed and hugged her tight. "Santa's been! Santa's been!"
She sat up, brushing his hair out of his eyes as she put her arms around him. He was so sweet. He must have found his three little presents stuffed in the stocking, just a couple of candy bars and a new t-shirt, and was doing his best to show her he wasn't disappointed. What a little trooper.
"Well it's Christmas, isn't it?" she said as he bounced up and down, so restless in the need to get out there and open his presents.
"Come on, Mommy, let's open our presents!"
"Well okay," she said, "go watch TV for a while, I'll be out in a bit."
And he scampered off, so cheerful even with the pain of disappointment filling his little body. She was truly blessed, that was for sure. For a moment, she lay back in the bed, so very tired. Why couldn't he have woken up another couple of hours later?
With a deep breath, she picked herself up off the bed and wrapped a threadbare robe around herself. He couldn't be kept waiting, whether he only had three little presents or not. She found her old pair of slippers, because her feet were freezing on that bare wooden floor. Damn it, it was cold. She'd have to build a fire – she couldn't have Stevie catching pneumonia now.
So, Christmas Day. It felt weird. The magic was there still – it still felt like Christmas – but there was a horrible loneliness now, an emptiness that reminded her that this was the first Christmas she'd ever spent without her parents. It reminded her that she'd never again be spending a Christmas with her parents, too. That was the worst thing about death – that thought of an eternity without ever seeing that person ever again. And in the last five years, she'd been through that pain three times. It never got any easier.
Pulling the robe firmly around her, she picked up the small glass of water that had been resting on her bedside table next to the half-read Danielle Steel novel and took a sip as she walked to the door. Another deep breath, and she turned the door handle, preparing herself for the miserable sight of her empty house.
The door swung open, and Lisa's glass slipped out of her fingers to tumble through the air, its crystal contents spilling everywhere as it hit the floor, bouncing and spinning until it eventually came to rest.
If she had stopped to think about it, it might very well have scared her witless. Someone had come into her house during the night. Someone had broken into her place. But it was Christmas Day, and there was still that magic in the air, that inexplicable feeling that nothing bad could really happen.
So she wasn't frightened, she wasn't horrified, she wasn't in the slightest bit disgusted.
She was stone-quiet, stomach-through-floor, eyes-as-headlamps astonished.
In the corner, by the fire that was crackling away behind a protective brass-netting shield, a bushy green Christmas tree stood covered in ornaments and tinsel. Underneath it were countless presents of all shapes and sizes, beautifully wrapped in colourful paper. The windows were now framed by plush red curtains made from rich material that slightly shimmered in the light.
The small kitchen area was full of food of every kind poking from all the shelves, and the surfaces were covered with little pots of vegetables of a distinctly seasonal nature all ready to place on the sparkling new cooker. The brand new oven glowed and hummed as it slowly roasted the huge great turkey that just about fitted inside. Stevie sat in front of the fire, leaning back against the cosy three piece suite to watch the gleaming new television.
And underneath the immaculately tidy room, a gloriously thick woollen carpet, which had kept the glass that she had dropped from being broken by the hard floor.
"Oh…my…oh my…" she just didn't know what to say.
"Can we open our presents now?" Stevie, with his lack of experience of the world in general, was clearly delighted at how great this whole Christmas business was. Lisa, on the other hand, was stunned.
Had it not been Christmas, she may even have felt the need to call the police. Someone had broken into her house. But someone had broken in and filled it with the most wonderful things, had turned it into a Christmas dream. The fireplace that had always had a sombre, lonely character even with the largest fire, was now blazing away in the most homely way. The thick curtains and the luxurious carpet. It was incredible.
"Mommy, are we gonna open our presents?"
She just didn't know how to react. She went to the door – it was locked. Double locked. Nobody could possibly got in. The windows – they were locked too. How the hell had they got this carpet in? How had they got this gorgeous sofa and the two armchairs through the door?
"I won't be long, honey," she said, "I just wanna check on a few things – then we can open the presents."
She rushed into her bedroom and rummaged through her pockets to get her keys, hurrying back out to open the door and find that the snow practically came up to her waist.
The cold just did not bother her as she struggled out into the snow, her legs numbed by the intense chill as she waded through it, losing her slippers along the way, fighting her way through the snow and around the house. Nowhere, around the entire building, was there any sign of human activity beside her own. She peered out into the distance, to the trees away to the south, to the hills to the north – nothing. It was the most isolated spot, and there was no sign of anyone out here except Stevie and herself.
She was baffled, completely baffled. How could someone have moved all those wonderful things into her home?
Then, clambering back for the front door, she spotted something on the front lawn.
Her feet were now on fire, they were so cold. The chill was grinding at her flesh like an all-over drill, eating away at her comfort without mercy. But there was something over there, contrasting with the snow, and her curiosity was more powerful than the cold.
Leaping, bounding, stumbling through the thick snow, she more than once ended up falling on her front, the icy wetness soaking through her coat and her nightshirt, yet still she carried on. There, near the only tree for hundreds of yards around, lay the possible explanation for all the wonderful things that filled her house.
As soon as she laid her eyes on him, her heart seemed to warm up, glowing inside her chest. He was strikingly attractive, the kind of face that might make a young woman feel pain from not being able to possess him. What was he doing on her lawn? Why was he lying there, spread-eagled, seemingly completely unconscious? What did he have to do with the mysterious gifts that had appeared in her living room? Was he part of it? Was he a gift to her as well?
Before the questions, however, she had to get him inside, out of the cold. If she was suffering from it, Lord knew how long this poor man had been lying out here. His skin was, almost bluish in fact, and that was not a good sign. She could see that he was breathing still – his breath was condensing in the air, producing thin clouds of vapour in the chill breeze – and knew that he was not dead, but if she didn't get him into the warmth soon, he might not last long.
"Stevie?" The man was not huge, but he was too heavy for her. Running back inside, she found Stevie sat in front of the fire, warming his little hands in front of the flames. "Stevie, where's your sled, huh? You remember where you had it last?"
"It's in my room." He looked at her as though she was insane. There were presents to open, why did she want to go and play on his sled?
"Okay, honey, we'll open our presents in a minute, okay? I promise."
She found some old shoes, slipping them on over her numb feet before hurrying into her son's room to retrieve the sled, which was little more than a flat piece of wood, but it would have to do. Back outside, she managed to roll the man onto the sled, and huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf, she just about got him inside.
"Who's that man, mommy?" Stevie asked, but what could she say?
"I don't know, honey. I don't know."
Inside the house, she had to drag him, holding him up under the arms. Quite a struggle, all in all, but she managed to get him to her bedroom, and up on her bed. His clothes, strange as they were, were absolutely soaked. As little as she knew about medical practice, she knew it couldn't be too healthy to lie in ice-cold soaking wet clothing, so she set about pulling them off his cold body, attempting to protect his privacy as much as was humanly possible, but realistically such a thing was impossible. And what she did see was certainly easy on the eye.
She left him to sleep there, taking his clothes through to put through the wash. Stevie was confused, not quite understanding what was happening, but at last, she came to collapse on the couch, and he was certain they were going to be opening the presents.
Lisa, though, didn't feel like opening presents. She felt very, very strange. Seeing that man there in her bed made her realise just how long it had been since she had been with a guy. For five years, it had been lonely, but she'd been able to block it out to some extent. Now it just came home to her how much she needed someone.
Sitting there on the couch, she trembled slightly. He was so handsome, it quite took her breath away. He made her hurt inside, he was so attractive: she suddenly felt sure that she would never have him, that Fate just couldn't be that kind, and yet there he was, naked and in her bed. Taunting her, almost, despite his unconscious status.