“Friends and Lovers”….chapter 16

Christmas was just a few short days away, but Christmas presents were going to be a bit of a problem. Meg had found herself struggling just to pay the rent and the bills this past year, having been reduced suddenly to one wage. Her mother was easy to buy for, requiring little inspiration; some practical appliance or a piece of clothing always seemed to make her happy. Meg had tried to surprise her one year with some jewellery, but in hindsight, she knew her mother saw such things as superfluous; a waste of good money. Meg never really saw her wear it, probably totally unaccustomed to allowing  herself such excesses.

Meg desperately wanted to give something to Jo and Max, to show how much she appreciated their friendship. It had to be something personal enough that it expressed her own personality, as well as recognizing the unique character of her new friends. Meg mulled over a multitude of  ideas which were either too expensive, or rang of mediocrity, until she was woken in the middle of the night by the clarity of a light-bulb moment. She would write them a short story that would express who she was, as well as everything Jo and Max meant to her!

She sat up in bed and turned on the lamp, grabbing the notepad she always kept on the side table, words almost tumbling from her pen. Although it was three o’clock in the morning, Meg knew from experience, if she waited ’til morning to capture her thoughts, they would have evaporated like a dream that couldn’t be recalled.

……It was a story about a little pauper girl who lived by the sea, with parents whose poverty had reduced them to cruelty and depravity.The little girl was sent out each day in a small wooden boat, to catch fish for their dinner, and some to sell at the market. One day a terrible storm caught the girl and her small boat, eventually casting her up on a distant shore. She was rescued by a family of creatures, part human, part elfin beings. They nursed her and cared for her, the little girl unaccustomed to such kindness and happiness. She thought when she was well enough, she would just return to her own family, but when the day came to leave, she found she couldn’t remember her way back. And she could not bear the thought of being that poor little girl again. The elfin creatures made her welcome, and the little girl was happy, wanting more than anything to be just like them. But no matter how hard she tried, she did not have their magical ways, and she began to feel clumsy and useless again. The elfin creatures didn’t seem to mind that she was not like them, and after more time had passed, and she grew used to their kindness and acceptance, the little girl grew to discover she was not just a little girl at all, but a beautiful bird that could fly great distances, and discover new places. But she always came back to roost with her new family, where she knew she was always loved and accepted for who she was, which quite magically, changed from year to year!…….

Meg had always loved to write children’s stories, but this one she would dedicate to Jo and Max and Luke. The next day she bought a blank notebook from the local craft market. The handmade paper was bound in a leather cover, with a moonstone set in sterling silver on the front. Meg spent all that day transcribing her story into the journal, finally finishing just before midnight. She carefully folded it in tissue paper, and wrapped it in a piece of dark green velvet, tying it up in a long crimson ribbon. Exhausted from staying up late the previous night, and the clock now telling her it was half past midnight, Meg fell asleep with very little effort, sleeping ’til late the next morning. She spent the afternoon packing as much as she could for her holiday at the ‘lodge’. The excitement was building, and she felt like a child again. It was so uplifting to have something to look forward to, to make plans for. The anticipation was intixicating; two sun-filled weeks by the ocean, in the best of company!

This year Meg had decided she would take her mother to a restaurant for Christamas lunch. Suddenly their was just the two of them to muster some festive spirit, up until now, always spending the day together with Sam and his family. Meg thought it would be better to surround themselves with the noise of a roomful of strangers, than to try and celebrate alone. The thought of it had been far too depressing, so Meg had booked the table well in advance. It proved to be a good idea, the people around them friendly and inclusive, and even Joan seemed to enjoy herself after a couple of champagnes. Meg needed no encouragement to partake of the Christmas cheer, just the thought of leaving for her holiday the next day was enough to keep her bouyed.  At the end of the day they exchanged their gifts, Meg giving her mother a pink spotted  blouse, and a cup and saucer set in fine china, cornflowers and peony roses delicately painted on its surface. Meg knew Joan appreciated her present, when she lingered in a hug for just that little bit longer. Meg slowly unwrapped her gift, expecting something thoughtful but practical, as was her mother’s way. But she was moved to stunned silence when she finally tore away the last remnants of wrapping paper.

“Oh, Mum! That’s so….unexpected,” she stammered. “Thankyou,” she whispered, hugging her tightly. Meg carefully turned the pages of a small leather bound book of Shakespeare’s poems, the fine pages edged in gold. It sat on top of a carved teak hair comb, with delicate mother-of-pearl inlay. “Their perfect Mum,” Meg said, as Joan busied herself folding the discarded paper, obviously a little embarrassed by Meg’s show of gratitude.

“Oh, I’m glad you like them dear,” she said, her voice rather tight with emotion. “I saw them at a market, and I thought to myself, they’re just the kind of thing my Meg would fancy,” she said, trying to disguise her pleasure at Meg’s response.

Meg smiled to herself, imagining the great lateral leap of  thought it must have taken for her mother to actually choose the gifts, and how she must have been so focused on pleasing her. Meg felt the tears burning behind her eyes, and fought an overwhelming flood of love and sadness for this tiny, self-contained woman, who must have had her own youthful hopes and dreams at one time, that were never allowed to flourished. They spent the rest of the evening more relaxed and at ease with eachother than Meg could ever remember in years. Later Meg drove her mother home, and as they said their goodbyes Meg asked, “you’ll be O.K. while I’m gone Mum?” Joan brushed off her question, her usual self- sufficient manner coming to the fore.

“Oh, of course I will; I have my own plans,” she said with an unconvincing confidence. “You have a lovely time with your friends now,” she said, rummaging distractedly in her purse for her door keys.

They hugged briefly, and as Meg waved from her car, at her mother’s solitary figure on the porch steps, she was momentarily gripped by sheer panic, at the thought of living her life out alone. She turned her thoughts quickly to the next day, feeling with relief, the warmth and hope refill her soul.

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