A Short Story
© 2020 by Larry F. Sommers
Read Time: 11 minutes.
Below is the first draft of a story. You can help make it better by commenting on what you liked or what you didn’t. Feel free to make suggestions. How could the story be better?
STARBRIGHT, AGE SEVEN, LAY FACE UP IN NEW SNOW. She waved her arms and legs with all her might. After six sweeps, she sprang to her feet and leapt clear to the sidewalk.
She turned to look. It was a perfect angel, though small because she couldn’t make it any bigger. Even so, it filled the square of terrace between sidewalk and fireplug in front of the four-story building where she lived.
She prayed it would be enough.
She went in and, holding her red rubber boots in her hands, ran up the stairs. Thirteen steps each flight, for a total of fifty-two, like the suits in her deck of worn cards.
“Hi,” said Uncle Dave as she entered. “I saw you down there. What did you make?”
She stood over the rubber mat. “An angel. Do you like it?”
Uncle Dave brushed snow off her coat with his fingertips. “I do.”
“How come you’re here? Where’s Wanda?”
“She went across town to be with her family. So I’m filling in.” He went to the window and peered down. “Of course. That’s an angel all right. Look here what I made.” He pointed to a scraggly green tree.
“Only God can make a tree.” She enjoyed pointing out Uncle Dave’s errors.
“But I made it stand up in the corner. And I’m going to make it pretty with balls and lights and tinsel. You can help.”
Uncle Dave’s coat was draped on the end of the sofa. Shirtsleeves rolled up, tie loosened, he lowered a string of lights over the scrawny tree. Starbright grabbed a fistful of tinsel and reared back to throw it.
“No, wait. Ornaments first.”
“Oh.” She giggled. “I forgot. Uncle Dave, I did something bad to Mommy.”
He paused and looked at her. “Yes?”
“I called her a mean old lady.”
“I want to tell her I’m sorry, but I’m not. It’s true, and people should say true things.”
Uncle Dave squinted. “Uh huh. Why is she so mean?”
“That’s what I’d like to know!”
“But why do you think she’s mean?”
“She won’t take me to see Grandma and Grandpa for Christmas.”
Uncle Dave draped the lights with care. “We’ll have a jim dandy Christmas here. I’ll come over, and you and your mommy and I can open presents and sing songs and—”
“We never see Grandma and Grandpa!”
“Now you can start hanging ornaments. I know your mom would feel better if you apologized to her first thing tomorrow.”
“But what I said was true, and true things should be said.”
Uncle Dave mmphed. When the tinsel was hung, he warmed a pizza he had brought with him. They played war and slapjack with Starbright’s dog-eared cards until late.
“Oops! Look at that, it’s past nine. Time for you to go to bed.”
They hung her stocking on the coat tree by the front door, because there was no chimney. Uncle Dave said that in multiple-unit apartments Santa Claus used the front door like anybody would. She believed Uncle Dave because he knew all about apartments.
Dave sat in the arm-chair, the one with the displaced spring in the seat cushion, lost in thought.
After a while he got up, opened Starbright’s door a crack, and listened. Satisfied with the sound of her rhythmic breathing, he got a small tumbler of ice cubes from the tiny kitchen and poured in a shot of Laphroaig from the slim silver flask in his inner coat pocket. It was his one indulgence, although he could easily have afforded others.
He held the bitter Scotch whiskey in his mouth, savoring the taste of smoldering peat and creosote. Life was like that. Some of the vilest things could turn out to be all right.
What did the Old Man have against Candy, when all was said and done? Dave had gotten to know her better since Willard’s passing, and she was all right. She was doing her best. What more could Dad and Mom demand?
Starbright stood in a field of snow. Clean, white snow that sparkled like diamonds. Not a house or building or car or fireplug in sight. There were only trees, evergreens half-buried in hills of snow.
She had grown incredibly tall. She seemed as tall as the distant trees.
Then she saw Santa coming across the fields toward her. He was walking, taking big steps in his black boots. She wondered where his sleigh was, and his reindeer, and his pack.
When Santa got closer, she saw that it was not Santa, but a woman, or maybe a man, in a long, flowing robe. He, or she, had a very peaceful look on his, or her face, and said, “Fear not.”
Starbright looked up to see the figure, who was much taller than she, even though a moment ago she had been as tall as the trees. She suddenly knew it was an angel, because she saw the wings on its back, six of them, fanning the air just the way she had fanned the snow in front of the building with her arms.
“When you wake, you must go and ask your mother’s forgiveness.”
“But what I said was true!”
“The lips of the wise do not tell everything they know to be true.”
“Oh.” Starbright had never thought of that.
The angel nodded.
“But,” Starbright said, “when will I ever see Grandma and Grandpa?”
“You are not meant to know by what means your needs shall be provided.”
Starbright stared up at the angel. She could not fathom what the angel had just said, but it was too late to ask, for the angel was gone.
Candy rose early so she could shower, dress, and run a brush through her hair before Starbright woke. Dave would arrive early, and Candy did not want to be caught in night dress. It meant she didn’t get much sleep after coming home from Tiny’s, where she waitressed until bar time. But what else was new?
Starbright, pajama-clad, toddled in. “Oh, Mommy, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”
Candy stared at her surprising daughter. “You’re forgiven, you know that. What am I forgiving you for?”
“Oh . . . you know.”
Before Candy could reply, there was a knock at the door. Good heavens, Dave was here already.
“Come in,” Candy said. “Welcome, and Merry Christmas.”
Dave carried an armful of packages, which he tumbled down onto the sofa.
Candy took his overcoat. “I haven’t started cooking yet. Sit down and relax. I’ll rustle up a big breakfast, and we can open presents after that.”
Starbright looked disappointed at the order of things, but she might as well start learning about delayed gratification.
“Here. This might help.” Dave dived into a sack on the sofa and pulled out a tray of store-bought cookies. He held them out to Candy as she returned from hanging his coat.
“Cookies? Thanks, but how’s that breakfast? Both of you just cool your jets, and we’ll get around to treats after—”
Another knock sounded at the door.
Dave looked at Candy. “Are you expecting someone else?”
She shook her head, and with an expressive shrug went to the door and opened it.
Her father-in-law, Thomas Campion, the Thomas Campion of Campion Realty, stood there, his height and breadth filling the doorframe, a sour look on his face. “Well, Candace? Can we come in?”His wife, Marge, in fur, stood behind him. She elbowed him aside and shoved her way in. “What he means, my dear, is Merry Christmas. It’s so delightful to see you again.” She smiled a thousand watts, including about forty watts of real warmth. She shoved a stuffed bear out ahead of her and wiggled it at Starbright. “Here you are, Bright! Santy left him at our house for you. His name is Geoffrey.”
, thank you!” Starbright stepped forward grinning and hugged the bear, nearly her own size. “I just knew you’d come.”
Candy’s gaze shifted from Starbright’s radiance to Tom’s discomfort and Marge’s tension. “Yes. Do come in. Sit down.”
Dave swept his packages off the sofa. “Right here, Dad. Get comfortable.” He held out the tray Candy had just ridiculed. “Want a cookie?”
The old man reached forward, inspected the assorted cookies peevishly, finally pinched a ginger snap between thumb and forefinger. “Thank you.”
Marge held her arms out to Candy and folded her in a clumsy embrace.
“Candy was just about to make breakfast,” Dave said. Then, to Candy, “Weren’t you?”
They all stared at her.
“Yes, indeed.” She had bought enough ham and eggs for three. “Pancakes. How many can you eat?”
Tom, holding a half-eaten cookie, looked up from the couch. “You needn’t cook for us, Candace. I mean, it’s a nice thing—”
“What the old fool means is, how can we impose on you, considering . . . .”
“Considering both of you cut me and Starbright out of your lives when Bill died?”
At the word “died,” Marge winced.
“I know what’s wrong with me, but she’s your only granddaughter.” Candy found she was breathing heavily.
Starbright caught her by the sleeve and pulled her down. She cupped her hands around Candy’s ear and whispered. It sounded like, “Wise mouths don’t blab everything, even if it is true.”
Candy smiled. “Pardon my manners. Of course you’re welcome here. Tell Dave how many cakes you can eat and I’ll get cooking. Starbright, go to your room and get dressed.”
Starbright made a detour to look out the window. Four stories below, the snow in the little square lay undisturbed.
A presence loomed above her head. Uncle Dave.
“No angel,” she whispered. “What happened to it?”
Uncle Dave craned his neck so his face was up against the glass and looked down. “Mmph,” he said.
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