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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM EVA VICCI
“Move along.” – said the old man in a voice resembling that of the mongrel sitting next to him. “Stupid boy, it will be your fault if my dog falls off the wagon.”
The ill-humoured old man with very few teeth was not the type of guy Jonathan wanted a confrontation with so he quietly shifted along the narrow seat to make more space for the animal. “Why on Earth did he have to bring his wretched dog to a Christmas Fair anyway?” – the boy wondered hoping he would survive the next half hour journey. Luckily, in the distance, between the snow-white hills he could now make out the skyline of the town. There were eight passengers crammed uncomfortably together on the small horse-drawn wagon, all servants from the nearby estate. They took out their frustration on each other, especially on the younger ones. Jonathan, to his misfortune, was the youngest. Despite the uncomfortable journey on that snowy December morning, they were all very excited about going to town and seeing the Christmas Fair, but for Jonathan it was a dream come true. As a small child, he had once before visited the Christmas Fair. He was with his parents and six siblings, but all he remembered now was how he was mesmerized by the magical dancing carousel horses. Unfortunately, they could not have taken a ride on it as they could not have afforded it. But now, with 19 years behind him, there was nothing else he could think of but finally riding the carousel. He had brought all his saved money with him and had decided to spend it all on it.
“How much is a ride on the carousel, Mrs Watkins?” – Jonathan asked the plump cook.
“What do you want to know it for? You won’t get on it, I’m telling you. It’s for children, you should be spending your money on more clever things.”
“If you excuse me, Mrs Watkins but it’s up to me what I spend my money on. Today I’ll ride the carousel at least three times.”
“You watch your manners, young Mr Jonathan! – Mrs Watkins replied in a brusque manner. “I won’t let you get on it and if you still do it, next Sunday I’ll tell the reverend to rebuke you for it.”
“Come now, Mrs Watkins, are you perhaps jealous of the youth’s entertainment or why are you so against it?” – asked Miss Ellis, the scullery maid.
“You, young people! You know nothing! The carousel is the invention of the devil. The strong spinning is sucking the mind out of one’s head and when one gets off the dreadful construction, one’s head will be so empty, that the devil moves inside it immediately. The reverend said this so it must be true.”
Jonathan decided not to argue with Mrs Watkins, he pretended to sleep instead. In reality, the wagon jolted so precariously on the bumpy road that sleep was quite impossible.
At the fair all manner of people were bustling about, young and old, local and foreign, rich and poor. Everything imaginable was for sale here, pheasant, cheese, fresh bakery, mulled wine, shoes, leather and all types of glittering Christmas goods. Jonathan was finally happy to be left alone to explore the wondrous market.
Behind the long row of stalls, there was an open area, where the carousel stood. Jonathan knew Mrs Watkins might be watching him, so he pretended to peruse the goods laid out on the tables. Slowly he shifted closer to the end of the row, nearer and nearer to the object of his desire. In the meantime he enjoyed the bustling crowd and the Christmas atmosphere which was very much elevated by a brass-band playing cheerful festive songs.
As he stood near a fascinating stall of oddments, something caught his eye. It was an elegant pen-knife with an artistically carved ivory grip. It was not its beauty though that caught his attention. His father, who had died three years ago, had an identical one. He had inherited it from his grandparents, so the unique piece was more than 70 years old. Sadly Jonathan’s parents were so poor that one day they had no choice but to pawn it. As he took the penknife in his hands, he saw with astonishment, that there was a long, deep scratch along the body of the grip. Just like the one his father used to have. “Oh, my Goodness! This is my father’s penknife!” he realised in shock.
“How much?” – he asked the seller excitedly.
The price was high and he knew he could not afford it even if he had borrowed from Mrs Watkins. And the fair will be gone tomorrow!
“Pretty little thing, have to admit.” – he heard an inquisitive voice to his right. “But what do you need it for?”
The boy turned his head to see who was speaking to him in such an inappropriately familiar manner. The smartly dressed young man with dark brown eyes must have been about 25. He was standing close to him and was eying him up and down shamelessly. Jonathan didn’t like either him or the way his checked cap was fitted loosely on the back of his head.
“I don’t need it for anything.” – he replied with clear indignation in his voice. ”Anyway ,mind your own business.”
“Why so snappy, young man? I didn’t mean to be rude. But I can’t imagine why someone like you wishes to own such an expensive piece. No hard feelings, but it seems to me, it’s way beyond your means.”
“And what if it is? – Jonathan replied now quite offended. “Of course, it is. It’s antique. More than 70 years old. 74 exactly.”
With a hint of mockery the man asked: “And how come you’re such an excellent valuer?”
There was no time to answer as the seller suddenly turned to Jonathan. “You buy it or if you can’t afford it, clear off or I call the police.”
A sharp pain slashed into Jonathan’s heart.
“It had belonged to my father before he had to pawn it. He inherited it from his grandfather. I can recognize it from the scratch.”
“I’m not interested in your fairytales. Are you buying it or not?”
“I would, but I don’t have the money. Could you not reduce the price, please?”
His eyes were wet and his voice suffocated but the seller was not touched by it.
“Now get away from here! I don’t want to see you shifting around my stall. Cheaper! What is he thinking? Does he really assume I’m grinding for free?”
The seller shouted more obscenities at him, but he didn’t hear it, partly from the loud beating of his heart, partly from the street cries.
He was driven by an urge to get away from the cursing seller as quickly as possible and also from the impudent fellow with the checked cap.
He looked quite flustered by the time he got out of the crowd. Here in the clearing it was more spacious and he breathed in the fresh, cold air with relief. He was still troubled by the penknife but he kept telling himself, it had only a sentimental value and it wouldn’t bring his father back. The sight of the brightly lit carousel finally cheered him up and he stood staring at the spinning red, blue, green and golden horses with amazement. He was not the only one admiring the dazzling spectacle; there were many more onlookers than at any other show at the huge market. The elegantly shaped horses looked magical as though flying in the air and the sound of the barrel-organ transformed the frozen faces.
Jonathan checked the price of a carousel ride. Luckily he had enough money for a few rides, but as he looked up, he realized something. Something unnerving, that he couldn’t even describe at first. Everybody was laughing and chatting cheerfully, everybody apart from him. He was completely alone and for the first time he realised it was a weird idea to get on the carousel on his own. Nobody sat alone, everyone was with company. All by himself, how could he laugh and scream? Joy has no point if there’s no-one to share it with – he said to himself. Jonathan remained leaning on the rail, staring at happy, cheerful people, friends, couples, parents and children.
“Don’t tell me you can’t even afford this one.” – came the mocking voice from behind his back.
Straight away he knew it was the young man with the checked cap, but Jonathan pretended he hadn’t heard him.
“I can pay a round for you, if you want. Then at least your visit to the fair today was not all in vain.” – he said while leaning his back against the rail next to Jonathan.
Jonathan hiding his annoyance kept acting as if he hadn’t noticed him. He wanted to move away from this arrogant chap, but here he had a good view of the carousel and he was well hidden from the eyes of Mrs Watkins, so he stayed. They remained standing speechless next to each other for what felt like ages, simply watching the carousel, seeing people getting off and new ones getting on, over and over again.
“Which estate are you from?” – the man suddenly broke the silence. “I’ve not seen you in town before and I thought I knew everyone in the area.”
Jonathan’s less than enthusiastic answer came after a short while. “From Lord Thomson’s estate.”
“Oh, yes, the old Lord Thomson. Is the old boy still sticking around then?”
“How dare you speak of the Lord like this? Maybe you work for the Queen herself?”
“Not for the Queen, but you are close, my friend. I work for Earl Graham. His palace is not too far from your Lord’s house.”
“Your manner is as impudent as if you were his son. It’s a pity your commonness betrays that you might be just a stable boy.”
The man didn’t expect Jonathan to give such a daring answer, but he was impressed and intrigued by it and he smiled to himself.
“I am neither his son, nor his stable boy, you silly. I am his footman!” – his voice was bursting with pride but Jonathan kept staring in front of him with a motionless expression not at all impressed by the fact that an Earl’s footman was gracing him with his company.
“I would think you’re too young to be a footman.”
“I’ve been serving his Earlship for 8 years now and just been promoted. Merely 2 weeks ago.”
“Congratulations.” – said Jonathan dryly still avoiding looking at him.
More people got off the carousel but the two of them were just standing next to each other quietly. Quickly Jonathan cast a side glance at the other man and to his surprise he found him quite handsome, apart from the smug expression on his face.
“Are we going to get on it then or are we just watching others having a good time?” – the footman asked all of a sudden.
“Well, if you really want to. But I’ll pay mine, of course.”
They bought their tickets and with growing excitement, they sat on a horse each, next to one another. Jonathan’s was golden, the young man’s was pure white.
“Of course, it’s just because I have no-one else to go with.” – Jonathan thought.
Altogether they did 5 rounds, Jonathan clearly having the time of his life and they were screaming, shouting and laughing as loud as the other people or even more so. While spinning around, Jonathan caught Mrs Watkins’ angry face for a moment as she was shaking her fist towards him but he was not bothered by this in the slightest.
Finally dizzy and with Jonathan’s money nearly gone, laughing cheerfully with hot flushes on their faces they went back to the rail.
“Hm, excuse me, Francis.” – a small, middle-aged man approached Jonathan’s newly found companion. “The coach leaves very soon back to His Earlship’s estate.”
“Thank you Harold. Just go ahead, I follow you in a minute.”
Harold made his way into the crowd.
“Who was that?”
“It’s Harold, the coachman of the Earl. He came at the right time, just when we finished our fun ride.”
The two young men were standing very close now, facing each other, still leaning on the rail with one hand. They didn’t say much, they were looking at each other and then at the other one’s boots and then each other again.
“Well, it was great that we got on it.” – said Jonathan finally.
“Yes, it was good. Better than watching only.”
“Well, goodbye then. Good luck with the footmanship.” –said Jonathan getting away from the rail.
“Before I leave, I’d like to give this to you.” – said the young footman and he took a small package out of his pocket.
Jonathan unwrapped the small brown paper package and then his heart stopped beating for a moment. It was his father’s penknife. The same grip, the same scratch on it. He was speechless and tears of gratitude flooded his eyes, he grabbed the other man’s hand.
“How can I thank you?” – he asked finally.
“You don’t have to thank me. Take it as a Christmas gift. Look after it well and never ever pawn it.” – and he winked at the boy.
Jonathan looked directly into the footman’s eyes.
“I can’t accept such a gift from a stranger and I don’t even know your name.”
“Don’t be silly. You know what? Thank me by meeting me again. Alright?”
Jonathan’s heart started to beat rapidly and he still held the man’s hand. In the tight pocket of the coat two frozen hands began to melt. The soft touch of fingers felt more intimate than any other kind of touch Jonathan had experienced before. The man’s ring finger was gently stroking his palm, so gently it was barely sensible. Looking at each other they shut out the entire world for a few seconds then finally Jonathan spoke.
“I’m off duty next Sunday afternoon.”
“Next Sunday afternoon then. At 2 o’clock, on the square, at the church entrance. I’m counting the days. Oh, and Francis Johnson.” – he said while taking his hand out of his pocket. Their handshake was half formal, half humorous.
“Jonathan. Jonathan Moore. – he said with a playful smile.
“I will speak to the reverend. I will speak to him today, I’m telling you. What a shame! Not once, not twice, but five times you got on that monster.” – Mrs Watkins scolded Jonathan on the journey home. “You! Have you gone numb? Instead of feeling ashamed why are you smiling like a fool? What on Earth has got into you?”
As Jonathan didn’t say a word and continued smiling, Mrs Watkins quickly found out what had happened. Of course, as she had predicted: The carousel had sucked his mind out of his head and the devil had moved inside it.
I live in Yorkshire, England with my poor husband who unwittingly was destined to marry a gay romance writer and be her first and most important critique.
I started writing short stories when I was nine, not gay romance though. My love for reading gay romance led me to try my hand at writing it, with a preferance for the historical. I am currently working on my first novel that will be out next year, fingers crossed, also on a collection of gay historical short stories.
I’m in love with the Victorians hence most of my writings are set in those fascinating and romantic times.
I have a outgoing personality and a dangerously disorganized hard drive.
Once I made the mistake of accidentally attaching my gay romance short story to a job application instead of my CV. Never heard from them since.
Advent Calendar Giveaway!
Eva’s giveaway is a £5 book voucher for one lucky commenter.
The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this - just save them up for Christmas Eve.)
22. In the film “Miracle on 34th Street, which store did Santa appear at?