By Alexandra Serbay
Copywrite 2016 Alexandra Serbay
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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The window was half-obscured by the fir tree and the small room was drowning in semi-darkness. The cold winter sun was not strong enough to illuminate the dull grey sky, to say nothing about the royal finery of the bushy beauty. The tree had company in the form of a tiny five-year-old girl wearing a red dress and two braids pointing in different directions. The girl had a dreamy expression on her face and a long-forgotten tangerine in her left hand. She was gazing at the fringe of the Christmas garlands, anticipating the magic of the evening to come: the sun would go down and the window glass would get covered in frosty fairy drawings, the bright colorful lights would twinkle around and many boxes in beautiful rustling wrappings would appear under the tree.
The girl had been working on gifts for her parents for several weeks. She had been sculpting, painting, carving, packing and scrupulously tying everything up with ribbons. She loved giving presents even more than getting them. But this year she was hoping to receive a special one and her aspiration was turning into impatience, making her tap her foot on the floor and make bunny hops while walking.
A sparkling scent sprinkling her face, Alice squinted her eyes and put a fragrant section in her mouth. Sour-sweet tangerines – the heralds of Christmas – always gave her a warm feeling and festive mood.
The evening was approaching and her parents were busy with final preparations. Alice’s dad was humming something under his breath while vacuuming the apartment. The girl’s mom was flouncing about the kitchen with her forehead frowned: she would peep inside the oven to see if her signature potato casserole was golden enough, then open the fridge to check the army of salads, and then draw back the curtain to give an intense stare at her masterpiece– a huge delicious walnut cake that had taken over the whole window sill for itself. She would make it only two times a year: Christmas and the second most important holiday – her daughter’s birthday.
As for Alice, she had already finished doing her chores: she had cleaned her room, had a nap before the long evening and a run around the apartment with a wet cloth, checking every corner for hidden dust and presents. Knowing where they were before her dad would put an uneven line of goodies under the tree was her favorite adventure. Not opening her finds was a hard test, which she hadn’t failed a single time. But even though she was good at searching, she had never managed to locate them all.
Mother told Alice that Santa Clause brought the rest of the presents at midnight. And indeed the presents were there, in the girl’s room, whenever the clock struck twelve. Every time she would carefully examine the room before joining the others and would then run back with all her might to catch a glimpse of Santa Clause or her parents putting sweets under the pillow, tying a shiny pouch to the window shutter or hiding some other wonderful things in the wardrobe. But no one had ever been caught in the act. All her questions were answered with mysterious smiles and shoulder shrugs of her mother.
“Alice!” Mom’s voice sounded demanding, but when the girl appeared in the kitchen, the blond miniature woman smiled and said warmly, “I am ready. Are you?”
Alice stood there for a moment thinking, and then nodded with a serious expression on her face.
“Then go check on your dad and get dressed.”
A costume was an important part of their Christmas ritual. Alice and her mom spent long hours creating it: some pieces they would buy, others – sew or make from their old clothes. Last year she was Thumbelina. Next year she wanted to be a dragon or a pirate. This year they transformed her sky-blue plush pajamas into a polar bear costume adding paws and a hood with ears made from a fake fur.
Mom and dad looked solemn in their finest clothes, but it didn’t stop them from having fun. Every one of them prepared a game according to a family tradition: a puzzle competition from dad, an encrypted treasure map from Mom with riches hidden all over their apartment. When it was Alice’s turn, she took out the jar she had decorated herself. It was full of pieces of paper with whimsical and kind wishes she had been collecting for the whole year. They drew them one by one trying to foresee what the future would hold.
And then the moment came when all the dishes had been tasted, Christmas shows were watched, tangerines eaten, champagne and juice took their rightful places in the glasses, the elastic seconds ran out and Christmas came.
Without sparing a glance for the presents under the tree, the shining girl dashed out of the living room. She had told her secret wish to one person only. Santa has always been very attentive to her desires, but she had never been so bold before.
For some time her parents listened to the sough of the wind that was moving around the apartment: from their daughter’s room to their bedroom, and then tromping to the kitchen. After several minutes a small concentrated face covered in the cloud of white ‘polar bear’ fur appeared in the doorway. Alice looked around the room, shrewdly examined bookcases that were guarding almost every wall here, lifted and shook all big-sized boxes, went around the table, peeked behind the sofa and left the room again to come back in an instant, trying to hold back tears and tightly clutching a new toy dog.
“What happened?” the mother asked.
Alice silently clenched the toy harder and burst into tears. Her disappointment was so violent that she didn’t pay any attention to her favorite cake, nor to other presents and pointless attempts from her parents to comfort her. The only words she said while falling asleep in her Dad’s arms were:
“I asked for a live one…”
For the next few days sun seemed to forget that it was winter and was shining gaily, rarely giving up its positions to the fluffy snow that was trying to wrap up the ground with its soft blanket. Alice’s friends were calling her and coming over, but she refused to go out and play. She was sitting in her room, thumbing through her favorite books: “Biscuit”, “The Poky Little Puppy”, “Just Me and My Puppy”, “My Dog, Skip”, “101 Dalmatians”, “The Dog’s Stories”… The girl was sighing and hugging her plushy lop-eared dog, which she called Mitten because of the old cartoon where the girl wanted the dog so much that she imagined one of her mittens to be her puppy.
For a week mother had been cooking Alice’s favorite food and taking her for long walks in the nearby forest. Dad had been shaking his head again and again, frowning his brows and taking her to the ice rink. And no matter where they went, loyal Mitten followed them on a leash made of a red satin ribbon.
The family met the New Year with pies: potato pie, meat pie, egg and onion pie. For dessert there were pies too: apple pie and banana cheesecake. Bananas were a purely female treat as the girl’s ever-smiling dad couldn’t stand them and called “monkey food”. Every time he saw one of those sunny-yellow quarter moons he’d make a face at it.
A cozy atmosphere, the warmth of her parent’s care and favorite apple pie finally brought the girl into a good mood as she went to her bed smiling. She was almost asleep when she heard her mom whispering while kissing her: “A Christmas miracle can still happen”.
The next morning Alice was not able to find Mitten anywhere. Several times she came over to the kitchen where her mom was drinking tea, each time asking for her dad and running away without waiting for the answer. When the girl was on her fifth round in the search for her four-legged friend, the father came home. He shook off the snow from his hat, ran his fingers over his short black hair and asked Alice who looked shaken:
“What happened this time, daughter?”
“Mitten got lost!” The tears shone in the eyes of the little girl. “I’ve looked everywhere but could not find him!”
“Mitten, you say?” The man rubbed his smooth-shaven cheek thinking. “Have you checked the porch?”
“The porch?” Alice was amazed. “No, I haven’t. But he couldn’t get out by himself!”
“Go and look anyway. Sometimes we find what we have lost in the most unexpected places.”
Alice stood still for a couple of seconds, looking perplexedly at her dad’s wily face. Then she put her feet into the first shoes she saw and ran outside. Her parents heard a muffled “Oh my gosh”, looked at each other and followed their daughter out.
There was a big box two steps from the door. The lid, dressed with a red satin ribbon, was hanging from one side of it. The girl was kneeling near the box, holding a black puppy with red markings. The lop-eared puppy was squirming trying to lick Alice’s face. The girl was staring into the black eyes of the dog dumbfounded!
“Mom, Dad, this is Mitten!”
“Yes, honey, it is him.” Her mother and father stood in the doorway. They were holding each other with hands and glances. Their daughter’s happiness was reflected a hundredfold in their eyes as if in a labyrinth of mirrors.
Alice buried her face in the warm puppy’s flank and smelled his sweet, milky scent.
“What does he smell like?” Mom asked smiling.
“Happiness!” exhaled the girl as she ran inside to show Mitten his new home.
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