YOU Fiction: The Festive Spirit

27 December 2016

When Kate bought the beautiful antique necklace she didn’t for a minute believe the spirit of its previous wearer would give her the confidence boost she needed to speak her mind . . .

by Catherine Young

‘YOU want me to do what?” Horrified, Kate blinked up at her boss. “But Derek, we agreed. I’m not supposed to be working Christmas week. I’ve had my leave booked since August.”

“I know, honeybunch, I know.” Smarmily, Derek patted her shoulder. “Only, as it turns out, I need you here after all. Just to hold the fort while I’m away.”

“But I thought Lucy was going to . . .”

“Er, well, Lucy’s plans have changed.” Derek grinned meaningfully. “You know how it is.”

Kate bit her lip, furious. Oh, I know how it is, all right Derek. You and Lucy are having an affair, so muggins here has to ruin her Christmas just to suit your sordid plans!

But she didn’t say it out loud, of course. After all, she was good old Kate, wasn’t she? Little Miss Smile-Politely-And-Let-Everyone-Walk-All-Over-Her.

“That’s settled, then,” breezed Derek. “Now, would you ring my wife and tell her I’m working late? Just say I’ve got an important meeting. You know how it is.”

He winked suggestively. Kate gritted her teeth, seething inside.

‘It's the same every year,” she confided in her friend Tina as they trudged down the main road together. “You’ve heard of the usual Christmas traditions: Christmas carols, Christmas crackers, Christmas cake? Well, I am officially a Christmas doormat.”

“You’re far too nice for your own good, Kate,” Tina tutted sympathetically, steering her into a quaint little junk shop. “Everyone takes you for granted, especially at this time of year. Which reminds me, are you and Mike having the family over for Christmas dinner as usual?”

“Need you ask?” Kate grimaced. The festive gathering with her folks was always a gruelling ordeal. If it wasn’t her hyper-critical mother finding fault with everything she did, it was her selfish sisters, Julie and Cheryl, who’d obviously adopted the story of Cinderella as a blueprint for life. With Kate firmly in the role of the put-upon drudge.

She groaned softly as she browsed around the shop, recalling Julie’s phone call the night before.

“Hi, Kate,” she’d trilled. “What time do you want Baz and me on Christmas Day?”

I don’t want you at all actually, Kate had seethed, silently. And I certainly don’t want your creepy Neanderthal boyfriend, with his terrible table manners and horrible rude jokes!

If only she had the nerve to voice her thoughts out loud.

“I wonder if there’ll be any big arguments this year to liven things up a bit?” Julie had continued cheerfully. “Wasn’t it a scream last year when Dad nearly came to blows with Cheryl’s latest boyfriend?”

“Hilarious,” Kate had fumed, remembering all the broken china she’d had to clear up all by herself.

She jolted back to the present, her attention caught by a faded sepia photo in an antique brass frame on the counter. The picture showed a glamorous ’20s flapper girl dancing at a Christmas party, hair swinging, skirt twirling.

Kate gazed enviously at the blissful expression on the girl’s face. Why can’t I be carefree and outgoing like that? Why can’t I enjoy my Christmases to the full?

“I see you’re admiring my great-aunt Connie,” said a friendly voice.

Kate turned round curiously. The shop’s owner, a birdlike old lady in a knitted shawl, was standing beside her.

“Now there was a woman with spirit.” The old lady smiled. “A bit of a mischievous character, was Connie. Always shocking people, getting in trouble for speaking her mind.”

Kate sighed. “What wouldn’t I give to be like that!”

“Listen, dear . . .” the old lady began. “I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation with your friend just now. If people are taking advantage of you so badly, you really have to stand up for yourself. It’s not so hard, you know. All you need is a bit of spirit.”

“Ha! If only you could sell me that!”

“Maybe I can, in a way.” Purposefully, the old lady reached into a drawer and pulled out a shimmering necklace. It was beautiful. Silver shards hung from a glittery band, twinkling as they caught the light. Tiny ornamental bells jingled playfully as the old woman fastened the clasp round Kate’s neck.

“This belonged to Connie,” she explained, indicating the girl in the photograph. “You know, they say a person’s spirit lingers on in their belongings. Maybe some of Connie’s might rub off on you.”

Barking mad, thought Kate.

But she bought the necklace anyway.

Back at home, Kate studied her reflection in the bedroom mirror. The silver shards swung, the bells jangled, making her feel deliciously frivolous and festive.

Mike appeared in the doorway and whistled admiringly. “You look different.”

“I bought myself a little Christmas present.”

“Nice. But it’s not just the necklace,” Mike explained. “There’s something about your eyes. You look kind of . . . mischievous.”

The doorbell rang. Kate’s heart sank; her parents, Val and Vincent, stood on the step, flanked by Cheryl and Julie, the Sisters From Hell.

“We just thought we’d pop round to arrange Christmas Day,” boomed Julie, barging in.

What’s there to arrange? thought Kate ruefully. You lot will just roll in and take over the place as usual! You’ll laze about my house getting sloshed, criticising me, while I wait on you hand and foot like a skivvy!

She frowned. “Why are you all staring at me like that?”

Then she realised. She’d said it out loud! For the first time in her life she’d actually spoken her mind!

Val and Vincent exchanged a “she’s-gone-off-her-head” look.

“I’ll be bringing my new boyfriend, Simon,” purred Cheryl, who was going through a snobbish phase. “He’s got very sophisticated tastes Kate, so could you lay on some nice posh wine?”

“Ah. Bit of a boozer, is he?” Kate nodded knowingly, nudging Vincent. “He should get on with you then, eh Dad?”

Hurriedly, Mike turned to Julie. “Er, how’s Baz?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Ah, our friendly neighbourhood Neanderthal!” Kate quipped perkily. “That reminds me, I must remember to record Planet Of The Apes.”

Everyone gasped. Kate stifled a giggle. It was almost as if someone else had taken over her tongue. Someone with . . .what was the word?

Ah yes. Spirit.

“I wish we could have a lie-in,” yawned Mike as the alarm bleeped on Christmas morning. “It’s such a pain getting up at the crack of dawn to put the turkey on.”

“Hmm,” Kate agreed. “But that lot will start grumbling if we haven’t served up by 1.30.”

As she fastened her dressing-gown, the necklace twinkled invitingly on the bedside table. Impulsively, she put it on.

Then, suddenly inspired, she threw off her robe and leapt back into bed, wearing nothing but the necklace and a broad, cheeky smile.

“Lunch won’t be ready until three,” Kate announced breezily, opening the front door to her family. “I was so busy ravishing my gorgeous husband, I forgot to put the oven on.”

Everyone looked appalled.

“But Simon and I have another engagement at 3.15!” whined Cheryl.

“Typical,” Kate rolled her eyes. “You always conveniently arrange to dash off straight after the meal, so you can avoid helping with the clearing-up!”

“Huh! Charming! Perhaps we should leave right now, if that’s your attitude!” Cheryl turned on her heel, waiting for Kate to run after her.

“Bye, then,” Kate shrugged cheerfully, closing the front door.

“That was delicious,” enthused Mike as they finished the meal. “Well done, Kate love.”

“Not bad,” agreed Val grudgingly. “Though the roast parsnips were just a little too . . .”

“If you dare to finish that sentence, Mother dear,” warned Kate, striking a match, “I might just have to set fire to your hair instead of the plum pudding.”

Humming gaily, she waltzed out of the room and picked up the phone. “Just ringing to wish you a Merry Christmas, Derek. Oh, and I’ve decided I’m sticking to my original holiday plans after all. We did agree on it.”

“But . . .” protested Derek.

“Any objections?” Kate’s voice oozed honey. “Because if you have I’m sure your wife would be very interested to hear the truth about all those late-night ‘meetings’ you and Lucy have been enjoying recently. Byeee!”

As she hung up, Mike strolled in, smiling. “Everyone reckons you’ve lost your marbles. They all think their nice little mild-mannered Kate’s been taken over by aliens or something!”

“Maybe they’re not so far wrong,” mused Kate, twiddling her necklace.

Thank you, Connie, she thought happily. And a very Merry Christmas to you too.

“And then I tipped the custard over Baz’s head and told him if he didn’t take his hand off my knee I’d stab him with a cake fork!” Kate giggled, leaning on the junk-shop counter.

“Good for you, dear,” chuckled the old lady. “Great-aunt Connie would be proud of you.”

“I can’t thank you enough,” said Kate gratefully. “You know, I rather like the new me. Do you think I’ll ever be able to do it all on my own . . . without the necklace?”

“I’m certain of it,” said the old lady, beaming. She watched approvingly as Kate strode off through the doorway, bold and brave and newly fired with confidence.

“Now there goes a woman with spirit,” she murmured out loud, opening a drawer. Inside, a dozen more identical fake antique necklaces nestled in their plastic wrapping, fresh from the factory and ready for sale.

© Catherine Young

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