Thin, white candles teetered at the end of the small, pathetic looking tree. The branches struggled to hold up the few baubles Mama had secured from her childhood.
“Shall I light them, Mama?”
“No. Let’s wait a bit. We only have those few left.”
Mama continued sewing her patchwork doll. It was hers when she was a little girl, made by her Grandpapa. Her grandfather was well skilled in toy making. A secret he kept to himself working in the mill.
The doll had been well-loved but not very well taken care of. It bore the marks of falls, scrapes, and juggling acts. Her little apron needed a resurrection of sorts as it was threadbare and torn in several places. The plaid dress was in a similar condition. Mama had been saving her coveted dolly for just this occasion, to give to her firstborn daughter on her first Christmas.
“Shall I wake her?” her nervous, pacing husband stammered.
“Y-y-yes. I’ll wrap Dolly quickly first, though.”
Mama sprang up clutching Dolly as if she were a five-year-old again. Motionless, she stared blankly into the smouldering fireplace. Anxiously, Papa grabbed the nearest piece of cloth, an old tea towel, and gingerly handed it to Mama.
“Here, darling. Use this.”
Hearing his voice was enough to snap her out of the possession her thoughts held. Mama took the towel and wrapped the dolly with it. There was no string to be had, so she tied the ends resembling a piece of confectionery. “I’m ready, Papa.”
Papa went to the other room. “Wake up, my little peach. There’s a surprise waiting for you,” he whispered, hoping not to jolt her. Papa wrapped the little girl in the thickest wool blanket they had and carefully brought her into the main room.
The room was now glowing from the extra coal Mama placed on the fire. They saved all year to have a warm Christmas. “Hello, my sweet. Oh my goodness, you must be cold. Papa, bring her closer to the fire.”
“You’re a lucky girl, you are,” nuzzling his nose to her cold face. He sat on the well-worn lounge chair closest to the fire as a tear began to form. Mama held tight her hand, rubbing it vigorously.
“Papa, she’s so cold. Maybe another blanket will…”. She trailed off in search of another blanket. Mama paced the room, trying to remember where she had placed all the blankets. In a panic, she grabbed her cape hanging near the door and draped it on the little girl. By this time, Papa was unable to hold back the tears.
“Papa, no – no, Papa! I won’t hear it. I won’t hear it!”, screaming now in heightened hysteria. She was unable to accept the fact that her daughter had died moments earlier. She would never celebrate her first Christmas. Papa had indulged Mama hoping to ease the pain, but couldn’t hold the ruse any longer. They had to accept it.
Mama went over to the doll, unwrapped it carefully, and squeezed Dolly close to her breast. Tears streamed down her face, drowning the little doll. She slumped to the floor and began rocking back and forth, still clinging to the doll, aimlessly staring into the fire.
Papa knew this look. She had regressed to her childhood—it was Mama’s way of dealing with the reality of her present.
It was then that Papa knew he lost them both.