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The Christmas Window

Gracie's nose was pressed against the window, her eyes wide with delight. She watched as the toy train hustled along the track, carrying its cargo of toys and gifts from Santa's workshop at the other end of the shop window to the station in front of her, where a beautifully jovial Santa waited by his sleigh.

Elves lined the station, frozen in place at the handles of great trolleys piled with sacks along the platform. The reindeer at the front of the sleigh had their noses pressed firmly into bags of hay, making it impossible for anyone to identify Rudolph.

But wait! Who was this, gliding in from the black star studded ceiling on an almost invisible wire? It was! It was Rudolph, his nose shining in a blaze of LEDs. Down he swooped, passing close enough to Santa's hat to make the fur on the trim ripple. Then away he sped, disappearing into the dark ceiling once more.

Gracie's mouth had dropped open and she gazed up at the ceiling where Rudolph had vanished, wondering if he would come back. The train pulled into the station unheeded, jolting to a halt for ten seconds, before lurching away again, still with its full load of cargo onboard.

With a sigh, Gracie gave up on Rudolph and turned her attention to the sparkly, dancing snowmen at the bottom of the window. They were enchanting. Every so often the carrot nose of one of them would do a full rotation, then his hat would pop up to reveal a present. Two others were engaged in an endless pirouette on a glass lake, their stick hands clasped as they circled, somewhat fitfully, in a figure of eight.

The backdrop of the display was an alpine scene, with snow dusted fir trees lit by thousands of tiny lights. Brightly wrapped presents were piled haphazardly at the sides and the floor of the window was liberally coated with snow. It was, in short, magical, and Gracie never seemed to tire of it.

Her mother, however, had spent more time in front of the window than she cared to recall. She tugged at Gracie's hand. 'Come on, that's enough now. I still have shopping to get.'

Gracie allowed herself to be dragged away from the wonderful display, stumbling along backwards as she tried to maintain her view for as long as possible. And then it was gone, lost to the crowds of hurrying shoppers, buggies and bags.

A heavenly smell wafted from the bratwurst stand at the Christmas Market. Gracie peered up at the large circular stall with its swinging grill in the centre. Smoke rose, carrying with it the scent of cooking sausage and curry sauce. People waited, leaning on the counter holding five pound notes in gloved hands. One or two held plastic glasses filed with steaming, burgundy gluhwein.

Gracie squealed as her scarf slipped, one end falling down to the pavement. 'Mummy!'

Her mother stopped, frowning as she looked down at her small daughter, then she smiled and scooped up the trailing scarf. 'Here you go,' she said as she wrapped it around Gracie's neck. 'I think it was trying to escape!'

Gracie nodded earnestly. 'I think it wanted some sausage.'

'Oh it did, eh? And what about you? I suppose Gracie would like some sausage?'

Gracie beamed. 'Yes please!'

Her mother tugged her woollen hat back around her ears and kissed her on the nose. 'Well, I tell you what, you help me find a present for Daddy, and then we'll share a sausage. Okay?'

Gracie nodded eagerly. She knew just what to get for Daddy. She had seen them last week when they had first visited the Christmas Market. She tugged at her mother's hand and led her to a stall at the farthest end. Pulling up in front of the display of handcrafted wooden gifts, she pointed to a pair of bookends, each carved into an exquisitely detailed bird of prey.

Her mother stared at them uncertainly. 'Bookends?'

Gracie nodded determinedly. 'He likes them. He said he liked the eagle best.'

'But, does he need bookends?'

Gracie sighed and shook her head in dramatic despair. 'Of course he does! His books are always falling over.'

Her mother chewed her lip. It was true that her husband spent a good deal of time crawling around under his desk retrieving dictionaries, or diaries, or journals. 'I'm not sure.'

'He was looking at them, Mummy. He really liked them,' insisted Gracie.

The man at the stall watched the exchange hopefully. It had not been a good day, and the bookends were among his more expensive items. If he could sell them it would go some way towards making up for the weak trading.

'Would you like to take a closer look, madam?' he asked, proffering the eagle bookend helpfully.

Gracie's mother reached out to stroke the intricate featherwork on the eagle's back. 'They are lovely, but they're terribly expensive.'

The stallholder shrugged. 'There are many hours of work in each one. They are quite unique, I assure you.'

'I'm not sure.'

'Oh, go on Mummy,' pleaded Gracie, thinking as much of sausage as her father's present. 'He did like them.'

'Can you bring the price down a little? That's quite a bit more than I was planning to spend.'

The stallholder sucked air through his teeth. 'I'm almost down to cost as it is,' he said with a shake of the head. Then, seeing that a potential customer might be about to walk away, he smiled. 'How about I throw in the sycamore letter opener as a bonus?'

Gracie's mother considered the man. He had been quick with his offer. 'What about knocking off the price of a letter opener?'

The man straightened up, regarding her sadly. '£8 off?' she nodded firmly. 'Ah well, as it's the season of goodwill.'

Gracie had lost interest by this point and was kicking at the leaves with her fur lined boots. In the distance the Salvation Army had struck up with 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' and Gracie would very much have liked to have stood beside them, singing along and clapping her hands with the band. Her mother was still haggling with the stallholder, having spotted a potential gift for one of the elderly relatives. Gracie wished she would hurry up. This end of the market was boring. The sausages and the singing were at the other end.

At last, her mother concluded her business and turned away from the stall with her purchases in a large cardboard box. Gracie tried to hurry back through the market. 'Come on, Mummy. They're singing carols.'

Her mother battled after her, clutching her shopping bags and the cardboard box. The crowds were thicker than ever now but Gracie was squirming her way through. By the time her mother caught up, she was already standing in front of the Salvation Army, clapping her hands delightedly with the band.

'Gracie, you mustn't go running off like that,' warned her mother gently. 'It could be dangerous in these crowds.'

Gracie barely heard her. She was enraptured by the bright golden glow of the trumpets and the soaring notes of the choir. She swayed in time with the music, her eyes sparkling happily in the reflection of the fairy lights.

Her mother sighed and looked up at the clock on the wall outside the department store. The parking ticket on the car would be up in half-an-hour. She struggled to crouch down beside Gracie, resting the box on her lap.

'Gracie, we just about have time to go and get that sausage, if you still want one.'

Gracie paused, her hand held up as she listened to the last verse, then she smiled and clapped her hands with the crowd. 'Okay, Mummy. The song's finished now.'

The queue at the bratwurst stand was long, but there were three people serving and one cooking, so service was fast. Gracie tugged at her mother's jacket. 'Mummy, I can't see!'

'I can't pick you up, sweetie. I've got too much shopping.'

The cook looked across and smiled, leaning across the counter. 'Would you like to come around and choose your sausage?' he asked, pointing to the swing gate on the other side of the stand.

'Can I, Mummy?'

'I don't see why not,' smiled her mother as she wrestled a five pound note from her purse. 'But don't touch anything.'

Gracie skipped around to the gate, held open by the cook. He helped her onto a chair so she could see the browning sausages. 'Which one would you like?'

Gracie considered, tapping her chin with a gloved finger. 'That one, please,' she said at last, pointing to a brown sausage near the middle.

The cook flipped the sausage into a bun and wrapped it in a paper towel. 'An excellent choice, madame,' he said, bowing so dramatically that Gracie giggled.

He helped her down from the chair, then passed her the sausage and opened the gate for her. She skipped around to her mother, where she stopped with a frown. 'We need curry sauce!'

'I have it here,' said her mother, leaning down and drawing a line of sauce from the bottle. 'Can you manage?'

Gracie nibbled the end of the sausage and smiled happily. 'Can we look at the Christmas window again?'

'Not today, we haven't got time. But there are lots on the way back to the car.'

Away they walked, chatting and sharing their bratwurst, the mother juggling the box and bags, the daughter slowly smothering her scarf and gloves with curry sauce. They chatted happily, pausing by the display in the chemist's window. A stuffed reindeer gazed out at the passing crowds through crossed eyes. One of its ears had flopped giving it a rather rakish look. At its feet were piles of presents.

Gracie stared at it thoughtfully. 'He's quite sweet, but the Christmas window is better.'

Her mother nodded. 'I expect they had a lot more money to spend on their display.'

They carried on, stopping to admire the waving penguins in the phone shop, and the rotating Christmas tree in the shoe shop. The Disney shop had made quite an effort but even it, at least according to five year old Gracie, could not match the Christmas window.

By the time they reached the car Gracie's mother was beginning to suspect her arms may have grown at least an inch from the weight of her parcels. She loaded them into the boot with relief, then helped Gracie into her car seat.

As they drove from the car park she looked at her daughter's reflection in the rear view mirror. 'So, do you know yet what you would like for Christmas? You have to tell Father Christmas soon.'

Gracie was quiet for a while, then she leaned forwards as far as her seat belt would allow. 'I think I shall ask Father Christmas for the Christmas window,' she said quite definitely, and sat back, gazing at the passing street lights.


© 2011 Kay Lawrence.


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