|Watchers & Dancers
Author: ArmarielRoZita PM
This is an updating of Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic, Little Women, which dares to ask: What might the March sisters have been like if they had been living in the present time? It is not a parody or satire, but a respectful, gently humorous, and affectionate take on a strangely timeless tale. Now complete!Rated: Fiction T - English - Family - Chapters: 30 - Words: 107,815 - Reviews: 2 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 05-14-13 - Published: 11-17-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3075262
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
3. The Unstolen Christmas
Their mother came home late from her nursing job. She was exhausted, but delighted at the tree.
"We lost poor Mr. Adams," she sighed as her daughters helped her off with her coat and scarf and hat, and turned off the TV set. Her reddish-brown hair, cut just above shoulder length, was but lightly touched with grey, her face pretty and youthful at forty-two, her eyes cornflower blue like those of all her daughters but Jo. They had saved her some cookies, but she said she'd like supper first. "I feel so sorry for his family. They'll have a sad holiday this year. Hannah, that chicken smells so nice. Beth, don't let Mimi on the table, dear. Jo, you look unusually happy today. Where did these flowers come from? So pretty. Guess what I've got? It's a package from your father."
The girls chattered high-pitched with excitement as the package was opened. It contained six little wrapped boxes within. In four of them was a fragrant little silk purse with something inside. Meg's contained a necklace of polished onyx beads all colorful like agate. Jo got a bronze chain with a carved black ivory elephant pendant, Beth a silver bracelet with a white jade butterfly set in it, Amy a similar one with a green butterfly. Each girl got a silver ring with carved onyx stones also. And Hannah got a small bottle of exotic scent, which she later said made her feel like a sexpot. The girls alternately squealed, exclaimed, laughed and cried over the gifts, until they noticed their mother's: a big white lace, silk, and ivory fan painted with golden roses, with a little ivory holder for it. She set it up in the middle of the mantlepiece, beneath a framed photo of her husband, and stood looking at it with tears in her eyes for a moment, then at the tree, then at her daughters.
"Perfect," she said, and she was not referring to the tree or the fan.
The next few days were a pleasantly hectic blur, with Beth wailing that she could never do justice to Jo's wonderful, wonderful lyrics, especially not with that awful piano, Amy drawing one design after another, Meg alternately practicing her lines and helping Jo to make scenery for the play. Then Meg got the idea to go to the church and use the piano there, with permission from the minister. Since he was a dear friend of their father, surely he would consent.
Jo tried working on her novel, but found it hard to concentrate. She found herself thinking of the boy across the street. What was he like? Did he had any friends? She had never met the old man, only glimpsed him from time to time, heard his voice once. She supposed him to be some bitter old miser who never gave a penny to charity, tyrannized his servants, and had some dark secret. Maybe he had a wife he had murdered and buried below the cellar steps. Or a mad one he kept in the attic. Or a daughter who had refused to marry the man he wanted her to, so he had imprisoned her and fed her on bread and water... Or was he was a vampire who only came out at night...or some wicked scientist who carried out unspeakable experiments, or an evil genius with some fiendish invention that would enslave the world...or a wicked wizard with a book that could cause madness in anyone foolish enough to look into it...
Yet now he had a grandson living with him. She had to wonder why the boy was there now. Deep down she had known that her imaginings were just that, imaginings, and the truth was likely to be totally uninteresting. And so she had worked up the courage to finally go to the house. Now what?
It still bugged her that she didn't know why Theodore was living there. She had not seen him at school. Maybe he was only visiting. Maybe his parents had gone on a trip to Europe and had dumped him there. At any rate, she knew that once the girls at school got wind of him, she wouldn't have a prayer of getting to know him, so there was no use trying, only to have him snatched away by hordes of prettier girls, wealthier girls, worldlier girls, more feminine girls, girls with lower standards. Bimbos. Poor old Theodore indeed!
She turned back to her writing, which she was doing in a primitive spiral notebook, with an antiquated lead pencil so she could erase.
Lady Elianna's face glowed in the moonlight, where she stood upon the bridge gazing down upon the clear stream that seemed to slow its flowing the better to drink in the entrancing vision of pure loveliness hovering over it like a beacon of peerless beauty, and to grow ever purer in the imbibing of it, while Sir Emirion, standing in the darkness of the tower concealed from her sight, sighed and smote himself upon the breast, thinking: Alas, I shall never be worthy of such as her; I have committed far too many evil deeds, my hands forever stained with innocent blood, I have too many dark unspeakable secrets, and I am unfit to touch the hem of her snowy garment. I would besmirch her purity forever, even though it is unbesmirchable...
Hoss crap, she thought, rubbing mercilessly with her eraser. "Unbesmirchable"-was that even a word?
After a while she rose and went to the porch again, on the pretext of getting a breath of fresh cool air, but saw no sign of Theodore. Remembering his cold, she thought to take him some of Hannah's cookies. Maybe he was sicker than she thought...
But just as she had finally decided to go over, Meg and Beth burst into the door, saying they had finished the song. `
"Isn't it wonderful?" Meg said. "The guy who plays the organ, he was there practicing, and he heard us working on our song. And he came and helped us, you know with setting it down and all..."
"Mr. Brooke?" Jo said. "The one you've got a crush on?"
"I do not have a crush on him," Meg said, yet she pinked just the same. "He was sooo impressed at Bethy's talent, and he asked who taught her. I said she had lessons when she was little, then Mom taught her for a while, then when she had to go to work full time, Beth taught herself out of the books people gave her. He said that was so amazing, then what do you think? He offered to give her free lessons!"
"Mom won't allow it," Jo said, although she hated to quench the glow emanating from Beth's face.
"I know, but maybe we can pitch in and pay for the lessons," Meg said. "Prepare to be amazed, Jojo. Mr. Brooke said he'd make us a disc, so we won't have to use that old piano... Where's Amy?"
"At Faith's, I guess. Let's hear it."
And they performed it for Jo, whose turn it was to listen in dumbfounded silence. The music was so exactly fitting to the text, it was little short of astounding. Candlelight seemed to rise from it as Meg's voice with its silvery, flutelike purity lifted each phrase into vibrant life.
"Oh. My. Gawd," was all Jo could find to say when it was over. "Why didn't you guys tell me you were going to do that? I am stricken absolutely speechless. My vocal chords are frozen stiff. I simply do not know what to say..."
Beth ducked her head and turned scarlet, tears coming into her eyes. Meg smiled proudly, with an arm about her sister, and her eyes grew misty also, and so did Jo's. The boy across the street was completely forgotten. For the time being, at least.
True to their tradition, the sisters performed their play on Christmas Eve. The dining room served as stage, with the furniture moved into the kitchen, and the sofa and chairs moved before the wide arched doorway. Jo, as the villain Erronius, showed up with an enormous Salvador Dali mustache, her hair slicked back with Crisco, and a black opera cloak made from a trash bag, which kept clinging to her in all the wrong places. When her mustache fell off in the middle of a line, she calmly picked it up and stuck it back on, and went on, ad-libbing a good bit. It elicited plenty of laughs, especially from Mrs. Mathers, who was there with her widowed daughter, Mrs. Wells, from Boston. Uncle Charles and Aunt Carol also came, although this year their daughter Flo did not come, having to work late. There was also Beth's best friend Emily Prescott along with her parents and eight-year-old brother Mickey. Emily played the villain's dim-witted henchman, Ergo. When Jo said things like, "That goody-goody Prince Fidelio doesn't stand a ghost of a chance against my ingenious plot; ergo the fair Princess Estelwen shall be mine all mine!" or "The time is at hand, ergo I shall sally forth," Ergo would show up saying "You called, master?" until Erronius in fits of frustration beat him over the head with a stick made of tightly rolled newspaper, bellowing, "NO, you blithering idiot!" at which Mickey would screech with laughter, bouncing up and down like a rubber ball. Mr. Prescott rather predictably said Jo stole the show, while Mrs. Wells said Meg did excellently also-very princely and gallant, even if her long hair did fall out of her hat during the swordfight with Erronius...who took so long to expire when stabbed by Fidelio, that Mickey hollered out, "DIE already!" at which Jo said, "Ok," letting her head fall with a plop. It was a while before the laughter died down enough to finish up the play. The girls sang some carols afterward, and Emily had a flute solo, accompanied by Beth. It went over very well, although Mickey said the piano sucked, at which his mother threatened to play "Little Drummer Boy" on his behind if he didn't watch his mouth.
Then at last came the Song, which rendered everyone speechless...even Mickey and Uncle Charles. Mrs. March was not the only one who had to wipe away a few tears.
Candles and star-beams and light strings
making each room blessed and bright
Stories and candy and snowflakes
And smiles on all faces in sight...
Doves and poinsettias and roses
Angels and fairies and elves
Holly and pine wreaths and fir trees
Anthems and pageants and bells...
Turkey and dressing and chocolate
Carolers at your front door
Sweet dreams and heart-beams and memories
all these gifts I wish you and more.
May your season be filled with glory
may your fears all be cast in the fire
may your children rise up and call you blessed
may God give you your heart's desire.
May you prosper in all things this Christmas
know joy like a glowing bright star
from my heart all these gifts I do wish you
Wherever, whoever you are!
Later, when all the other guests had gone home after refreshments and much talk and praise and a game or two, Mrs. Mathers told the sisters how privileged she was to know them.
"You four are the most delightful and talented girls I've ever known, and that's saying plenty," she said as she and Mrs. Wells were getting their wraps on. "And tonight you completely outdid yourselves. Why do you think it is I've refused to move in with Alice in Boston? Because I couldn't bear to be apart from my lovely girls, that's why. Meg, your voice is simply stellar. And you have that aura of purity and inner beauty that is all too rare to see nowadays. Don't ever lose it, my dear. Don't let the world pull you down to its level, although I realize how much easier said than done that is. Promise me that?"
Meg promised, much abashed at the praise.
"And Jo-promise me you won't ever change," the old lady said. "You have a marvelous gift for making people laugh and feel better inside. It is a wonderful thing to have. Don't let the world take that gift of joy and make a cynical old sourpuss out of you. I can't tell you how many times you've shaken me out of a bad temper and kept me from turning into a crabby old woman. The world needs all of that it can get. Promise me you won't change."
Jo promised, wondering if she were having hot flashes already.
"And Bethy...you're a very sweet and gifted little girl. It's all right to be a little shy-so many children are much too loud and obnoxious. But don't hesitate to look the world in the eye and say, 'This is who I am.' Will you promise me, dear?"
Beth said she would try, blinking back a tear or two.
"And Amy..." Amy glanced down and up fearfully as Mrs. Mathers turned to her. "You have a talent also, and you are a pretty girl and will get even prettier. Don't let it go to your head. You can be very charming and mannerly when you let yourself, and that's even more attractive than looks and talent. Will you promise me not to lose that special quality?"
Amy promised while Jo barely repressed a snicker. Mrs. Mathers smiled her satisfaction.
"Now don't be surprised if Santa Claus leaves something very nice tomorrow morning," she said. "Yes, Amy, I know you all don't believe in him any more. But I assure you, all your work has not been in vain."
And she gave them all a wink as her daughter helped her into her heavy coat, and they went on their way.
And the next morning, there was a brand new 50-inch flat-screen TV set in the living room, with a card from Mrs. Mathers saying that her daughter had bought it for her, but she wished them to have it instead, since her old one still worked perfectly well and she rarely watched it anyway.
"Oh, how bewitching," Amy said, fairly swooning before it.
"Oh. My. Gawd," Jo said as she tore the silver wrapping from the three-volume set of Lord of the Rings with trembling hands. "How did anybody know...Megs?"
Meg smiled innocently as she tried on the pair of stunning white party shoes, spangled with glitter and iridescent rhinestones, that came in her package, her first pair of heels, and a small evening bag to match.
Beth had a beautiful big porcelain doll, with red-gold curls and a pink and white lace gown, complete with frilly flowered hat and parasol, while Amy got a set of oil paints and brushes. Mrs. March was gifted with a magnificent parlor lamp with prisms, and Hannah with a new bread maker.
Later in the morning they watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas on their new TV, all four of them joining in when Boris Karloff sang "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch," while the smell of roasting turkey permeated the house.
"Is the turkey almost done?" Jo yelled toward the kitchen after the movie ended. "My belly thinks my throat's cut!"
"It's done," Hannah said, "but your mother went out a while ago. She got a call from her friend Jessica, and you know what that means. Mrs. Benitez is having her baby...if she really is a 'missus'," she added a little under her breath.
"Oh, that Puerto Rican family, or are they Mexican," Meg said. "I didn't know it was due so soon."
"Why couldn't she have it tomorrow," Amy grumbled. "Christmas is a stupid time to have a baby. Now we'll have to wait forever for dinner."
"Christmas is a stupid time to have a baby?" Beth said, and Amy blushed a little.
"Well, yeah, when she's too poor to go to the hospital to deliver it," Jo said. "Geez Louise. You'd think if they were going to come into the country illegally, they could at least have the decency to know when to quit having babies."
"Babies is what keeps 'em here," Hannah said. "Well, she said to go ahead and start without her, if she doesn't get back in time. So come on and help me get dinner on the table, girls."
Just as they began to eat, the phone rang. Hannah picked it up.
"It's a boy," she said to the girls after a moment. "Yes?" she said back into the phone. "What do you mean, no food? Power turned off? Four other kids? Ok, I'll tell 'em."
"Well, if that isn't a kick in the head," she said after she hung up the phone. "Looks like she'll be there most of the day. Them poor little kids. Well...let's eat. Nothing more we can do about it."
"Where do they live?" Beth asked with sad eyes.
"Don't you dare get any big ideas," Amy told her with a peculiar grip on the butter knife.
Meg, after a moment's hesitation, stood up and reached for the turkey platter. "Come on Jo, help me with this," she said. Jo took the other end.
"I don't think I care for any turkey anyway," she said swallowing a little, "after all those fabulous sausage balls at breakfast. Those are the true taste of Christmas to me."
Beth suddenly jumped up and ran to her bedroom.
Amy blew her breath upwards, making her bangs jump. Then she rose and trudged to the bedroom after her sister.
Fifteen minutes later, Hannah's old sedan was rattling along the snowy road, Jo with the covered platter on her lap, Meg with the vegetable casseroles, Amy with the cake, and Beth with the big basket of rolls and jam, a bag of old but still very serviceable toys and candy at her feet...and the angel she had bought a week previous.
And a load of the firewood from the front porch piled in the trunk.
"Too bad we're not on camels," Jo said after a while, breaking up the silence and provoking a laugh.
"Ya know, I think this has been the best Christmas ever," she said much later that night, as they feasted on leftover roast beef sandwiches and chips and cookies and watched Miracle on 24th Street, the tree lights twinkling, Mimi fast asleep before the fire. "Except for one thing, of course."
She glanced toward the fan and the photo on the mantelpiece, from her usual place on the couch.
Her mother and sisters looked up at the fan also, then at each other, then down at the rings they wore, without a word.