BY BRENDA SHORT
Copyright is held by the author.
THE PHONE rang just as Ruth emerged from the shower. She grabbed her towel and rushed through to the bedroom, dripping water everywhere. There was an apologetic voice on the other end of the phone. Of course, she had known it was her son before she answered and she had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that she would be alone for Christmas. It had been snowing and blowing tor two days now and there was no sign of it letting up.
“Sorry Mum,” he said. “They cancelled our flight and we can’t re-route through New York. Seems like the storm is affecting half the province. No flights in or out of Pearson Airport and no trains either.”
Ruth had been so looking forward to this visit from her son and his family, but Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating and although everyone wanted a white Christmas for sentimental reasons, there was no denying that this was too much snow.
“Not to worry, it can’t be helped. We can catch up later — maybe for New Year,” she said bravely, the smile in her voice hiding her disappointment as they said their goodbyes.
Sometime after lunch, Ruth decided to decorate the tree. This was something she had hoped to be doing this evening with her grandchildren, but now they wouldn’t be there to help her. Of course, she could do it herself, although it wouldn’t be the same, but she so loved the tree and without it, it wouldn’t feel like Christmas. Then there was the pile of presents that she had spent the best part of yesterday wrapping, to put underneath the tree and complete the ambiance.
Three hours later, Ruth poured herself a glass of wine and sat back to gaze at her handiwork. The finishing touches were completed and the tree dominated the family room in its magnificence, the lights showing to best advantage as always in the advancing dusk. As soon as darkness fell, there was a very faint knock at the door. Ruth almost missed it, but then, there it was again, an insistent tapping. When she opened the door, she discovered to her amazement a young boy standing on the doorstep, inadequately dressed and looking very cold.
“Can I come inside please?” he asked.
She looked around but couldn’t see anyone else. “Where are your parents? Who are you with?” she said warily.
Ruth was alone in the house, so she had to be concerned for her safety, but he wasn’t wearing a coat, or boots and there was nobody in sight, so she brought him inside.
“Let’s go into the kitchen and make some hot chocolate,” she coaxed, “What’s your name?”
“My name is Noel. I don’t know where my mama is,” he said, holding her hand tightly as he walked beside her.
Ruth attempted to contact the authorities about the boy, but the lines were down. She gave up trying for now and brought out some food, leftover from lunch, but Noel just picked at it, more content with the hot chocolate. Afterwards, they went through to the family room and he sat on the cushion in the corner of the hearth in full view of the Christmas tree, with twinkling lights reflecting in his bright, blue eyes. That old cushion had been there when she bought the house and for some unknown reason, she had kept it. It just seemed to belong there. Ruth sat in her rocking chair and pulled a story book from the bookshelf; one she had intended to read to her grandchildren.
She began to read the story to Noel. It had been her son’s favourite Christmas story about a little boy who asked Santa for a puppy, but didn’t have a name for it. The story invited the reader to choose the puppy’s name.
“What would you like to call the dog?” asked Ruth
“I have a dog. His name is Sherlock. Can we call the dog Sherlock?” asked the lad.
So, Ruth read the story about a little boy named Noel who got a puppy for Christmas, then lost his way home in the snow and his puppy, Sherlock found him and brought him home. Noel eventually began to yawn and Ruth decided it was time for bed. She took one of the Christmas presents from under the tree and unwrapped it to reveal a pair of pyjamas. She had bought these for her grandson. He was about the same age as Noel and they fitted perfectly.
As soon as she tucked him in, he fell sound asleep. It had been wonderful having a young child to care for again, but this one was surrounded by mystery. Nobody had come to her door looking for him. Where were his parents? Had something happened to them? She attempted to get through on the phone once more without success; she would try again first thing.
In the morning, Ruth went in to wake the child, but there was nobody in the bed. The only indication that he had ever been there was a slight depression in the pillow and the pyjamas that he wore, neatly folded. She searched the house, but there was no sign of him. Eventually she managed to contact the local police and report to them that she found a child on her doorstep, but that somehow, he disappeared in the morning. Was she losing her mind, she wondered? However, a little while later, a police officer arrived. He said he had a strange story to tell her, about a tragedy that happened just outside of town 80 years before. Ruth busied herself making coffee for both of them and he sat down at the kitchen table.
“As the story goes, according to the old timers that hang around at the general store,” he began, “there was a train wreck hereabouts, just before Christmas. A small boy called Noel Holmes became separated from his parents, when the train went off the rails. The child was disoriented and wandered off in the middle of a blizzard. He had a dog, no more than a pup and it was howling incessantly in the baggage compartment and trying to dig its way out of the holding cage. As soon as they let it out of its cage it ran off, struggling through the deep snow. They searched all night for the boy and his dog and eventually found them, lying beside each other, so close to their house. The dog’s name was Sherlock, named ironically after Sherlock Holmes and the family lived at 15 Plumtree Lane.”
“But that’s . . . that’s my address,” said Ruth amazed.
“Oh yes! And I almost forgot to tell you . . . the boy and the dog have been known to come back and visit sometimes at Christmas,” he said laughing, “but only when there’s a big snow storm.”
The officer stayed to have a cup of coffee with her, but eventually he went back to work. Just after he left, Ruth heard a barking at the door and when she opened it, there stood a beagle, wagging its tail furiously. He came running inside and straight over to the old cushion on the hearth.
“Oh no! Just a minute. Come back little dog,” she called, failing to stop it from coming inside.
He seemed to know the cushion would be there and lay down as if he belonged to the place, his tongue hanging out one side of his mouth. Ruth closed the front door purposefully and walked through to the family room to retrieve the dog, but now there was no sign of him.
“He came in here . . . I saw him, I’m sure of it!” she said to herself.
He had evaporated, it seemed, either that, or she was imagining the whole thing. But what was that? There, laying on the floor beside the cushion, was a well-worn leather collar with a silver dog tag. She picked it up, but she already knew what she would find. On one side it read “Sherlock” but on the reverse, “15 Plumtree Lane,” and the date, “1938 . . .”
The phone rang suddenly, startling her. It was Washington, D.C. again. “Hello Mum, it’s just me, Merry Christmas!” said her son, with a background chorus of little people joining in. “We should be able to catch a flight tomorrow. How was your Christmas so far? Anything interesting?”
“You have no idea,” she said, fascinated for a moment as the collar slowly faded away and she was left holding nothing but her Christmas fantasy. “I think I’m going to get myself a dog and call him Sherlock!”