An Empty Cot by Mari Fitzpatrick

The excitement and mystery was wrapped in sparkle that shone through the buying and storing of presents. The bottles of minerals were packed in cases in the corner of the kitchen; orangeade and cidona for us and red lemonade for daddy’ s whiskey that sat on the top shelf of the cupboard.

Mammy bought two tins of shop biscuits; it was the only time in the year we were allowed them. The pictures on the tin were finger marked as we delighted in drooling over the thought of the promised day.

We were kitted out with new clothes. Nana put our new white socks in the top of the underware drawer in case we wore them to school by mistake. New shoes; boxed, waited to beopened and our Christmas day outfits hung in the wardrobe. They'd be our Sunday best until Easter anyway.

The wonder of the visit to Santy with mammy holding our hands, loose change jangled in her purse as she told him what we wanted. We hid our faces in her coat, her scent comfortingly attached calmed our bewilderment. Santy gave us an apple, anorange and a book. They were enough to hold us enthralled while we waited for the real thing.

The crib in the town square was a big wooden structure with the shepherds and Mary and Joseph all settled round an empty cot. A big old pretend ass and cow in the corner-- really the only things we could relate to. We talked about the unfairness of it, the poor babe born in a manger cold and shivering and that horrible inn-keeper who refused to help his mam and dad.

We sang "Away In A Manger" with gusto, as the days crept slowly on. The countdown from the school breakup a heart aching wait.

Christmas eve tantalized us with the promise of the unknown. “Now, if you’re bold Santy won’t come," Nana said striking fear in our hearts as we played tig round the dining table and chairs.

“Stop it, you know your mammy got the chimney cleaned so he won’t get his beard dirty and I have his bottle of porter ready and waiting," she'd continue as she opened one for herself out of the half dozen the grocer brought up earlier that morning.

Mammy and daddy arrived back from the final shopping trip. The local shops closed for three days over the holiday so they stocked up. The ham bubbled gently on the range in the kitchen, it scented the air. The turkey stuffed and undignified wore socks as it sat on a platter on the kitchen table beside the trifle that wobbled like a dancer's skirt -- frothy and colorful. But mammy worried, would the turkey fit in the oven? She'd say to daddy, “I know you won it at cards, but I should have bought the size I wanted."

We were bathed in the late afternoon as winter dark enveloped our estate. Every bit of us scrubbed; we squeaked about the sitting room waiting for six o clock when TV started. We were allowed to watch for an hour before bedtime. Bedtime was awful mammy tucked us in as we chattered.

“What time, mam?" we asked for the tenth time. "what time will he be here?"

“When you fall asleep, girls" she replied twinkling.

We counted sheep and sang carols. We told stories as we tried desperately to fall asleep soSanty could call. There was fear in our
hearts, would we get our request or would he have heard about our behavior. We whispered to each other about our misdemeanors and promised we’d be the best girls in the neighborhood for the next year.

Mammy eventually came up to us for prayers. Quietly we joined her in saying,

"O Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’ s love commits me here. Ever this night be at my side to light and guard to rule and guide. Amen."

The atmosphere calmed when she said it. She kissed us goodnight and left. One by one, we drifted off into sleep, knowing that the magic would happen.


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