Something was skittering along ahead of Maddy as she made her way gingerly across the grey parking lot of the shopping center. Grey sky, heavy with snow, grey boots, alternately striding or shuffling cautiously over the plaques of black ice conjured up by the bitter wind.
‘First Christmas alone. Bob ‘s gone. No, not gone. Dead. “
Her eyes filled with tears blurring the sight of the red scrap ahead.
“But what is that fluttering along, driven by this awful wind? Could it be a leaf? No, it’s too late for an autumn leaf.”
Too late, too late now for her to put up a tree, too late to accept any of the kind invitations by friends who remembered, after six months, that Bob was dead and that Maddy would be all alone at Christmas.
She didn’t want friends anyway. She wanted her usual quiet Christmas with Bob. He had always made an effort and sat up for a while at the little keyboard squeezed into a corner of their tiny flat. They had never had money. Bob’s emphysema had cut short his career and Maddy had spent so many years looking after him that she had no savings. Now that Maddy had to cover all the expenses with just her miserable pension, she discovered that she was very poor.
Very poor people didn’t buy turkeys or Christmas trees. Very poor people who were sad didn’t care that it was three days before Christmas. Maddy concentrated on the fluttering red scrap to give her eyes something to do besides cry.
A mad whirlwind brought the red scrap close, and she bent quickly to pick it up. Why, it was a tiny glove. She looked around, pushing back the fur of her hood. There was no mother with a toddler who might have lost the glove. No one but Maddy was taking a short cut across the parking lot.
She pulled off one practical black mitt and felt the infinitely silky, warm texture of the little glove. Her hand tingled a little.
“Weird” she muttered as she just managed to recover from a slip on a treacherous patch of ice. She shoved the glove into her pocket. She would look at it properly when she got home.
She climbed the three flights of stairs to her flat and nodded to her neighbor as they squeezed past each other on the cramped landing. How the young couple managed with a child in there was a mystery to Maddy. They had moved in just after Bob’s death in the summer, and she had not bothered to get to know them. They spoke some foreign language. Sometimes she heard the little girl crying and her mother singing to her. Then Maddy would cry too in her bed pushed close to the thin wall. The slow, gentle song lulled her to sleep.
“Good Christmas, Good Christmas,” murmured the neighbor shyly, ducking his head in a sort of bow to her.
“Yes, not just yet, but to you too,” answered Maddy. She got inside and shut the door quickly.
As she hung up her coat she thought she heard a little bell ring. Her doorbell was an ugly buzzing sound so it couldn’t be that, and it wasn’t the familiar phone ring. What was it?
It reminded her of the little glove, though. It was a clear and silvery note, a match for the clear red color of the glove. She pulled it out of her pocket as she hung up her coat in the narrow closet.
Even now it was warm! Although it was small, obviously too small for her, something made her try to put it on. It fit! The glowing red fabric molded itself around her hand. She held it up to the light. It looked graceful, even beautiful!
Nonsense – just as she went to pull the glove off she noticed the keyboard and she was drawn to it. It was dusty as she had not even touched it since Bob died. Without thinking she reached out and turned on the power. There were all sorts of settings for the kind of musical effect you could choose. Organ! Why not? It had always been Bob who played. She only knew the few simple tunes he had taught her and yet. . . .and yet. She sat down on the music stool and her right hand, warm and glowing in the red glove, formed the simple major chords of “Deck the Halls”. Her left hand faltered along with the harmony.
No one could have been more surprised than Maddy.
“But I don’t know how to play! It was always Bob who played. Now, what else had he liked? “Good King Wenceslas” Oh, and she was off…minor key and then treble for the words of the page. She played the whole carol in what felt like a trance. This was freaky!
She looked at her hands. Her left hand was quite familiar with its blue veins, age spots, long slender fingers, nails uncared for and of various lengths. Her right hand, in the red glove, looked bigger, more powerful? How could that be? The glove she had picked up had been really tiny. She shuddered. What was this weird glove anyway? She would take it off and throw it away.
But she didn’t take it off. Instead, she rubbed her hands together and felt the warmth and pleasant tingling in her left hand too. She walked over to the window just in time to see the neighbor’s wife, carrying their toddler, hurry into the building. Good heavens, neither the child nor the mother had a hat in this awful wind. The mother was holding her hand over the little girl’s head trying to protect her ears as she scuttled into the building. Clump, clump up the stairs she came and bang went the door as she went into the apartment opposite.
Maddy ran to the bedroom and rummaged around in the bottom drawer of her bureau. Where was it? Ah, here we are! She pulled out a soft woolen scarf that Bob had given her years ago. She had never worn it because the color was too intense, sky blue turning to evening. Surely there was a pair of knitting needles in here too.
“This is crazy! I don’t know how to knit. I never learned and my mother used to scold me because I was useless at any sort of handiwork. What is this?”
But her hands had a mind of their own, it seemed, and she was quickly unraveling the scarf and rolling the wool into a big ball. Cast on stitches, quickly now! She had a faint memory of her grandmother knitting her a hat with a pom-pom. But how? Oh, the stitches were already cast on and her hands were flying, rounding the shape of the hat. Yes, a few rows of knitting two stitches together to form the crown. Oh, and surely there should be ear flaps. No problem! Just pick up the stitches with one needle and crochet a triangle shape and there, that was done and now the other side and cast off. Yes, a pom pom, how funny! And cut with the scissors and attach. Perfect for the mother. Well, now that she had the pattern, in a twinkling, she had made one for the baby too.
Maddy gazed at the two hats, perfect and ready lying on her bed. She looked, astonished, at her hands and once again rubbed them together. She went into the kitchen….somewhere she had a set of cookie cutters with Christmas shapes
Up at the North Pole, Mrs. Clause was scolding an elf. She was scolding very gently, of course.
“You really must try to keep your gloves on at all times. I can’t keep going into the enchanted forest to sort through the leaves to find new gloves for you.”
“But, Mama Clause. Perhaps some poor mortal will get some Christmas cheer from my glove, after all.” whispered the elf, quite ashamed of himself.
“Perhaps some good will come of my carelessness.”
“Let us hope so dear. Now rub your hands together and see if you can manage with just the one glove. You still have over a hundred toys to make tonight and Santa has enough on his mind without worrying about production.”
On Christmas Eve, Maddy tapped at her neighbors’ door. She gave the two hats and some spectacular cookies to the young mother. Of course, she was invited in. She was shocked to see how bare and empty the flat looked compared to her own. There was a smell of something delicious cooking though.
“You are alone at Christmas?” asked the young father. “This is not good. We never made Christmas in our country but I think this is a good feast, no? You come tomorrow and we will eat together. We hear sometimes music you play. My wife sings very nice. Tomorrow we will make music together too.”
Maddy thanked them and was very glad to accept their invitation. Perhaps on Christmas Day they would leave the doors of the two flats open and they could share food and music. Bob would have liked that idea. As she got into bed she remembered the red glove. She took it off and slipped it under her pillow.