Author’s Note: This piece has been edited and now appears in “Angel Songs, 20 Christmas Short Stories and Poems, plus Recipes” by Dona Watson. Click here for more info.
This story is part of a Writing Challenge I have undertaken to write something every day in the month of December on a pre-selected list of topics. Photographer Jacqueline Ashford is keeping pace with me on the same list of topics, her with her camera and me with my keyboard. You can see Jacqueline’s gorgeous photos here. We’re having way too much fun with this mutual challenge. (You can see the list of topics here.)
Coming in a little under the wire, but here’s Thursday’s story. The theme: shopping. Without further ado, here it is. Enjoy!
The Shopping Trip
by D.L. Watson
“Abby, honey, try to keep up.”
“But I’m tired, mommy. And my feet hurt.”
“That’s okay, baby. We’re almost done,” her mother said as she hurried down the mall toward another store, Abby’s brother Chad walking alongside carrying two bags by the handles. Carolers off to one side sang “Silent Night,” however, the crowded mall was anything but silent. Four teen girls strolled by, chatting and laughing. Shoppers hurried in every direction, intent on finding the last few perfect presents before Christmas morning dawned in seven days.
In all the noise and excitement, Abby barely heard her mother’s reply. The five-year-old slowed to a stop in front of the toy store and pressed her nose to the glass display window, awed by the miniature Beauty and the Beast scene on the other side. The Beast stood by a little Christmas tree, handing a wrapped gift topped with a red bow to a radiant Belle seated on the divan. There was a real chandelier and a fireplace, and on the mantle, the tiniest little nativity set. Abby imagined how much fun it would be to play with all the pieces. The characters were just about the right size for her dollhouse.
She pressed both hands to the glass until her breath fogged up the window, then reluctantly turned away to catch up.
“Mom?” Abby looked down the hallway but her mother was nowhere to be seen. The little girl spun around the other way, but she wasn’t there either. Just a mall full of busy strangers. Tears welled up in Abby’s eyes as she stood frozen, frantically thinking of what to do.
“Are you okay?”
A voice came from behind her and Abby craned her neck to look up into a pair of kind, green eyes. A young man stood behind her, dressed in army fatigues, cap pulled down over short dark hair. One look at Abby’s face and the softest look came over his face. He knelt down on one knee until she could look him straight in the eyes.
“What’s the matter, little one?”
“My mommy…” Abby tried not to cry in front of the soldier, but her little chin quivered nonetheless.
“Did you lose your mommy?”
“Don’t cry,” he said reassuringly. “I’m sure she’s not far. Why don’t we wait here for a minute and see if she comes back? I’m sure she’ll be looking for you.”
Abby sniffled and wiped her nose on the back of her hand. The soldier turned toward the display window.
“Did you see Belle?” He pointed at the tiny figure robed in a billowing yellow gown.
“Uh huh.” Abby wiped her eyes.
“Did you see baby Jesus up on the fireplace?”
Abby looked at the manger scene, then up at the man. He gazed at the creche and shook his head thoughtfully.
“Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be there?’ he said, his voice soft and low. “Seeing the angels and then, best of all, baby Jesus?”
The thought had never occurred to her and for the first time, Abby wondered what it might have been like. She looked at the angel suspended above the stable, hands extended, mouth open in song.
“Did the angels really sing?”
“Oh yes,” he looked down at her with moist eyes. “They really sang.”
“Was it really loud?”
“I’m sure it must’ve been. What a night that was.”
Just then, he knelt down and took her by the hand, turning her to face the direction where she had last seen her mother.
“Look, there’s your mom!”
Abby’s heart flooded with relief to see her mother heading toward her at a fast walk, Chad trotting along behind her, struggling to keep up. Her mother wore a look of worry, her eyebrows scrunched together, lips pressed tight. Abby bit her lip.
“I think she’s gonna be mad.”
“No,” he patted the top of her head. “I don’t think so. I think she’ll be pretty happy to see you.”
Just about that time, Abby’s mother spotted her and a look of relief washed over her face. She rushed forward and swept Abby into her arms.
“Oh, Abby, darling. I was so worried about you.” She drew back and tucked the little girl’s blond hair behind her ears. “I’m so glad you stayed here and waited for me to come back. There’s a smart girl.”
“The soldier told me to wait.”
“The soldier?” Abby’s mother looked first one way and the the other. “Honey, I don’t see a soldier.”
“But he’s right…” Abby turned to point him out, but stopped mid-sentence. He was gone. She stood and stared at where the man had been just moments before. “He was right there.”
“I’m sure he was,” her mother said and wrapped her daughter in another tight hug until Abby began to struggle for air. “I’d like to thank him. I’m just so glad to see you.” She took Abby by the hand and set off back down the hallway, although at a much slower pace this time. The carolers broke out into a soft chorus of “Away in the Manger.”
Abby glanced over her shoulder one more time, her eye landing on the figures of Mary, Joseph, the angel, and baby Jesus up on the miniature mantle. She thought of the soldier’s words and wished she could have been there at the stable to hear the angels sing. She wished the soldier was still there. She’d ask him to tell her more about the music.
Tomorrow’s theme: Bright