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Author's Chapter Notes:

Thanks for the comment, Kathryn :)


Christmas morning, at a rather more sensible time

Half-past seven, and young Matty Smith was asleep and dreaming of cakes and pie and other delightful things, when something landed on his bed - or, more precisely, on his legs.

“Aghh!”

He went from dreaming to sitting in one painful second.

“Ow! Christ! Susie! What are you doing, for God’s sake? You’ve broken my legs!”

“Rubbish,” said his elder sister cheerfully. “‘Course I haven’t. And don’t take the Lord’s name in vain - especially not on his birthday.”

“Then don’t sit on my bloody shins!” Matty protested, dragging the afflicted limbs from beneath his sister before flopping back onto his pillow. “What are you doing up and about so early? And how the hell do you look so disgustingly cheerful at this deadly time in the morning?”

“It’s seven thirty! Hardly the crack of dawn.”

“For you, maybe. I expect you get used to the small hours when you’re a teacher.”

“Small hours?” His sister smiled fondly down at him. “Ah, what it must be to be a journalist, able to get up whenever you like or sleep in if you want to. I always knew it wasn’t a proper job…”

“Watch it,” said Matty, raising a warning finger and wagging it at his sister. “It’s a strange job! You can be up all night and back in the office the next morning for the next assignment - so don’t you try to suggest I’m not pulling my weight!”

Susie grinned amiably.

“The girls were up early,” she said in answer to his earlier question. “They want to open their presents, but we’ve told them they have to wait until everyone is dressed and down in the salon - and you’re the only one left lurking a-bed, brother mine. Even Tristan is up and about, though he looks like he'd rather be in his bed. But I am sent to bid you come down, before the little ones burst with excitement.”

“Ohhhh.” Matty groaned and pulled the plumeau closer about him. “Must I? They can open their presents without me, I don’t mind.”

“Well, I do,” said Susie, and with a swift hand she whisked the bedclothes away from him, ignoring his wail of protest. “Up! Up! Up!”

After a brief, unsuccessful struggle for the return of his plumeau, Matty gave another groan and submitted. He swung himself up and pulled on the dressing gown his sister threw at him, then sat on the edge of the bed rubbing his eyes sleepily. Susie tousled his hair and smiled at him

“Isn’t it funny how things have changed?” she said. “Here we are, with a warm fire and lots of good food and our friends around us - and presents for everyone! When you think about where we came from…”

“True.” Matty’s mind drifted back to childhood days. “Hey, d’you remember the school parties?”

“Don’t I just! Weren’t they marvellous! All that food they had piled up for us, cakes and buns and jelly, and the teachers waiting on us - and we had to bring our own cups for a drink.”

“Didn’t we take jam jars for cups one year?”

“Several years! I don’t think we had our own cups till I was nine or ten. And d’you remember looking at all the birds they had hanging up in the greengrocers?”

“I do! Geese and turkeys and ducks. I used to be so jealous of Bert Fields in my class at school - he always had a nice bit of chicken for Christmas dinner. We were lucky to get the giblets.”

“Don’t exaggerate!”

“I’m not! I distinctly remember it.”

“Well, maybe you’re right - when we were little, anyway. Wasn’t it lucky for us when Dad got the foreman’s job?”

“It certainly changed things a fair old bit.”

“D’you remember when we went carolling when I was about eleven? You and me and George and the twins?”

“Fat lot of good they were - they didn’t know any of the words!”

“Well, they were only little. Besides, they were quite good at humming. Anyway, don't you remember that year we had a little conference to see where we should go and carol, and you said that Conservatives had the most money out of everyone and we should go and sing at the Conservative Clubs?”

“God, was I a socialist even then?”

“It sounds like it! D’you remember it?”

“I do! The first three we tried slung us out on our arses.”

“But the fourth didn’t - don’t you remember? There was a drunken bloke came out and invited us in, for some unknown reason - we can’t have been singing that well. But they let us in and we did them some carols and then Tim took off his cap and started wandering around the room collecting money while we were all still singing. I thought they’d kick us out for being cheeky, but they stumped up alright. We took home quite a tidy sum, if I recall right.”

“First and only time the “blues” have come up trumps.”

“Well…maybe.” Susie gave a sad smile. “We were quite happy in those days, weren’t we, in spite of everything?”

“I’m happy now.”

“Oh, so am I. It’s just…well, sometimes I miss it.”

Matty stood up preparatory to searching out his clothes.

“If you mean Mam and the kids,” he said, “then I might agree. But if you mean the poverty and the misery and Dad being violent, then I don’t miss that in the slightest. Don’t get all rose-tinted, Suze, just because it’s Christmas.”

“I’m not - not really. Honestly! It’s only that I think it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t all bad.”

Matty looked at his sister. She was looking somewhat sorrowful, sitting on the edge of his bed, and he felt a slight compunction.

“Stop being mopey,” he told her sternly. “It’s Christmas! Go and get some breakfast inside you - that’ll cheer you up. I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Alright.”

"Or a gin. That ought to see you right."

Susie laughed as she got up from the bed and went to the door. Then she turned back, a wicked look in her eyes.

“Hey - I bet I can get a drink out of Sarah before you can,” she said.

“Bet you can’t!”

“Shilling on it?”

“Done!”

Matty spat on his hand and they shook, grinning like monkeys. Before Susie let go of his hand she pulled him closer, and pecked a kiss on his cheek.

“Merry Christmas,” she said, and then she was gone.

As she went down the landing he heard her voice float back to him.

“You’d better hurry up if you want to win that bet!”

“Oh, I’ll win it,” said Matty, and bent to put on his trousers.




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