This is another story based on those opening lines that were suggested a few weeks ago. I’m definitely getting into the Christmas spirit now. This story is just over 1000 words.
We sat in darkness. No lights on the Christmas tree, no television.
“Oh dear!” Grandmother’s querulous voice said it all, really.
“I think we blew a fuse,” I said, getting to my feet, wondering what lay between me and the door, since I’d been too engrossed in the film to notice what baby Evie had been playing with. “Don’t worry, I’ll soon have it fixed. Just stay where you are, Gran.”
A howl showed Evie’s direction. I shuffled over, kicking building blocks, or something like them, out of the way, managing not to sprain my ankle. I picked her up, producing more howls.
“It’s just the electricity gone out, poppet. Let me put you in your pen, you’ll be safe there with Teddy.”
“Noooooo! Ma-ma, Ma-ma.”
“Mama will be back soon, pet. Here we are. Safe and sound. Here’s Teddy.”
The sound of something large and soft hitting the side of the playpen suggested that Teddy was getting the rough end of her temper. Wails and tears accompanied the sound, but being a hard-hearted aunt, I left her to it. Mama wasn’t going to be back for a good while yet. Light was the best remedy for this problem.
I felt my way to the wall, and negotiated the side of the room. Good thing I was in my own house. You couldn’t move for clutter in Gran’s, and you just couldn’t move in Evie’s, for fear of stepping on something.
I found the door and stepped out into the cool of the hallway. Somewhere I had a wind-up torch, ready for just such an occasion. I felt around, tangling myself in the tinsel that decorated the stairs, and found, not a torch, but my handbag. My phone was in my handbag. If the battery wasn’t flat, that had a flashlight. Success!
You would think you could walk around your own house in the dark with no trouble. You know it like the back of your hand, right? The trouble is, at Christmas you’ve moved things around so that you can get enough people in. And there are Evie’s things in the hallway – buggy, bags, toy bag for downstairs (and another in her bedroom).
I safely negotiated my way through to the utility room. I shone the light on the electricity fuse box. Sure enough, three of the switches were down. I put them back up. Lights came on. Relief.
I had just reached the living room door when – BANG!
Screams from the playpen and Gran’s seat as the lights went out again.
“These lights flickered,” called Gran.
“Which lights, Gran?”
“The ones on the tree.”
“Hmmm. Let me unplug them, then.” The phone flashlight did its stuff as I crept in front of Grandmother and squeezed between her walking frame and the tree. The socket for the lights was in the usual place – impossible to reach without knocking the tree over. I ignored Grandmother’s complaints as I reached for the plug and pulled it out. The lights couldn’t be affecting the mains circuits, they hardly raised 10 watts between them. Their plug was fused anyway. If it had been the lights, the fuse in the plug would have gone, not the mains.
“Ok, Gran,” I calmed her as she moaned at me. At her age anywhere you touched her hurt, so I tried hard not to touch her. Frankly, I’d tried not to touch her since I was about five, but that’s another story. I’d always been bewildered by these stories of loving grandmothers. Mine had ruled her sons with a rod of iron, and expected her grandchildren to toe the line too. Now she was under my roof, I reckoned she had to live by my rules. The only ones I had were Tolerance, Forgiveness and Don’t Eat Animals, but only the last was easy while she was here.
I managed to get away without upsetting her too much, and returned to the fuse box.
The circuit the tree lights were on must be this one, I thought, putting its switch back up. Nothing much happened, except Evie stopped howling. Whether the grizzling was related to time or to a change in her circumstances I didn’t know. I thought I’d better check.
The plug-in nightlight was working. She was staring at it, fascinated by something, but still grizzling.
“There you are, poppet,” I said. “Enough light to see you by now, at any rate. OK? I’ll check on the other lights now.”
I was on my way back to the fuse box when I stopped. The tree lights had been on the plug and socket downstairs circuit. So had Evie’s nightlight and the television. Why hadn’t the television come back on?
Evie started giggling. It was the sort of chortle she made when someone was entertaining her. Not the giggle when she watched something funny on television. She seemed well able to distinguish the difference between television people and real people. This was her real people giggle.
I sneaked back to the door and peered round it.
In the pink glow of the nightlight I could see Grandmother’s face. It was drawn into a travesty of a smile. Her eyes were wide, staring and perfectly dry, unlike their normal state. Her mouth was open, slack. Something inside me clenched into knots as I looked around towards the playpen.
A line of small people were balanced on the top rail of Evie’s playpen. She continued to giggle, one hand stuffed in her mouth, the other pointing at them, almost counting them as she moved from one to another. More people emerged from the nightlight, a stream of mini-humanoids, all glowing pale pink.
As I stood there I realised my mouth was open, jaw slack, just like Gran. I shut it firmly, and strode back to the fuse box. The flashlight gave me just enough time to turn the circuit fuse off and flip the others back on before it gave out.
The house lights came on. The television came on. How? I ran back to the living room. “Evie? Evie?”
She was sitting in her playpen, moving Teddy’s arms up and down. “Dance, Teddy,” she said, quite distinctly. She was safe. Had I imagined it?
I turned to Grandmother.
Her walking frame remained, but she had vanished.
(c) 2013 J M Pett