The Sixth Ballyloch Story – The Christmas Pony
I feel a bit weird about re-posting this here, seeing as my regular readers saw it last December. But hey, on-line marketing is on-line marketing, and there may be one or two people here who missed it last time around.
The cover boy, by the way, is a lovely Connemara pony called Casper who I had the pleasure of teaching many years ago. His mum very kindly offered me this Christmassy photo when I put an appeal on Facebook – thanks, Sarah!
…Oh come let us adore Him,
Oh come let us adore Him,
Oh come let us adooore Hi-im,
I belted out the words, feigning enthusiasm, keeping my mind empty. Don’t think, man, just sing!
Even so, there was a lump forming in my throat. I swallowed it down and forced out the last line :
Chri-ist the Lord!
The last notes of the organ faded away into the growing hubbub, as people started to shift in their seats, shaking hands and exchanging Christmas greetings with one another. I smiled at the large lady beside me.
“Happy Christmas,” I said, holding out my hand.
“And happy Christmas to you, too,” she said, taking my hand and squeezing it a little too much as she shook it.
Ok, she knew who I was. The bereaved husband. Father of the motherless child. That poor guy. There but for the grace of God…
No, I was reading too much into it. She turned her back and started to shuffle out of the pew in the wake of her husband. I followed and we gradually melded into the throng of people who were filling the central aisle of the old stone church, inching our way towards the arched doorway. The rector and his deacons were waiting in the porch, shaking hands with the members of the congregation, as we made our way out into the crisp, clear night. He’s a practical chap, the rector, and he didn’t try to engage me in conversation. Just said he hoped we had a good Christmas and left it at that.
I made my way to the car, sat inside and turned the heater on while I waited for Allie. Another milestone passed, I mused. The second school Carol Service since Mary died. Now we were heading, full steam ahead, into the second Christmas without her.
I barely remembered the previous one. Even though it had already been five months since Mary’s death, our first Christmas without her had passed in a blur. My sister Katie and her family had been great, inviting us to join them for the day. Allie had played happily enough with her cousins, but there was an air of stillness and a gravity about her which you don’t expect to see in an eleven-year old at Christmas time. Every so often, I’d catch her eye and she would look away, as if she was afraid of what she might see in my expression. Driving home that night, we’d both been silent, lost in our own thoughts of Christmas Past.
Now, a year later, we had moved on through the stages of grief. It’s funny how you hear about the five stages of grief, but you never realise just how real they are until you’re going through them. We had moved our way along, and I was pretty sure we were at Acceptance now. This Christmas was going to be about new starts and looking ahead to the future. I had a great surprise planned for my little girl, one that I was certain was going to make her happy for many years to come. I had bought her a pony. Not any old pony, but her absolute favourite pony from the riding school – Bubbles, a handsome dapple-grey Connemara. I’d had a tough time persuading Liz to sell him, but we had eventually come to an agreement that Bubbles would still be used in the riding school, three days a week. It would be best for everyone, she had said. He’d be exercised on the days Allie couldn’t ride him and she’d still have him available for her better riders. I had agreed, just glad that I had finally convinced her to sell him!
I heard the chatter of girlish voices and looked in the wing mirror. There she was, arm in arm with her best friends, Amy and Jane, giggling as they walked along the gravel footpath towards the car park. I rolled down the window as they hugged each other goodbye.
“Happy Christmas, girls,” I called.
“Happy Christmas, Mr Moore,” they chorused. Jane winked at me as they turned and walked to where her parents were waiting and I smiled. They were in on the secret, of course. On Christmas Eve, they were going to decorate Bubbles with tinsel and glitter, so he’d be all ready to surprise Allie on Christmas morning.
“He’ll be so Christmassy that Santa will think he’s a reindeer,” Amy had laughed when I had asked them to help.
Allie settled into the front seat beside me and clicked her seat-belt shut.
“Did you have fun?” I asked, as we joined the line of cars making their way out of the church grounds.
“Yeah, it was good,” she replied. She looked out of the window into the darkness for a moment, then her hand went into her pocket and she fished out her phone. Her fingers flew over the touch screen as she joined her friends on Facebook and I sighed.
We drove the rest of the way home in silence.
“It’s not you,” Katie said. “It’s just the whole puberty thing, on top of the loss of her mother. Right now, she’s a seething mess of hormones with a whole lot of grief thrown in for good measure. Sheesh, it’s a moody age at the best of times. Don’t you remember what I was like?”
Yes, I did. I was just two years older than Katie, and by God we’d had some massive rows in our early teens.
“But she’s so…” I struggled for words. “She’s so SPIKEY. She used to be such a cuddly kid. Now it’s like there’s some kind of force field around her. Any time I hug her, it’s like she blocks me, and she can’t get out of it quickly enough. And she hardly speaks to me now, she’s stuck to her phone all day long, Facebooking or texting.”
“Look Mike, you have to accept that she’s growing up.”
Katie topped up my tea without asking, as she continued “She’s well on her way to being a woman now.”
I smiled at her. “Yes, I am grateful for your help with that! I couldn’t very well advise her on tampons now, could I!”
“That wasn’t what I meant,” laughed Katie, “I’m just saying she’s changing. It’s part of life. Your relationship will change, because she’s not a little girl any more.”
“Humph,” I replied. “She’ll always be my little girl.”
Katie shook her head, but said no more. I changed the subject.
“Let me tell you all about this pony,” I began.
My phone chimed on Christmas eve. I picked it up. There was a message from Jane – a photograph! Jane and Amy, pink-cheeked and bundled up in warm coats, hats and scarves, standing on either side of a grey pony. His mane was plaited and the girls had twisted gold and red tinsel through the plaits. A jaunty red Christmas hat was perched between his ears and his head collar was decorated with silver bells. His white tail was neatly brushed out and he wore a brand new rug. Fair play to the girls, they had done a great job. Bubbles looked fantastic! Allie would be thrilled, I thought, as I replied to Jane.
Well done girls. Thanks a million. Mike
I glanced at Allie, curled up in the corner of the couch, one eye on the TV and the other eye on her phone. She was going to get the surprise of her life tomorrow…
Like what you’ve read? You can find out how the big surprise goes for Allie and Mike by visiting Amazon.com and downloading The Christmas Pony for just €0.99! Here’s the link : The Christmas Pony on Amazon