A Curse – Week 33 of the 52 week short story challenge

Angelika had no memory of the event. Members of her family had told her about the incident over the years and it had been embroidered with numerous opinions until it formed the basis on which they all lived their lives.

She was only a baby at the time. Lying in a Silver Cross pram; decked out in pink and white ruffles that matched the festoons of her own christening outfit. Her mother, father and three brothers were taking her to the church; walking through the streets, proudly showing off the new baby to neighbours who came out to watch or to join in the procession because they had been invited to the ceremony too.

It was to be a grand affair. A baby girl after three boys and her mother was in seventh heaven. A baby girl to dress in lace and loveliness after several years of mending blue and boisterous. After the christening the guests were walking across the graveyard to the church hall for refreshments. Money was tight so any hard-drinking would be done in the local pub by the men, once the women and children had gone home for the evening.

Unlike her older brothers, Angelika was quiet throughout the ceremony. Her big blue eyes fixed on the priest’s face as he anointed her with the holy water, then she smiled and in response he kissed her forehead gently. Her parents smiled at each other. This was a gesture that the priest saved only for the most blessed of babies and the congregation heaved a collective sigh of relief at this good omen.

The celebration party was a great success; there were plates of cakes, pastries and sandwiches made that morning by those in attendance. A special christening cake had been made by Angelika’s aunt and it was surrounded by a pile of pink-wrapped presents containing silver rattles, mugs, bangles and more frilled dresses.

The men folk, fairly sober despite some smuggled bottles of beer, were jolly and tolerant of the children who were running around the hall, sliding on their knees and eating far too many of the lurid pink-iced cupcakes.

The older members of the family – and congregation – sent those with children back to their homes so that they could clear up the hall in peace, and indulge in some gossip about the outfits worn by the younger women. Angelika’s mother gathered her boys together and with the pram loaded down with cake and presents, they set off for home.

Angelika slept.

It was as they were walking down the High Street that they passed an old lady dressed in black. Angelika chose that moment to wake up and sneeze.

‘Să te binecuvânteze copilul.’ said the old lady.

Angelika’s mother shrieked, crossed herself and hurried on down the street the boys who, confused by her behaviour, scurried after her. The old lady stared after them and shook her head in bewilderment before going on her way.

By the time they arrived home, the children’s mother was almost hysterical and the usually placid Angelika was wailing in sympathy. Kindly neighbours helped them into the house and put the kettle on.

They listened to Angelika’s mother’s tale of having been cursed on the way home by an old gypsy woman. As one they crossed themselves and looked heavenwards for help. One of the older boys was sent to fetch the men folk back from the pub. Some of them came home, others roamed the streets looking for the old woman but she was long gone and safe.

Things seemed to go wrong for the family from that moment on. Angelika’s sunny temperament disappeared, replaced by a child who no longer tolerated the pink frills and embroidered frocks. She tore them and dropped her food on them and by the time she was walking, her mother had to resort to putting her in her brother’s hand-me-downs – which she never damaged or soiled. Her golden curls had to be cropped after she became entangled in a thorn-bush, a thorn-bush that her older brothers were wise enough to avoid.

Every time Angelika deviated from what was expected of a ‘girl’, the tale of the gypsy’s curse was resurrected, repeated and embellished.

Angelika didn’t feel cursed. Well, only when she was forced into clothes she felt uncomfortable in or had choices made for her that she didn’t like. She proved to be a force too powerful for her superstitious parents, and by the time she became a teenager, Angelika was pretty much given a free rein.

She knew that she could take advantage of the situation – and sometimes she did – but as well as being blessed with big blue eyes she also had quick wits and intelligence that left most of her extended family way behind.

Exams came and were passed with ease. With the backing of her teachers, she informed her parents that she intended to go to university. No one argued with her, although it stretched the family finances to the limit. and they would have been much happier marrying her off to one of the men who had been boys at her christening.

Now that she was old enough to understand the curse – and the situation surrounding it –  she demanded that someone tell her exactly what was said. Her oldest brother, refusing to repeat the words, wrote down what he thought the old woman had uttered.

University was a revelation for Angelika. She met people who were not bound by superstition and old wives tales.    No that she was away from her family and with access to computers and books, there was something she needed to find out. What did ‘Să te binecuvânteze copilul’ really mean?

The library provided the answer. Angelika learned about the concept of ‘sympathetic magic’ and how it creates in the believer a self-fulfilling prophesy. Someone grows up thinking they are ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ because they are told that.

On her first visit home from university she assembled her family in the kitchen and held up a card with the words of the curse on it. Her mother shrieked and crossed herself. The older members of the family looked heavenwards.

Angelika turned the card over and showed the words she had written there.

‘Bless you my child’.

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This is the beginning of anything you want…

 

Flying Eagle

Well, I’m back on the blog again.

New beginnings.

I have new lenses in my eyes – replacements for the old ones cluttered with cataracts – and can see like an eagle (can cause issues in the supermarket especially in the raw meat section).

The podiatrists sorted out the right big toe – it looks much prettier than the left big toe but then it hasn’t had a crate dropped on it. Happier toes have had a positive effect on my achy breaky legs and back so that I can walk further (with my Nordik walking poles), sit at the computer, and study with much less pain. Oh, and colouring. Now that it is an acknowledged adult pursuit I no longer need to colour in secret.

I completed NaNoWriMo again this year – my eighth win – and now it is time I finished editing it all that work and found an agent.

Gap Boy – now known as Biker Boy – has finally had his tonsils removed and is better company as a consequence. His ability to mend and remake BB guns has now extended itself into the realms of motorbikes.  Ah well, they cleared out the garage enough to fit their bikes in. Biker Boy now wants to turn the garage into a man cave…any sorcerers need an apprentice?

Uni Boy is now a Young Master of the Chemical Universe, and remains at York University doing a PhD that has something to do with antibiotics and amino acids. Don’t ask me – it still goes way over my head.

Apart from scoffing a potentially lethal amount of chocolate (wrappers included), biscuits and a Lindt bear when we had the temerity to go out for a meal, Scooby remains our faithful hound and my constant source of solace when Hub is at work. The vet bills were pretty horrendous though.

BB’s bad influence caused Hub to find his way back to motorbikes too. He was a biker when I met him and he does look very good in leathers.

A new year and time to put the unpleasant past behind me for good. I stopped blogging last year for a couple of reasons.

  • I knew that some ex-colleagues were watching the page and waiting for me to say something negative so that they could run and tell tales. Sorry to disappoint them but I really can’t be bothered any more
  • I also discovered some that people who I thought were friends had used and abused that friendship for their own ends. Blocked, un-friended for ever and banished
  • There was so much negativity after this that I didn’t particularly want to share it – especially with those people who were mad enough to say that they actually enjoyed my ramblings

I don’t know how often I’ll blog but I’ve forked out for another year so I may as well inflict my money’s worth on anyone who wants to read this. It’s good practice as far as touch typing is concerned – the last three years of enforced lassitude have eroded my administrational skills.

It’s been a quiet Christmas for us – from choice – but we still managed to spend time with many of our nearest and dearest. BB actually ate duck for his Christmas dinner – instead of his usual smelly bacon noodles liberally laced with Tabasco sauce. I cooked roast parsnips (yuck) for Hub and the YM, and had a success with recreating Mutti’s red cabbage – who knew juniper berries would be so hard to source – should have gone to Waitrose I suppose but Sandbach, Northwich or Southport are a bit too far to go just for a berry or six. The Scoob was not offered another enormous knuckle bone this year – the after effects were too horrendous to discuss. I found him some less smelly Christmas chews that kept him reasonably occupied while we were eating.

We had some wonderful Christmas presents – from those who know and love us well. A huge thank you to all those people who make my life happy; my family, my old and new friends. Some of you will have got Christmas cards. Some will have seen Scooby’s card on FaceAche. We were finishing writing them and going out to make deliveries when Scooby stuffed himself, and it threw us out of kilter.

The YM was returned to a very wet York on Boxing Day – the Tang Hall brook was bubbling up through the manhole covers but YM lives on higher ground fortunately and is very nimble on his feet. He smiled and shook his head when I offered to buy him wellies or flip-flops.

Our New Year’s Eve was blissfully quiet too; just me, Hub and the Scoob – once we had finished ferrying the boys to their respective parties. We went to bed around two am.  BB rumbled home and stomped up the stairs at around four am, and YM around six am – my Scooby intruder alarm was triggered but only a few mild wuffs were uttered. YM had warned me that he might not go to bed if he was still wide awake (inebriated) from his celebrations but would pack up quietly and get the train back to York.

There was a message on my mobile when I emerged at ten am – at eight am YM was in Manch and on his way Yorkwards. At least while he was here I fed him and lent him my phone charger and iron (my ironing does not meet his standards any more – oh dear).

Hub has gone back to work today after a happy eight days off together. We saw Star Wars VII – in 3D – on our own. I want to go and see it again, and I want another Star Wars cup.

A word of warning before I sign off. There are some unscrupulous people who make a tidy little sum from selling email addresses to companies who then inundate your inbox with badly spelled beggings for their crap products – at the least – or try to trick you into responding so they can access your account. The person I gave my address to said she wanted it so that she could keep in touch, but she never used it – she then passed it onto one of her simple satellites so I got spammed twice.

My junk mail box is usually quite full these. I don’t need to open or read them before sending them into the black hole where they belong. The spelling and grammar in the subject matter and first line alone is enough to make me giggle.

I’m studying proofreading and copy-editing now that my eyes are mended. Another string to my bow and a fascinating skill to acquire.

BB has just emerged from his upper man cave and  disappeared laden with red pepperoni sticks and shortbread – an interesting mix.

Hub phoned to make sure I was missing him – I was and he knew I would be but in a good way – but he will be back by nine-thirty pm.

Finally, a sad farewell to Terry Pratchett and Lemmy Kilmister – your legacies live on in your words and music long after the rubbish novels and tone-deaf singers have faded into obscurity.

Let’s get on now and make 2016 a good place to be. XXX

‘No Yo Ho Ho! – Not For Another Month at Least, Please?’

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We all love Christmas.

Well, most of us love Christmas.

Erm; a decreasing number of us love Christmas.

I loved Christmas as a child.

I still love it.

I cherish the story that I wrote at infant school about how I got a scooter from Father Christmas – with pictures too.  I can remember the bright blue paint, clean and unsullied. I rode that scooter round the streets until it eventually fell apart and was beyond repair.

I think that may have been the Christmas that I got a Teeny Tiny Tears too – considerably smaller than Tiny Tears but she still had the capacity to cry and wee once you had filled up the water reservoir in the middle of her back.

This could have caused me to grow up with some very strange notions about how babies took on and expelled water but luckily I had baby cousins who dispelled those notions the first time I watched my aunt changing a nappy.

There were rules about Christmas in our house.

We didn’t start it too early – usually around the weekend nearest the tenth of December – the Chinese lanterns and crepe paper streamers were unearthed and strung around the room.

Christmas wasn’t a real Christmas without the tree lights malfunctioning.  A vivid Yuletide memory is of my Dad swearing quietly under his breath as he tried to track down the wayward bulb. We knew instinctively to keep out of the way until  the tree lit up, at which point we would all appear and make noises of glee and approval.

Christmas Eve was special.

We used to go to the house of one of my aunts; it started off in a quiet way with sandwiches and nibbles.  Giggling with our cousins at our great-aunt when she took her false teeth out and flicked fag ash into the peanuts (given a very wide berth by us knowing children but we didn’t tell the adults – cue more giggling).

Over the years, as their family expanded and they moved to a bigger house, my aunt and uncle’s pre-Christmas celebrations grew as well.  My uncle was Polish and introduced much of his heritage to the rest of the family at their parties.

Polish sausage, pickled herring, Bigos (ham and sauerkraut stew) and (shudder) brawn.

The sight of the pig’s head boiling away in the kitchen to make the brawn left me reluctant to even sample a tiny bit.

The peanuts were safe from fag ash now, the great-aunt had smoked her way into another place.

I miss those Christmas Eves; the joy of meeting up with the family and putting presents under the tree, buffet browsing Anglo-Polish style and pinching the odd glass of sherry when no one was looking.

Blessed as I am with a bevy of beautiful and talented cousins, I think that the reason we are so close – despite geographical distances – is because of those Christmas Eve parties.

It was usually Christmas Day by the time we left, tired and giddy and clutching carrier bags of presents that we weren’t allowed to open till the morning with the other presents that Father Christmas would be bringing.

Of all the Christmas Days I enjoyed as a child, the one that sticks in my memory is the Christmas When Every Thing Went Wrong.

The day began with the sprouts (eurgh) melted the plastic colander.

Then it was discovered that my Lovely Mum had forgotten to take the giblets out of the turkey before she cooked it. They were in a plastic bag. Mum invented an early form of shrink wrap.

Dad put too much alcohol on the Christmas pudding and rather than burning with a bright blue flame, it incinerated to a black shrivelled lump.

Needless to say, tempers were frayed.

My Dad shouted.

My Lovely Mum hit him with a rolled up newspaper.

We howled.

The dog, unsure if this was domestic violence or just a playfight, decided that it needed to be stopped.

So he bit Lovely Mum on the arm.

Things went very quiet after that.  The dog went out in the garden very quickly and Mum’s arm went under the tap – bruised but not bloodied.

There was also a strict rule about when the decorations came down.

I know a lot of people take them down as soon as they can – after New Year’s Day usually  – but as Lovely Mum’s birthday was on the 4th January, we left them up for her and had a mad dash to get them down and put away before Twelfth Night. Although Lovely Mum has left us, I still leave my decorations up till after her birthday.

I do like Christmas really.

Christmas carols make me cry; in my semi-religious phase I couldn’t get through Midnight Communion without blubbing – ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ gets me every time and ‘Silent Night’ – I’m welling up just thinking about it..

Little school choirs singing in shopping malls turn me to a gibbering wreck .

I never managed to stay dry-eyed during either of my children’s nativity plays and had to make sure that I always wore a large scarf to absorb my tears and hide my quivering lip.

“Oh Mother – you are SO embarrassing!”

So why the grumpy title?

It’s only the 28th October!

Just under two months till Christmas.

So why are the shops full of Christmas stuff?  Poor old Halloween is being shuffled into a side aisle.So unfair to think of skulls, witches and ghouls being ousted by snow-persons, fat robins and Father Christmas.

Shops are beginning to play ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ on an endless loop that drives the salespeople bonkers and does not encourage a festive spirit because we’ve all heard the tunes SO many times before.  Even the starving poor across the world will know that it is Christmas because of that flipping song!

Now this is the bit where I show myself to be a hypocrite. Having moaned about the early incursion of Christmas into the shopping arena – I cashed in on it.

Two years ago we got rid of our huge holly berried and fir-coned false Christmas tree and bought a nice fibre optic 1 metre high tree that needed very little in the way of decoration and took less than ten minutes to put up.

I loved that little tree.

We had to get the decorations down a bit sharpish as, for the first time ever, we were flying off on holiday for the New Year and couldn’t face the idea of unpacking, washing and undecking the halls.

I don’t know what happened to my little tree.

We hunted high and low in the run up to last Christmas but it was nowhere to be found so we went off to the garden centre to get a replacement.

All the nice trees were gone and a real tree was out of the question, as Scooby had come to live with us and we weren’t quite sure if he could differentiate between an outside tree and an inside one.

We continued our search but by this time it was mid-December and they were beginning to set out the Easter egg displays.

We settled for a slightly larger tree that appeared to be fibre optic and looked as if it could stand the vigors of tail lashing and large-male bashing.

It was a hideous monster tree and what I thought were fibre optic lights turned out to be translucent globs on the ends of the branches.

Every branch had to be fluffed out and attached  to one of the three stems that made up the body of the tree. The fake fir was rough on the fingers and I broke two nails trying to insert the branches. When we finally got it upright it was HUGE and very drab, so we had to go out and buy MORE decorations for it.  Of course, by this time there were hardly any decorations left, just a mish mash of broken or ugly coloured baubles. We could have used Easter eggs I suppose.

Bezzie Mate and  went for lunch at my favourite garden centre a couple of weeks ago  and I noticed that they had the mock-Christmas trees on display.  Against my better judgement but fuelled by a decent lunch, we had a rummage in the festive section but they didn’t have the tree I wanted.

Undaunted we drove down the road to the bigger  garden centre (more choice but the cafe is more like a transport cafe and always seems to be full of screaming kids).

My heart leapt; we had barely got in the door when I spied my long-lost tree shimmering amongst its larger (and uglier) fir-y brethren.

BM toddled off for a browse amongst some boots and I combed the centre desperately seeking an assistant.  I found one but he was having an intense conversation about bulbs with a very demanding woman who kept grabbing his forearm.  He didn’t seem to mind though.

I waited.

And waited.

I got bored then and had a competition with myself to find the most tacky Christmas decoration in the store. It was a toss-up between some very ugly opaque white rigid plastic trees of about 6 inches and an array of ‘fibre-optic Christmas tapestries’. Closer inspection revealed them to be printed material pictures with lights in funny places. They were the winners but they were all hideous I couldn’t choose the worst.

My assistant was free!

I took him to my tree and asked if he could find me one that was boxed up.  He took the tag and disappeared.

I went in search of BM who was in the process of falling for some stout walking boots that were half-price.

My assistant returned toting a long white box. He turned it round to look at the picture and check that he had the right one.

He had the wrong one and disappeared again into the bowels of the garden centre.

We carried on browsing but feared the worst when he returned with a furrowed brow.

“I can’t find it.”

“But you have one on display. You can’t have sold out of them yet? “

“No, they’ve only just come in but it wasn’t where it should have been. If you want to reserve one, we could call you when we find it?”

I’ve been caught like this before. I reserved something then turned up to find that another member of staff had sold it because they thought it was a returned item.

“Can I pay for one now? Then I can come in and collect it when you find one.”

“Oh – erm – okay.”

So I bought it and filled in all number of forms with my name, address and telephone number.

By this time, BM and I were exhausted and had to test out a range of conservatory furniture before toddling home for homemade curry.

I got a phone call a couple of days later to say that they had found my tree. Hub and I went to collect it and found that with his (not-very-constant) gardener card, they could knock off a further eight pounds! We also bought BM’s boots and sent them off to him because they weren’t on sale online. They rub one of his ankles.

Bargain.

I admire people who get all their Christmas presents in the January sales – almost as much as I admire those who dash around the store on Christmas Eve snapping up ‘bargains’.

Hub is notoriously hard to buy for. He only really wants paintball bits – although now he and Gap Boy are sharing a motorbike there might be some mileage there. GB has already started demanding his Christmas presents. Uni Boy is home this weekend but I doubt that he will come up with anything helpful.

Ah, but I am blessed with good friends who like silly things, and an adorable bunch of small children and babies who can revitalise my Christmas spirit.

Mine’s a very large sherry please.