The rehearsal for the infants alternative Christmas story wasn’t going so well. Silence hummed in the hall apart from a few titters. Even I suppressed a snigger.
‘Mr Taylor, I think Johnny’s crying.’
‘It’s okay, Sarah, I’ve got it.’ A small glass of squash and a Rich Tea biscuit and Jesus will be as right as rain.
‘We need a real donkey,’ Becks whispered, sighing in exasperation as we stood beside the recovering Jesus. I inhaled deeply. She gave me a wide-eyed stare. ‘It’s not funny, Matt.’
Her eyes smiled at least.
I had to admit the sculpted donkey, though masterfully created, wasn’t up to the weight-bearing possibilities we’d hoped. Jesus was a little on the round side, more of a miniature Father Christmas than the lean, ethereal figure of Jesus we’d come to know.
‘Leave it with me,’ I said. I knew someone who knew someone who worked at the donkey sanctuary. Looked after the same donkeys that gave rides to kids on the beach in summer.
A few days later, Ben arrived. The children adored him. Carrots were in abundance. And Jesus was happy, so job done.
On the day of the performance, Ben refused to move. We pushed and we pulled–
‘Must be stage fright,’ I said.
Becks clocked me one round the ear.
‘How about we dangle a carrot over the back of the scenery?’ I offered.
‘Like, instead of the star of Bethlehem?’ She rolled her eyes heavenwards.
‘I was just–’ I paused. ‘We could have one of the shepherds wave one behind their back.’
Becks thought about it. ‘Might work. Have you got one handy?’
‘Well–’ I waggled my eyebrows.
She clocked me again. ‘Behave.’
‘Tada.’ I pulled out a large, fat carrot I’d pocketed earlier. ‘I had a feeling ole Ben might get a bit bothered by the crowd’—I glanced out at the audience, all bright-eyed and eager—‘so, I tucked away this biggie just in case.’
Becks grinned. ‘Hmm, I did wonder earlier how pleased you were to see me.’ The grin widened. ‘Do your stuff, big boy.’
Does she mean what I think she means?
Shake a leg, Taylor now is not the time.
I shoved the carrot under Ben’s muzzle and walked forwards. Jesus giggled, slid a little sideways on Ben’s back before straightening himself using Ben’s shaggy hair. Jack, one of the shepherds reached behind and took the carrot, enticing Ben onto the stage. Thankfully, it wasn’t a raised platform, which made it easier.
Ben chewed. The audience cheered. Startled by the loud applauding Ben bucked, sending Jesus flying. He landed in a heap in front of Mary.
‘Oops.’ I covered my eyes.
Thank God for AstroTurf.
‘I knew it was a silly idea to get a real donkey.’ Becks chuckled beside me as we rushed on stage to comfort Jesus. Rich Tea biscuits on-hand for just such emergencies.
Behind us, Ben hee-hawed. The audience waited expectantly. Jesus stood, giggling, stepped up to Ben and dragged a tiny hand across his back.
Becks turned to me, her cheeks flushed, eyes brimming. ‘I love you, Matthew Taylor.’
And that must be the best Christmas present a man could ever wish for.
I hope she means it.
A writer of novel-length fiction, M J Christie recently became addicted to writing shorter fiction – the shorter the better – and poetry. The UK’s Lincolnshire Coast provides the backdrop and inspiration for M J’s writing, giving focus and meaning to everyday life.