It was that time of the year and Ellie was filled with excitement just at the thought of having everyone home for Christmas. The tree was up and had been decorated overnight with sparkling lights and red taffeta ribbons. In the centre of the dining room table, a dark purple candle let out a sweet scent of cinnamon as it burned away in the end of the afternoon light. The fragrance brought happy memories to Ellie’s mind while she set out the Christmas table around it. Plates, glasses and golden napkins…and a cracker for everyone!
The room gave out onto her beautiful country garden that seemed frozen in a painted still life. Out of the window, a robin jumped along the frosted lawn on its way it seemed to its very own Christmas Eve celebration.
Proud of the overall result, Ellie went back to the kitchen to check on the turkey that was slowly cooking in the oven.” I just have the time to change myself and make myself pretty before they all get here” she thought with a smile.
A quarter of an hour later, a light jingle of the doorbell announced the arrival of her first guests. She draped herself in a silk shawl and came back downstairs. It was her son John with his wife Karen and their twin boys, Paul and Scott. The door was barely opened that already the boys were inside, screaming in chorus: “Merry Christmas Grandma”.
- “Hi mum, sorry about that” John said “they’ve been completely wild since this morning. They woke us up at 5, asking when they could open their presents…”
- “That’s alright, we all know what it is to be 10 years old at Christmas” Ellie laughed as she kissed them both and closed the door behind them. “Settle down in the living room by the Christmas tree, I’ll be in with some mince pies.”
The bell chimed again lightly.
- “That will be your sister Olivia with Rob and Emily,” she cheered as she went again for the door.
- “Hi mum” Olivia chanted “sooo glad to finally be here! The roads are so icy we were afraid we’d never make it. On top the heating in the car gave up 10 km from here. We’re frozen…. Emily! Don’t just barge in; kiss your grandmother hello.”
- “Come in, come in, John and Karen are already here with your cousins Emily. Go over to the living room, I’m coming.”
The bell rang again.
- “Hello Ellie, thank you for inviting me. I didn’t know what to bring so I baked an apple pie.”
- “Lovely you could make it Nora. Let me get that, I’ll put it in the kitchen for now.”
- “Is everybody already here?” Nora asked as she took off her coat.
- “Yes, they are in the living room, go in” Ellie said as she trailed off in the kitchen with the apple pie.
Nora made her way into the warm and cosy room.
- “Hello everybody! I hope you don’t mind, Ellie said I could spend Christmas with you this year” she giggled happily.
- “Not at all Nora. I haven’t seen you in such a long time” John said as he hugged her.
- “Aaaalriiiight, here are the mince pies!” Ellie interrupted. “John, please, pour us a glass of sherry. Emily and the boys, there’s lemonade on the table if you want.”
- “We don’t want lemonade, we want to open our presents!” the twins recited in one voice.
- “If we don’t let them get on with it they are going to drive us crazy” John sighed. “Ok…guys…you can open one present before dinner, but that’s it“.
He had barely finished his sentence that already wrapping paper was flying all over the place as the children opened the biggest present below the tree. Father Christmas had brought them a train set. They set out to put it together immediately.
- “Not here, there is not enough space! Go with it upstairs in the back room. I’ll be up in a minute to see if you put it together right. “
The three children ran out of the room, holding the huge box at arm’s length.
With the children gone, the room became peaceful, almost quiet. A nervous vibration could nevertheless be felt as a silent expectation came from everyone present in the room.
- “Well, with the kids gone, we could do this now…no?” Karen asked John, hesitantly.
- “I’m feeling like a little girl about this. I’m so excited!” Olivia carried on as she sat down next to Rob on the sofa, taking a quick sip of her sherry. “But how do we do this?”
- Nora turned to Elly. “I wrote my letter and sent it like you suggested. But I’m feeling a little bit lost about the whole thing, I’ve never done this before.”
- “Neither we Nora…” Karen answered.
- “What a strange idea really. But how wonderful at the same time” Nora continued as sparkles lit up her eyes. “Imagine it would work!”
- “At the same time, who else can offer us the best present ever…than our very own selves?” John continued. “Mum, how do you see us doing this?”
Ellie came forward, putting down her glass as she reached into her pocket. She took out a small pale pink envelope, sealed with a dark crimson wax stamp. “I guess you all got your own in the post this morning, no?”
Everybody around the room nodded in silence, reaching into their pockets to produce the exact same envelope.
Ellie kept on. “Well…be careful what you wished for, you might just get it,” she teased. “Why don’t you start John?”
- “I’m not sure how to…”
- “Just read us what’s in your envelope.”
- “Ok….” He tore the side of it gently and produced a thin white sheet of paper. It simply said in golden letters: “GRANTED”. Puzzled, he showed it around as Olivia opened hers: “Mine says the exact same thing….”
One by one they all opened their envelopes to find the exact same sheet of paper with the same golden word printed on it. They looked at each other, perplexed.
- “What did you ask for?” Olivia asked Rob.
- “A higher position in the Firm…You?”
- “To never put on another kilo for the rest of my life.”
Karen giggled nervously: “I asked for money John…lots of it.”
“Me too…” he answered blankly.
Nora got up and went to the window, turning her back to everyone. She whispered, as if to herself, “I asked to get rid of this chronic pain once and for all.”
They turned to Ellie who let out a short uncertain laugh as she brandished her sheet of paper with the same golden letters typed on it. “I didn’t think it would work… I asked for my youth back.”
And just like that, she was 16 again and standing alone in her teenager’s bedroom. John, Karen, Olivia, Rob, Nora… they all had vanished. The children could no longer be heard playing upstairs and Christmas Eve had made place for a warm summer’s day. A feeling of panic crept over her slowly… What terrible mistake had she just made?