A Seasonal Short Story for You. Enjoy!

The picture above is by Larry Krause, on Flikr It is replicated using the Creative Commons License

The story is entirely free and posted just below this brief intro. I have a free seasonal story on my site already, but it’s a humorous piece about New Year, and has been on there for some years. So, I thought it was time to give you something more current. If you enjoy the tale, please share the link so others can get the pleasure, too. And, by all means have your say in the comments space below.
May I take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very happy and joyful holiday season (I’m an agnostic atheist, so am disinclined to promote religious celebrations for reasons that should be obvious).

A Display of Love

‘But, what’s it all for, Dave?’

‘What’s it all for? What’s it all for? Isn’t it obvious, love? I’m not having that moron next door outdoing me again.’

‘Does it really matter, though?’

‘Matter? ’Course it matters, Shirl. Look, he got a first for his marrows, a second for his carrots and then, to cap it all, they give him a bloody commendation for that lousy holiday snap he called a landscape. I tell you, Shirl, that so-and-so knows someone. Else he knows where the skeletons are hid.’

‘That was all last summer. What’s it got to do with Christmas?’

‘Well, we all know what Christmas means to him, don’t we?’

‘You’re obsessed, d’you know that? I just want Christmas to be normal, Dave. Like everyone else’s. I’m fed up of the time, trouble and cost we put into decorating the outside, ‘specially now fuel costs’ve gone through the roof. I only get to see that stuff when I’m coming home or goin’ out. Why can’t we do the inside this year?’

‘No one sees the inside, Shirl. What’s the point of that?’

‘I see it. You see it. The kids and grandkids see it. No, Dave; I’ve had enough of your silly competition. I want my Christmas back.’

Her stance declared she was serious and, even if he’d had his back to her, the tone of her voice alone would’ve made her feelings clear. And when Shirl meant it, you’d better do as she wanted. He looked at the multiple strings of lights, blow-up Santa in his sled pulled by his reindeers, brightly coloured plastic lawn flowers, and all the flashing signs he’d collected over the years, especially Santa climbing the ladder, and felt a small pang of disappointment. But Shirl had a point. He’d spent good money, too much time, and far too much effort on the whole project. Why, he wondered, hadn’t she said before it got almost out of hand? What’s it all for, she wanted to know. He knew the answer all right. Pathetic, really. To outdo his show-off neighbour. Hell, he didn’t even like the man. Why was he so desperate to compete against him?

He looked out of the window and saw Bob fixing the first loop of garish flashing lights to the rowan tree in his front garden. He felt the familiar urge to go out there and start on his own display, a desire to make this year’s display a sight the whole village would come round to view. But, really, he knew the motivation was just to do something better than Bob, and be recognised for that for once. Bob always got the prizes, never Dave. Prizes. Prizes?

‘You’re right, Shirl, who cares about a cheap silver cup, some certificate signed by that stupid Vicar? I mean, what’s the point, after all?’

Shirley, unexpectedly, hugged him. ‘Thanks, Dave. I appreciate it. I know it’s hard for you to give it up after all this time. But I’m proud of you. I don’t need awards and certificates to tell me how good you are at all sorts of things. They never give prizes for the things that really matter anyway.’

He saw the look in her eye, knew what she meant and abandoned the pile of decorations for a while. He’d decide what to do with them later. Probably stick them back in the loft. For now, anyway.

He still had a spring in his step when he returned home from work the next day. He parked up outside as usual and noticed Bob still at it next door.

The tall figure nodded condescendingly over the fence. ‘Not bothering this year, old man?’

Dave forced a smile at the patronising tone and nodded noncommittally as he strode down the path. He surveyed the display from the step at his front door. ‘No, Bob, I decided against, this year. I see you’re up to your usual standard. Mind you don’t blow a fuse.’

‘Oh, no chance of that, old man. Taken all the precautions, I have. No danger of a power cut here. Not like some I could name. All the power on one fuse. I’ve got a special circuit for this lot, you know.’

He did know. Bob had boasted about it two years ago on the memorable occasion when Dave’s power cut blacked out the house for a day. He’d really rubbed his nose in it, smirking as the electrician came round to sort out the problem.

‘Aye, well, have a happy one. I’m off in for me tea.’ And in he went, before he was tempted to wipe the pompous smile off the moron’s face. Their Christmas tree was in the window; a few effective lights twinkled in the Magnolia in the centre of their lawn, as a greeting for visitors, but that was all. Understated, Shirley called it.

‘Looks lovely. I’ve always felt too much looks just cheap and gaudy. I mean, Bob’s just showing off for the sake of it. The man’s too full of himself.’ It was good to know she preferred him to the moron next door. Shirley’s appreciation was a prize worth having.

She greeted him with her usual warmth, the aroma of homemade lamb stew welcomed him into his home, and Christmas carols played lightly in the background.

‘Nice, but a bit early for that, isn’t it?’ He nodded at her outfit, the one she normally reserved for their private Christmas party, on Boxing Day.

‘Thought I’d treat you. You’ve been so good over the decorations, and I know how much you like me in this.’ She performed a slow twirl. ‘Anyway, thought you might like a surprise this year on Boxing Day.’

He raised a quizzical eyebrow.

‘Oh no. You’ll have to wait and see. Now, come and have your tea, love.’

‘I’m supposed to eat whilst you sit opposite me looking like that?’

‘Think of it as an appetiser.’

It was, so he did.

Two days to go and Bob was still in the garden when Dave arrived home a little the worse for wear after the works Christmas do, as the taxi dropped him off outside the gate.

‘Now then, Bob, nothing better to do than festoon your house with lights and Santas, eh?’

Bob’s wife, a mousy woman with a sharp tongue who, Dave suddenly realised, he’d never spoken to, was watching tight-lipped from behind the glass in the front room. Though, whether she was watching Bob with approval or dismay was impossible to say from her expression. But Dave realised he had one thing in his life Bob didn’t have. He had Shirl. Shirley was worth a thousand, a million cups and medals and certificates.

‘Stay there, mate.’

Shirley was waiting in the hall, her face covered in questions but the greeting kiss ready as always. He indulged her and himself first before extricating himself with reluctance and a little difficulty.

‘Come and give us a hand, love. Then I’ll be all yours.’

He dropped the loft ladder and started handing all the decorations down to Shirley. The look on her face was hard to ignore, but he was determined. She took it all downstairs with him, disappointment written large on her pretty face. But she said nothing; knew him too well when he was in this mood.

He gathered the stuff together, with her help, in the hallway.

‘Right, the rest I’ll do on my own. Won’t take long, love.’

‘Tea’s almost ready.’

There were tears in the corners of her eyes, her lovely eyes, and he almost capitulated. But he’d made up his mind and, once started, he was going to finish.

‘Won’t be long. Honest.’

Bob was still putting finishing touches to his display. His wife still scrutinizing. Dave transported everything from the hall out to the crisp frosty garden until the house was empty of the Christmas show.

‘Wonder if you’d give me a hand with these, Bob?’

Bob looked shocked at his suggestion but seemed unable to resist the opportunity to boast. It took the pair of them almost three hours but when they’d finished, both were happy with the result.

‘Best ever, Bob. What do you think?’

‘Brilliant, Dave, brilliant. Got to hand it to you, this time.’

‘One more touch, I think.’ He went round the back to his shed and found what he was looking for. Bob glanced at the small wooden box with its slot in the top and the hand-painted sign advertising the display as a charity event and asking for donations.

‘Village Hall fund?’

Bob nodded, apparently dumbfounded. A few neighbours had ventured out into the chill of the night and looked on admiringly as Dave fixed the box to the gate. A few even emptied their pockets of change into the slot. He nodded his thanks.

He said good night to Bob, thanked him for his help and went inside. Shirley shook her head at him. disappointed.

‘Tea’s ruined.’

‘Come and have a look, Shirl.’

‘I don’t think so, thank you.’

‘Bob says it’s the best ever.’

She looked up, unhappy, tears threatening.

‘Come one, love. Just a quick look. Then I’ll never say another word about it. Promise.’

Reluctantly, and because she loved him despite his failings, she went with him to the door. He put his hands over her eyes and guided her down the front path and across the narrow road to the pavement opposite to give her the best view. Once in place, he removed his hands.

Shirley gasped and then was silent as she took it all in, including the box and its sign attached to Bob’s gate.

‘Oh, Dave, you’re brilliant. And Bob’s all right with it, is he? Even with the extra cost on his fuel bill?’

‘Don’t think he’s thought that through. I think he’s still getting over the shock of me helping him, to tell you the truth.’

They stood and gazed at Bob’s house and garden, plastered with lights, figures and all the garish blaze of commercial Christmas, then at their own place, still with just its simple string of white lights twinkling on the Magnolia and the Christmas tree in the window.

‘Wonderful, Dave. The whole village’ll be talking about this. I think you’re marvellous. Bet the collection box was your idea?’

He nodded. Together, they wandered back down the path and into the warmth of their house. Shirley closed the curtains on the lights from next door and settled happily in the gentle glow of the Christmas tree.

‘I think you deserve your Boxing Day surprise early, Dave.’ She poured him a measure of his favourite and dashed upstairs to change.

When she swayed back into the room to the samba playing in her head, he was ready, waiting, and thrilled. He knew no display of sparkling lights and brightly coloured decorations could ever match the woman he loved.

The following morning, as Christmas Eve awoke to an early bright blue sky, Dave was surprised by a knock on their front door. Bob and his wife stood outside in the clearing frost and handed him a sealed envelope. Shirley, encouraged by the sound of voices, joined them, and took what was clearly a seasonal greetings card out of Dave’s hand.

‘Oh, thank you. Maybe you’d have a drink with us this tonight? Celebrate the joint effort out there?’

Bob’s wife smiled tentatively at Shirley and turned from her husband. ‘It may be time to celebrate the end of what has been a singularly trying, long, and pointless contest, too, don’t you think?’ She turned her head and allowed her enquiring gaze to pause on the faces of both men before returning her now open smile to Shirley, who nodded with equal enthusiasm.

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