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A cold Christmas

Алексей Конобеев

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I have a friend who lives in Portugal. He is still at school and this year he is very upset that Portugal has not been getting any snow at all. After I talked with him several days ago I thought of what it must be like to not have any snow when you want some, and I wrote this story. Of course, the character in this story has only a few things in common with the prototype: the real Ricardo is much older, although he also loves birds and takes beautiful pictures of insects and plants in his garden. When I was writing this story I rather had a younger audience in mind, my thought only spinned off a real person. That's why the language is fairly simple here, except for the couple of conditionals I've had to use. So here it goes:


A cold Christmas

In a very warm country in the south of Europe there lived a boy who was very fond of birds, insects and plants. He dreamed of becoming a biologist when he grew up, but now he was still at school.

There was a small garden near the house where the boy lived with his father, mother and younger brother, and every morning he would go into the garden to look at the flowers and take pictures of some of the butterflies and other creatures who lived there. The herbs and the flowers were much the same as those in the neighbours’ gardens, but for some reason butterflies preferred to spend days in the boy’s garden, and in spring thrushes and nightingales would come there too. The garden stood bright and green until winter, but in winter all was brown and bare.

In winter the birds would fly away to warm African countries, the insects would hide under the ground for their long sleep and only the trees would stretch their leafless branches above the dry grass. In winter the garden looked almost uninteresting, and when the frosts came, even the trees and flowers would go to sleep. However, the boy knew that the sleep wouldn’t last long and that very soon, in a couple of months, the garden will be full of life again.

Sometimes the boy felt worried about his plants in the garden. He knew that if real frosts came, many plants could freeze to death. His was a warm country and had no snow in winter, but now and then cold winds blew and brought biting frosts with them. Frosts without snow would just kill the garden.

So winter was not a very welcome season for him. But the boy loved snow! He saw it on TV so many times! He watched films where children made snowmen and played snowballs, where the first soft snow would fall ever so quietly and stay on the grass, and cover everything in a warm, white, sparkling and fluffy blanket. But he lived in a warm and dry country and no snow ever fell there. Sometimes he despaired that he would ever see snow before he grew up and started travelling. But when he grew it wouldn’t be the same then, would it?

One December evening the boy was sitting in his room doing homework. The TV was on, and the news presenter was telling about strong winds coming fast from the Arctic. It seemed that the neighbouring countries were getting their share of snow already. The boy looked out of the window, but there was not a cloud to be seen in the pale evening sky. It didn’t look like snowing at all. He sighed, shook his head sadly and returned to his textbooks.

On the next day the air grew cold. It was not freezing yet, but the chilly wind kept getting under the boy’s jacket and his hands felt so cold when he touched the rosebush in the garden. It looked like they were going to have an unusually cold day and a frosty night. And, same as yesterday, the sky was clear with no clouds in sight.

When the boy returned from school, it had already got very cold, maybe even too cold for some of the flowers. The bushes could be covered with plastic sheets or even with old newspapers, like first flowers are covered sometimes in early spring to keep the morning chills off. But there was no way the entire garden could be covered. If it got any colder, the sap would freeze in the trees, and the ice it would turn into would break the trunks from the inside. The seeds and the flower bulbs would die too, and so would many of the hibernating insects. And in spring, when the birds fly back, they’ll find only bare lifeless trees instead of their green blooming garden. The boy looked up. The sky was still clear. The sun looked dim and distant, and the cold wind was getting stronger. In fact, it had already got so strong that it began wistling sadly in the branches.

While helping his father decorate the Christmas tree, the boy was listening to the news. There were pictures of every single neighbouring country covered with snow. The longest spells of cold weather in 29 years were reported in Britain. Snowdrifts were causing traffic congestion in France and Germany, and Spain was shivering with cold, while children there were playing snowballs. Even Italy had some snow falling, and some schools were closed much to the joy of the children there. Flights were delayed, cars couldn’t run, only the big buses connected the cities everywhere but in the boy’s country. The temperature was still going down as more cold air kept streaming in from the distant ocean in the North.

The next day was Christmas Eve, so there was no school. Instead of sleeping through half of the morning as he normally would, the boy got up even earlier than usual. He looked out and saw the car the windows of which were covered in ice. The river that he could catch a glimpse of, didn’t look as dark as yesterday. Instead it sent up white sparkles. In the night it had frozen over and the ice, although still very thin, covered it from the one bank to the other.

The boy got dressed quickly and went out. The ground was unusually hard and he could hear his footsteps as he walked. The air was biting cold now, but still there was not a snowflake in the air. It looked like a fair, sunny, beautiful and entirely snowless morning. One more day like that, the boy thought, and his garden would die.

While his parents were doing their last-minute Christmas shopping and his little brother was watching cartoons, the boy spent the afternoon covering the bushes with plastic sheets. But he knew that that was not enough as it was growing colder and colder every minute. Only snow could save his garden now. It was already growing darker as winter days are so short, and the sky was red and clear in the west.

His younger brother spent the evening chatting about the presents he wanted to receive. AT dinner parents looked at their children and smiled, but when they asked the boy what he wanted for Christmas he said nothing. All the autumn he dreamed of a new camerato take pictures of his flowers and insects, but all he wanted now was snow for his garden. After all, if the plants and insects died, there’d be nothing to take pictures of in the first place, and what’s the use of a camera, he thought, if all you can photograph is people and landscapes?

That night, while the wind was howling outside, shaking the house by the roof, he did not dream of Santa Clause, Christmas trees or presents. Instead he saw dark forests, trees, lying on the ground with their roots in the air, dead flowers, carried by wind, and finally, when he felt he did not want to have those dreams any more, he saw a big snowman that was wearing Santa’s red hat. The snowman had a carrot for his nose and two large black coals for eyes. The snowman turned to the boy and seemed to wink at him encouragingly. For some reason this last dream was so peaceful and full of joy that he smiled and woke up.

All was quiet outside. The wind had ceased in the night. The boy pulled the curtains and saw that the ground was not black any more. It looked very soft and white as if covered with seagulls’ feathers. The sky was light-blue like yesterday, but now it seemed very deep and the rays of the rising sun were golden.

The boy put on his sweater and ran outside without looking at the heap of presents underneath the Christmas tree. In the garden it was cold but the frost seemed quite mild. The snow seemed soft to the touch and felt almost warm. The rosebushes looked like small white hills and there was not a blade of grass left above the snow. The boy smiled and looked around. There was smoke coming directly up from their neighbours’ chimney. All was incredibly quiet and the boy stood there, taking in the calm, for nearly ten minutes before he suddenly felt how cold it was. He turned back and slowly walked towards the house. After all, there WERE presents underneath the Christmas tree, and who knows, perhaps there was a camera waiting for him. A camera he could use right that afternoon when he went out to play snowballs with friends.


January 7, 2010

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A wonderful Christmas story. But it shows that our wishes sometimes come true and these wishes can be dangerous for someone or something. So we should be warier with our wishes. It is excellent that this story has a happy end.

Alexey, don’t you want to write fairy-tales for children?

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That's a nice story. I can't explain but your works remind me of short stories of R. Dahl. And it's not really a fairy tale. After all the natural disasters and so many discussions about global warming or vice versa, the next Ice Age why couldn't we believe it to be true? And speaking about the character, his wishes, actions ... It's our real life where some people think only of their own well-being while the others worry about someone or something around them.

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That's a nice story. I can't explain but your works remind me of short stories of R. Dahl. And it's not really a fairy tale. After all the natural disasters and so many discussions about global warming or vice versa, the next Ice Age why couldn't we believe it to be true? And speaking about the character, his wishes, actions ... It's our real life where some people think only of their own well-being while the others worry about someone or something around them.

Well, I was writing about a real friend, although, of course, in this story I've made him younger than he actually is. I showed the story to him and he wrote that it realyy was very similar to how he feels and he liked it a lot - or said so :-) And... the town in Portugal where he lives did get some snow eventually, but only a little.

While writing it, I wanted to show that sometimes there are other things than just presents, shopping and everyday things that we should really care about. I'm glad if I managed to say that. I'm not sure though that pupils at schools would be able to understand it.

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