Jessie Jones lived for Christmas. From the reindeers to the ribbon, the turkey to the tinsel - she loved everything about it. And to top it all off, Christmas Day was her birthday. She’d count down from Halloween, let alone Advent. She especially loved her next-door neighbour Flora, who baked endless goodies for the whole street - the smell of puddings and pies seeped from her kitchen windows for the whole month before Christmas. Jessie always helped make and deliver the mince pies; theirs were usually the ones sitting by the fireplace waiting for Santa.
Then one year, it changed. Angry sounds started to come from next door; sharp and short, defensive and hurtful. Tears and slamming doors. Flora’s daughter always came for Christmas - Jessie would hear them laughing together, and singing carols on Christmas eve. But this time her daughter’s car was gone in the morning and Flora refused to answer her door. For the next two years, there was no tree or fairy lights; nor her beloved baking. Invites were rejected - “I don’t do Christmas” she would reply.
As the following Christmas approached, Jessie decided that something had to be done; she awoke on the 24th, bouncing with excitement. She’d had a very special dream and knew exactly what to do.
“Can I make my own birthday cake this year, pleeease?” she asked her mum.
“Of course, but why?” Jessie tugged at her sleeve so that she’d kneel down to hear. Her mum smiled. “Perfect.” she said.
Five minutes later, Jessie was banging on Flora’s door. The old lady’s face appeared in the window. She looked old and bedraggled - as though decades had passed rather than years. “Can you help me bake my birthday cake Flora? Please?” she called through the letterbox. “I don’t
do Christmas” was the reply.
“But it’s not christmas!” Jessie shouted, “It’s my birthday!” Flora opened her mouth to refuse again, but how could she say no?
Within half an hour Jessie was back with ingredients, following Flora into the dark and dusty kitchen.
“I haven’t baked for a very long time.” said Flora, turning on a lamp. Jessie spotted a pile of unopened letters in the new light.
“Who are they from?”
“My daughter. I haven’t spoken to her in over two years.” replied Flora, pulling out a bowl and some rusty old scales, and placing them in front of Jessie. As they weighed and poured, taking turns to stir and taste, Jessie saw the hardness melt away and the old Flora reappeared like sunshine behind a cloud. As they sat and watched the cake rise, they were both worn out, but in the most wondrous way.
“Now you see Jessie, this is the bit where I forget why I stopped.”
Jessie flung her arms around the waist of her very special friend. “Please come and try some cake with us?”
“I’m sorry sweetie, I can’t,” Jessie’s heart sank. Had she not helped Flora after all? “I have to go and call my daughter.”