*Continuing with the 12 Days of Christmas theme, I give you days 2, 3, and 4. If you followed my blog last December, you would recognize these flash fiction pieces. That's right, I'm taking the month all. Enjoy!*
Turtle Doves, French Hens, and Colly Birds
“Top of the mornin’ to yeh, Mr. ’Andov’r. What can I do for yeh?” The butcher ran his cleaver over the sharpening strip.
George Handover winced slightly and felt a bit faint at the blood splatter upon the butcher’s apron. “I was wondering if you’d have a French hen.”
“A French hen, yeh say? Let me see, sir.” He checked the meat trays.
“Er, no, sir, I mean a live one.”
“A live one? Do I look like a farmer?” He chortled, and his big belly rippled under the apron. “I can order one for yeh, but it’ll cost extra.”
“Yes, please do.” He passed his hand below his nose to squash the heavy metallic scent. “Ring me when it has arrived, and I’ll see that you are paid promptly.”
“Will do, sir, will do. ’Ave a good day, Mr. ’Andov’r.”
“Yes, thank you.” George rushed from the shop and climbed into the hansom. The little colly bird chirped from within its cage. He peered at its black eyes and shiny ebony feathers. A rather endearing little bird. He hoped Magritte would like it.
With the French hen in one arm and the birdcage in the other, George crossed over the moor to Magritte’s quaint cottage. A tendril of smoke whispered from the chimney, and a single flickering light illuminated the window. When he arrived at the door, he set down the birdcage and knocked.
The curtain fluttered briefly before Magritte opened the door. “Why, Monsieur ’Andover, please come in. What do I owe zis pleasure?”
He scooped the birdcage up and entered. A slight chill filled the room, and he noticed just a few coals in the bucket. Perhaps he should’ve brought her that instead of birds. A ruddy blushed burned his cheeks as he offered up his gifts. “I wanted to wish you a happy Christmas, Magritte.”
Her eyes brightened while she set the birdcage upon the oak table and placed the hen upon the floor. It pecked at the boards, and the colly bird chirped a delightful tune. Wrapping the threadbare shawl around thin shoulders, she said, “Oh, Monsieur ’Andover, you shouldn’t ’ave!”
He smiled shyly. “I remembered you saying how much you loved Christmas when you were a little girl in France. I know it is the first year without John, and I wanted you to have something to look forward to.”
“I can’t believe you remembered! It is so kind.” She pressed her gloved hand to her heart. She then shook her head. “Where are my manners! Please, sit and stay.”
“Thank you, Magritte.” He removed his hat and sat in a rickety wooden chair. His fingers ran through his salt-n-pepper hair and couldn’t help but notice a few silver strands in her lush dark curls. Magritte had stolen his heart, but she didn’t know it. It was improper of him to think about his former servant’s wife so.
She perched in a chair and pinched off a morsel of bread, feeding it to the colly bird and the French hen. “I used to love ze birds in France. We ’ad an aviary for a while, and I remembered ze gentle “turr” of ze turtle doves as well and fresh eggs every morning.”
“Have you considered returning to France?” Although he wanted her to be happy, his heart paused at the thought of her leaving.
She shook her head. “No, England is my ’ome now. I’d love to see one of ze doves. It’s too cold now for zem on zese moors.”
Regret seeped into his bones. He should’ve thought of turtle doves too. Where would one find them? A park perhaps.
“Oh, forgive me again, sir. I should’ve made some tea.” She stood, but he halted her with his hand.
“Please, don’t trouble yourself with it.” He desired her company like a dying man desires one more second, but if he stayed any longer, he would cross all proper boundaries. Standing, he put his hat back on. “If you need anything, Magritte, please let me know.”
“Merci, Monsieur ’Andover. You’ve already been too kind.” She followed to the door, and the wind snatched at her hair. She gasped and pointed toward a lone, spindly tree set against the unforgiving moorland. “Look! Turtle doves.”
A light “turr, turr” sound fluttered to them. The turtle doves nestled together on the branch like lovers before leaping in the air and flying away. George felt a great sense of loss until Magritte’s hand lightly caressed his arm. A touch filled with tenderness and possibilities.