Can you believe Story Chat is in Year Two and we’ve had a chance to meet two authors online and nearly in person already? Hugh Roberts started this project off this year with a spooky Halloween story, “Puddles.” Doug Jacquier broached the tough subject of PTSD after WWII in his story “Brooching the Subject.”
Today, Cathy Cade, who hosted Story Chat Y1 in August and September when I was so sick, needs no introduction. She is here with a delightful Christmas story, On the Streets,” to brighten your month.
Authors say that your Story Chat comments make a difference in their writing. Grab your favorite holiday blogging snack and beverage and join us with your expressive analyses. Snippets or full quotes of your comments will be shared and linked to your websites in the Story Chat Summary at the end of the month.
Please welcome my dear friend, Cathy Cade with all your comments and feedback.
On the Streets
by Cathy Cade
Lights twinkled around decorated market stalls and angels swung overhead. The usual wafts of burger onions and hot doughnuts mingled with hints of cinnamon and mulled wine spices.
Outside Starbucks, a guitar busker belted out Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer while a small group of children laughed at the faces she pulled around her red plastic nose. Matt wished he’d thought of that. He had red noses from Red Nose days at school squirrelled away in his bedroom drawer.
It was freezing! If Mum hadn’t suggested he leave his busking for a warmer day, he might have put this off. There would be less competition after Christmas. She’d said it was too soon to go out on the streets after coming back from university with a head cold. He’d told her he didn’t need her permission.
Ahead was a singer whose backing came from a boombox; how far did the volume from that carry? He should have come earlier to get a decent spot instead of letting Mum hold him up.
“Oh, Jess, I’ve put me foot in it again.”
Her daughter closed the door behind her and unclipped the dog’s lead.
“How’s that, then?”
“I told Matt he shouldn’t go out with that cold, and he snapped at me.”
“Well, I snapped back.” She grimaced. “Told him it were a waste of his A-levels and there were still time to transfer to another course.”
“He stormed out. I should’ve kept me mouth shut.”
“It was bound to come out sometime.”
“Was I that obvious?” She’d sworn not to interfere after saying something similar to her husband back when Matt was a baby. It seemed she hadn’t learned much in twenty years.
“Thanks, love, for walking Tug. Do you have to get back? Or can you stay a bit?”
Two buskers outside the pub were casting longing glances through the window.
“If you wanna pop in for a drink,” said Matt, “I can hold your spot while you’re away.”
The pair looked at each other. “How long are you staying?”
He shrugged. “An hour? Less if you want.” He’d be happy with less.
“Sounds good to me, mate. Don’t leave before we come out, though.”
The singers picked up the guitar case and were gone.
Matt unstrapped his accordion. From his bag he took a dog bowl with “Thank you” painted around it. Behind it, he propped up a sign saying donations would go to the local homeless shelter. He wasn’t here for the money.
His tutor had told him he needed more “presence”, whatever that was. Apparently, busking was good experience.
At the Faculty of Performing Arts Christmas Review, he’d found that an auditorium of strangers wasn’t the same as a school hall of supportive parents. Other students had covered his wobbles, but expectations would be higher next time.
His hands shook on the clips of the accordion case; he told himself it was the cold making him shiver. Lifting the heavy instrument stilled his shakes, but only on the outside.
He settled the familiar weight on his shoulders and ran his fingers across the keyboard, moving smoothly into White Christmas. Shoppers glanced his way. None paused.
He added flourishes to the final chorus before segueing into The Little Drummer Boy. This wouldn’t do. He was here to sing.
He played an introduction and began, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” faltering at the strangled sounds that came from his throat.
Breathe. Open your throat.
“Jack Frost nipping at your TOES.”
Reassured when nobody looked his way, he carried on until his voice steadied.
The playlist he’d agonised over was still in the carrier bag; its order forgotten. He’d forgotten to put coins into the dog bowl, as he’d seen other buskers do. As shoppers passed, he began to relax.
But standing out here being ignored wasn’t the same as standing on a stage with everyone watching. This wouldn’t conquer his stage fright. He stole a glance at his watch; how long before he could go home? He paused to adjust the instrument on his shoulders and a woman’s voice called out, “Can you do Silent Night, love?”
“Yeah,” came a younger voice. “With sound effects.”
He tensed, until he spotted two women smiling at him from a nearby stall. The younger woman with the dancing eyes gave a little wave.
As he started to play, the pair stepped closer and stood swaying to Silent Night. He found himself swaying too. Three children pulled their parents over to join the swaying and see the strange piano thingy. Was that someone humming along?
He broke into Jingle Bells and the children sang too. The two women started clapping and so did others. Now people were stopping to listen. More came. One made a request. By Rudolph, he was beginning to enjoy himself.
When the buskers emerged from the pub halfway through The Twelve Days of Christmas, they sang along. He asked if he could finish with one more song and the children cheered.
“My grandad left me this accordion. He used to bring it out at family gatherings when I was small. He had a voice like a rusty saw, and everyone would join in to drown him out.
“The actor who sang this song couldn’t sing either, but he sang it anyway in a film we watched every Christmas. This one’s for Grandad.”
Few children knew the words to the Muppets’ Thankful Heart, but they recognised it and skipped to the rhythm.
The buskers took over with Santa Claus is Coming to Town as he packed away his accordion. When he looked up, the young woman with the dancing eyes was gone. So was her companion. The coins from the dog bowl jingled in his pocket as he hefted the accordion onto his shoulder.
Walking back through the market, the women who had requested White Christmas turned away from a second-hand stall as he passed.
“Thanks, Mum,” he said as she and Jess fell into step beside him.
~ ~ ~
Food for Discussion
So, what did you think of Cathy’s twist at the end of the story?
- How did the mom feel about Matt’s choices?
- How did she feel when he left?
- What difference did she make in the story?
- What was your take-away from this story?
Accordion Silent Night Video
What’s New in Story Chat Year Two?
Thank you all, both authors and commenters for making Story Chat such a success in Year One. See my Story Chat page for more details about Story Chat and links to all the stories as they appear each month.