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Story Chat Y2: “On the Streets” by Cathy Cade

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. 

 drawn by Jane Pobgee

“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.”

“And?”

“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.”

“Ah.”

“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?”

 drawn by Jane Pobgee

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.

73 replies »

  1. Aww what a joyful, heart-warming story. I loved the mothers transition from disappointment to supportive. The author really captured the young lads performers nerves well. Very enjoyable read. KL ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad you liked it KL. As a mother of four (all now grown), I sometimes feel I perhaps wasn’t always as supportive as I could have been. It’s Dad I feel a bit sorry for. He seems to have given up and, at 1000 words, gets written out of the story

      Liked by 1 person

          • I don’t know. People like Hugh who regularly write 99-word stories. I think people who write longer stories, struggle to stay in the limits. Last year Debbie wrote about a 600-word story in response to contest which I think only allowed 500 words. When I took a children’s picture book class, we were limited to 300 words. I think it all depends on what you get used to writing. You bring up a good point about readers, though. Especially readers who are used to photo challenges even reading 1,000 words is long. Business and informational blog posts run about 2,500 words. But I wonder what our readers think as well. Good point, Cathy.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I think those who offer prize money with their challenge, might get by with that rule, or if the rule is in the title – like Carrot Ranch’s Flash Fiction 99 Words No More, No Less. That’s pretty clear. Story Chat has a 500 word-leeway. That’s pretty broad, but I can understand a 10% under or over. 5 words under, 10 words over would still not be unreasonable. We haven’t had any stories under 600 words submitted.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I had to set aside two major impediments before I could concentrate on the story itself because:
    1. When it comes to Christmas I make Scrooge look like a saint.
    2. Like the bagpipes, a gentleman is someone who can play the accordion, but doesn’t. 🙂

    That said, the story left me with some questions.
    – There’s a hint that Mum once risked an opinion about her husband’s choices and he took off. Apart from thinking ‘good riddance’, I wondered if she really thought that what she’d said would provoke a similar reaction from Matt. Seems a little over-dramatic, especially when Matt is clearly having his own doubts about his choice of career.
    – I think the story would have worked better if the two women generating his audience were rugged up or disguised in some manner and he only works it out at the end.
    – A dog bowl for donations to the homeless? A bit jarring.

    I wish Cathy every success as a writer.

    PS – I’ll crawl back into my misanthropic cave now and eat my dinner of roast reindeer and elf pudding. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, Scrouge Sr. You saw a lot in this story that I didn’t. I thought her husband died, rest his soul. I think Mom took a little too much blame for telling Matt to be sensible, but I can see Moms doing that just as much as I can see rebellious teens doing it anyway even if they thought it was a bad idea. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll confess… it wasn’t originally conceived as a Christmas story. I added tinsel.
      In fact Dad didn’t disappear but he gave up his musical aspirations – which I hinted at originally but he got edited out in the interests of brevity.
      If he hadn’t recognised his mum and sister, would he have felt as safe and supported, do you think?
      You could be right about the dog bowl – I didn’t think of it that way. it was just something hand at home that he could bring along (not being in the habit of busking).
      Roast reindeer is very tasty, and I LOVE bagpipes. (It’s like the violin though – you wouldn’t want your kids learning it at home.)

      Liked by 2 people

  3. A lovely story and as a parent of sons I can relate to saying the wrong thing or giving an unwanted opinion. Equally, as a Mother, I always try and support them in any way I can. I really enjoyed listening in to his thoughts and fears, as it made me feel I was getting to know him.( it also made me feel quite protective and sympathetic towards him) Well done Cathy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jane. I can assure you, daughters are just as easily upset. Being an aspiring musician must be difficult enough with stage fright! (I was never good enough to play in public anyway. Piano grade exams were frightening enough.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Most enjoyable. It flows well and you capture Matt with all his angst and frustrations very well. He has depth. Which as Doug points out rather contrasts with Mum and Jess. I had to re read that little section where we get mum’s pov twice in order to appreciate what was going on and even so the bit about her 20 year old worry at what she said to her husband I missed. I think you’d improve the experience with a little more there without compromising your neat ending.
    I understand Dougs point about the fact you hide from us who they were even though Matt clearly knew and you might have added something there – say, how his heart sank when he saw the two women and was about to give up before the one with the dancing eyes cajoled him into white Christmas. There needs to be more tension between them until it is clear their intervention and participation- singing along, clapping etc brings in the others and gets the crowd going.
    It’s a lovely warm tale.
    Two other things. The dog bowl issue. I disagree strongly with Doug. Like you Matt didn’t think about how using a dog bowl might look, didn’t make Doug’s jarring link even if, once pointed out it’s obvious. Indeed you could have the woman criticising him at the end because that’s what mum does, or end with his sister pointing it out ‘well done bro, but on thing…’ ‘yeah?’ ‘A dog bowl collecting for the homeless?’ ‘Oh shoot’.
    However why would you censor such a natural if thoughtless action? Are we to make our characters politically correct? It makes him more human, more like a teenager wrapped up in his own world trying to do the right thing and getting it half right. So I ask what does it matter it might jarr?
    Second the length. I think the cap you have is fine though maybe allow a plus 10 percent flex as sometimes you need that. Hope that helps.

    Like

    • I did trim a bit to keep within bounds, but I confess I hadn’t given much thought to saying more about him recognising them. Perhaps I didn’t want to bring attention to that in case I gave anything away. I did consciously try guide the reader towards suspecting a budding romance but not enough to be obvious (hoping people would be more likely to pick it up as a clue if it was somewhat ‘hidden’).
      And the dog bowl issue hadn’t occured to me at all. (It was originally a white plastic one with ‘Thank you’ written around it in permanent marker, but it got lost in the editing.) If it had, I’d probably have changed it to just a plastic bowl, but your idea about commenting on it later is an option.
      Thanks for such a thoughtful reading and for your ideas.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Well, you had me going off in a different direction with this story, Cathy. When I read the line, ‘When he looked up, the young woman with the dancing eyes was gone. So was her companion,’ I thought we had a Christmas ghost story on our hands and that Matt would glimpse them or find something they left behind that made him question if they had been really there, at the end of the story. So I’d gone entirely up a different path.

    All in all, an excellent warm, comfortable read for the festive season. Full of nice feelings, with a bit of intrigue thrown in. Well, I was undoubtedly intrigued.

    As for the length of the stories, I think Cathy has a good point. If I see a story with lots and lots of block paragraphs that looks too long, I probably won’t read it. I’ve come to learn that many in the blogging world don’t like ‘long posts.’ Those posts may get lots of hits because SEO likes long posts, but the number of comments is usually a lot less than shorter posts. I’d personally stick to the current word limit and, as Geoff suggetsed, allow a plus 10 per cent flex?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hugh, you are always looking for ghosts! Do you ever find any? LOL There must be so many ghosts in England. I loved the warm fuzzy feeling for Christmas and the twist at the end was an added bonus. I so envy people who can lead readers down one path, then twist it at the end.

      I also like Geoff’s suggestion of + 10%. I know I get lost when the posts are too long just looking at them. I tend to scroll over them unless I love the writer or something catches my attention. I think it’s my dyslexia. It’s like when I was young trying to play the piano. If a piece had music that was too dense, I just saw the page as a whole and couldn’t read it.

      Like

      • The only ghosts I’ve encountered are Christmas past, present and future. They can be very entertaining, but I miss a good night’s sleep the night before Christmas, Marsha. That’s another story, though.

        I forgot to mention that another reason why I enjoyed reading Cathy’s story is that it’s so well laid out. Lots of white space between paragraphs (that aren’t ‘blocky’) make for a far more comfortable read. It all adds to the enjoyment.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think you will be pretty safe, then Hugh. I wish you and your Christmas ghosts a pleasant night’s sleep, the night before Christmas. I liked Cathy’s layout, too. She sent me some special artwork from a friend for that added touch of space. It’s always nice to use friends’ work. The space is an easy touch to implement, so I’m glad you like it, Hugh. Have a great Christmas, my friend.

          Like

    • Glad you enjoyed it Hugh, and thanks for your thoughts.
      Now, I hadn’t thought of ghosts… I need to think ‘outside the box’ a bit more (I wasn’t sure where I was going when I started this one. I think it was a writing group prompt but can’t for the life of me remember what the prompt was.) It’s interesting to see what different directions writers go off on from the same prompt. (One of our writing group would probably have seen them as dimension-hoppers or time-travellers.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I agree about how it’s great to read and hear all the different directions when responding to prompts, Cathy. One prompt can produce many different stories, some of which can be miles apart in content. The same is true of how readers do the same thing when reading a story. Our minds are mysterious, with the results being a great discussion amongst everyone. That’s where ‘Story Chat’ comes into its element.

        Just as a matter of interest, do you write your Christmas stories at any time of the year or just when Christmas is on the horizon?

        Liked by 2 people

        • When we could meet again after lockdown, our writing group decided to produce the Christmas anthologies we’d kind of thought about doing before lockdown, but not written much for. So from around March onwards I’ve been steeped in Christmas, editing and formatting and encouraging the group to ‘think Christmas’. And, of course, writing my own. I must admit, though, I’ve found it easier to get in the mood from November onwards

          Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi Cathy, et.al.

    This was a fun and satisfying story. I felt the frustration of the teen musician getting torqued by mum. I think teenagers are wired to unconsciously try to make their parents hate them and I thought Cathy leveraged this in a balanced way. It felt natural and annoyingly normal. I also sympathized with mum who felt like she’s stepped in it again.

    The dog bowl was no speed bump to me and I did not connect it to the homeless charity because Cathy didn’t put it there. It was just something he likely found with the right shape that would tolerate being re-tasked.

    Then those two women in the crowd. I’ll admit I wondered right off if they were mum and sister. I’ve done enough teaching and speaking in front of large groups and can tell you it’s easy to miss faces you know in a crowd because well, stage fright and musician concentration. The crowd easily becomes faceless unless something huge makes them stand out. But the way Cathy tells the story, it doesn’t really matter, because he was beginning to succeed and enjoy himself about the same time and that would have been more front-of-mind than reacting to them. It also underscored potentially that he wasn’t all that mad at his family ladies – which is also consistent with a teenager getting sloppy attitudes with mum. He had to recognize them when they stepped out of the crowd, but it was working so well that he likely felt more endeared to his family for their contagious support.

    Finally, a point I’ve tried to make before. I really like clarity between the omniscient narrator and the thoughts of a character. I don’t think there’s a standard way to denote this but it can be a powerful part of the story. A character’s thoughts are much more interesting and able to place me in the crowd watching the story unfold. Cathy, this story flowed smoothly between your narrator voice and some of Matt’s thoughts, but I did have to re-read to make sure I understood where you were putting words in Matt’s mind as opposed to narrating the next scenes.

    In one spot, it was uncertain whether the narrator was thinking out loud or Matt was just thinking.

    I stole someone’s ideas about using un-punctuated italics to be a characters thoughts and freely use reminders to my readers that italicized words are someone’s thoughts. It seems to work well but someone else deserved the credit for setting this example for me.

    Bottom line, Cathy doesn’t often leave mistakes for us to find and this story is one more example of a warm-hearted, family image that paints a picture of a young man taking his next steps in pursuit of music performance, tripping over his mum while she’s tripping over him, her and his sister showing up to support his effort, succeeding to draw in the crowd just enough to help him enjoy success and get back to the point of thanking mum.
    So – what’s not to love about this story?
    Bravo Cathy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a great review, Gary. You touched every aspect of the story and brought out the perfection in it. Wow! I love your line, “Cathy doesn’t often leave mistakes for us to find and this story…” What a wonderful compliment.

      Like

  7. I’m glad you enjoyed it and I get your point about the unpunctuated italics for thoughts. I usually use those myself. I think I was trying to get more inside his mind for this one so didn’t necessarily differentiate myself between his thoughts and mine. Maybe it’s an experiment I need to work on.
    Thanks, Gary, for such a thoughtful review. I hope it got those Christmas carols running through your mind and that you (and all readers) have a cool Yule. (Am I showing my age now?)

    Liked by 1 person

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Marsha

Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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