It's a bit cheesy, since it was written for a rather old-fashioned women's magazine, but, what the hell? It's Christmas: enjoy a cosy tale from me, with my best wishes for the season.
A Display of Love
‘But, what’s it all for, Dave?’
‘What’s it all for? What’s it all for? Isn’t it obvious, love? I’m not having that moron next door outdoing me again.’
‘Does it matter?’
‘Of course it matters, Shirl. Look, he got a first for his marrows, a second for his carrots and then, to cap it all, they give him a commendation for that lousy holiday snap he called a landscape. I tell you, Shirl, that so-and-so knows someone. Else he knows where the skeletons are hidden.’
‘That was all last summer. What’s it got to do with Christmas?’
‘Well, we all know what Christmas means to him, don’t we?’
‘You’re obsessed, do you know that? I just want this Christmas to be normal, Dave. Like everyone else’s. I’m fed up of the time, trouble and cost we put into decorating the outside. Stuff I only get to see when I’m coming home or leaving. Why can’t we do the inside this year?’
‘No one sees the inside, Shirl. What’s the point of that?’
‘I see it. You see it. The kids and grandkids see it. No, Dave; I’ve had enough of this stupid competition. I want my Christmas back.’
Her stance said she was serious and, even if he’d had his back to her, the tone of her voice made her feelings clear. And when Shirl meant it, you’d better do as she expected. He looked at the collection of lights, blow-up figures, plastic lawn decorations and flashing signs he’d gathered over the years and felt a small pang of disappointment. But Shirl had a point. He’d spent good money, too much time and far too much effort on the whole project. Why, he wondered, hadn’t she said before it got almost out of hand? What was it all for, she’d wanted to know. And he knew the answer. It was pathetic, really. To outdo his show-off neighbour. Hell, he didn’t even like the man. Why was he so intent on competing with him?
He looked out of the window and saw Bob fixing the first lights to the cherry tree in his front garden. He felt an urge to go out there and start on his own display, a slight urge to make this year’s display a sight the whole village would come round to view. But, really, he knew the motivation was just to do something better than Bob and be recognised for that for once. Bob always got the prizes, never Dave. Prizes. Prizes?
‘You know, Shirl, who cares about the odd silver cup, a certificate signed by the Vicar? I mean, what’s it mean, after all?’
Shirley, unexpectedly, embraced him. ‘Thanks, Dave. I appreciate it. I know it’s hard for you to give it up after all this time. But I’m proud of you. I don’t need awards and certificates to tell me how good you are at all sorts of things. And they never give prizes for the things that really matter anyway.’
He saw that look in her eye, knew what she meant and abandoned the pile of decorations for a while. He’d decide what to do with them later. Probably return them to the loft, for now, anyway.
He still had a spring in his step when he returned home from work the next day. He parked up outside as usual and noticed Bob back at it next door.
‘Not botherin’ this year, old man?’
Dave forced a smile at the condescending tone and just nodded noncommittally as he strode down the path. The Christmas tree was in the window; a few effective lights decorated the Magnolia in the centre of his lawn, as a greeting for visitors, but that was all. Understated, was what Shirley had called it.
‘Looks lovely. I’ve always felt too much looks just cheap and gaudy. I mean, Bob’s display’s just showing off for the sake of it. The man’s too full of himself.’
It was good to know she preferred him to the moron next door. Shirley’s appreciation was a prize worth having.
‘No, Bob, I decided against, this year. I see you’re up to your usual standard. Mind you don’t blow a fuse.’
‘Oh, no chance of that, old man. Taken all the precautions, I have. No danger of a power cut here. Not like some I could name. All the power on one big fuse. I’ve got a special circuit for this lot, you know.’
He did know. Bob had boasted about it two years ago on the memorable occasion when Dave’s power cut blacked out the house for a day. He’d really rubbed his nose in it, smirking as the electrician came round to sort out the problem.
‘Aye, well, have a happy one. I’m off in for my tea.’ And in he went, before he was tempted to wipe the condescending smile off the moron’s face.
Shirley greeted him with her usual warmth, the aroma of homemade lamb stew welcomed him into his home, and Christmas carols played lightly in the background.
‘Nice, but it’s a bit early for that, isn’t it?’ He nodded at her outfit, the one she normally reserved for their private Christmas party, on Boxing Day.
‘Thought I’d treat you. You’ve been so good over the decorations and I know how much you like me in this. Anyway, thought you might like a surprise this year on Boxing Day.’
He raised a quizzical eyebrow.
‘Oh no. You’ll have to wait and see. Now, come and have your tea, love.’
‘I’m supposed to eat whilst you sit opposite me looking like that?’
‘Think of it as an appetiser.’
It was, so he did.
Two days to go and Bob was still in the garden when Dave arrived home a little the worse for wear, after the works Christmas do, as the taxi dropped him off outside the gate.
‘Now then, Bob, nothing better to do than festoon your house with lights and Santas, eh?’
Bob’s wife, a mousy woman with a sharp tongue who, Dave suddenly realised, he’d never spoken to, was watching tight-lipped from behind the glass in the front room. Though, whether she was watching Bob with approval or dismay was impossible to say from her expression. But Dave realised that he had one thing in his life that Bob didn’t have. He had Shirl. Shirley was worth a thousand, a million cups and medals and certificates.
‘Wait there, mate.’
Shirley was waiting in the hall, her face covered in questions but the greeting kiss ready as always. He indulged her and himself first and then extricated himself with reluctance and difficulty.
‘Come and give us a hand, love. Then I’ll be able to concentrate better.’
He dropped the loft ladder and started handing all the stored decorations down to Shirley. The look on her face was hard to ignore, but he was determined. She took it all downstairs with him, disappointment written large on her pretty face. But she said nothing; knew him too well when he was in this mood.
He gathered the stuff together, with her help, in the hallway.
‘Right, the rest I’ll do on my own. Won’t take long, love.’
‘Tea’s almost ready.’
There were tears in the corners of her eyes, her lovely eyes, and he almost capitulated. But he’d made up his mind and, once started, he was going to finish.
‘Won’t be long.’
Bob was still putting the finishing touches to his display. His wife still watching. Dave transported everything from the hall into the crisp garden until the house was empty of the Christmas show.
‘Wonder if you’d give me a hand with these, Bob?’
Bob looked shocked at this suggestion but seemed unable to resist the opportunity to boast. It took the pair of them another three hours but when they’d finished, both were happy with the result.
‘Best ever, Bob. What do you think?’
‘Brilliant, Dave, brilliant. Got to hand it to you, this time.’
‘One more touch, I think.’ He went round the back to his shed and found what he was looking for. Bob looked at the small wooden box with its slot in the top and the hand-painted sign advertising the display as a charity raising event and asking for donations.
‘Village Hall fund, I thought?’
Bob nodded, dumbfounded. A few neighbours had ventured out into the chill of the night and looked on admiringly as Dave affixed the box to the fence. A few even emptied their pockets of change into it. Dave nodded his thanks.
He said good night to Bob, thanked him for his help and went inside. Shirley was still disappointed.
‘Come and have a look, Shirl.’
‘I don’t think so, thank you.’
‘Bob says it’s the best ever.’
She looked up, tears still threatening.
‘Come one, love. Just a quick look. Then I’ll not say another word about it. Promise.’
Reluctantly, and because she loved him in spite of his failings, she went with him to the door. He put his hands over her eyes and guided her down the front path to the pavement to give her the best view. Once in place, he removed his hand.
Shirley gasped and then was silent as she took it all in, including the box and its sign.
‘Oh, Dave, you’re brilliant. And Bob’s all right with it, is he?’
‘Think he’s still getting over the shock, to tell you the truth.’
They stood and admired Bob’s house and garden, covered with lights, figures and all the blaze of commercial Christmas, then at their own place, still with just its simple white string of lights twinkling on the Magnolia and the Christmas tree in the window.
‘Wonderful, Dave. The whole village will be talking about this. I think you’re marvellous.’
They wandered back down the path together and inside to the warmth of their house. Shirley closed the curtains on the lights from next door and settled happily for the gentle glow of the Christmas tree.
‘I think you deserve your Boxing Day surprise early, Dave.’ She poured him a small measure of his favourite and dashed upstairs to change.
When she returned to the room, he was ready and waiting and he knew no amount of awards and certificates could ever mean more than the woman he loved.