The Gingerbread Man by A Weddington Village Short Story by Florence Keeling
Rose Pedal delicately wrapped the home-made gingerbread man in tissue paper and placed him gently into the Christmas gift box, specifically made for a DVD it was the perfect size to house a man-shaped biscuit.
She tied a red ribbon around it, curling the ends into spirals with the blunt edge of the scissors, then wrote out the glittery red star-shaped tag.
For Megan xx it read, as it had done for over fifteen years.
‘I’m off to Megan’s,’ she called to her mum. Her dad, the Reverend Pedal, was getting the church ready for midnight Mass that evening.
‘Make sure you wrap up warm and don’t be too long,’ her mum shouted back from the kitchen. ‘There’s a frost in the air and it looks like it might snow.’
‘Yes, Mum.’ Rose shook her head, even though she was in her early twenties, her mum still babied her a little, but it was only because she cared.
She stepped out of the vicarage door, grateful that, thanks to her mum’s warning, she had thought to grab her gloves and hat, pulling them on and feeling instantly warmer against the chill of the early evening. As she breathed out, her breath swirled like smoke, taking her back to the day that she had first given Megan a gingerbread man, when they were still in primary school.
The morning had dawned bright and cold, the night frost was still on the ground as Rose and her mum stepped out onto the vicarage drive.
‘Have you got your gloves?’
Rose had nodded at her mum’s question.
‘And your hat?’
She nodded again, pulling on the red bobble hat and matching gloves that her grandmother had knitted for her.
‘It’s like dragon smoke,’ Rose had squealed, watching her breath dance and whirl in the cold air. ‘And the grass is all crunchy!’ she said, tapping on the ground with her new winter boots.
‘Off we go then.’ Her mum held her hand as they walked the mile or so to Weddington Hall, one of the many stately homes in the area and where Tointon Primary, Rose’s school, was hosting its Christmas nativity play alongside Weddington Academy. It was the first year that both schools had joined together and there had been lots and lots of excitement over who would play the main parts.
‘Have you got the gingerbread man?’ Rose asked, looking at her mum as they walked up the long drive to the grand red-brick house.
‘It’s right here, all wrapped up.’ Mrs Pedal had patted her handbag and Rose could picture the gingerbread man all safe and secure, wrapped in the holly-patterned serviette and tucked inside a small Tupperware tub. Her mum was always cooking and baking, and their kitchen cupboards housed every shape and size of Tupperware box imaginable.
Rose had spent a good hour with her mum the previous evening, baking and decorating biscuits for the church Christmas fayre.
‘May I have one for Megan, please?’ she had asked, picking a particularly fat looking one after her mum had nodded. ‘I’m going to make it look like Santa,’ she said. ‘And then I’ll give it to her tomorrow and hopefully she’ll be my friend again.’
‘Why isn’t she your friend anymore?’ her mum had asked, sitting down beside her. ‘You’ve been best friends since your first day.’
‘I wasn’t very nice to her.’ Rose started to cry. ‘I didn’t mean it really but all the girls wanted to be Mary or the narrator and Megan got to be the narrator because she’s so good at speaking and remembering, and all the other good parts went to the older children from the other school and all I get to be is a sheep.’ She sniffed as her crying abated.
‘But we should be happy for our friends,’ her mum reminded her. ‘Megan is probably feeling really nervous about her part and wanted her best friend to help her learn her lines.’
‘I’ve been a bad friend.’ Rose looked at the gingerbread man with his wonky smile. ‘I hope this will make her smile at me again.’
‘I’m sure it will.’ Mrs Pedal handed her the red icing pen. ‘And what does it matter if you’re a sheep or Mary,’ she had continued. ‘Everyone has a part to play in the world but not everyone can play the big parts, it doesn’t mean they are any less important though.’
Rose had smiled at her mum, she always made bad things seem so much better.
Reaching Weddington Hall, Rose and her mum joined the other children and parents. It looked like the whole of Tointon and Weddington were crammed into the elegant building. Rose took the tub from her mum and made her way through the crowd to join her fellow pupils backstage.
‘There you are, Rose.’ Mrs Willow placed a hand on her shoulder. ‘Your costume is over there with Mrs Broad.’ Mrs Broad was Megan’s mum. ‘Get yourself dressed and then join the other animals for your turn.’ She looked at the tub in Rose’s hand. ‘What’s that you have there?’
‘It’s a present for Megan.’ She looked around but couldn’t see her best friend anywhere.
‘She’s just there if you want to give it to her.’ Mrs Willow knew all about the situation after she had found Rose crying on her own at playtime. In fact, it had been Mrs Willow’s suggestion to make Megan an apology present.
Rose followed the direction that Mrs Willow was pointing in and standing by the curtain, ready to go on, was Megan. She was dressed like an angel, with a gold tinsel halo. Rose suddenly felt extremely nervous.
‘Can you give it to her?’ Rose asked her teacher, but she shook her head.
‘There will be always be things in life that we don’t want to do,’ Mrs Willow said. ‘But there will also be things in life that we absolutely must do.’ Her teacher squeezed her hand for encouragement and turned Rose to face Megan. ‘Good luck.’
The space between Rose and Megan seemed achingly long as she shuffled slowly towards her. ‘Little Donkey’ was playing through the speaker system and before she knew it Rose was standing next to Megan. She coughed and Megan turned around to face her.
‘I’m sorry.’ Rose held out the box to Megan who took it, lifted the lid and unwrapped the serviette inside.
‘He’s all squished,’ she remarked, pulling out the gingerbread man who Rose could see had been wrapped up while the icing was still wet and now resembled a red and black mess.
‘He was meant to be Santa.’ Rose sniffed disappointedly. ‘Will you be my friend again?’
Megan paused for a moment, broke the gingerbread man in half and handed the bottom bit to Rose. ‘I never stopped,’ she said smiling, and bit the head off the gingerbread. ‘Your mum really does make the best biscuits.’
‘Places, everyone!’ Mrs Willow called. Rose hugged Megan and wished her good luck before dashing off to put on her own costume. No one remarked on why the narrator was holding a Tupperware for the first part of her performance or why she had red icing on her face, but Rose knew and it made her smile.
‘Merry Christmas,’ Rose said as Megan opened the door dressed in an elf onesie complete with bell slippers. ‘I can’t stop, Mum’s warning of snow but I just wanted to give you this.’ She handed her the box.
‘I wonder what it is?’ Although Megan knew it was a gingerbread man inside, as it was every year, she never knew how it would be decorated, Rose changed it every year. ‘Oh wow!’ It was Santa, just as it had been the first Christmas, but this time he had been allowed to dry properly.
‘That was how it should have looked all those years ago.’ Rose laughed.
‘You were only seven,’ Megan remarked. ‘I forgive you.’
‘Thank goodness you did.’ And they both knew she wasn’t just referring to the mess Rose had made of the icing.
‘You’re my best friend,’ Megan said. ‘And you always will be.’ She broke the gingerbread man in half and handed the bottom bit to Rose. ‘Now, get yourself home before your mum rings me asking where you are. It’s starting to snow.’ She bit off the head and closed the door, waving through the glass as she did.
Rose broke off a leg and popped it into her mouth and headed home, listening to the opening bars of ‘Little Donkey’ coming from the church organ as she passed the church a few minutes later. She smiled to herself and looked up to the heavens, snowflakes falling heavily, thankful for friends and gingerbread men.