The Christmas tree angel. / Wikimedia

The Christmas angel

PETER EDGERTON

It’s a bit wonky.” “What does wonky mean?” Six-year old Anna looked up at her mother quizzically.

“You know – kind of cock-eyed, skew-whiff, er... like this...”

Georgia twisted her body in the manner of a bent scarecrow and pulled a funny face for good measure. Anna laughed.

“Anyway, not to worry, Anna, there’s nothing wrong with a wonky angel on the top of such a beautiful Christmas tree. It means we’re keepin’ it real.” She stretched out her hand for a high five but none was forthcoming. Anna had her mind on other matters.

“Rupert’s not wonky.”

“Glad to hear it.Who’s Rupert?”

“He’s an angel too.”

“Well, with a name like that he should either be a bear or the son of a city banker who gets a job on the trading floor that he doesn’t deserve and can’t do very well but never gets sacked.”

“What?”

“Never mind.” Georgia missed adult conversation sometimes.

“Where did you meet this Rupert, anyway, and how do you know he’s an angel?”

“He came into my dream and he told me he was.”

Georgia had always had an extraordinary imagination but this was a good one even by her standards.

“Well, that’s enough angel chat for now - go and get the candles.” Anna scurried off to the kitchen and returned with a small, battered grocery box.

“Who lights these?”

“Mummy does.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re dangerous.”

“Correctisimo! Because they’re dangerous. And that’s also why we put them on the highest shelves, like this.”

Soon enough, the living room was bathed in a warm yuletide glow and, it must be said, the tree looked simply magnificent, wonky angel and all.

Georgia and Anna honoured this same ritual every first of December for the next sixteen years, mum always lighting the candles and both of them making sure the angel was charmingly off kilter. Then, out of the blue, shortly after her twenty-second birthday, Anna was offered her dream job in the media; it would oblige her to move to the other end of the country, but was the chance of a lifetime. It also meant she wouldn’t be home on December 1st for decoration day. Both she and her mother feigned a blasé acceptance of the situation but, in truth, it saddened them both.

Anna did, however, make sure she called on the afternoon of the second to ask Georgia to message some photos of this year’s handy work to her but, oddly, there was no reply. She tried numerous times during the evening but to no avail. Around midnight, her own phone rang.

“Hello, Anna. This is your Aunty Jean. I’ve some bad news, I’m afraid. Your mother’s in hospital with severe burns. The doctors say she should be fine but can you come up?”

Jean met her at the station.

“What happened?”

“A fire during the night. They think a candle fell or something. She mustn’t have put it out properly. A passer-by saw the flames, apparently, broke in and woke her just in time.”

“Oh, God. Let’s just get to the hospital. Who was the passer-by?”

“Not sure. A Mr. Henderson, they think - might live up at the old rectory, someone said.”

Over the following weeks, Georgia’s recovery was slow but steady and, by the spring things were looking much better.

As good as her word Anna hadn’t forgotten about Mr Henderson and took a taxi up to the old rectory bearing a small gift. She rang the wrought iron bell, a stocky, smiling woman in a blue apron and holding a mop in one hand, answered.

“Hello. Is Mr. Henderson home?” “Mr. Henderson? No, my dear the Hendersons haven’t lived here for years. Not since the factory fire a couple of years back. Didn’t you hear about it? None of the Hendersons are left here now, the son died in the blaze and the parents moved away. France, I think.”

“There’s really no Mr Henderson who lives here now, then?”

“No, dear. Like I say, after the lad died in the fire, the parents left. Such a crying shame. Lovely man, too, he was.” She put her hand to her lips and stared at the ground and sighed.

"Poor Rupert.”