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October 2013, vol 8, no 3

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Patricia Prime

The Present

We four children were crammed into the back seat of the Austin Seven. My mother sat in the front, a hat perched on her head, lips pursed. It was Christmas Eve and also her birthday. My father drove silently to Gamages, a large department store. He parked the car and left without a word. Then the door opened, and as he got back behind the steering wheel, he dropped a parcel in mother's lap. It was a present. "Can I open it?" She peeled off the wrapping paper to reveal a black handbag – unfashionable but serviceable. "It was all I could afford," whispered my father. "It will do for shopping, I suppose," said mother. It was handed to me, and we admired the shiny brass catch and the studs on its side.

winter twilight
a spark of light
from Big Ben

Dad drove on to Trafalgar Square so we could see the huge pine tree, donated to the British by Sweden. The post-war lights were bright and we got out of the car and bought a couple of bags of crumbs to feed the pigeons and some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor for ourselves.

in her cupped hand
the empty paper bag

Nothing could have been more splendid than to see the coloured lights after the blackouts of war. Mum and Dad were silent. The present lay forgotten on the back seat.