‘You got your rolling pin handy dear?’ Brian asked as he struggled into his striped pyjamas. ‘I’ve got a feeling you’ll need it tonight. Those two in room three look suspect if you ask me.’
‘Yes. I have it,’ Cheryl said, patting the wooden rolling pin kept on the bedside table for the sole purpose of intimidating noisy and overly promiscuous guests during the night. She glanced up from her book, one of those Mills & Boon type romances, to Brian and his struggle to button the pyjama shirt over his pot belly. Twenty five years and a decade of running an out of the way inn on the edge of nowhere had turned him into a fat, balding, lumbering pork chop. He was no longer the catch of the day but she still loved him. He was kind and generous and always laughing, his hands pressed to his tubby tummy and bellowing louder than anyone else in the vicinity. He was a good man and that was all that mattered to her.
He finished with the struggle and limped over to the bed. As he settled into it Cheryl felt the mattress sink low and then he put his large arms around her before starting to fall down to a slumber. Cheryl checked that her curlers were all in place, placed the book besides the rolling pin and settled down into the covers, blowing out the light and closing her eyes. The darkness overtook her and dreams began to swirl forth, dreams of angels descending from the night sky towards the inn, dreams of joy and celebration and…
‘THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP! THUMP-THUMP-THUMP!’ She awoke suddenly and sat up. ‘THUMP-THUMP-THUMP –THUMP!’ There was somebody hammering on the door to the inn. Brian was almost dead to the world and had not noticed. She picked up the rolling pin and jabbed him with it until he stirred.
‘Huh? What’s up?’ he asked blearily.
‘I think somebody is at the front door… Go see who it is and tell them where to shove it.’
Brian climbed from the bed, the mattress rose and the bed creaked with the relieving of the strain. Again Cheryl closed her eyes and voices drifted up to her from the hall. She heard the door slam. Brian did not return. The door slammed again a few minutes later. This time Brian did return and when he climbed into bed and put his arms around Cheryl she found that he was freezing to the touch.
‘Who was at the door?’ Cheryl snapped.
‘A young couple asking for a room.’
‘At this time of night? I hope you told them we’re full up.’
‘I did… But the lady was pregnant so I said they could stay in the stable.’ Cheryl sat bolt upright.
‘YOU DID WHAT? WHY DID YOU DO A SILLY THING LIKE THAT?’
‘They said they had nowhere to stay and there’s no room in town.’
‘Well that’s their own fault. If they didn’t book ahead then I’ve no sympathy for them. It’s not like everyone didn’t have advanced notice that they needed to come here.’ She lay back down. ‘You’re too soft you are Brian, that’s your trouble.
She tried to sleep again and Brian’s light snoring was soon filling the room. It was not for long as her eyes were again opened by a bright, white light illuminating the room. Almost like daylight, it became impossible for her to sleep. Brian continued to snore, ignorant of the intrusion. Cheryl stabbed him with the end of the rolling pin.
‘Brian… Brian… There’s some bright light outside the window.’ He opened one eye and saw it was true. ‘Go and see what it is.’ Cheryl forced him out of bed by way of the rolling pin.
He staggered to the window, opened one half of the curtain and was almost blinded. He closed it again.
‘It appears to be a star hanging over the stable.’
‘What’s it doing there? Get rid of it.’
‘It’s a star my dear. I don’t think there’s much I can do.’ Brian climbed back into bed whilst Cheryl scrabbled in the bedside drawer for her eye mask.
‘I’ll be having words with those people in the morning… It’s not on Brian, turning up here in the middle of the night and then putting a star up over our stable. I mean, who do they think they are?’
Back to sleep. Almost there, the eye mask blocking out most of the light from the star, enough to make it bearable. Brian back to lightly snoring…
‘THUMP-THUMP-THUMP!’ Without taking the eye mask off Cheryl prodded Brian with the pin.
‘Brian… There’s someone at the door. If it’s that pregnant couple again tell them to take their star down and sling their hook.’
Brian getting up, voices in the hall… A bleating sound? The door slamming shut.
‘It was three shepherds and their sheep,’ Brian said when he returned, bemused.
‘Three shepherds? If you’ve let them in here then you’ll be tomorrow’s lamb stew sunshine!”
‘They wanted to see that pregnant couple.’ Cheryl was flabbergasted for a moment.
‘The cheek of it. It’s rude, that’s what it is… What did you do with them?’
‘Sent them to the stable.’ Cheryl shook her head in annoyance.
‘THUMP-THUMP-THUMP!’ Not even enough time to start re-attempting sleep and already another knock.
‘OH FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE!’ Cheryl cried aloud as Brian tramped back into the hallway and down the stairs. She ripped the eye mask off and folded her arms and waited with impatience for the voices and then the slamming of the door and Brian’s return.
‘Three kings this time,’ Brian announced without excitement. Cheryl sprang up and began preening, making sure that her hair was all still in place.
‘Three kings you say? Do I look alright? Do I look presentable? Do you think I need to put some make up on?’
‘They were here for the pregnant couple,’ Brian sighed. Cheryl fumed.
‘I bet they’ve done this on purpose. I bet they planned to stay here all along and told all their friends to come and visit. I bet they said ‘Let’s stay at that nice inn on the edge of town… They’ll let us stay there even if there’s no room because the landlord’s a pushover. You know, I’m sure we could invite all our friends as well… They won’t mind, even if everybody turns up in the middle of the night.” She grumbled and then noticed that she had broken the strap of the eye mask. She threw it aside and sulked.
‘I shouldn’t worry too much dear. I hardly think there can be any more people coming…’
Brian climbed into bed beside her and embraced her with softness and tenderness.
‘I won’t sleep now,’ she twitched. ‘I’ve broken the eye mask.’
‘I could go see if that couple will take their star down,’ Brian offered.
‘Would you?’ She became sceptical. ‘Why didn’t you offer to do that before?’ Brian’s response was to quietly shuffle out of the bed and slide out into the hall.
She waited for the slam of the front door and then for the return slam. When the return did not come she became concerned. Then she started to fret. Then she started to panic. What was taking so long? She pulled the under sheet up to her chin and waited, worrying, for ten more minutes. Then, fearing the worst, she climbed out of the bed and found her pink dressing gown against the back of the door.
With the rolling pin held up, ready to club anybody who got in her way, Cheryl edged out into the hall and down the stairs. The front door was closed but not latched. She pulled it open and stared out into the light, falling snow. Nobody around, the brightness of the star above the stable lighting up half the street. She could see half covered footprints coming down the street to the door and then around the side to the stable. None went back up and only one set came back to the door, though these were by now well covered and hardly visible. Cheryl shivered and pulled her dressing gown tighter around her before venturing into the snow, following the footsteps around to the side of the inn and towards the stable.
Half way around she collided with a confused looking woman in a tattered brown shawl. Utterly bewildered, Cheryl listened as the lady yabbered at her in a language she could not understand.
‘Гоод евенинг. Мы наме ис Кате Буш. И ам тхе Бабоушка лады. И хаве фоллоwед тхе тхрее wисе мен алл тхе wаы фром Руссиа то сее тхе бабы Йесус. Ам И ин тхе ригхт плаце?’
Despite the lack of linguistic understanding Cheryl knew this was yet another visitor for the pregnant couple in the stable and now instead of being worried about what might have become of Brian she was angry. How dare this couple come here and invite all kinds of shepherds, kings and whoever else to visit them in the dead of night… How dare they put up a star that lit up half the village and… WAS THAT SINGING???? Cheryl realised that she could hear the sound of a heavenly choir coming from the stable. This was really the living end and Cheryl wasn’t going to stand for any more.
‘That’s quite enough… I’m going to put a stop to this!’
She gently moved the lady aside and then with the rolling pin aloft, ready to cause mayhem, Cheryl marched for the stable and booted the door open…
Image is public domain- Vincent Van Gough, Starry Night, courtesy of Wikimedia.