The Christmas Supper

By Ron Waywell

It was the first time that Miss Carstairs had not volunteered to help serve at the Church Christmas Supper, and she felt rather guilty.

But he was so attractive.

Tom Dutton had burst into her mundane life on Easter Sunday when he sat in front of her at morning service, He was a mountain of a man in his late sixties, possessed of a rich baritone voice that he used with great joy, and Emily Carstairs listened, entranced.

There was little in the life of the church that escaped Emily, and she soon learned that Tom was a widower. He had recently moved from Bradford to be near his son, who was head chef at a local prestigious hotel. A jolly man with an infectious chuckle, Tom soon became an integral part of church life,

Emily, a retired Infants teacher, was more at ease in children’s company and found Tom’s ebullience rather overpowering… but fascinating for all that. She liked nothing better on a Sunday morning than to listen as Tom sang out with great gusto. She even moved from her usual place in order to sit behind him.

There was one hymn that Emily had always liked—"At the Name of Jesus Every Knee Shall Bow"—sung to a rousing twentieth-century tune. But when Tom sang it she was transported back to her young days when she sang in the chorus of the local amateur operatic company. Chu Chin Chow, she remembered, and that marvellous song "We Are the Robbers of the Wood." Tom sang the hymn like a robber baron. There was even one occasion when Emily asked the vicar for the hymn especially. She still blushed to think about it.

It was when they first served together as church stewards that matters took a new turn. Until then it had been Miss Carstairs and Mr. Dutton. That, in spite of the fact that most of the congregation knew them by their first names.

"Grab hold, Emily!" said Tom as he handed her a collection plate. And Emily, with beating heart and a faint flush, whispered, "Thank you, Tom."

For the first time in her life, Emily began to realise that her church work masked a deep loneliness, and her thoughts turned more and more to Tom. She treasured the brief moments that she spent in his company and almost envied his easy charm and popularity.

And then came the Christmas Supper. This invariably consisted of turkey with the trimmings, followed by sherry trifle. Emily had always enjoyed helping to serve and then sitting down at a special table with the rest of the helpers. But this year was different. She wanted to sit with Tom—or at least be near him.

As usual, the function was very well attended, and the organisers had to make the most of the available space. Long tables ran the length of the hall, with collapsible wooden forms made to hold five people. Completely out of character, Emily wormed her way through the crowd and spotted Tom as he was about to sit down. Others were taking their places on each side of him, and, ashamed at her temerity, she pushed into a place at his side, holding her new silk dress as she lifted her leg over the form.

Unfortunately, such was the demand for places that the forms had been pushed closely together so that eleven people could use two forms, and she was most uncomfortable, But she had a place, and she was next to Tom.

Tom seemed rather surprised to find Emily sitting beside him—but pleased as well, she thought.

They started on the turkey. Tom was in good form, wearing a military party hat with great panache, and his mellow chuckle was much in evidence. Unfortunately, he was so bulky that every time he laughed the form shook under him. Emily, hemmed in on each side, felt even more uncomfortable.

As the meal progressed Emily was thrilled to realise that Tom was paying her special attention, and soon she was joining in the general laughter. And then, after a particularly loud burst of merriment, Emily felt her bottom pinched. Tom had actually pinched her bottom! Such was the astounded look on Emily’s face that Tom laughed even louder and pinched her again, quite painfully.

As with Queen Victoria, Emily was not amused. She was unable to move away from Tom, but she let him know from her expression what she thought of him. Tom seemed puzzled by her sudden change of attitude, and that saddened Emily. Did he actually expect her to enjoy such a liberty?

The temperature dropped, and Tom turned away, shrugging his massive shoulders—but as he did, he pinched her again, viciously this time.

Emily had had enough. Blushing furiously, she struggled to her feet. "Excuse me," she said coldly, and tried to lift her leg over the form. But her dress was caught somehow, and having to tug it free increased her embarrassment.

And then she realised the truth. But it was too late. Much to the surprise of everyone around, she burst into tears and rushed from the room. There was a chair in the corridor, and she collapsed into it, dabbing her burning face with a handkerchief. "You fool, Emily Carstairs!" she sobbed. "You utter fool!"

And it was there that Tom found her a moment later, and she jumped to her feet in confusion. Then for the first time, but quite naturally, he gathered her into his arms and she sobbed out her mistake. "It was the forms, you see. I was sitting where they joined. And I thought…. Oh, Tom. What an idiot I am. Can you forgive me?"

Tom smiled. "On one condition," he said. "That you’ll let me take you to the dinner dance—at the Pines Hotel. My lad can still get us tickets, and we’ll start the New Year together. How’s that?"

Then, taking her hand, he linked their arms and gave her a squeeze. "And I promise not to pinch," he said as they left the Christmas Supper.

Copyright 2001, Ron Waywell

About the Author

Ron is 80 years old and served with the British Army in India (and Ceylon) during World War II. He retired from the teaching profession in 1985 and, following his wife's death shortly afterwards, took up creative writing as a hobby. Since then he has had short stories and poetry published and broadcast. The North West Network of the B.B.C has broadcast seventeen of his stories.

Ron Waywell passed away at the age of 86 in 2008.

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