The Ghost of Christmas Past by Jayne Thickett
If not for the elf costume, her name would come to me. She smiles at me, while I panic because the line is growing shorter and I can’t put a name to her face.
Mark is seven and can’t decide if he believes in the big guy. We were ready to leave the school hall, having tried our luck on the tombola and the lucky dip, me longing to plunge my own hand into the sand and straw and rummage about, when he decided he’d like to see Santa after all. I think he wants to make sure he’s covered all the bases in his mission to get a Wii.
If only I could name that elf. She’s about fifteen or sixteen. It’s ridiculous, how flustered I am. I try to remember if she babysat for us once. Surely, I would recognise the face of someone I left in charge of my child.
I steal glances at her as she smiles at the children and chats with their parents. There is something achingly familiar in the curve of her cheek. The flippant tilt of her chin reminds me of someone I used to know. That is all it takes, one quick look into the past and heat prickles up the backs of my legs and goose bumps lift the hair on the back of my neck and along my arms. Sweat slickens my palms, the school hall shrinks, and all its sounds fall away. I turn to my son, but it’s too late.
The elf is bending down to my son.
‘What are you going to ask for?’
I am jolted by Mark’s reply, so certain.
‘A baby brother.’
‘What about an older sister?’ She lifts her blue eyes to me and smiles.
‘Don’t be silly,’ Mark tells her.
She’s not being silly. I know those eyes. Like a ghost from Christmas past, the daughter I gave away has come back.
Winning Entry: Lord Stanton’s Horse
Third Place: Fur