Christmas Short Story Competition - Runner Up

Melanie Rowsell-Docherty

Runner Up
Lucky Number Seven
Christmas Short Story Competition


Having previously trained as a clinical psychologist, Melanie is now embracing life as a stay-at-home mum to two crazy kids and two curious kittens. She only started writing properly in 2020 during the first lockdown. She has focused mainly on writing for children, but is slowly trying out different styles.

Lucky Number Seven By Melanie Rowsell-Docherty

‘Brr, sorry I’m late. It’s like a blizzard out there,’ I say, plonking down into the remaining chair. The rest of the group smile back impatiently, as I complete the haphazard circle.
‘I was just telling the others, that today’s theme is…’
There she goes, Marjorie pausing for effect as usual. She’s so dramatic. I don’t know how she ended up in charge of the group. It’s not like she’s got as much experience as Henry or Juliette, when it comes to writing. Oh what I’d give to be a published author like them...
‘Off you go!’ Marjorie announces.
Oh crap, what did she say?
Looking over at Henry, he’s already scribbling away.
‘Psst, Henry, Hi.’ I wave awkwardly.
Tilting his notebook towards me, he already knows what I want. Underlined in red, I read his title: The present I always dreamed of, but never received.
‘Thanks,’ I mouth back. Thoughts race through my mind. This should be easy.
I visualise the seven year old me, eagerly waiting beside our sparsely adorned Christmas tree. Dimly lit fairy lights twinkle despite several broken bulbs, whilst home-made pompom baubles, and popcorn hang limply from its rickety branches. By the window, the wonky net curtains entertain the only cord of ancient tinsel, bronze with age.
But those things don’t matter. All I care about is that one unopened present. That must be it; what I’ve been asking for all year! My heart flutters with anticipation, as the smell of roast chicken and squashed satsumas fills the air.
‘That’s it I’m afraid,’ Marjorie declares. But I’m still lost in the past. Her words mimic Mum’s, thirty years earlier, as the last present is left abandoned under the tree. The label I now know, says: To Grandma.
It’s not for me. It never was for me. It never will be. As I sit motionless, my world shatters all over again.
‘See you next week,’ the others call.
‘Yeah, see ya,’ I reply, unable to shake the deflated feeling.
Trudging home through the slush, I pass the local toy shop, half hoping to get a glimpse of my childhood dream. I could walk in and buy one. I’ve got the money now. After all those years, I could have bought one anytime. But that would be weird, wouldn’t it?
I brush away the thought, replacing the longing feeling with a mildly warm, sausage roll instead.

A week later, and I’ve arrived fifteen minutes early. I couldn’t bare any more disapproving glares, not after the week I’ve had.
‘Morning,’ I greet a beaming Marjorie, before noticing a table laden with presents. ‘What’s all this? I didn’t think…’
Well this is awkward. My body cringes inside. No one said anything about exchanging presents, did they? I wrack my brain, trying to remember the conversations from the previous week.
‘I’ll explain when the others arrive,’ Marjorie smiles, her normally authoritative demeanour softening unnervingly. It seems her Christmas spirit has arrived early. I doubt it will reach me anytime soon.
Sitting in my usual seat, I admire the present nearest me. Its gold wrapping shimmering in the sunlight, sending rainbows racing across the floor. Dangling precariously, like an abseiler over the cliff edge, I spy a tag and swirled in perfect calligraphy, my initials. My stomach gurgles nervously with a mixture of guilt and anticipation. Could it really be for me?
As the group slowly filters in, murmurs ripple around the room.
I’m half listening, half contemplating the present, when Marjorie begins, ‘So today, we’re going on a road trip. Well just across the road really,’ she chuckles to herself, ‘We’re visiting St Nicholas’.’
‘The hospital?’ Juliette enquires, her heavy make up accentuating the furrows in her brow.
‘Correct. And everyone, bring your presents, we’ll open them when we get there.’
I watch as presents are shoved under arms and into bags, and the mutters of conversation echo my own thoughts, What is going on?
Carefully carrying my present like its a ticking time bomb, I try to remember the last present someone gave me. My memory draws a blank. I don’t know whether I should feel excited or scared. My mind flits back to the seven year old me, Don’t get your hopes up.

Inside the hospital we’re met by a nurse who hastily ushers us into a tiny side room.
‘So I guess you’re all wondering what we’re doing here?’ Marjorie says, ‘Inside each of your presents is…’ she pauses, grinning at us, ‘the present you always dreamed of!’
Confused glances dart back and forth.
‘You mean we’ve got what we wrote about last week?’ Henry said.
‘Indeed you have.’
My mind spins into overdrive. After all these years, I’ve finally got one? This can’t be true. I must be day dreaming. Why would Marjorie…? I try to contain the overexcited seven year old inside me who’s jumping up and down. A smile is all I dare to display on the outside.
‘We’re ready for you now,’ the nurse calls, poking her head around the door.
As Marjorie leads the procession through the double doors, I feel myself shrink. My heart pounds as I’m met with the familiar clinical smell of the hospital ward, the rhythmic beeping of machinery. Then it suddenly dawns on me where we are.
The image of my little brother Ronnie, flashes before me. His tiny body covered head to toe in cables and tubes. Monitors blipping as he lay soundly. The image that’s been haunting me for years.
‘Everyone choose a bed number,’ Marjorie says, holding out a small sandwich box filled with squares of paper.
‘Is this…?’ I can’t bring myself to say it.
‘The Paediatric Oncology Ward? Yes,’ Marjorie says matter-of-factly, ‘We’re here to make some dreams come true. Oh lucky number seven, over there.’ She points towards a bed by the window.
Oh shit. Please not number seven...
Mopping my brow with my coat sleeve, my breathing begins to quicken. My feet are frozen to the spot. I can’t do this! I can’t go there!
‘Are you okay?’ the nurse asks, her gentle touch startling me.
‘I… I… My little… I can’t...’
‘It’s okay dearie. You’ve got sweet little Benjamin over there. He doesn’t get many visitors. He’s been so excited today.’
‘But… my brother… he was… in seven,’ I stammer.
‘I’m sorry dearie. Is he...?’
I shake my head, holding back a tear. Seven wasn’t lucky for him.
‘How about we go together?’ the nurse says taking my arm. The warmth of her hand feels strangely reassuring. I’ve almost forgotten how it feels to be touched by someone.
As I reach the edge of the bed, I see the same cables and tubes, but Benjamin isn’t asleep. He’s sat playing with dinosaurs; his grin stretching from ear to ear.
‘His treatment’s going well,’ the nurse whispers, ‘Not too much longer and this young lad will be going home, won’t you Benji!’ She beams, patting the edge of the bed.
Choosing to perch on the chair instead, I tentatively sit beside the boy.
‘Thanks for choosing me,’ Benjamin giggles, ‘I haven’t had a visitor in ages. Dad works long hours so he can’t visit much, and Mum’s stuck at home with Molly. She’s my little sister. But as Nurse Katie said, it won’t be long before I get to go home. I can’t wait!’
I smile back awkwardly.
‘Good afternoon everyone!’ Marjorie’s booming voice breaks the uncomfortable silence. ‘Today we’ve come to bring a little Christmas cheer to you all! If you want to share your gifts everyone. Remember, giving is even better than receiving.’ Marjorie winks.
Benjamin stares at me expectantly, or maybe its the golden treasure in my lap.
But it’s mine. I’ve finally got what I’ve always wanted. And now I have to give it up? Before I’ve even opened it? Seen it? Touched it?
Nurse Katie rests her hand on my shoulder, ‘There’s no rush dearie.’
‘Oh, erm, yes, sorry. It’s…’
Benjamin grins at me, ‘Do you like cars? I’ve got this amazing multicoloured one somewhere,’ he says searching under his duvet, ‘It whizzes so fast on this floor. Do you want to race me?’
My mind fills with memories of racing cars with Ronnie by my side. What I would give to have just one more day with him. Maybe this is a sign. My one more day to play.
‘Sure, I’d love to, but first, I’ve got something even better!’
I place the present gently on the bed in front of him, ‘This is for you. The present I always dreamed of as a kid. Now it’s yours.’
I watch eagerly as Benjamin stares at the parcel.
‘Is it really for me?’
I nod, smiling. ‘You deserve it much more than me.’
‘Wow! It’s so shiny. Look at the rainbows on my bedspread!’
‘Are you going to open it?’ I chuckle, the seven year old inside me bursting with excitement.
‘Oh yeah,’ Benjamin says, delicately turning the parcel over and picking at the sellotape.
‘Rip it off, its much more fun!’ I command, leaning across to help.
As we take a corner each, the wrapping tears across the middle. Gasping in unison, we gaze in awe at the multicoloured box.
Oh gosh, it really is a…. I’ve finally got one. No, we’ve finally got one.
The afternoon whooshes by in a blur. Benjamin and I play with the shiny new marble run non-stop until the dinner trolley arrives. As I’m gently ushered away, a beaming Benjamin waves from bed seven.
‘Thanks Nurse Katie. I think Benjamin unearthed my Christmas spirit. I thought it was lost forever.’
‘You really made his day too. I’ve never seen him smile so much.’
My heart thumps with pride. ‘Can I come again next week?’
‘I’m sure he’d love that.’

Exactly a year later, and I’m back at the hospital. Not with my writing group this time, and not on my own either. But with a sack full of presents across my shoulder, walking through the double doors, hand in hand with Nurse Katie.
‘Merry Christmas everyone!’
Maybe number seven can be lucky sometimes.


Judges Comments

Lucky Number Seven, the runner-up in WM's Christmas Short Story Competition, is a warm-hearted story whose seasonal theme of giving is used in a story about childhood, memory and overcoming loss.

The most striking thing about this story is the way its author, Melanie Rowsell-Docherty, uses two alternating first person voices for the same character, conveying different levels of emotional engagement. The opening voice, in plain text, is the conventional narrator's voice – the exterior persona of the character telling the story. The second voice, in italics, is their interior voice, and a deeper, emotional response – the one that reveals the way that events way back in childhood still impact on them as an adult, and the way they are holding on to the grief about their dead brother. In this way, Melanie creates a layered, nuanced character and enables the reader to see their mind working as well as the surface they present to the outside world.

The storyline about getting the much-wanted childhood gift, sharing it with Benjamin and being given a much greater gift of connection and friendship is warm and seasonal - just on the right side of sweet, rather than schmaltzy. The romance with the kind nurse might seem like the cherry on the cake to some readers, and perhaps an unnecessary element to others, but whether you're reading it from the persective of Santa or Scrooge, it's a very well-crafted Christmas story that takes the reader on a welcome journey from hurt to healing.