I’ve always loved Advent. As a child I loved it in its Christian sense: the waiting, the expectation of the birth of Christ; the lighting of the candles in church; the opening of the doors of the Advent calendar; and all the excitement and magic of the season.

Today, as an adult, I still have a feeling of anticipation and excitement, but if I’m honest, it’s in a purely secular sense. Though there’s always the feeling of hope and a strong need of wanting to be with people I love, particularly my grandchildren.

But families (including my own) are not always perfect. Far from it. And at Christmas the pressure on families can be intense. This got me thinking about a story…

The result is a short story that I have written about an imagined farming family whom I have placed not far from where I live in the Gower peninsula; but in another time at the turn of the 20th century. The story (titled Advent) stemmed from the first chapter of my historical novel in progress. I submitted it to a recent Claire Keegan (the wonderful Irish writer and teacher) workshop for critique as I knew it wasn’t working. Claire always finds the ‘real’ story in the draft. She says: ‘You only have to look’. So I did; and revised the draft in the true sense of revise – to see again, to see anew.

The story focuses on a mother and her two young sons waiting for her husband and the children’s alcoholic father, to return from the local pub on Christmas Eve. Despite the magic of the goose and the Christmas puddings and a fresh fall of fairytale snow, the story takes a dark turn. This is Advent of a different kind.

Advent – an extract

The smells in the kitchen are still the same as past Christmases: the giblets from the goose they feathered earlier in the shed are simmering in a pot on the range in readiness for tomorrow’s gravy, the goose is trussed and stuffed and lies in a roasting tray, and soaked currants, fruit peel and rum sweeten the air. For a few minutes it is enough to warm their bellies, to make believe.

            “Right, you two. Make a wish,” says their mother. “Younger man first, this time.”

Jack takes a sixpenny bit from his mother’s hand. It’s silver and shiny. Newly minted. The face of the new King sparkles on the face of it, ushering in a fresh reign, a fresh century. Jack pokes the tanner into the depths of the pudding mix in one of the basins, closes his eyes, makes his wish. Then George does the same.

What d’you wish for?” asks George.

“Can’t say. Won’t come true if you tell.”

They lean across the table resting on their elbows, their faces on their hands, watching her cover the basins with white muslin. When she’s finished with that, she secures the fine cloth with twine, ties bows, double-knotted.

“Done,” she says. “A good job jobbed. Pity your father isn’t around, though; but there you are.”

© Jane Fraser 2018/19

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