Mhaire was no virgin Mary, in fact her mother had intended to call her Angela but divine intervention or some sixth sense had stopped her in her tracks. It wasn’t that Mhaire was a bad girl, just a little wayward and tended to get herself into all sorts of scrapes.
One Christmas, mischievous Mhaire was struggling, after yet another relationship breakdown and the only Christmas spirit she fancied was in a bottle of potato based alcohol. Family and friends jollied her along, encouraging the purchase of a Christmas tree but balancing the contents of her coiffers, with the outgoings that would be expected to buy gifts for her feckin huge Irish family and the rest, she decided to err on the side of caution. Sure what would an aul one like her, with kids reared and gone, be wanting with a tree and sure no amount of tinsel and baubles were going to make a difference to her mood this year.
One night Mhaire had a visit from a guy called Gabriel. Now in as much as Mhaire was no Virgin Mary, this fella was no saint and thank God for that, because he may have carried a positive pregnancy test at this time of year. The last three men she had had relations with, weren’t a bit wise at all, no protection was forthcoming and being a wayward wan, she had gone ahead anyway, she had needs after all and no amount of potato based alcohol could satisfy those.
Back to this Gabriel fella, he had the surname Scrooge and yes, you’ve guessed, he was a descendant of that mean aul fella from the story books. Anyway, he called around one evening, without invitation, just appeared at her door and sure she let him in coz she knew him well enough. This aul fella carried the family trait of stinginess and while he was guzzling the tea Mhaire had offered, she explained how family and friends were encouraging her to get a tree and and how it seemed pointless and costly. Now Gabriel, though mean, prided himself on getting bargains and exclaimed ‘Ah Mhaire, I know just the place you could get a tree, sure Poundland have them for £2.00’. ‘No way’, Mhaire answered, ‘sure you’re having me on’. Gabriel Scrooge insisted that he wasn’t and advised her to visit the nearest Poundland to have a look, ‘but’ he encouraged, in his usual miserly attitude ‘make sure you go when you have other things to get, you don’t want to be wasting petrol’.
When Gabriel had left, Mhaire thought some more about the Poundland scenario and had just about come to a decision to go ahead, when there was another knock on the door. This time there was a lad called Joseph standing on her doorstep, looking frozen in the cold crisp winter weather. Rubbing his gloved hands together, Joseph explained that he was a carpenter, selling some nicely carved wooden ornaments for Christmas, asking if she’d be interested to buy them for presents. Now the last thing Mhaire wanted, was a hand carved wooden ornament, sure wasn’t she considering Gabriel’s advice to go to Poundland where she could buy all the Christmas presents for the family and of course, the Christmas tree, for a budget price. However Joseph was a looker, so she invited him in and asked the frozen fella to show her his tack.
Joseph looked a little startled, but realising that this friendly attractive lady, genuinely might be interested in his wood, he pulled open the zipper of his BAG and took out his …. ‘Jesus Mary and Joseph’, exclaimed Mhaire, ‘would you look at that’. Joseph was holding a carving of a Christmas tree, beautifully painted to appear as if it had baubles and lights. ‘I’ve never seen one that size before’, Mhaire continued, examining the 12 inch tree, then she looked at Joseph and said ‘I’m in love’. The handsome carpenter was a bit uncomfortable, until he realised that she was talking about the tree but when he told her the price, she gasped. ‘Jaysus’, she said, I couldn’t afford that and sure I’m an Irish aul one, you’d need to knock the price down so I feel like I’ve got a bargain. I can get a five foot tree in Poundland for £2.00. Joseph smiled accommodatingly, not believing her for a single moment and they bartered a little, before she reluctantly sent him on his way. It was those lookers that got her in trouble.
Early the following evening, realising it was late night shopping locally, Mhaire decided to make the trip to Poundland, Christmas pressie list in hand, rather a large one, to accommodate her copious amount of relatives. Even the light snowfall that had begun earlier that morning didn’t ruin the mood. Climbing into her rusty blue banger, the leggy lady, adjusted the driving seat as she was wearing heels, rather than her usual walking boots. Having made an extra effort, for the festive season, she looked in the rearview mirror at her nicely made up face and styled hair, feeling attractive and enthusiastic about the task that lay ahead. Picturing herself singing Chris Rea’s 1999 hit, ‘Driving home for Christmas’ with her £2.00 bargain tree, budget pressies and wrapping paper, in the boot, after her shopping expedition, Mhaire smiled to herself and switched on the engine, which after a few false starts, burst into life. Never mind driving home, she had to get there first.
On reaching the shopping centre, the glamorous gal almost regretted the expedition, seeing the large amount of traffic and lack of parking spaces. However, after 15 mins of slowly following other cars in all directions, she secured a space for her old jalopy. At this stage, the light snowfall had turned into a full blown storm and and the ground was fast looking like a thick white carpet. Alighting from the car, tottering on her heels, Mhaire had to be careful not to slip, deeply regretting her choice of footwear. Though she had secured a parking space, it was a huge trek from there to her destination. If only she had worn the trusty walking shoes.
Ever the optimist, the perky lady carried on, slipping slightly here and there, but just about managing to keep her balance. Eventually, the determined lass made it to the large Poundland store, albeit not so stylish looking, with hair now stuck to her head, as the snow had melted into her scalp.
Mission in mind Mhaire forged on, through the crowds, asking an assistant, dressed as an elf, where the Christmas trees were stocked. Following his directions, her face dropped, as she saw a tall rotund man reach for the last of the boxes in the metal container marked ‘5ft Christmas Tree £2.00’. ‘Oh no’, she shrieked, not realising that she had articulated her thoughts, loudly. The figure in front of her turned at the sound and she was met with a round smiling bearded face, which held twinkly blue eyes, just visible through the hood of a red puffer jacket. ‘Are you ok?’ asked a deep voice’ and Mhaire went weak at the knees. ‘Oh’ she found herself tumbling over the words, even stuttering ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise I’d said that out loud. It’s just that I came here especially to buy one of those £2.00 Christmas trees, well not especially, I had to buy all my family’s Christmas presents as well and’, she explained realising she might be rambling. The kindly gent, she had noticed by now, was wearing red waterproof trousers and large black boots, and had likely looked at the weather forecast before coming out today, as he was obviously dressed for the snow. Feeling a little foolish as he was looking at her quizically, Mhaire continued ‘I heard that there were bargain trees here, I should have come earlier today’. ‘I see’, rotund smiley man acknowledged, treating her to his lovely deep voice again as he continued ‘well it would be a shame to disappoint you’, at the same time, taking in her appearance, likely wondering why on earth she was dressed like this in such awful weather. As he was speaking, he extended his puffer arms towards her, proffering the box with a picture of a Christmas tree label on its side. ‘Please, be my guest’ he offered, as Mhaire felt her own arms extend involuntarily towards the box. ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly, the mortified madam replied, though secretly wanting to grab it, and him if the truth be told, in a great big hug.
Fifteen minutes later, having exchanged enough niceties for Mhaire to agree to accept the proffered gesture, Poundland trolley dash completed, Mhaire arrived at the checkout, with sufficient presents for her entire extended family, including third cousins twice removed. Attempting the self checkout, she caught a glimpse of red out of the corner of her eye, heartbeat quickening as she cast a glance to her right. True as God, there he was, red puffer guy, totally immersed in his own thoughts as he scanned his items, like a professional, paid with his credit card and prepared to leave. Mhaire thought of making contact again, but he was too quick for her, off he plodded, in his big black wellies, out into the snowstorm, with so many large plastic bags, that he had to throw one over his shoulder.
Feeling a tad disappointed, Mhaire finished her purchases and made her way out to the car park, wishing she had at least brought a wooly hat, not that it would have been much good, combatting the onslaught of icy snow. Thankful for the trolley to hold on to, negotiating the pavements and tarred surfaces carefully, she eventually reached her trusty blue car and slowly unloaded her purchases, smiling graciously as she put the tree in the back seat. Negotiating her way back after returning the trolley was a little more difficult however, but the plucky lady managed it and climbed back in, anxious to get the engine started and the heat on, as soon as possible.
Once inside, ready to go, the poor soaked soul turned the key of the ignition to start the engine…cough, splutter…silence. Nothing! She did it again…another cough, another splutter….silence, nothing. This continued for a further five minutes or so, until it became apparent that nothing was happening. Mhaire sat back, ready to cry. All visions of singing that lovely Christmas song vanished from her mind as she realised her car had let her down. There was no chance of getting home by this mode of transport now. She’d need to catch a bus but sure she hadn’t travelled by bus in years, didn’t know what bus to get or what time they were even at. ‘Ah, Google’, Mhaire thought, whisking out her phone, I can check online’. To her absolute horror, the mobile phone was dead. Realising that this was her own fault, as she had known that the battery was faulty, didn’t help in the least.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the window. Nah, it wasn’t the rotund smiley man in the red jacket, it was the car park attendant. ‘You’ll need to get going love, he shouted through the window, we’re closing the car park now.’. In utter dismay, not having realised so much time had passed, Mhaire put her head in her hands as the aul fella walked away, puzzled. ‘Women’, he muttered, Jaysus, ‘I know they love shopping, but it’s a bit much to want to spend the night in the shopping centre’. Grabbing the last of the trolleys, he pushed them towards one of the stores, then walking back to the exit, got out his keys to lock the barrier. ‘Well, I warned her’, he muttered, to himself, ‘if she wants to stay the night, on her head be it’.
Ten minutes later, Mhaire reluctantly climbed out of her car and looked around. The car park was deserted, the shops all closed. She saw a light in one of the stores and tottering carefully forward, knocked on the door, but nobody answered. One of the staff must have left it on by mistake, either that or they thought she was a mad aul one and wouldn’t acknowledge she was there. There was nothing for it, the bedraggled babe was going to have to walk home, high heels and all. Feck that!! She would never go anywhere again without having those walking shoes in the boot. ‘So much for my £2.00 Christmas tree’, she thought. ‘Where is that fecker Scrooge, when I need him. Likely at home counting his money’.
The snow was very heavy now and as Mhaire crossed the car park, and the dismal dame felt rather than saw a figure to her left. Having put her driving glasses in her pocket, as they were no good in this weather, she couldn’t see clearly, but the unmistakable sound of the voice in the distance was like music to her ears. For the second time that day, she heard the deep tones asking, ‘ Are you ok?’ Mhaire turned to see jolly red puffer man striding towards her, taking in the scene of the stranded car and her bedraggled appearance as he moved purposefully in their direction. ‘No, I’m not’ she retorted, realising at this stage that he had come from the shop where the light had been on. ‘Actually, I did approach that store for help’ she continued, indicating the shopfront behind him, ‘but nobody answered.’ ‘Sorry about that’, answered red puffer man, exhaling warm air, which turned to vapour, as it hit the cold, ‘I was up in my office, didn’t hear, it was only when I came down to switch off the shop floor light that I noticed you.’ As he reached her, recognition dawned on the burly bloke ‘Oh, Christmas tree lady’, he acknowledged, to Mhaire’s now softening glow. Quite enjoying that description, she explained her predicament, at which point, the kindly gent introduced himself, ‘Nick’s my name, I hope I can be of some help’. ‘Mhaire’, the now rosy faced lady acknowledged, ‘is my name’, she continued, by explanation. Why did this gentle giant have this effect on her articulatory skills.
As this is a blog post, rather than a novel, I’ll cut to the chase…the handsome hunk, rotund and all that as he was, seemed as taken with Mhaire as she was with him and having started her ignition a few times, realised that he wasn’t getting anywhere and offered her a ride instead. Puzzled, she looked around the empty car park, in search of his car but he smiled and explained that he kept his motorbike in a garage at the back of the store. Throwing caution to the wind and ignoring all of the advice she had given to her children and friends, in the past, she followed the jolly giant to the garage and there in all its glory was a large machine, with a powerful engine size. Mhaire couldn’t hide her excitement as she climbed on, Christmas trees and presents long forgotten as Nick had assured her, he knew of a good mechanic who wouldn’t charge the earth and between them, they’d get her engine going, the following day.
Just as Mhaire was in a comfortable position and Nick was preparing to throw his leg over, he turned to her and asked. ‘Your name, it’s not English, is it? What does it mean’? ‘Ah sure it’s an Irish name’, Mhaire explained, ‘it means Mary’. Nick smiled and climbed on and just as he did, Mhaire caught sight of the unlikely name emblazoned on the side of the motorcycle ‘DONKEY’ and rather than think of the significance of the time of year, and the nativity story, the first thought that came into the horny hoor’s head was ‘hung like’. Nick, however, was thinking of his list and checking it twice, wondering if ‘Mhaire’ was naughty or nice. Sure what of it, he had plenty of suitable items in the sack! As the engine roared and the fuel pumped through the motorcycle, the machine moved forward, slowly at first, until they reached clear roads, then burst into speed. Pure exhilaration flowed, through both driver and passenger, as they sped along the roads, towards home. Mhaire silently thanked that angel, Gabriel for his visit and subsequent information about bargain trees. The thoughts running through Nick’s mind were not dissimilar as he was saying a silent thank you, to the cleaner who had come up the stairs to his office and announced that there was ‘a crazy looking aul wan, with mad damp curly hair, in high heels of all things, banging on the shop door’ in response to which he had immediately smiled and rushed down the stairs, to help the adorably sweet, stuttering damsel in distress, he had met earlier.
As they ascended the heights of the steep hill home, simultaneously, Mhaire and Nick screamed into the wind ‘Merry Christmas, HO HO HO!!’