Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Small Matter

December 6, 2023

Adam R. Nettesheim

The wooden floorboards creaked as usual under the portly old man’s bare feet as he walked to bed, pausing only to lay his knitted wig on the foot post. Despite his size and age, this old man was usually spry on his legs, no more than on the dance floor. Much like the humble bumblebee, there was no visual accounting for his swiftness and agility. However, tonight his movements were old and heavy with the weight and mileage he carried in his soul. He pulled the bed coverings in such a way that any observer would have concluded they must have been woven of strands of lead, and he tucked his toes beneath them with the sorrow one must when assuming a final position on one’s deathbed. 

His wife was already covered and composed, bonneted and blanketed, her knitting needles composing a sonnet out of wool. Her hands needed not her eyes for this task so they hid behind her lids. From the corners of her eyes began a cascading waterfall of wrinkles, the lines that flow along the face of someone who smiles wide and had found much in a long life to smile about. She felt her husband’s descent into bed, so she tilted her generous face toward him and waited. And waited. Her eyes were still at rest, but her brows scrunched in feigned indignation as she spoke a playful rebuke, “I find m’self one kiss shy of a goodnight, me old dodgy treasure. Got your gob in a twist, have ye?” There was no reply. She playfully opened one eye and saw that he had not heard her. Though nothing obstructed his ears, it was clear that presently their function had been inadvertently crowded off the road through his mind and into the gutter of his unconscious by an excessive amount of mental traffic. His countenance was grim while his eyes read the rough boards of their ceiling as if every ill that had ever befallen the world was written upon them. Stopping her knitting for a moment, she extended a finger slowly towards the tip of his nose. He showed no signs of noticing, so the lady of the house pressed on to less than tenderly flick the tip of his less than tiny nose. 

Roused from his rumination, the old man blinked and rubbed his nose, looking at his wife without expression. She returned the incriminating index finger and placed it on her smiling cheek. “I say, I find m’self one kiss shy of a good night.” Dutifully but pitifully, he pecked her cheek.

To say that she had never been kissed so coldly in her life would have been an understatement, leastwise by him!

“You call that a kiss do ya? Why I’d get more warmth from th’ cold roast on ice for tomorrow’s party!” The old man sighed. “I’m sorry ducky. I just… Give us another go.” The second kiss wasn’t much better, but seeing that his pain wasn’t going to be teased away, she received it as if it was and gave the reclined approximation of a coquettish curtsy. He laid back as a living corpse and was lost again in the ‘book’ on the ceiling, but his mood was one she couldn’t read. She knew whenever he paced it was because he was worrying over their three daughters’ futures. If he was pondering some affair with the business, he would fumfur and parley with her on it for hours. If he was troubled by something he read in the paper, he would drum his fingers against his temple and pretend nothing was amiss. She sat up and adjusted her sleep bonnet. Then with a balm-laden tenderness she knocked on the door of his heart. “Love… talk to me.”

I’ll not recount in too great a detail her attempts to pry, but it was much like if a loved one wanted to pull a poisoned thorn from the hand of another who was worried that in letting their dear one do so, it would risk their poisoning too. But finally, the lock was broken and out poured forth a sorrow that had been held back for a long time. It was not just one of his usual worries – their daughter’s welfare, the business, the state of the world, but a cauldron of all three, and there seemed to be no end to it. He trembled at the state of the affairs of men, a sickly cloud had fallen over his sight of the human race, and no wind would blow it away nor would any breath propelling sweet words from the mouth of his wife. But what brought quiet to the room is what he said at the last…

“I can’t find me way to have the party tomorrow. Lookin’ at all the pain in the world… just seems a small matter.” 

Maybe it was the unexpected rush of sinful tidings that triggered her defenses but hearing the inference that party preparations amounted to a ‘small matter’ in his eyes, even if she understood those eyes to be clouded by pain and despondency, was something she would not abide. The lady of the house would now flick verbally at his ears.

“Listen here you. A small matter is it? You think all them minced pies and roasts and such are a small matter? All that cake and hot negus drink the girls and I been makin’? You think it’s small to host a party like that, do ye? Think these old bones gonna just bounce back the day after prancin’ like an incredibly gorgeous doe for hours and hours? That sound a ‘small matter’ then?!”

The spryness had returned to the old man the instant he heard the pain in her voice, but it was not his legs that back-peddled; it was his conscience.

He begged her pardon, but she was too busy describing the travails of hospitality to give it. When they had both run out of words – he, seeking to give apologies, and she, defending her duties, they both sat in silence, staring into the nothing. The snow outside was falling heavier, but the majesty often found in white flakes of frozen moisture was replaced by a sickly reminder of how mankind is all but vulnerable to the world around them. Tonight they had a warm blanket and a fire, but would they always? Would their daughters? And what of those tonight who had neither? It was finally she that broke the silence.

“You ain’t the only one who sees that comin’ blackness, m’Love. I walk them same streets, I read them same papers, I see them gears of the world grinding without the grease of kindness. An’ it breaks my heart I can’t fix it. I wanna fix it for our girls, I wanna fix it for our workers, I wanna fix it for every poor soul that look old and done, no matter how old they is. But I can’t. You can’t. The great God ‘imsef don’t seem to snap His big ol’ fingers an’ take it all away, not in timing with my likin’ anyway.”

The snow continued to cover the window. The fire continued to crackle. He continued his silence.

“Know what I can do?” she pressed, “I can make a pie, and another, and another. I can teach my girls to make pies. I can get that cold roast off that ice and lay it on a table and carve it up. I can pour hot cups of negus, and I can dance with my love on the dance floor tomorrow night, and we can throw such a party that them lasses and blokes remember it for fifty years and on! You know what we can do to push back against that comin’ blackness? Brighten hearts of them that we got to care for. That lot would climb to th’ moon if you asked ‘em! You give ‘em a smile, you make their work a joy. You scrunch up your mug, their work’s a slog. I seen you show ‘em goodness in this harsh world, sun up or down, and some of them boys may never see much warmth, winter or not! Empty hearts make men monsters more than empty bellies, but we get a chance tomorrow to fill both! I ain’t sayin’ there ain’t no devil prowlin’ ‘bout. But I bet he hates celebration and fiddle music and dancing and feasting when done with those who need cheer and love. Maybe, in the end, it’s nuffin’ but a ‘small matter,’ but I gotta think small stuff matters. It likely ain’t gonna save nobody’s soul, but maybe it gives someone a bit of warm love to think back on in a cold world. Ain’t that what Christmas is?”

With a tear in his eye, the old man’s smile returned to him. “My dear Mrs. Fezziwig, thank you. What say before we pop off to sleep, we give that kiss one more try?”

The featured image, “Dancing Bears for Christmas,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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  1. Just read this beautiful short story! Thank you for your encouragement through story.

  2. Deb says:

    I just LOVE this!
    Now I want to throw a party!!❤️‍🔥❤️‍🔥

  3. Thank you both so much!

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