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Jimmy Tickle's Christmas - a short story by Keith Wright

Updated: Dec 11, 2019



Jimmy Tickle’s Christmas


by


Keith Wright




The Christmas lights sparkled brightly along the entire row of houses on Chelmers Grove, apart from one house, which remained in near darkness. This house had longer grass than the rest; still visible above the three inches of snowfall. The only hint of life was a dim light emanating from the front window. The curtains were unkempt, and the window frames were showing signs of rotting, disguised by the layer of snow settling upon it this Christmas Eve. This was little Jimmy Tickle’s house. Yet the light that shone within him was brighter than a thousand Christmas lights. You see Jimmy Tickle was one of those beautiful, caring souls, who was undaunted by anything life threw at him. At ten years old he had a lot on his plate. You would think he might be a little down in the dumps. His mother Candice suffered terribly with her nerves. She cried a lot. She drank a lot. She often lay in bed for days, and Jimmy Tickle had to fend for himself as well as look after his Mum, at the same time. This didn’t mean Candice didn’t love Jimmy; not at all, she loved him with all her heart. She was just unwell and so it sometimes didn’t show as much as perhaps it should have done.

Jimmy’s father had long since left. The last words Jimmy had said to his father was ‘Don’t blame yourself, Daddy, I understand. We will be fine. I’ll look after Mummy. Maybe you will call in to see us when you can?’


Jimmy hadn’t seen him since that fateful Christmas Day four years earlier. He often looked out of the window at Christmas time just to see if he could see him. Maybe he had forgotten the house number? If he knew the street and was looking for them, then Jimmy could shout to him. On one occasion he thought he had seen him and shouted ‘Daddy’ at the top of his voice. His heart was beating so fast with excitement, but he felt crushed when the man turned around and stared back through the snowflakes, it became apparent that it was not his father. He heard himself shouting ‘Sorry, Mister.’


Despite all of this, Jimmy Tickle loved Christmas, it was the best time of the year. Why? Because there was something funny in the air. Something he couldn’t put his finger on. It was like a constant sense of hope and joy, and a feeling of goodwill and kindness to all. He liked the Christmas music he heard in the street and on the television. It wasn’t about presents for Jimmy. He liked to get a present, of course, although one year he didn’t get any at all; his Mum had got drunk and forgotten. He blamed himself and when he said his prayers that night he apologised to God and asked if he would tell Santa Claus that he would try to be a better person for next year. On the big day itself, however, once it was apparent that no presents would be forthcoming, Jimmy came up with a plan. He found a McDonalds. He approached the counter. The server was a very tall, very muscular, black man with a fierce glint in his eye. Jimmy steeled himself, gritted his teeth and blurted out; ‘Pardon me, I cannot afford to buy any food, but I was forgotten by Santa Claus today. Could I please have some crayons and some of the colouring-in pages, from the children’s section, so that I can play with them instead?’ 

He couldn't quite understand why the frightening giant of a man hugged him and with tears rolling down his face, gave him the whole block of pages and the word search!

He had skipped home with his booty and spent most of the day colouring in and staring out of the window with a big smile on his face, waving at the children on their bikes and hover boards.


Quite how and why, Jimmy was so mature, clever and understanding was something of a mystery, at first glance. The Tickle family had been well known to the police over the generations for various misdemeanours and bad behaviours, usually fuelled by alcohol. One of the reasons for Jimmy’s endearing personality was that he read a lot of books. He tried to go to school as often as he could, depending on his mother’s condition, and because his Mum worked most afternoons, he would seek warmth in the local library on his way home. This was to be his saving grace. In the library he could live a thousand lives, feel the warmth of a thousand functional families, bolster his imagination, and learn about various skills he needed to know to make sure his mother was safe. He was an extraordinary young boy, and whilst there was no-one to feel proud of him, as such, had there been someone, they would have been very proud indeed.


*


Candice Tickle was slumped over the bar at The Sherwood Inn. She had managed to flirt her way into getting similarly inebriated punters, to buy her four or five vodka’s, and she was now feeling somewhat the worse for wear. The alcohol had a heightened affect because of her lack of food. She had danced with various men, her low-cut top drawing the eye. She would ask for ‘Christmas kisses’, which she delivered passionately. It was all pretty sordid and bleak.

Terry the bar man nudged her elbow as she sprawled over the counter, her eyes vague and unfocussed.

‘Come on Candice, time to head home. Little Jimmy will be worried.’

‘Let him. His halo will shine even brighter.’

‘Don’t be like that, Candice, that’s the drink talking. Come on. Don’t let me have to throw you out.’

She slid off the bar stool and staggered to the doorway, a hole in her tights behind the knee. She raised a hand in a half-hearted goodbye. She meandered along the streets, surprised that it was now cold and dark outside, with a covering of snow crunching underfoot. Her footprints in the snow telling the story of how she staggered from side-to-side and back and forth. Eventually she made it back to the house. She struggled to get her key in the lock, and it was eventually opened by Jimmy. He had been waiting.

‘Hi Mum. Glad you’re home.’ He went to hug her. She shrugged him off. ‘Leave me alone. My coat’s wet and I’ve got a headache.’

Jimmy knew that smell. She had been drinking again. ‘I’ve found some food. There was a tin of soup. I’ve saved you half of it.’ He said with a smile.

‘I don’t want it. You have it. I’m going to bed.’

‘But Mum, it’s Christmas Eve. Don’t you want to watch telly for a bit. There’s a nice Christmas film on.’

‘Sorry, love. I’m going to have to take a sleeping pill. Otherwise I’ll probably miss tomorrow morning, if I wait. You can have me now or in the morning.’

Jimmy frowned. He wanted her always. ‘Tomorrow, I guess. Don’t worry, it can’t be helped, if you are poorly. I’m so excited about Christmas, aren’t you?’

‘Erm, yes, of course I am. You know I’m at work at one o’clock, don’t you?’

‘Oh Mum! No, I didn’t. You never said. What am I going to do? Actually, that’s a silly question, I can play with my toys. That is if Santa remembers me this year.’ He held up some crossed fingers.

Candice rubbed his hair. ‘He will, I’m sure, but don’t build your hopes up, Jimmy, I can’t, I mean, you know we live at the end of Santa’s run, so we don’t always get the best toys.’

‘I know, but anything new would be just great. I even thought it could be a puppy this year. I’m so excited.’

‘Get me my packet of sleeping pills, Jimmy, and some water, there’s a good lad.’

‘I can’t get you the packet, Mum, you know that; not after last year, when you accidentally took five, it nearly killed you, remember.’

‘Oh, yeah, the “accident”. How could I forget? Just one tonight, son.’

Jimmy gave her a hug. ‘Love you, Mum. This is going to be the best Christmas ever.’

‘I hope so, son.’ Her smile was crooked, and the redness of her eyes won the battle with her smudged mascara. She went into the bedroom and began to undress while Jimmy went to find the sleeping pills. He hid them under the cupboards in the kitchen, where the false pedestal came away.

She was just clambering into bed as Jimmy walked in with a glass of water and the pill.

‘Do you think Dad will come home this year, Mum?’

Candice laughed and styled it into a cough. ‘You never know, young Jimmy. He’s probably busy at erm, work.’

‘It’s my Christmas wish, every year.’

‘I know it is, son.’

‘Once I take this pill, I will be zonked out you know that don’t you?’

Jimmy stroked his Mother’s hair lovingly and moved a wayward strand away from her face. ‘I know Mum, but I love it, because I know it makes you feel better.’

‘You won’t be lonely, will you?’ She asked, her eyes already drooping. She took the pill.

‘I do get a bit lonely, but we have to sacrifice, remember; when you love people you sometimes have to do things you don’t want to, or go without.’

Her eyes were now closed. ‘You’re a good boy, Jimmy Tickle.’

‘Love you Mum, see you on Christmas day.’

‘See you on Christmas d…’ She was asleep. Jimmy sat on the edge of the bed and watched his Mum, twitching in her sleep. He could see her eyes moving under her eyelids. He wondered what she was dreaming about. Probably Dad, he thought. She smelled funny. He lay down at the side of her in the darkness. He liked to feel her breathing. After a few minutes he too began to feel tired. He ought to lock the door, but he was so exhausted he couldn’t move. His eyelids were drooping, now. He waited too long and he drifted off to sleep.


*


Jimmy’s eyes opened with a jolt. He could hear a noise in the living room. He strained his ears. Another sound, there it was again. Someone was in the flat. His mouth was dry, and his heart was beating fast. As quietly as he could, he pushed and pulled at his Mum to wake her, but she was gone to the world. No response. The sleeping pill always did this to her. He was effectively on his own. What to do? Could it be Santa? Who else could it be? He didn’t want to be caught peeping if it was.

Jimmy silently rolled off the bed and tip-toed along the darkened hallway towards the living room. He stood just to one side of the doorway. He sneaked a peak. He could see the man rummaging through the drawer to the old unit that was older than he was. His heart sank. It wasn’t the jolly man in red. More like a miserable man in black. Hold on, could it be?

‘Dad?’ Jimmy heard himself say in the darkness, his voice echoing in the stillness. Fuelled more by hope than expectation.

The man turned around; it was not his father. He froze momentarily. ‘Keep your mouth shut or I will hurt you and your mother!’ He had obviously seen the two of them asleep in the bedroom as he’d been looking for things to steal.

‘Are you robbing us?’ Jimmy asked, as he sat down on the settee.

‘No, I’m playing the Ukulele.’

‘I’ve always wanted to play that, it’s like a small guitar. People sometimes confuse it for a banjo; but they are round and much bigger.’

‘Eh?’

‘We haven’t got much to steal, I’m afraid.’ Jimmy said matter-of-factly.

‘I can see that. I think I’m wasting my time, here.’

‘Mum’s got a bit of Sherry left. I was going to throw it away when she wasn’t looking, anyway. It’s behind the wash bin in the kitchen, if you want it.’

‘Who keeps a wash bin in the bloody kitchen?’

‘We do, because we haven’t got much space. It saves me having to carry it through to do the washing as it gets a bit heavy for me.’

The man with the beard shuffled into the kitchen and returned with the Sherry bottle, which he glugged out of. He sat on the large chair which had worn fabric fraying on the arms.

‘You’re a bit of a weird kid, aren’t you? Most kids would be frightened.’

‘Not me, Mister, I believe in God, so even if something bad happened I would be in lovely Heaven, so why be afraid?’

‘That’s even weirder. Trust me to get the weird kid.’

‘Some people say I’m weird, but I don’t think so. They usually mean, I’m not like them, when they say it. I just believe in being kind to people. Is that weird? Surely, it’s weird to be anything other than that? Is it weird to break into people’s houses?’

‘Fair point. Your Mum must be proud of you, kid. You should be in bed, it’s two-thirty in the morning.’

‘I was, until somebody woke me up. No offence.’

‘None taken.’

‘I can’t go to bed with you here. You could hurt Mum. I’m not a good fighter but I could maybe hit you with that Sherry bottle.’

‘Very kind.’

‘I’m kind, but not stupid, Mister burglar. I would do anything to help Mum. It’s frightening for me, not because of me, but because my Mum is on her own. I’m trying to be brave.’

‘The man shrugged out a laugh. ‘I guess it must be a bit scary for you. I won’t hurt you. Don’t worry.’

‘What about Mum?’

‘Not your Mum either.’

‘Promise?’

‘I promise.’

Jimmy put his hand out and the man shook it.

‘See how easy it is to be kind.’ Jimmy smiled. He looked relieved.

‘Yes, I suppose I do. It doesn’t look like you’ve got much, kiddo. Where is all the food?’

‘Mum can’t afford food, at the moment. I’m not saying we don’t eat, but we don’t get much. That’s all. It’s fine. Some children in Africa don’t get anything at all, you know. That’s so sad. I’ve started including them in my prayer schedule. Do you want to see it? I’ve written it down.’

The man took another chug from the bottle. ‘I think I’ll pass on that one, thanks anyway.’

‘Why are you robbing us? That’s not a very nice thing to do. We haven’t done anything to you.’

‘I know. But my family, like yours, haven’t got much, and my children are hoping for presents too. I’m not a bad person, I’ve just somehow managed to find a family to burgle who are even poorer than we are.’ He laughed at the irony.

‘How many children do you have?’ Jimmy asked.

‘Two; a girl and a boy. Edward and Jemima. They’re just a bit younger than you are by the looks of it.’

‘They’re nice names, Mr Burglar.’

‘Thanks, kid. What’s yours?’

‘Jimmy Tickle. Pleased to make your acquaintance.’ He had heard the phrase in a bit of Charles Dickens he was struggling to read at the library.

The man laughed. ‘Pleased to make your acquaintance, Jimmy Tickle.’

Jimmy seemed lost in thought. He sighed before he spoke. ‘Listen, I know that my Mum has managed to get me three presents this year, which are kind of from Santa, apparently, but I don’t really understand how all that works. She is rubbish at hiding them. Why don’t we have one each?’

‘I don’t understand. What do you mean, Jimmy?’

‘Well, Edward and Jemima can have one, and then, if you don’t mind, I can have one too, to open in the morning. Does that sound fair?’

The man swallowed hard. He could feel a tear forming in his eye. ‘That’s the most generous thing I’ve ever heard.’

‘No, it’s not. It’s easy to be kind, honestly. That’s what Christmas is all about, isn’t it? Even the Bible says it is better to give than to receive.’

‘You’re a one in a million, kid. I didn’t know such people existed.’ It was the man’s turn to appear thoughtful. ‘You’re serious?’

‘Of course, I am. I feel quite excited by the thought of it. I’ve never been able to give anyone a gift before. This is going to be the best Christmas ever. Finally, the chance to give a present. Brilliant!’

Jimmy ran out into the hallway and returned, clutching three gifts, crudely wrapped. ‘I doubt they will be very expensive gifts, but they will be given with love, Mr Burglar,’

The man shook his head. ‘Given with love? What do you mean? You don’t know my children.’

‘No, I mean given with love by you, silly. You must love your children very much to risk going to prison just to get them a present for Christmas. It’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever heard of. You must be a wonderful father.’

The man broke down and began sobbing. Jimmy patted his shoulder to try to soothe the hulking bruiser. ‘I’m sorry, for trying to steal from you.’ The man said.

‘It’s okay, I can tell you’re sorry, and you were obviously desperate for your children. I know what it is like to have no presents on Christmas morning. It’s not very nice. Don’t be mad at yourself. It’s all worked out well.’ He smiled at the man who wiped away the tears and he smiled back. He gave him a hug and got one in return.

‘You’re a good lad, Jimmy Tickle. That’s an unusual name, Tickle, I mean.

‘I know, that’s why I like it. My friends tease me, but I think it’s a nice name, don’t you?’

‘I sure do.’

‘Don’t you have a father, little Jimmy Tickle?’

‘Of course, I do, silly. Nobody can even be born unless they have a father, right? He’s the best Dad, ever. He managed to stay with us until I was six, he tried so hard, it was amazing, but he was getting ill, so he had to go. I understood, it’s hard to cope with my Mum. He said he would come back one day though, and I believe him. It might even be this year.’

The man hugged him again and found himself shaking his head and wiping a tear from his eye. ‘He must be really proud of you.’

‘I hope so. I really, really hope so. It’s all I ever wanted.’

The man took two of the presents and stood up wearily. His unexpected encounter had thrown him off balance and he was struggling to process a lot of what Jimmy Tickle was saying. ‘I promise that if I ever get any money together, I will pay you back.’ The man said.

‘No need. Knowing that your children will be happy is payment for me. That’s much better than money, don’t you think?’

‘I suppose it is.’

‘Have a good Christmas kiddo. You stay being kind, huh?’ His voice was breaking with emotion.

‘I will, if you will.’ Jimmy smiled.

‘I’ll try.’

‘Trying’s for losers!’

He laughed. ‘Take it easy.’ And he was gone.

Jimmy curled up on the settee and was smiling as he drifted off to sleep.


*


Mr Burglar, whose real name was Mark Swift, sat in the all-night café. It was now 3am. One of the lights near the window was flickering, so he sat as far away from it as he could. They were too bright as it was, and the flickering irritated the hell out of him. He could smell the grease of the day’s cooking hanging in the air and occasionally got a whiff of tomato ketchup from the large plastic tomato squeezer with congealed sauce clinging to the spout. He looked at the two presents on the table. The Sellotape was messy, and it looked like they had been used as a football. There were tiny rips in the paper. His mind was buzzing. He felt inspired, ashamed and confused all at once. He vowed to get his act together so that he could get some sort of job. Any sort of job, to be able to pay for his children’s needs, without taking from others. He had to change. Jimmy Tickle was right. He felt guilty for taking the presents, but the kid seemed thrilled at the idea. It didn’t make sense, yet it also made total sense. He cupped his hands around the coffee mug and took a sip to ease the chill that still clung to his bones.

‘Are you alright Mark? You seem a bit quiet, tonight.’ The café owner asked, as he wiped the tables nearby. He was the only person in the place. Frank always started the shift clean-shaven but twelve hours later, he ended it with stubble, bags under his eyes and an apron bearing stains that betrayed the popular items on the menu.

‘Yes, I’m fine, thanks, Frank. Well. I kind of am. Something weird happened earlier, and I can’t shake it off, yet. I can’t get my head around it.’

Frank sat down opposite his regular visitor, and Mark explained the whole story to him. Frank always made a point not to judge his customers, if he did, he would be out of business very quickly. He nodded along, without comment, but was aghast at the story about the little boy called Jimmy Tickle, who gave away his Christmas to a stranger. It touched him. Saddened and heartened him at the same time. Christmas had a habit of bringing about the most wonderful of stories, but he had never heard one to match that, in all the years he had worked at the Café.


*


Frank had locked up the café at 5am and walked the half mile to his home on Fisher Street, braving the snow and cursing the tennis pumps he wore, which allowed the melting snow to drench his feet. The wind was biting cold and he had his head bowed, hood up and scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face, stuck like Velcro to his hardening stubble.

He sighed with relief as he entered the warmth of his abode. He cursed his tennis shoes as he took them off toe-to-heel and felt his face tingle as the warmth fought with the frosty skin.

His wife Sheila was making a cup of tea. She was a staff-nurse on the early shift at the Hospital and as was often the case, they would have about half any hour in each other’s company, before one of them was at work. Needs must, and bills had to be paid. She sat with him at the table. A middle-aged woman with short black hair and a little too much lipstick. She had a friendly face however; she looked like the sort of woman you could confide in, and many patients did. She had the common touch.

‘How has it been, Frank? A good night?’ She asked as she caressed his hand on the kitchen table. This was what passed for affection between the two in recent years.

‘Yes fine…’ He seemed hesitant.

‘But?’ She knew him too well.

‘Nothing, really.’

‘Come on, what’s happened?’ She smiled, ‘There’s always something at that place. Drunks, fights, some drama or another. What is it this time?’

‘Nothing like that. Something different to that,; it warms the cockles of your heart, to be honest.’

‘Intriguing. Come on, then. I’m all ears.’

Frank took hold of her hand as he spoke. ‘Mark Swift came in again tonight, at the café, I mean.’

‘Oh yes. He’s in most nights, isn’t he?’

‘Yes. He told me an amazing story.’

‘Go on. Blimey, Frank, you’ll have to ring me at work to tell me at this rate. It had better be good, after all this build up.’

‘It is. I think it is anyway. You know he is a petty criminal, Mark; a thief basically.’

‘I think you’ve said, you get all sorts in there, late at night. That’s what worries me.’

‘I can’t stand the guy, personally, but he thinks I’m his mate.’

‘That’s why you’re the only independent café still in business after ten years. Tact.’

‘And good coffee! Anyway, he said he was in a house just about to steal some stuff when a young boy appeared. A boy with the unlikely name, Jimmy Tickle. Not a name you can forget in a hurry. I don’t know if he made the name up or what. But he said the boy was so kind, that he ended up giving him two of his own Christmas presents, bearing in mind he only had three in total! All so that Mark could take them back for his own children. What an amazing kid.’

‘Don’t tell me he took them!’

‘Of course, he did. I suppose it was either that or no presents for his own kids. These thieves don’t have a conscience, although this little episode has made him think. It’s shook him up. A great big hulking bloke like that, shaken to the core by a little kid and little bit of kindness. Pretty amazing, don’t you think.’

‘Seriously. He couldn’t find a few quid for his own children, he had to go and steal?’ Sheila was clearly feeling less charitable in her assessment of Mark.

‘Yes, but that’s not the point. Think about the lad, Jimmy Tickle, apparently they had absolutely nothing, yet he gave his own damned presents because it was Christmas Eve.’

‘That truly is amazing.’

‘It truly is. Merry Christmas, darling.’ They kissed.

‘Merry Christmas.’


*


When Sheila Meredith got to work at the hospital, it was pretty busy. A lot of the patients had been desperate to try to get home for Christmas morning and so most of the first two or three hours of her shift was spent “prepping” the patients for discharge; getting their medication, belongings and transport arranged, to get them, in most cases, on their merry way.


Last to go was an elderly gentleman who had spent the lead up to the holidays all alone without any visitors. His children lived in another part of the country and over the years they had begun to neglect him more and more. They had little in common with the guy who sacrificed so much for them to grow up into becoming the selfish human beings they now were. That was the thanks he got. This was the other side of Christmas. The loneliness. He had been understanding at first; busy lives and all that. He did not want to be a hinderance, after all. That was the last thing he wanted, but in his quieter moments he often shed a tear for want of human touch and adult conversation, and the wish for what might have been, had his children grown up to be the loving people he had intended. They were too wrapped up in themselves and the perceived inconvenience of engaging with their father, to bother. They had only visited once since their mother had passed away. George, now on his own, was less entertaining, less easy to make conversation with, less palatable and so excuses were made, and intentions promised, but never actuated.

Sheila felt a sadness in the elderly gentleman and so she had spent as much time as she could in his company, during his hip operation and recovery, sharing stories and often laughter. It turned out he had been a fireman when he was younger. A brave man. He had regaled her with stories of how he had risked his neck many times to try to save others. Sometimes he had succeeded and sometimes he had not. He had been thankful to escape from his service still alive. He had seen life in all its fierceness and faced it full on. Now he was invisible to most of the general public. They saw the walking stick first and the man behind it second.


The taxi was late. There weren’t many cars working on Christmas day and the fares were double the price. To cheer him up, Sheila told George the story of little Jimmy Tickle and his kindness, and generosity of spirit. George didn’t say anything, he just listened. He wiped away a tear from his eye. The elderly cry easier than other people. They know there is no shame in caring.

‘That’s restored my faith in human nature, that has.’ He smiled as he got to his feet. The hospital porter had arrived.

‘What has?’ The porter asked.

Sheila gave George a hug. ‘Take care, George. Merry Christmas, my love. Remember to keep active with that hip.’

‘I will. Merry Christmas, lass, and thank you for giving me your time. I’ll miss you.’

‘I’ll miss you too, George.’

‘What has, George?’ The porter asked again, as he helped him into the wheelchair, placing the bag of belongings on his lap.

‘What has, what?’ George asked.

‘What has restored your faith in human nature?’

‘Oh that. Sheila was telling me about a boy who had given two of his own presents to a bloody burglar, because the burglar was poor and had nothing for his own kids. Can you believe that.’

‘That can’t be true. The only thing a burglar needs is a smack around the bloody head.’

‘It is true apparently. Incredible isn’t it?’

The porter halted in the corridor, to let a bed through, coming the other way. The coldness of the external door to the hospital was becoming evident as they neared the Reception area.

‘Where did this happen then?’ The porter asked.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Here you are then, George. Your carriage awaits.’ The porter helped George struggle to his feet. The ground was slippery, and he was shaking with the cold, and fear of falling, combined. With some effort the porter managed to get George into the back seat of the taxi. He leaned across him to wrap the seat belt around George and bid his farewell, but the elderly man took hold of his arm.

‘I don’t know where it happened, my friend, but I can see from your name badge that the boy had the same name as you. Jimmy Tickle. Not a name you can forget easily.’

The porter didn’t reply but stood with his mouth open as the taxi pulled away. George watched the porter getting smaller as they gathered speed. He saw him put a hand to his mouth.


*


Edward and Jemima Swift tore at the wrapping paper. Edward’s frenzy revealed a jigsaw and Jemima stared at a book of dot-to-dot puzzles.

‘Is that it?’ Edward said.

‘Oh, that’s kind of okay’ was all Jemima could muster.

Mark felt a bit of a let-down. ‘It’s all I could get this Christmas, I’m afraid.’

‘Oh.’ Jemima said.

Mark stood up and went to the cupboard in the hall before emptying out a dustbin liner dull of presents. They gleefully demolished the wrapping even quicker than before. There were Lego sets, an electronic toy car, a make-up set, chocolates, and even a Nintendo Switch game.

The two ran around the room hugging each other and Mark should have felt ten feet tall. Only he didn’t. He didn’t because he had succumbed on the way home from the café and burgled a house on the posh estate next to his. He felt a fraud inside. He couldn’t help but think about a little boy called Jimmy Tickle and how he had given his Christmas away to try to help his children, but he knew that even despite that, it would not be enough for them. He wished he had left the jigsaw and puzzle book with someone who would have been grateful. He muttered to himself ‘Merry Christmas, Jimmy Tickle.’


*


Jimmy Tickle lay on the bed next to his Mother. It was always snuggly and warm, when she was in it. The air smelled a bit strange though. It was 10.20am and she had still not awoken. He had stared at the solitary present, in front of the electric fire; weighed it in his hands, shaken it, even held it to his ear! He still didn’t have a clue what it was. He wanted to wait for Candice to wake up, before he opened it. It was only right she could see how pleased he was with it, when she had worked so hard to get it for him; along with all the arrangements necessary with Mr Claus.

He also had a present for his mother. It was some fancy perfume he had heard her talking about on the phone, back in the Spring. When you don’t have money, you have to plan ahead. He decided there and then that he would do whatever it took to get the perfume for her. His plan was simple. His only source of income was his bus fare to school. He would walk to school each day and save the money. It meant getting up at 6am but it would be worth it just to see the look on her face, come Christmas morning.

As he pushed and pulled her shoulder, he began to get some hint of a response. A groan. He persisted.

‘What time is it?’ She grunted; barely coherent.

‘It’s Christmas morning, Mum. Merry Christmas.’ He kissed her on the cheek.

‘Sod that. I asked what time it is, not what day it was.’

‘It’s nearly half past ten. I’m waiting to open my present. All the kids are playing outside, they have been for hours. I’ve been watching them through the window.’

‘Just open it, Jimmy. It’s too early.’

‘But Mum I’ve been waiting ages. I’ve got you something nice.’

She raised herself sufficiently to rest on an elbow and looked out through squinting eyes. ‘What have you got me?’

‘Come and see. You’ll love it.’

With much effort and complaining, she began to drag herself up. ‘Make a cuppa, please, Jimmy. There’s a good lad.’

‘Hooray! Mum’s getting up! One cup of tea, coming right up.’ He skipped out of the bedroom.

They met in the living room and she sipped at the hot drink and gasped. ‘Oh, a life-saver.’

‘Merry Christmas, Mum.’ He wanted to hear her say it.

‘Merry Christmas, son.’

He smiled broadly. ‘Love you, so much, Mum.’ He hugged her.

‘Love you too, darling.’ She squeezed him tightly and he scrunched his eyes up as she did, savouring the moment. He presented her with a beautifully wrapped present. ‘I had to wrap it a few times, it looked a bit messy. I couldn’t get it right at first.’

‘Oh, Jimmy, I’m only going to rip the paper off it.’

‘I wanted it to be lovely for you, Mum. You never get anything nice.’

Candice tried to focus through bleary eyes and carefully unwrapped the parcel. She was genuinely surprised and really pleased. ‘Oh my God! Jimmy where did you get this?’

‘From the department store.’

‘It’s not stolen is it?’

‘Mum! How could you even think such a thing? I’ve been saving up my bus fare.’

A wave of emotion swept over her. She was still half asleep, she began to sob. ‘It’s beautiful, Jimmy, it’s the best present I’ve ever had. It really, really, is.’ They hugged again and then Jimmy broke away and pumped his fist, saying ‘Yes!’ Repeatedly. It had been a success and he was overwhelmed with excitement that he had pulled it off.

‘Can I open mine, now, please?’

‘What? Oh yes, go for it, Jimmy. Now you know I can’t afford…’ Jimmy put his finger to her mouth. ‘Mum, I know, come on, don’t spoil it. I am so grateful to have you. Some little boys don’t have anyone, don’t forget.’

He carefully opened the wrapping paper and pulled out a plain white Tee shirt and a pair of black shorts. ‘It’s…it’s…great. Yes! Whoop. Thanks…it’s brilliant, Mum. Thank you so much.’ He did a little jig to show how pleased he was. He didn’t want his Mum to see his bemusement, after all her efforts.

‘You said you wanted the England football kit and they play in white shirts and black shorts, don’t they? I can’t afford the proper kit but it’s the same thing really, isn’t it?’

‘Erm, yes, that’s right, Mum. That’s thoughtful, thank you. I’m going to put them on.’

‘Hold on, you have a couple more presents, yet.’

‘Oh, about that. I was going to mention this.’

‘Mention what?’ Candice looked puzzled.

There was a knock on the door which startled them both and they froze. Looking at each other.

‘Who the hell is that at this time? And on Christmas day.’ She said.

Jimmy’s eyes, sparkled. ‘Dad?’

‘Huh, fat chance of that.’

Jimmy ran at full pelt to the door and swung it open.

The man in the Hospital Porter’s uniform stood with a tentative smile on his face and a Christmas present in his hand. ‘Does little Jimmy Tickle live here?’

‘Dad! It is you.’ Jimmy threw his arms around his father and began to sob. It all poured out, as he cried with relief and love, almost collapsing onto the thin carpet.

Candice’s voice sounded raspy. ‘Well, well, well. If it isn’t Jimmy Tickle senior. You’re late back with your bottle of milk.’

‘Come on, Candice, think of the boy.’

‘Think of the boy! You’ve got a bloody nerve. Who do you think is here for him twenty-four hours a day? Who thinks about him every minute and slaves and works to keep us afloat? Think of the boy. That’s bloody rich, that is!’

‘That’s going to change. I want to be part of his life and help out with money. I’m in a better place now, I’m ready to help.’

‘Oh, Dad, this is the best Christmas ever. Just the bestest, bestest, ever, with nobs on and cream!’

The three walked into the living room to discuss the new arrangements and the hope that Jimmy could be with those he really loved. It was the least Jimmy deserved. He was right, it was the best Christmas ever.

‘I’ve been looking for you every Christmas. What made you come back, Dad?’ Jimmy asked, his face beaming with joy.

‘I heard a story this morning about a little boy showing such incredible kindness, everyone was touched by it. I thought how proud his father must be of him, and then I realised, I was his father!’

‘I don’t understand, but I’m just so glad you did.’ Jimmy said.

‘Let’s just say, I came back because of the kindness of little Jimmy Tickle. I wanted to be part of Jimmy Tickle’s Christmas.’


*


This wasn’t quite the end of the story. The news about Jimmy Tickle’s kindness on Christmas Eve continued to travel around. It gathered pace. One person would tell five people they knew, then those five people would tell a few people, and then they would, and so on. Before long, thousands, and then with the internet, millions of people, heard about Jimmy Tickle’s story of kindness. His selfless behaviour became an example for people in how to live their lives. Jimmy’s name became synonymous with doing a good deed. Over time, phrases began to emerge, when a random act of kindness was received by someone; ‘Thanks for the Jimmy Tickle,’ and requests for favours became ‘Do me a Jimmy Tickle, please.’ Sometimes people referred to Christmas itself as ‘Ticklemas’. His name began to epitomise an act of kindness, notably at Christmas, and over the years his name became almost as famous as Santa Claus himself.


So, if you get the chance to do a ‘Jimmy Tickle’, any time soon, you know what to do. How do I know all this? Who told me the story? Why, no-one told it me. I thought you might have guessed, already . You see, I am Jimmy Tickle.

Merry Ticklemas, one and all.



THE END



Copyright @Keith Wright 2019

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