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Thomas’ New Coat

This story is written for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas. You can find the rules here:

Title: “Thomas’ New Coat”
Author: Marissa Ames
eBook: YES

Dedicated to Jeremy, Laurie, Miles, and Lily. Thanks for all the apples and yoga.

christmas carol

Thomas shivered in the sooty slush outside the workhouse. The February wind whipped sleet into his face. He wrapped his tattered coat about him, which had become too small in his year detained in the boys’ ward.

Thomas lived in the best of times and the worst of times. In the age of wisdom and foolishness, the rich lived in three-story brick houses. The poor lived in workhouses.

The door opened, and his mother appeared. Emma wore her own dress. Gone was the striped inmates’ uniform.

With teary eyes, Thomas slid on the slush and collided with his mother. She wrapped her arms around him.

“Can we stay away this time?” he begged. “Please?”

Thrice, Emma had discharged herself when she could be apart from Thomas no longer. Women lived separate from the men, and everyone separate from the children. Those three times, Emma left in her own dress, took Thomas to a park then returned by midnight. The workhouse promised food and shelter in return for hard labor. The streets promised starvation.

“Mama,” he said, peering through his tears. “Please, mama?”

With hands roughened by picking apart oakum, Emma combed through Thomas’ hair.

“I’ll pull carts in the mines,” Thomas said. “I can still be a chimney sweep. I haven’t grown much, really.”

Closing her eyes in her gaunt face, Emma nodded.

As a widowed seamstress, Emma had managed to feed Thomas. Slipping in the slush during pea soup fog, she had injured her arm. She could not pay rent. After nights weeping in decision, Emma took Thomas to the workhouse.

Thomas had a plan. First he would work as an errand boy. Then he’d be crossing sweeper, cleaning streets in front of rich ladies in exchange for tips. He would purchase matches to sell to passing shoppers. Thomas would enter the mines if he had no other choice. But, for his mother, he would work anywhere.

Offering domestic services in trade, Emma found a room in a London slum. Thomas worked as planned, waking before dawn and coming home late, with money for soup and suet.

As he worked he advertised his mother’s skills as a seamstress.

The owner of a new factory bought his matches. He had a job for Thomas’ mother, with the new sewing machines. Emma had only sewn with thread and needle, but she soon learned the machines, pushing the treadle with her foot. Only once did she sew over her own hand. Thomas worked within the same factory, carrying bolts of fabric. They worked twelve hours a day and returned together to their tiny room.

Thomas fell asleep fast. At night, his mother stitched by the single flickering flame of her lamp. Customers wanted coats with detail that only skilled seamstresses could provide.

One year after leaving the workhouse, Thomas wore the same tattered coat. Emma had purchased scraps of fabric from her employer. She had unpicked the seams of Thomas’ coat and added the fabric to expand the sleeves. He had decent shoes, replaced when the others disintegrated. The slush did not invade the leather.

Luxury stopped at new shoes. Emma was ill. On good days, she worked at the factory, coughing into a handkerchief to catch the blood. On bad days, she sweated in bed with a fever. Half of November, Emma had worked at the factory. Twenty-four days into December, she had not worked at all.

Thomas trekked to the factory daily, buying food on the way home. After work, he cleaned the tenement to pay rent. Each night, Emma apologized as she fumbled with needle and thread while propped up in bed.

Thomas told her it didn’t matter.

Emma fretted over Christmas. Last year, they resided in the workhouse. She couldn’t see him at Christmas. This year, she had promised a hot meal, with meat. Goose and figgy pudding, she said. She had promised it before she fell ill.

Emma had one match left. She used that last match to light a fire on Christmas morning, as snow fell in the streets.

Thomas held his only gift, complimenting how well Emma had wrapped it in old blankets. Warm from the fire, he unpicked the twine. Emma smiled weakly as he withdrew his new coat: thick, warm, and sturdy.

He slid his arms into the coat and hugged it around his body as his mother coughed blood into her handkerchief.

As Emma napped at midday, Thomas traversed the new slush of the London streets. What he sought lay ten streets away, where Thomas had worked before finding the factory. Now other boys worked there, sloshing in sooty slush and broken shoes.

“Do you have matches?” he asked.

A boy half his age looked up with sunken eyes. Nodding and shivering, he said, “You have to pay for them.”

A rag wrapped around the boy’s head, in lieu of a hat. His patched shirt hugged his body tightly. The boy wore no coat.

“I need them for my mother,” Thomas claimed. “She’s terribly ill.”

Shaking his head, the boy said with chattering teeth, “My father will beat me.”

Thomas needed those matches. He needed them for his mother, who kept him out of an orphanage simply by staying alive. Emma had taught him that he was better than no man, and no worse either. She taught him compassion and charity.

“Will you trade?” Thomas unbuttoned his coat. The boy’s eyes lit up.

As the boy donned the coat and rolled the sleeves up, Thomas took his matches and sprinted home, sliding in the slush.

His own teeth chattered as he opened the door. He found his old, tattered coat. Emma woke as a log dropped from his frozen fingers onto the floor.

“Where is your new coat?” she asked.

Thomas added the log to the fire. Then he took her frail hands in his and told her of the little match boy. Someone needed the coat, just as Emma needed the matches.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” he said, hoping for forgiveness. “I know you worked many nights on that coat.”

Tears filled Emma’s eyes. She spread her arms. As she embraced her son and his tattered coat, she whispered, “I worked harder to make you a good boy. You’ve given me the best Christmas present by proving you are one.”

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Grandma’s Christmas Sweaters

This story is for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas (AMMC-DFQ). Details and submission guidelines can be found here:

  • Grandma’s Christmas Sweaters by Marissa Ames
  • Ebook: YES

 This story is dedicated to Ralinda, Kaylee, and Andee. Merry Christmas! I send you joy, love, laughter, and reasons to never wear those sweaters.

ugly sweater cookies

Grandma knitted sweaters every year, from January to November, and gifted them in December. She intertwined yarn into elaborate Christmas trees, stars, and snowy woodland scenes. Grandma’s sweaters reminded me of Care Bears spreading Christmas love with bedazzled belly magic.

Every year, I got a sweater from Grandma. Knowing what lay inside, I tore into the box with practiced enthusiasm. I pulled out the mass of festive yarn and held it up to the light of the Christmas tree, gushing about the love and attention she must have taken, just for me.

Then I tucked the sweater back in the box. Twelve boxes sat in my closet, neatly stacked in the far corner behind my old stuffed animals.

“Grandma’s visiting for a week,” mom told us. “It would be nice if you wore one of those sweaters while she was here.”

I groaned and slumped, but Sarah agreed. Nine-year-olds know nothing about making a stand for fashion.

When Grandma arrived, Sarah waited at the door in a red and green monstrosity. Grandma’s hot pink lips stretched taut over her dentures as she pinched Sarah’s cheeks.

Sarah grabbed Grandma’s wrinkled, spotted hand. “Wanna bake cookies, Gramma?” With that pink smile in place, Grandma waddled into the kitchen after Sarah.

“Where’s your sweater?” mom asked from behind me.

“I’ll wear it closer to Christmas,” I promised.

The second day, Sarah wore a fuzzy white garment bedazzled with blue rhinestone snowflakes as she held Grandma’s yarn. Mom raised her eyebrows as I passed in my t-shirt. I shrugged and moved into the yarn-free zone.

“You’re going to disappoint her,” mom accused the next morning.

I shrugged and continued texting.

“Sarah’s learning how to knit, and you’re ignoring your Grandma. Just wear the sweater, just once.”

“I will,” I whined, annoyed that I had to look up from my phone.

On the fourth day, I lacerated my foot in Sarah’s room. “You left knitting needles on the floor,” I said, picking up the bloody awl. “Where did you get these needles?”

“From Gramma,” she said, coiling yarn around her wrist. “What should I make with this?”

I shook my head. “You’re getting weird,” I said, hobbling away to find a Band-Aid.

Mom wouldn’t leave me alone. “Wear a sweater,” she said, grabbing her hem and stretching it down for emphasis, warping the snowman on the front. “Honestly, what harm could come of wearing one?”

“I don’t know,” I argued between texts. “I can’t risk it.”

Mom rolled her eyes. “Come to dinner.”

“What are we having?” I asked without looking up from my phone.

“Something soft, with lots of fiber,” she said as she shuffled out of my room.

I woke at 4am to the aroma of chocolate chip cookies. I rubbed my eyes and followed the smell to the kitchen. Decked in boughs of sweater holly, Sarah removed a tray from the oven. On the table, hundreds of cookies cascaded onto the lace runner. She had to have been baking for hours to acquire that many.

I squeaked, “What are you doing? How long have you been baking?”

“Oh, don’t bother her,” Mom said from behind me. I turned to see her sway past me, wearing slippers and a housecoat, with a red Santa sweater overtop of the coat.

Sarah set the cookie tray on a trivet. “Eat some,” she said. “You need some meat on those bones.” I flinched back as she tried to pinch my cheek.

On day six, I opened Sarah’s underwear drawer to borrow a pair of socks. She wouldn’t miss one pair, and I’d have it washed and back in the drawer by tomorrow. The drawer rattled as I pulled it out. My mouth fell open.

Instead of socks, Sarah’s drawer was filled with knitting needles of assorted sizes. Hundreds of needles, jammed tightly. I pulled out other drawers to find the same thing: hoarded knitting needles.

“Mom!” I called, wandering about the room.

All of Sarah’s clothes sat in a pile in her closet. On her hangers, bags of yarn dangled. A housecoat draped over her headboard. Eight pair of slippers peeked from beneath the bed.

“Mom!” I yelled again, hustling out of the room.

Mom sat in the living room, entwining two long, slender sticks into a network of yarn. Sarah sat on one side of her, and Grandma sat on the other. Reindeer pranced across their chests, ending in a knitted sleigh on Sarah’s sweater. On the coffee table sat glasses of Metamucil.

Mom looked up from her knitting. “Do I have to tell you again?” She glared at my designer shirt. “Go put on a sweater!”

I sprinted to my room and yanked my phone out of my pocket.

“911. What is your emergency?”

“Um…” It sounded stupid even before I said it. “My Grandma’s Christmas sweaters are turning my family into old-person zombies,” I blurted out.

The operator paused. I heard snickering in the background. In a professional and appropriately prudish voice, she said, “Miss, abuse of the 911 system is a crime. If this is not a real emergency, you need to hang up right now or I will inform the police.”

Tears stung my eyes as I watched my thumb hover over the touch screen. The police would not believe me. I lowered my thumb to the “end” icon.

That night I fell asleep with the light on as mom, Grandma, and Sarah baked fruitcake until dawn.

“Wake up,” Sarah called, shaking my shoulder. “It’s Christmas!”

I groaned and rubbed my eyes. Exhausted, I had fallen asleep in a chilly room and had woken up cozy and comfortable. I folded my wool-covered arms and sighed.

Mom, Grandma, and Sarah all hovered above me.

“Merry Christmas!” Mom greeted me, pinching my cheek. “What do you want for breakfast?”

I ran my hands over my belly, feeling the texture of miniature plastic lights beneath my palms. Sitting up, I adjusted the green sweater over my chest and said, “Stewed prunes.”

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