Title: Joyeux Noel
Author’s Note: The carol Erik sings at the end of this story is a popular French carol, sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”
Just outside Avignon, France
Claire rose to an unusually chilly house. She rubbed her aching back as she eased herself out of bed. Spring, and the baby’s birth, could not come fast enough for her. The house was unusually cold; she hurried into warm, fur-lined slippers and a woolen wrapper. Erik still slept; she was glad of it. His ever-worsening cough sometimes kept both of them awake.
Claire struck a lucifer to light the fire in the grate; the wood had been laid the night before so that it would be ready first thing. The winter winds had buffeted the little house; Erik had closed the blue shutters, so the house was dark. At least the glass windows were safe.
The horses had to be fed, cold weather or no. Claire exchanged her slippers for the boots she kept by the door, and prepared to make her hurried way to the barn. When she opened the door, she gasped aloud.
Snow was a rarity in the south of France, but it had come last night with the winter wind. Cesare, Erik’s elderly Lipizzan, stood at the fence. The white horse nibbled at the snow on the fence, making a face as the cold hit his teeth. He blew out his lips, steam rising from his nostrils, in a way that clearly communicated his offense at the sensation.
“Silly boy,” Claire called to him. “Go back into the barn. I’ll have to get dressed before I come out to see you all.”
Erik stirred as Claire changed from her night clothes into the warmest garments she could still manage given her body’s new and ever-changing shape. She was not the happiest of pregnant women; smells made her ill, and she could not ride her beloved horses. Erik was thrilled at the idea of fatherhood, though; his smile reached all the way to his green eyes these days, even as his health deteriorated.
“There is snow on the ground,” she said as she twisted her chestnut brown hair into a bun and tucked it into a woolen hat.
“You should not go out in it,” Erik pronounced, donning trousers and boots himself. “I can feed the animals.”
“And miss the sight? Nonsense. We can go together.”
So, bundled up against the chill, the two of them fed Cesare, Josephine and Angel. After the barn chores, they stood together in front of the little house. The garden, with its arbor, were a frost-covered wonderland of evergreens and branches.
Erik’s face was ruddy with the cold; even the side that he kept masked in public took on some color beyond the portwine stain and scarring. He chafed Claire’s hands between his gloves to warm them; she had neglected her mittens again in her hurry to look after the animals.
“When I was a little girl,” she said, “my father used to sing a song about the winter wind and the snow to me. I barely remember it.”
Erik put his hands on either side of Claire’s expanded abdomen. “I remember it. Let me sing it now, for the first time, to our child.”
He bent forward just a little and took in a breath of the cold, outdoor air. His beautiful tenor rang out through the yard:
Vive le vent, vive le vent, vive le vent d'hiver
qui s'en va sifflant, soufflant dans les grands sapins verts.
Vive le temps, vive le temps, vive le temps d'hiver
boules de neige et jour de l'an et bonne année grand-mère.
Sur le long chemin tout blanc de neige blanche
un vieux monsieur s'avance avec sa canne dans la main et
tout là-haut le vent qui siffle dans les branches puis souffle la romance qu'il chantait petit enfant
Joyeux joyeux Noël aux mille bougies qu'enchantent vers le ciel les cloches de la nuit.
Vive le vent, vive le vent, Vive le vent d'hiver
Qui rapporte aux vieux enfants un souvenir d'hier.
Et le vieux monsieur descend vers le village
C'est l'heure où tout est sage et l'ombre danse au coin du feu
Mais dans chaque maison il flotte un air de fête partout la table est prête et l'on entend la même chanson
Erik stood to his full height and embraced Claire. Their arms around one another, they went back into the warm house together.