On Imbolc Eve, people all over town were glamoured—and loved it!
n. glam·our, also glam·or (glmr)
1. An air of compelling charm, romance, and excitement, especially when delusively alluring.
2. Archaic A magic spell; enchantment.
Arielle rented the upper floor of an old Victorian house in Leesburg, Virginia. Her quarters included the second story of a round tower that she used as a dining area and office. It was such an inviting room that after meals she would sit in the tower’s curving window seat and look down on the everyday life of her neighborhood.
On the last day of January Emily Porthkerris woke up to a world shrouded in gray fog. Wearily, she climbed out of bed to begin another day in hell. At least today was a Friday, which meant she could escape to her office for nine hours. The weekend would mean nonstop hell unless her cantankerous father decided to take a nap in the afternoon.
“Em-ma-LEE!” came the bellow from the bedroom on the ground floor. Darth Vader, as Emily thought of him, clearly was awake and wanting attention. She went downstairs.
“I’ll have your breakfast ready in a few minutes, Dad,” she said, poking her head around the bedroom door. “Oatmeal and toast this morning?”
“Toast and orange juice! Coffee too, and be quick about it,” came the irritable reply.
Half an hour later, when the old fiend had eaten his breakfast and got dressed to spend the day in the family room shouting at the TV, Emily prepared to go to her office. Monday through Friday she looked forward to the break from the bleakness her life had become. Never an easy man to get along with, her father had turned into a domestic tyrant in his old age. “Is it dementia or Alzheimer’s?” she’d asked the doctor once when she took her father in for his checkup.
“Neither,” the doctor said. “He’s just mean.”
Which, although true, was no comfort.
And this is my life, she thought drearily as she went outside to start her car. Through the fog she heard footsteps going past her house. Early in the morning the dog walkers were out as were the senior citizens like her neighbor Arielle, intent on getting their exercise over for the day so they could relax and enjoy life.
The last day of January, she thought. In a couple of months spring will be here and I can spend time in the garden with my flowers. Thinking of the date reminded her to pick up the morning paper that gleamed whitely on the stone path leading to the front step of the house. She went to pick it up and stopped dead.
Just behind the newspaper was a small object. She bent forward to look at it more closely and found that it was a very small leather trunk with a tiny brass clasp. Where had it come from? Had children come into the front yard at some point when she’d been unaware of it? But no, the trunk hadn’t been there last night when she came home from the office. And with daytime temperatures in the upper thirties, it hardly seemed the weather for children to be playing outside, even if they had ventured into her front yard.
She picked up the paper and the tiny trunk, slipping the latter into her pocket. She’d examine it more closely after she got to work and try to figure out which neighborhood child it belonged to.
“EM-MA-LEE, where’s the newspaper?”
She opened the front door again and stepped quickly to the family room to hand the newspaper to her father.
Father Dearest snatched it out of her hand without so much as a “Thank you, have a nice day.” He merely grunted and settled himself further into the recliner.
What have I ever done to deserve this?
An hour later she was to ask herself the same question but with an entirely different meaning.
When she opened the tiny trunk after arriving at the office she discovered a very small strip of paper inside bearing the words, “For Emily P.,” followed by a telephone number with a Virginia area code.
Work at the office was slow this morning. Several of the staff were out at a training elsewhere in town and the three remaining staff were catching up on background tasks. Full of curiosity, Emily retreated to an empty office down the hall and dialed the number on her mobile phone.
“Worldwide Travel,” said the pleasant voice on the other end.
“My name is Emily Porthkerris,” Emily began, but got no further.
“Oh, yes, Ms. Porthkerris, how are you today!”
“Very well, thank you, and how are you?”
“Fine, thanks. How can I help you?”
Emily rapidly explained why she was calling.
“Ah, yes,” the voice on the other end said. “Can you confirm your address and zip code for me, please?”
Emily did so.
“Well, Ms. Porthkerris, my instructions are to ask you to stop by our office as soon as convenient to confirm what you’d like to do with your package.”
“W-what package?” Emily stammered.
“You’ve been given a round-trip ticket to London, with tickets for all three days of the Chelsea Flower Show in May and a hotel room for five days. All paid for.”
Emily almost dropped the telephone. “Ah-ah-ah…why? Did I enter a contest in my sleep? I have no idea how this happened! Is this for real?”
“Very much so,” the woman on the other end of the line replied, sounding amused. “It’s all true and we’ll be delighted to see you when you have time to stop by. Do you know where our office is?”
Emily repeated the address the woman gave her and rang off.
Again she asked herself, What have I ever done to deserve this? Who in the world could have given her such a gift? She didn’t have any rich friends. It was a miracle, a mystery for which she had no explanation.
An anonymous benefactor, for reasons unknown, had given her the gift of her dreams. But how could she accept it? There was Darth Vader to think of. He’d never let her take up this opportunity to escape her drab existence. He screamed enough about her going to work—what on earth would he say if she went three thousand miles away?
Seven-year-old Conrad Whittington lived a lonely life. Because of his fragile condition he was not allowed to attend school like other children, so a tutor provided by the county school system came to his house five days a week.
Because Conrad resented his involuntary isolation, he resisted being taught. He hated his lessons, preferring to go outside whenever possible. Forbidden to run or throw a ball, he spent his one hour a day outdoors gazing intently at the trees, the sky, the shrubs, and the grass. The antics of the birds, squirrels, and occasional rabbit often amused him. Sometimes in the warm seasons he would lie on his stomach on the grass, studying the ants, the worms, and whatever caterpillars happened to stroll by.
On this cold, misty final day of January Conrad insisted on spending part of his hour outside before the tutor was due to arrive. The sere, colorless grass was too cold to sit on and there were no birds to watch, but he still liked looking at the trees. He believed they liked him as much as he liked them. Every day he would touch all the trees in the front yard, then the ones at the side of the house and the back.
After breakfast, well bundled up, he stepped outside to greet the trees in the front. Through a swirl of mist he made his way to the big maple tree to the left of the path that led to the front door and stopped dead.
There, at the base of the maple tree, was an elf door. He gasped and dropped to his knees, the better to examine it. It was shaped like the letter “U” in reverse, of course, as all elf-doors were, and the little four-paned window at the top glowed with yellow light. The elf door even had a doorknob.
Cautiously, Conrad stretched out a hand and pulled at it.
The door opened, revealing an entire family of figurines. Conrad recognized them instantly, having spent much of his free time watching movies. The first little figure was Robin Hood. One by one Conrad picked up the others: Will Scarlett, Little John, Friar Tuck, Maid Marian. Even the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and nefarious King John were represented.
Full of excitement, forgetting that he was forbidden to run, Conrad gathered up the little figures and ran back into the house. “Mom, look what I found outside!”
“Goodness, where on earth did they come from?” his mother asked. She picked up the tiny Robin Hood and looked at it closely. “This one has something wrapped around his neck—wait a moment—” Carefully, she detached a strip of adhesive paper from Robin’s neck and read the words on the paper. “For Conrad W.,” she read aloud. “Yes, they’re all for you! I wonder who put them there?”
“The elves left them,” Conrad said, brimming with joy. “They made a door in the tree outside and when I opened it, there was Robin Hood!”
Of course his mother insisted on going outside to look at the elf door and Mrs. Moffatt, the tutor, coming up the walk at that moment, stopped to exclaim as well. “How amazing!”
Back in the house, after Mrs. Moffat and Conrad sat down at the table in the dining room to begin the day’s lessons, she said, “I know, Conrad! Let’s start by reading a poem about Robin Hood.”
Pulling out her tablet, she pinched and thumped the screen until the poem appeared as if by magic:
Sherwood in the twilight, is Robin Hood awake?
Grey and ghostly shadows are gliding through the brake,
Shadows of the dappled deer, dreaming of the morn,
Dreaming of a shadowy man that winds a shadowy horn.
Enthralled, Conrad listened to Mrs. Moffatt reading the poem and after she was finished, said, “Read it again, please!”
In the end Mrs. Moffatt read the poem three times. Conrad, awestruck, repeated:
Bugles in the greenwood echo from the steep,
Sherwood in the red dawn, is Robin Hood asleep?
“Teach me to read,” he begged. “I want to read it every day, all by myself!”
And Mrs. Moffatt, with visions of lessons in English, history, and geography all derived from this one poem, began to teach.
Thirteen-year-old Melody Springer often thought her name conjured up a completely opposite image of how she actually looked. Apple-cheeked and apple-shaped, with straight brown hair parted in the middle, she knew that nothing about her appearance suggested either music or springtime.
I’m nothing, she thought as she dressed for another dismal day at middle school. A walking heap of nothing.
The girls in her class would make fun of her, as they always did. The boys would ignore her, as they always did. Even the teachers often overlooked her, for Melody found her best refuge in sad-eyed silence.
After breakfast she put on her outdoor clothes, shouldered her backpack, and walked slowly from the house down the path leading to the street. Looking down, as she always did, she spied a curious pink object glinting alongside the path.
Melody picked up the object and discovered it was sparkly pink cellophane with something hard inside. Intrigued, she opened the package to discover a tiny round cardboard box that boasted a pale pink starburst bow on top.
She opened the box and found a silver ring with a heart-shaped pink stone in it, along with a tiny strip of paper bearing a message. For Melody S., it read, from your secret admirer.
A secret admirer! Someone admired her? Someone had given her this beautiful ring? Who on earth could it be? Dazedly, Melody tried the ring on. It fitted perfectly. The pink heart-shaped stone in the middle was surrounded by pale glittery stones that looked like diamonds. Never in her life had she owned anything so beautiful or precious. Only a princess would own and wear a ring like this.
The screech of air brakes from the street reminded her that it was time to catch the school bus. She’d have to run. Hastily she stuffed the wrapping and box inside her jacket pocket and zipped it up. She didn’t want to risk losing either in case she was able to figure out later who’d given the ring to her.
Panting, Melody boarded the bus and found a seat. Starry-eyed she sat in the midst of the noisy teenagers who surrounded her and pondered the mystery. Later, as she walked down the corridor to the class that was home room as well as the first class of the day, she saw Clariss Cooper, one of her chief tormentors, walking toward her.
Still floating on a cloud of bliss, Melody smiled and almost sang a greeting. “Hi, Clariss, how are you?”
When you excoriate someone, few things are more annoying than to have that person light up like a Christmas tree at the sight of you and inquire happily as to your well-being.
“Uh..fine,” Clariss said, looking bewildered. “Thanks for asking.”
Just then Julie-Helena hove into view. One of the prettiest, most popular girls in the eighth grade, she took deep delight in scorning Melody. “Well, well, if it isn’t little Melody,” she said, her voice dripping sarcasm.
Melody glanced at her briefly, looked down at her ring, smiled, and continued walking.
Stunned, Julie-Helena stared after her. There is hardly anything more disconcerting than having someone glance at you, look down, and smile. To Julie-Helena, the smile seemed sinister, as if Melody knew something that she herself didn’t know. What was going on?
It was a bright-eyed, confident Melody who took her place in World History class. The fact that an unknown admirer had given her a beautiful ring proved she wasn’t worthless after all.
“Many of our current holidays originated in medieval times,” Mrs. Higgins, teacher of World History, informed the students. “Now, today is the last day of January. At this time of year people celebrated the holiday known as Candlemas. They would take candles to the church to be blessed before they were used during the rest of the year. Can anyone think of other holidays celebrated in January?”
Melody was the first to raise her hand. “There was St. Agnes’ Eve,” she offered. With no friends to occupy her spare time, she actually did the homework for her English, history, and math classes.
“Yes, that was January twentieth,” Mrs. Higgins agreed. “However, there was another holiday, known as Imbolc, that began on the last day of January. It was a pre-Christian holiday when people also put candles in their windows. Now, who can think of a reason why people did that?”
Someone raised a hand. “They didn’t have electricity in those days?”
Mrs. Higgins restrained a grimace and looked around. “Anyone else?”
Melody’s hand shot up again. “Because the days are getting longer and longer?” she asked. “At Christmas it got dark at five o’clock in the afternoon. It doesn’t get dark until five-thirty now.”
“That’s right,” Mrs. Higgins said, wondering at this new, confident Melody. What had caused the change? Whatever it was, she hoped it would last.
All over town people’s lives were touched by glamour that day.
A librarian reshelving books discovered a tiny woven basket containing miniature silk roses on a shelf in the Mystery section. Twisted around the handle of the basket was a very small strip of paper. She read the words, put the basket in her pocket, and didn’t stop smiling until she fell asleep that night.
A waitress clearing a table in a Main Street coffee shop glanced briefly at the windowsill next the table to see if it was clean, then looked again. There was an object on the windowsill with a tiny strip of paper lightly taped to it.
She picked up the object, a beautiful heart shape carved from glowing rose quartz, and read the words on the paper. This is a sign, she thought exultantly, a sign that very soon I’ll meet the woman of my dreams! She stowed the object next to her own heart and looked so happy the rest of the day the customers all thought she’d either lost weight or won the lottery.
A homeless man passing a bookstore saw a barrel outside the shop with a sign that said, “Free books—help yourself.” He reached in, extracted a copy of On the Road, and walked off. Later, as he sat on a park bench flipping through the book, he discovered a $20 bill with a tiny strip of paper taped to it. He read the words and a smile spread across his whiskered face as he visualized a hot dinner, smokes, and perhaps even a beer or two.
A four-year-old girl walking through the grounds of the county courthouse with her mother suddenly darted off the path. She ran back to her mother, holding something in her hand. “Look, Mommy, the fairies left this for me!” Her mother bent down to peer at the tiny cup and saucer. There was a very small strip of paper lightly taped to the saucer. She read the words and said, “My goodness, Sheila, the fairies did leave it for you! What a lucky girl you are!”
A young engineer stopped by the post office after work to send a money order to his parents. As he walked along the pavement to his parking place afterwards, he saw an object glinting silver by the curb. When he picked it up he discovered it was a tiny silver bell that rang a faint but thrilling chime. Homesickness swept through him as he closed his eyes and remembered the sound of temple bells in his native China. Today was the beginning of the Chinese New Year, when the first person to burn incense and ring the temple bell would receive the best guardian from Buddha. After reading the message on the strip of paper attached to the bell, he resolved to fly back to China the next day to surprise his parents in Shanghai.
A retired man out for an afternoon walk spied something hanging from a bare branch on a sleeping tree and reached for it. The miniature clipper ship with two masts rigged out in full sail bore a strip of paper taped to one of the masts like an ensign. He read the words on the paper, put the ship in his pocket, and returned home to make some telephone calls. That evening Captain Harold Tecumseh Smith, USN (Ret.), spent a convivial evening in the Lighthorse Harry Tavern with five of his friends from Navy days.
All over town the people who found glamours picked them up and read the words on the attached strip of paper. The message, printed in Times Roman font, 9-point italic, read very simply: For you.
At the end of the day Emily parked her car in the driveway and walked to the mailbox at the edge of her property to get the day’s letters. She’d decided she was going to accept her gift package, come hell or high water. Darth Vader would just have to make do with a home help during her week away. It wasn’t as if there was anything really wrong with him, apart from high blood pressure and bad temper. All he really needed was someone to tidy up a bit and prepare his meals. And if he raged at her—well, she’d threaten not to come back and see how he liked that.
Feeling assertive and buoyant, Emily extracted the letters from the mailbox. As she turned to go back to the house she almost bumped into Melody, the teenager next door.
“Look,” Melody said, pointing. Both of them looked up at Arielle’s house. In the blue-gray winter twilight a candle shone in every window and they could hear the silvery sounds of wind chimes hanging from the eaves of the front porch.
“She’s forgotten to put away her Christmas lights,” Emily said.
“No, they weren’t there yesterday,” Melody said. “Those are for Candlemas. Or perhaps Imbolc,” she said, remembering what Mrs. Higgins had said. “I learned that in school today.”
Glancing out from the family room of his house, young Conrad thought the lights in Arielle’s windows looked like friendly eyes in the darkening evening. Then he went back to putting Robin Hood, his band of merry men, and Maid Marian through their third adventure of the day.
Inside her quarters, Arielle looked past the Imbolc candles in her windows at the winter dusk beyond, then picked up the check stub lying on her desk. It was dated January twenty-fourth. Years ago her ex-husband had turned his head to issue a taunt over his shoulder as he left the house for the last time. “My lawyer has transferred all the oil well shares to you. They’re worthless!”
Laughing, he’d gone down the steps and got into his car.
Fifteen years later Arielle, looking at the check stub, laughed too. The oil well hadn’t been worthless after all. Last week the resource company had mailed her a check for twenty-five thousand dollars.
“A Song of Sherwood,” by Alfred Noyes, 1920.
From Somewhere A Drum Waits for Me, by D.M. Read