Ruben Brewster stood captivated, arms outstretched looking heavenward. He picked a snowflake, closed one eye and watched it float silently down from the gray ice charged clouds which hung low across the meadow. It danced on the cold night air, one among millions like the stars in the sky.
‘Hey Granddad’ he shouted into the vastness of space, ‘Where does snow come from?’
His Grandfather had already explained about the planets, he didn’t quite understand what he meant, but then again he was only six. What he was sure of was his feet were cold, and his hands, even though he was wearing his favorite woolen Christmas gloves and matching hat, the ones with all the reindeer's on them, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, and of course the most famous of them all, Rudolf with his bright shining nose to guide them. All afternoon he had been helping his Grandfather harvest the miniature Christmas trees he grew every year, which were due to be sold that weekend at the local market. He kinda knew why everyone celebrated Christmas; his Grandmother had told him the story of Jesus and how it was birthday. He enjoyed the parable but preferred listening about Santa Clause much more. He also liked the thought of opening his presents soon so much Ruben began to spin on the spot while giggling out loud at the vapor emanating upwards from behind his turtle shell scarf as he breathed, he felt happy but at the same time just still a little bit sad.
Rubens grandfather looked up briefly from his harvesting and smiled,
‘Ruben Brewster’ he laughed, ‘stop dancing and help your poor old Grandfather load these trees, Grans gonna be mad if we aren’t home in time for supper.’ Ruben stopped what he was doing, wiped his nose with the cuff of his coat and sighed, adults are always spoilsports, he thought.
‘Tell me about my Mother again Granddad’ Ruben asked, slinking over through the snow, feeling a little bit deflated. ‘What was Christmas like when she was my age?’
The boys request made Henry Willows stop and straighten his back. Each time Ruben inquired about his Mother it brought back painful memories of his only child, Kathy, ravaged by cancer when Ruben was just a baby. He swallowed hard and let a faint smile strain onto his aged weather beaten face; how could god be so cruel he thought to take his daughter. And how could he begin to explain why to such a beautiful boy. Some day he would try, but not today. ‘When we get home son, let’s finish our work first.’
Ruben frowned, ‘You never answered my question Granddad, Where does snow come from?’
‘From heaven Ruben, everything comes from heaven’
‘Even me Granddad?’
Henry felt a tear come to his eyes and his heart fluttered with pride
‘Especially you Ruben.’
A flurry of snow crossed the meadow and drifted like a ghost in the evening air as Ruben and his Grandfather pushed the last tree onto the trailer. ‘That’s it son, let's tie these down then we’re off home’
‘Why is snow cold?’ Ruben asked in his off the cuff way.
‘Because God made it so.’
Willows waited for another question that failed to come, Ruben understood the meaning of Christmas and the importance of Jesus, that was enough he supposed. ‘Okay that’s the last tree loaded and tied, get in the truck Ruben and let’s go before that flurry gets too close.’
Ruben climbed up onto the worn leather seat and buckled in just as his granddad had taught him. The smell of fresh cut wood and pine needles sweetened the inside of the trucks cab, its headlights severed the night casting a bluish aurora across the open pasture. Henry kicked the engine into life and drove steadily across the pasture, through the open gate onto the road leading to town. Above them the night sky clouds had parted, exposing a crescent moon which veined a silver glow like a spiders web. The farmhouse was less than half a mile from the Christmas Tree field and Willows had paid the astral portrait little attention until the boy screamed loudly and pointed ‘Look! Look! Granddad - The moon, and the star, see how bright it shines’
Willows looked up, the boy was right, sure enough the brightest star he had ever seen sat just a little to the right of the glowing moon.
‘What is it? Is it a wishing star Granddad?’
Willows recalled in some of the stories he had told Ruben sometimes a large star appears every so many years, it happened when Jesus was born and when special boys and girls come along, like his mum and him. The stories enthralled Ruben just as they did his Mother. ‘Find the wishing star and all your desires will be granted’ he would tell her. ‘Find it before it disappears behind the moon, otherwise all will be lost.’ Every night she looked for it, but it never came. ‘What would you wish for Kathy?’ he would ask her, and every time it was the same answer, ‘A winters rose Daddy, that’s all, so I could place it in my window. They say it glows bright like a star on Christmas Eve when Santa’s close and it guides him in the night’
She never got her wish; his little girl grew up so fast, fell pregnant by an uninterested boy and then a hopeless shotgun wedding, and yet out of all the mess came Ruben. For that much he was grateful. As for the cancer that followed for three years, she fought it bravely, but it was stronger and won. Rubens welfare was all she wished for at the end. Which was one he could gladly grant and had, both he and his wife loved him dearly. Kathy’s room was now his at the farmhouse.
‘What Ruben, What is it?’ The boy’s sudden outburst had startled him back to reality.
‘The star Granddad, I need to make my wish before it goes’
Willows slowed down the truck ‘Go ahead son, but be quick now befo-‘
‘I know Granddad’ Ruben said rolling his eyes, ‘before it moves behind the moon or all is lost, I didn’t forget’
Willows nodded and smiled. Ruben reminded him so much of Kathy, the same blue eyes, crooked little smile and wayward auburn hair which stuck out from under his hat like stubborn weeds on a crooked path. ‘That’s right Ruben’
Ruben clasped his hands tight as if in prayer, closed his eyes and whispered some words.
‘Will you tell me what you wished for, or is it a secret Ruben?’ Willows asked when he had finished.
‘To see behind the moon Granddad, because that’s where heaven is isn’t it?’
A lump formed in Willows throat and he fought hard to hold back his tears. ‘That’s right Ruben’ he sighed ‘Behind the moon, but that might be a hard wish to grant and sometimes we don’t always get what we asked for, do you understand son?’
Ruben frowned; he knew his granddad might be right this time. ‘Is my mummy behind the moon?’
Willows shivered even though the cab was warm. It was as if someone had just walked over his grave. Ever since Kathy had died he felt every year had stolen away just a little bit more, making him look and feel older than his sixty years. Thankfully his wife Grace had been the rock that held it all together and god knows where she found her strength from. He supposed that’s where Kathy and her were the same, but some battles just can’t be won. ‘Sometimes God needs angels to watch over the little babies in heaven’ she would say as she cooked. ‘He knew we could look after Ruben, but he needed Kathy and that’s why he took her, ain’t that right Henry.’ He always nodded in silent agreement, but his faith was never as strong as Graces.
The coming weekend was expected to be full of activity, it was the last before Christmas Day and the final or late tree buyers always made it so. Grace would be busy with her own preparations at the farm and the church celebrations she liked to get involved in every year. They proved a great distraction for her since Kathy’s anniversary was the same week, and always there was an uneasy atmosphere around the farmhouse until New Year arrived and the holidays were over.
Willows teased the truck along the icy road until he reached the farms main gate; its heavy tires cut grooves into the mud and loose limestone driveway. Slowly it groaned its way up to the barn at the rear of the house. Inside he secured the trailer before locking the two large doors with a chain he kept in the truck behind the driver’s seat. The night air was crisp and a light squall of snow was drifting across the cobblestone courtyard as they crunched their way to the back door. Taking care to wipe their feet before stepping inside. Willows could already hear his wife humming cheerfully as she busied herself around the kitchen. The heat of the open fire was a welcome relief from the coldness of the field. Willows kissed his wife and told Ruben to go wash up for supper.
‘You seem happy’ he said warming his hands at the fire. ‘Good day?’
Grace stopped what she was doing and looked at him, her face seemed warmer, more alive than he had remembered for a long time. Gone were the dark rings under her eyes from the years of crying and her cheeks showed the glow of the younger woman which he seemed to have lost since Kathy had died.
‘I don’t know why’ she said bemused ‘but ever since I came home from the church hall tonight I have felt an overwhelming feeling of peace. It came over me just after a lady gave me this package for Ruben’ she pointed to a shoe box size Christmas Gift wrapped with pleasant trimmings on the sideboard.
‘Who was she?’ Willows inquired ‘did you know her?’
Grace shook her head ‘I can’t be sure Henry, she stood with her back to the bright lights of the Christmas tree and she wore an old fashioned red cloak with a hood. The kind you would see in all the old Victorian Christmas cards. I tried hard to make out her face but with the shimmering glow around her I couldn’t focus on it. She told me the gift was for Ruben and he should open it when he got home. When I looked up after taking it she was gone’.
Intrigued Willows called out for Ruben ‘Come here son, Gran and I have a surprise for you.’
The little boys eyes lit up with excitement as they both presented the package; eagerly he tore off the wrapping paper exposing a small wooden box. It was black like the night sky peppered with painted white stars and a crescent moon on its cover, just like the one above the meadow they saw on the way home. All three stood in silence; slowly Ruben slid away the boxes lid, behind the crescent moon cover was the most beautiful golden rose that anyone had ever seen. It seemed to shimmer in the fires glow, a trick of the light? Willows surmised. But his eyes were drawn to the boy, Rubens face was shining with happiness ‘I told you Granddad’ he smiled ‘heaven is behind the moon.’
From inside the box a small piece of paper fell onto the floor. Grace bent down and picked it up and carefully unfolded it.
‘What does it say Gran?’ Ruben asked.
Unable to speak with emotion she handed it to her husband.
Willows hand shook as he read the small note.
‘To you my beautiful boy a gift I give, from behind the moon a winters rose. A golden light shall guide the way and keep me with you till Christmas day - Your Mother, Kathy Brewster.'
‘May all your wishes come true - they will if you believe’