The Twelve Days of Christmas:
A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.
The Second Day of Christmas
I went over to Tom’s house first thing in the morning on Boxing Day, before it was even light—not that that means much this time of year; sunrise doesn’t come until almost nine o’clock. His truck wasn’t parked at the curb where he usually leaves it. I used the key he’d hidden on top of the lintel—he figured that was safer than under the door mat—and let myself into his basement suite.
There was no sign of Tom. The bed looked slept in, but that didn’t mean anything—he never made it, so it always looked slept in. The real clue was the coffee maker. The dregs in the bottom were stone-cold, so he definitely had not been home that morning; he would never leave the house without at least one cup of fresh-brewed coffee.
A while ago, he had been making some vague noises about going ice fishing on Boxing Day with a buddy—I couldn’t remember who—but surely he would at least have let me know?
I checked the time on my phone. Seven thirty—I could probably get away with going upstairs to talk to his landlady.
“No, haven’t seen Tom,” Lilian, who was still in her housecoat, said cheerfully. “Not since Christmas Eve morning. But guess what I did see?” Suddenly she gasped. “There! There they are again!” She rushed towards her patio door, then stopped a few feet short of it and crept slowly closer, waving at me to follow.
“Look!” she whispered, pointing out the door. “A pair of turtle doves!”
Through the door I could hear the distinctive hooting call of the grey-brown birds that were perched on the edge of Lilian’s bird feeder. I knew that hoot well, as Tom liked to copy it—he could make all sorts of noises by blowing into his cupped hands. He tried to teach me, but I could never pull it off. I have to stick with beatboxing, which I’m not too bad at, even if I do say it myself.
“I saw them yesterday, during the Christmas bird count!” Lilian said, enraptured. “They don’t usually stay around for the winter, but this year they did! They’re so beautiful! I had to list them as mourning doves, of course; that’s what they insist on calling them in the records—but my family’s always called them turtle doves. Two turtle doves—that’s really unusual this time of year. Maybe I’ll win birder of the month with that!”
“Nice,” I said, pulled out my phone and shook it to open the camera. Even in the low early morning light the birds came out clearly in the photo; that could be nice on Instagram. “So, look,” I said, “could you do me a favour and let me know if you hear from Tom?”
“Oh, sure.” She nodded, her dyed red curls bobbing. “Maybe that lady out at Carson’s Landing knows something; I think that’s who he was talking to Tuesday morning.”
Her eyes were back on the birds out on the patio, and she answered absentmindedly.
“Oh, you know, that sexy one in the fancy new house they built at Jimbo Carson’s old place. Her and Tom were standing out by the street, and Tom looked real smitten with her. Oops—I didn’t mean…” She looked around at me and giggled sheepishly. “I’m sure he isn’t—didn’t—”
No, probably not. Tom wouldn’t cheat on me—would he?
To be continued…