Winter Holidays - Story 4 - Mother's Night by Claire Devon

When the man came rushing into the bar, the other patrons took little notice. Snow swirled around him and an icy wind blew through the opening before he let the door slam shut behind him. The guy shot a quick look at the few inhabitants of the small local establishment before darting over to the scarred wood bar that ran the length of the back wall. A few desultory decorations punctuated by tinsel were draped around the establishment in a nod to the holiday season.

“There’s three women beating up a fella out there.” His expression was strained, wet dampening his coat where snow still clung.

Colin looked down into his mug before taking another draught and turned his attention to the man speaking. His trench coat looked expensive, but not top of the line, and under it Colin saw a sweater that looked as if it had a holiday motif, although it was hard to tell under the jacket. It didn’t look like something a man would buy, so that meant he had others buying him clothing, most likely a wife. The new man had a suburban appearance that was at odds with him coming into a seedy tavern.

The man Colin knew from twenty minutes’ acquaintance as Ralphie gave the newcomer a scornful look.

“Three broads beating up a man? Tough break for him, it being Christmas Eve and all.”

The bartender wiped down the bar and gave a half-hearted smile before focusing on the stranger.

“You should know, Ralphie,” one of the others said. “You and your old woman go a coupla rounds at home.”

The man turned his attention to the bartender. “Give me two fingers of whiskey. Neat.”

Colin looked around. The others had lapsed back into their own worlds after the brief intrusion and nobody was paying the newcomer any notice. He downed his drink and then approached the man, who was staring at the dirty mirror behind the bar.

Up close Colin saw that his initial impression had been correct. The man had on one of those sweaters that a person wears at Christmas. It had an applique of Santa Claus with a sack over his shoulder and a gaudy bow on a box that threatened to tumble out of the bag. Around the neck and wrists were small bright bulbs. Colin tried not to make a face. He would never understand the American tradition of ugly sweaters. If this one was in a contest it would have won.

“Name’s Colin,” he said and slid on a stool next to the man. The new arrival looked over and stuck out his hand.

“Jimmy,” he returned and raked his hands through his damp hair. “I really did see a guy getting beat up by three women. He looked like he was receiving the worst of it. He was kind of a fat dude, unable to defend himself.”

Colin shrugged, trying to maintain his indifferent expression. “That sounds bad. Are you sure about what you saw? It’s coming down out there. It’s easy to mistake your eyes in this type of weather.”

Jimmy gave Colin a long look as if assessing his words. “Right,” he replied, and it was hard to tell if he was disagreeing or scoffing at Colin. Colin didn’t care either way.

“What brings you out in these conditions?” Colin asked, tapping the bar for another beer.

Jimmy shrugged. “In-laws are fighting. I said I was going to my man cave but even there I could hear them shouting. They used to be able to be civil when they visited but it’s been like this the last two years. They’re too old and grouchy to get a divorce but they hate each other.” He saluted Colin with the whiskey shot. “Merry Christmas. Happy fucking holidays.” He downed the whiskey and then shoved the glass back toward the bartender.

Colin tilted his new beer toward Jimmy. “Frohe Weihnachten. Family’s a bitch, huh?”

If Jimmy noticed Colin had said Merry Christmas in German, he gave no sign. Instead he looked down into the small whiskey glass.

“Yeah.” Jimmy’s shrug suggested he was already wavering in his decision to leave. Colin knew the look. He would soon be heading back to the place he called home. The fact that he still had the sweater on was proof of that. If he’d been planning for a longer getaway, he would have put on something much less conspicuous. It was the type of garment that might have earned him the same treatment as the outside man in a different place.

Colin gestured to the door. “Where did you see these women assaulting the man?”

“Down the end of the next block. I couldn’t get a good look at them, but they were fierce. They were wailing on this guy, calling him names in some other language that I don’t know. They were kicking him and swearing at him. I yelled at them and they looked up at me and man their faces were terrifying. It was like something out of an old folk tale. I got scared and came here. I should do something, huh?”

Colin clapped the man on the shoulder. “I imagine it’s a domestic fight like your in-laws are having. Sounds like family trouble to me. Just like yours. It’s better not to get involved in these things.”

Jimmy took another slug of beer and then wiped his mouth with the sweater. The small lights danced on his cuffs. Colin wondered if they lit up as some of those ridiculous sweaters did.

Jimmy frowned. “I think I ought to stop it.”

Colin paused and then rose. “Then, I shall go with you. Three on three, right? Those are better odds.”

Jimmy’s eyes narrowed, and Colin waited.

“Why would you help me? I just wandered in here. I could be anybody.”

Colin tried to keep his expression blank. “It’s Christmas Eve. Call it a gift. Unless you want to take those ladies by yourself? Seems like they may be old but they’re ferocious.”

Jimmy shrugged and stood. “Sure. You want to help, come with me. It’s just on the next block.”

***

There wasn’t much noise coming from the fray, but the quartet was still present. Colin eyed the scene as they got closer. The three women were of indeterminate age, dressed in long black clothing that gave them a shapeless look. The man they were assaulting was out of sight, but Colin could hear oofs and grunts as the fight continued.

“Hey, hey there,” Jimmy said. He slid a little on the ice under the snow. The flakes fell around them, the perfect setting for this holiday.

The females paused and one of them looked up before all three swiveled their attention toward the two new men. Their gaze focused first on Jimmy and then on Colin. Collectively, they smiled.

“Nice sweater,” one of them snarled and Jimmy looked down at the unfortunate wool under his coat. He tugged at the collar. The man behind the woman tried to scuttle back but the near one put a hand out and gripped him. One of the ladies nodded toward Colin. He returned the greeting. Jimmy stepped forward, his hands curling into fists.

“Stop it. Leave that man alone. He’s done nothing to you. Let him go.”

The first woman moved to block him, her speed impressive despite a bulky frame.

“What do you know of this man?”

Jimmy shrugged, his face shifting. He glanced at Colin. The woman, who wore a cowl, as did the others, now pulled it down. The sight of her younger-than-expected face startled Jimmy, who blinked and took a step back. Colin suspected that Jimmy wasn’t much of a fighter. Else he would have intervened before going to the bar.

Besides the falling snow there was no movement in the deserted street. This town had the air of one that emptied out at night, even if it weren’t a holiday.

“I don’t know anything. I don’t even know who he is. One of the local drunks, I suspect, and you’ve got no business harassing him. Let him go. It’s Christmas Eve, woman, have a heart.”

That seemed to amuse the first woman, and her midsection rose and fell before a huge laugh erupted from her mouth. Jimmy blinked in surprise.

“Yes. Christmas Eve. That’s rather the point, young man, although I suppose you wouldn’t know that.”

Jimmy advanced toward the women, to Colin’s amazement. There wasn’t much in their short conversation to suggest Jimmy had a great deal of courage.

“Wouldn’t know what? A woman shouldn’t behave like that. What kind of old ladies are you, beating up a helpless man that way?”

The third woman let the other man fall and Colin caught a glimpse of red and white clothing before she kicked the prone man’s black boot-clad feet. He groaned but didn’t try to get up.

Jimmy focused on the man behind the woman and his eyes went wide.

“For God’s sake, you guys are beating up one of the mall Santas? On Christmas Eve?”

The first woman laughed again, but it turned into a snarl. The snow began to lighten, now just a swirling eddy of small flakes around them, their touch cool when they landed. Colin wondered if Jimmy noticed he didn’t have a coat.

“Ah, Americans. They are so ignorant.” She looked at Colin and spoke in Old German. “Isn’t that right?”

Jimmy turned a suspicious look toward Colin and stepped back. He looked as if he was sorry he ever set foot outside of his warm home.

“What’s that you’re speaking? Is that German? Who are you people anyway?”

Colin met the other man’s strained gaze and then brushed snow off his torso, drawing Jimmy’s attention to his attire. His eyes widened.

“So many questions. So many answers.”

“Yeah well maybe I want some. Say, aren’t you cold? Where’s your coat?”

Colin chuckled and turned his attention to the first woman. He called them by their individual names, sometimes, but on this night, they deserved their goddess designation.

“You are right, Mother, Americans are ignorant. They don’t know about other cultures and practices. Typical.” Then he looked at Jimmy. “I didn’t expect anyone to interfere. We expected the Disir to be able to have a little payback in peace. It does get annoying having your honored day stolen year after year.”

Jimmy shook his head. “Disir?” He drew the term out, his brows furrowing.

“You have no understanding of the word. It means nothing in your culture. Just as you have no idea who I am.”

Jimmy raised his hands and backed up a step. “Look, buddy, I’m not trying to get anyone in trouble here. I just saw these ladies beating up this guy and thought it needed to stop.” His face swiveled from right to left, his eyes narrowing as he looked for possible escape routes.

“It is not for you to stop it,” Colin said with little inflection in his voice. “They have finished. See, they are letting him go.”

The other women released their hold on the red suit clad man, and he staggered to his feet. He looked around without comprehension, bits of twigs and dirt clinging to his damp suit.

“Why would you beat up Santa Claus? Who the hell are you people?” Jimmy’s tone held a note of outrage but behind it, his voice was quaking.

The second Disir joined the first one, also pushing down her cowl. Colin extended his hand to the women.

“Would you like to explain to this man, or should I?” Colin’s words indicated Jimmy, but his attention was fixed on the two closest Disir.

Santa Claus glared at the Disir nearest him, an action made ridiculous with his ruddy cheeks and flyaway white hair. There was a bruise forming on one cheek and defensive scratches on his hands and wrists. Perhaps it hadn’t been kind to assault Santa Claus, but the Disir, like many gods and goddesses, did not operate as humans did.

“Look, I keep telling you women, I had nothing to do with stealing your tradition. Don’t blame me if more people believe in me than they do you. You’re old news. Not many people remember you anymore. You’re just jealous that my day is so much more powerful than yours. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. Maybe there once was but now only a handful of people follow you and millions have faith in me. Now let me go.”

“There are still some,” the first Disir replied but her voice was cool.

“Not as many as me. Get away. I’ve got a job to do. Those stupid reindeer, the ones I got stuck with when that poem came out—was it two hundred years ago?—are waiting for me. Time to go. I’m going to be black and blue for weeks.”

“Look, look,” Jimmy said, taking another step backward. He glanced at the first Disir, who had her full attention on Jimmy.

Colin moved closer to the women. “Fun’s over, I suppose.” He relaxed his grip on the glamour shielding his true form from Jimmy. He grew taller and his beard and hair fuller. His clothing shifted to a robe in similar colors to Santa Claus, but full length. Santa Claus glanced at Colin and nodded as if the transformation did not surprise him.

“Hello, Saint Nicholas, or is it Sinterklaas? I should have known you’d be responsible for these biddies.”

While Colin, aka Nicholas, hadn’t condoned the Disir walloping the Santa Claus, when the other man continued to gibber, he wanted to take a swing at the man himself.

“I would never claim to control their actions.”

“Someone should.” Santa Claus looked disgusted.

The first Disir snorted and threw out her hands toward Jimmy. He flinched. All the small bulbs on Jimmy’s sweater exploded, making a tinkling sound as they burst. Jimmy shrieked, flailing as the bits of glass erupted around him. Then the wool on the sweater began unraveling. Jimmy’s nerve shattered, and he put his head down and ran. Colin and the Disir let him go. His retreating feet left imprints in the fallen snow. Colin raised an eyebrow, turning his attention back to the women.

“He has a point,” Colin said, nodding toward Santa Claus. “There’s nothing more to do here. There’s always next year. Perhaps we will lay a better trap on the next Mother’s Night. We should go where you are still remembered.”

The third Disir looked like she wanted to argue but then she nodded and moved away from the panting fat embodiment of Christmas.

“Go then. But remember, we will be waiting.”

Santa Claus took the opportunity as Jimmy had and bolted away from them until he disappeared around the corner. After a moment there was the jingle of bells and a distant harrumph. Colin heard “On Dancer, on Prancer…” before it faded away.

He turned to look at the women. Switching to the old German that was their preferred tongue, Colin spoke.

“I will join you on the next occasion. He is a tiresome sort.”

The second Disir now put her hand in Colin’s and he raised it to his lips to graze a kiss over the cool flesh.

“They still forget us,” she said, and her ice blue eyes were troubled when they met his. “More and more with each passing holiday. That upstart stole Modranicht and we will never get it back. I hate him, Nicholas.”

St. Nicholas/Sinterklaas/Colin nodded, his expression solemn. “What you say is true. My day still remains, but too many have forgotten or never known who we are.”

“It’s not fair.”

It was an old argument, but Colin inclined his head. “Perhaps not, but that is the way of these people. Come. We’ve had our fun for the evening. There’s a little tavern down the way. Shall we have a drink and then go celebrate this night? I discovered a celebration a few hundred miles from here. They still worship the old ones.”

The Disir, those ancient pagan goddesses whose Mother’s Night was now called Christmas Eve, surrounded Colin.

“Americans are not going to change their ways.” It was the nearest Disir who spoke, the one who he sometimes had pleasant evenings with.

“No,” the second Disir agreed. “Time has passed us by.”

The third Disir took her sister’s hand until all four formed a chain.

“The world has moved on, but you aren’t forgotten. Come. We will go to the tavern and then feasting. We will make it a Mother’s Night to remember.”

Tonight, they would celebrate the Mothers, those ancient triple goddesses who now walked hand in hand with him. The tradition may have been set aside by most, but not all. As long as there were people to reflect on the Disir, they would have their time.

“I look forward to the feasting,” one said.

“I the dancing,” the third said.

Colin smiled at all of them. Soon he would give them their due and revere them as the ancient powers they were.

“We will do all of it. This is your night, great Mothers. We will honor it.”

And they did.

---

Claire Davon has written on and off for most of her life and writes across a wide range of genres. A transplant from the cold winters of Massachusetts, she now enjoys the sunshine of 90210 (Hollywood). While she’s not a movie mogul, she enjoys her work in the film industry. When not busy with the day job or writing, Claire does animal rescue, reads, and goes to movies. She loves to hear from fans, so feel free to drop her a line.

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