Christmas Eve (an excerpt from a novel in progress – Ollie & Spuds)

Spuds the cat and Ollie the dog watch from the hearth rug as Aunt Joan rolls out the dough with her grandmother’s rolling pin. She smooths butter on the dough, sprinkles it generously with cinnamon and brown sugar, rolls it up, and pops it into the stove. Outside it’s dusk. Snow is falling.

Tori comes into the kitchen, inhaling deeply. “Umm. What’s cooking?”

“Mouse. Your great-grandmother used to make it from the leftover dough from her pies. Did your mom make it?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t remember. Come on, Ollie. Let’s go feed the barn animals.” She motions for him to follow her.

Ollie sighs, reticent to leave the warmth of the kitchen, and rises. He follows Tori out the door, squinting his eyes to a gust of snow that swirls off the roof. They walk toward the barn. In the hills there glimmers the twinkling of lights of other farms. Tori looks up at the sky and sticks out her tongue to catch snowflakes.

They walk to the barn through the mounting snow. The donkey, Frank Sinatra, shakes his mane and the horse, Fred, whinnies in greeting. Tori pats them, gives them fresh water and hay and some extra grain, because it’s Christmas Eve. The chickens, which roam in the relative warmth of the barn, come over to them, clucking softly. Ollie noses them gently. Tori stoops down and runs her palm over their feathers, murmuring to them. She gives them extra feed and adds more hay to their nest for warmth.

They listen to the soft munching of the horse and donkey, the gentle clucking of the chickens. Tori closes the door and they step out into the snow, which has covered their footsteps leading to the barn. Stars have started to emerge, little pinpricks of light in the dark blue sky. The farmhouse roof is draped with snow, and each window is aglow with candles. Through the steamy kitchen window, Aunt Joan takes cookies from the oven. Through the living room window, Uncle Jon lights candles nestled in pine boughs on the mantle. Spuds follows Aunt Joan into the living room and sits beneath the Christmas tree. Uncle Jon turns toward Aunt Joan, laughing at something she says.

Ollie looks up at Tori beside him, who reaches down and scratches him behind his ear. Then they trudge through the snow together. At the doorway she dusts the snow off of Ollie’s back and kicks the snow off of her boots. They enter the house, which smells of pine and baking, and join the family.

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