Well, it’s time for Day #10 of the 12 Days of Christmas Party … and today I have a special treat for you! Okay, maybe not a “special treat,” but it is something special.
It’s the release of a new short story! Esther Ashton’s New Dress is purchasable on Amazon Kindle for just $0.99, but … since I know most of y’all are cheapskates, you can also just read it here. (There’s no link. Just here on this post, haha.)
(Also, because I’m going to have this book be free whenever I get the chance, it will eventually be perma-free, and … you know. I’m not stingy. 😛 It’s a Christmas gift.)
First, an introduction …
Recently-orphaned Esther Ashton doesn’t expect much from Christmas with her brother away fighting in the South Pacific, her sister-in-law hospitalized with a new baby, and her job at the department store providing little to no profit. Will Esther have any sort of a Christmas or will it be another dud?
Esther Ashton’s New Dress, a Christmas short story, is sure to delight any fan of Christmas, the 1940s, and brevity.
If you do reading the short story here, I’d love it if you went over to Amazon or Goodreads and reviewed it! It would be a huge favor to me. 🙂
For those of you who are confused … I wrote Esther Ashton’s New Dress last year around Christmas. The first draft was posted on Noble Novels (link on sidebar), but in these last couple months I’ve (somewhat secretly) edited it … and now it’s published! *much excitement*
And, without further ado …
Esther Ashton’s New Dress
a short story by Kellyn Roth
Copyright © 2017, Kellyn Roth, All Rights Reserved. Cover design by Kellyn Roth. Images taken from pixabay.com, used with permission.
For my WW2-loving friend, Sofie, who is better at WW2 fiction than me, but oh, well. I can try.
December 24th, 1943
Staring through the glass into the nursery, I behold what I like to term a miracle, probably the greatest one to enter the Chicago General Hospital since … well … since its founding. Pink and chubby with the cutest little hands and feet, she’s sleeping in the little bed directly across from me.
My niece, Rosalie E. Ashton. The “E” stands for “Esther.” That’s me. I’m only nineteen and already so swell that people are naming their kids after me! Okay, that’s really not why – I think my sister-in-law Ann just wanted to please me, and Mark’s not here to stop her. He would have stopped her. Much as Mark loves me – and much as I love him – he doesn’t like the name ‘Esther.’
Rosalie opens her eyes and looks at me; I respond by wiggling my fingers at her. She responds by waving her fists in the air. A nurse responds by coming around, scooping her up, and holding her to let me get a better look. (That’s a lot of wordless action!) I smile my appreciation and laugh at Rosalie’s expression, which is scrunched up in a scowl at being disturbed from her comfy little bed. Then the nurse puts Rosalie back, and I return to Ann.
She’s sitting up in bed with a Bible across her legs, scribbling in a notebook. She fills pages upon pages with notes on a single verse and writes down all her prayers, too (which are, again, numerous, especially with Mark where Mark is). I’m not so diligent. I had a journal like that, but it’s collecting dust in a closet somewhere. It’s hard enough to read the Bible as it is! It takes real discipline. I like the Bible fine, but days are so busy now.
I wake up early, dash through a quick breakfast, dash to the hospital to check in on Ann and Rosalie (who are always doing well), dash to the department store where I work (Children’s section! Aren’t I a lucky girl?), dash about all day, dash to the hospital to visit Ann and Rosalie, dash back to the apartment to eat and sleep and begin all over again!
Ann sets her notebook aside and smiles at me. “Well, you’ll be heading down to the department store, now, won’t you?”
“I will,” I reply. “I’ll see you this evening, mmkay? Pick you up as soon as I’m off work, and we’ll have part of Christmas Eve and all of Christmas together.”
“That sounds wonderful. It’s going to be a fantastic Christmas, Esther. I promise.”
Ann can’t promise me anything, and I know it. I haven’t felt very happy since Mark – my darling brother and only living relative – went off to war after Pearl Harbor. Even after he was shot in the shoulder and got transferred, I didn’t get to see him, although Ann was able to spend a few days with him in California. But it’s sweet of her to try, so I smile and kiss her cheek. “I know we will,” I reply.
At the department store, I hurry about getting down boxes and putting boxes back and doing everything I can to sell an extra pair of shoes to a frazzled mother or a tinker toy to a fond father.
I am exhausted by seven o’clock when the store closed. My shoes are nearly worn through and my feet hurt like anything. I walk slowly. Halfway to the hospital, however, I stop. There, in the window of a private shop, is the dress I’ve always wanted. It’s been my dress ever since I first saw it two weeks ago. Holly-berry red with furry white trim on the elbow-length sleeves, v-neck collar, and neat, knee-length hem. I know I’ll never have it, but I can dream, after all, can’t I?
I take a deep breath and push open the door for the first time. Why not? It’ll take the doctors long enough to release Ann, anyway. A little bell tinkles as I enter. Behind a counter, a lady perhaps five or six years older than me smiles. “Good evening. Anything I can help you with?” she asks.
“I just … I just came in to look at the dress,” I reply, motioning to the window.
“Ah. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Unfortunately, my shop’s a little out of the way, and I don’t sell much. I’ll have to go out of business soon, I’m afraid.” Deep sadness fills her eyes as she speaks.
I smile consolingly back at her. “I can’t afford that dress. I … I don’t have much money,” I say apologetically. My little purse holds all I have in the world after rent and utilities. Just enough to buy Ann and Rosalie a little something.
“Well …” The lady glanced at her watch. “How much you got?”
I open my purse and run my fingers through the small bills and coins even though I know. “$10.62.”
The lady shakes her head and sighs. “I shouldn’t be doing this … but … well … I’d like to give you the dress for that. It’s worth quite a bit more than that as you can see by the price tag … but oh, well! It’s Christmas Eve, and that’s a Christmas dress! I don’t want to pack it away until next year, and it’ll be out of style by then, anyway. Besides, it goes with your eyes. I’ll take it down and pack it up for you ….” She walks towards the window and reaches for the dress.
But I know I can’t take that dress. I know I need to get Ann – who’s been so good to me – and Rosalie – my darling niece – a present. So I shake my head.
“I’m sorry. I can’t take it. I need this money for a present to my sister-in-law and niece. My brother’s off at war and this is our first Christmas … alone … and, well, I hope you’re able to find someone to buy it, but … it can’t be me.”
The lady looks at me for a long moment before she draws back from the dress. “Okay. But I’ll be open ‘til eight. Come back if you change your mind.”
I smile weakly, nod, and make myself scarce.
Ann is grinning like a jack-o’-lantern when I get to the hospital. I call a cab to take us back to our apartment; Ann lets me hold Rosalie almost the whole way even though I know she really wants to. At home, I give Rosalie to her so I can make sandwiches and popcorn, and pour eggnog. We eat ravenously, chatting and laughing the whole time, Rosalie sleeping soundly in her bassinet in the next room.
While Ann washes the dishes, I experiment with different formulas. I don’t like the taste of any of them, but Ann laughs and says we’d best let Rosalie be the judge of that. I agree, though how anyone could swallow the nasty stuff, let alone a sweet little thing like Rosalie, is beyond me.
“This has been a lovely evening. It was almost perfect,” Ann whispers as she puts the last fork away. “If only ….”
I swallow, knowing what she meant. If only we had a little more. If only the war was over. If only Mark was here. If only … if only … if only. “It’s going to be okay,” I say. “We’re fine. We don’t have a lot of money right now, but we will soon. At least we know we’ll never go hungry, what with Mark being in the army. Besides, the war can’t last forever, can it? They say it’s looking up, don’t they?”
“They’ve been saying that for years, it seems,” Ann sighs. “It’ll all be over soon, and they’ll be home for Christmas. We’re America, aren’t we? We’re unstoppable. But what if we aren’t, Esther? What if we lose? What if Mark ….” She can’t finish her sentence again. She shakes her head and leaves the room. I follow her. She slumps down onto the couch and covers her face with her hands.
“Ann …” I say, not knowing how to encourage her. She was always so cheerful, so brave. She always talked about the blessings, not the troubles.
“I know, Esther. I know. I shouldn’t worry. I should trust in God to pull us through.” That hadn’t been what I was going to say, but I just nod. “But I’m scared, Esther. I don’t want to lose Mark. I don’t want to raise Rosalie alone.”
I sit down next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. “It’s all right to be afraid, Ann. We’re all afraid.”
Ann nods. “I … I … I know.”
“We’re … we’re so blessed, though. We’re safe, and we have food and shelter, and because of … of Mark and all the other millions of men out there, we’re not being bombed. We’re barely deprived of anything, Ann. The rationing can be hard, but … it’s nothing compared to other countries. We are so blessed.”
Ann doesn’t reply for a while, and I wonder if she’s mad at me for rebuking her. I mean, her husband’s off at war getting shot at, and I have the guts to tell her to buck up. I open my mouth to apologize, but Ann cuts me off.
“You’re right, Esther. Times are hard, but we have a lot to be thankful for. Thank you for reminding me.”
I grin. “Any time.”
It’s late now, and Ann is tired and wanting to be alone for a while with God, which I understand and encourage, but Rosalie starts fussing, so we’ll have to stay up a bit longer. I warm up one of the formulas while Ann brings Rosalie out of the bedroom and tries to quiet her. Turns out, all she wants is her bottle. She seems to take to Formula 1A just fine, and we settle down on the couch again.
“You want to open our presents now?” Ann asks after a few moments of companionable silence (except for, of course, Rosalie’s noisy smacking). “I need something distracting.”
I’ve placed the packages for Ann and Rosalie on the windowsill as we have no tree. We might have been able to buy one, but there really isn’t room. “I’d like that,” I say. “We always used to open one on Christmas Eve, and that way we can just relax tomorrow. I’ll unwrap Rosalie’s for her, okay?”
“No, I’ll unwrap Rosalie’s. You’ll be too busy unwrapping your own.”
“My own?” I ask. “But … you’ve been in the hospital.”
“Sure, but I had someone buy me a present for you this afternoon and wrap it up and everything.” Her eyes twinkle now. Thank goodness; she’s back to being Ann.
“Is there a package for me somewhere, then?”
“I asked for the shop to wait until we went inside, then leave it outside our door and not ring,” Ann explains. “I had the awfulest time getting it, darling. I had one of your friends from work spy on you and see if there was anything you liked especially. She saw … something, and I sent all the money I had – it wasn’t much; just $10.62 – and Dotty got it for just that! Isn’t it incredible?”
Only half-listening to Ann, I open the door and find a package – long and thin and wide – sitting in front of the door. I lug it into the house – it isn’t heavy, but it’s awkward – and set it down in front of the couch. Then I pick up my present for Ann and pass it to her.
“You open yours first,” she says with a soft smile, fingering the wrapping of her little box, which contains a set of hand-embroidered pocket handkerchiefs.
I tear off the red ribbon and open the box, trying to be enthusiastic.
And beneath the paper I find … my dress.
A million questions whirl through my head, but returning to Ann’s former statements, I realize what happened.
This really is a fantastic Christmas.
About the Author
Kellyn Roth was born and raised in the country outside a small town in North-Eastern Oregon. Ever since she could talk, she’s had a fascination with words, always coming up with songs, poems, and stories. Now a homeschooled highschooler, she spends her spare time penning historical novels, several of which have been published. Find out more about her and her novels at kellynrothauthor.com
Well … what do you think? I kinda wrote it like a Hallmark movie, y’know? No sense, all cliches. 😉
Tomorrow is Christmas! Well, you know, Christmas Eve, but my family does 98% of our Christmas stuff on Christmas Eve … Christmas Day is just like post-Christmas-recovery. 😉
ALSO … can we celebrate that I just published my first short story, officially? *feels so self-published*
Did you read my short story? *glares at you* What are some of your Christmas traditions? What do you do on Christmas Eve? Do you enjoy WW2 stories? (I do! But I know lots of people don’t, so no judgement!) (Though honestly, what idiot would judge someone for having a different taste in fiction?) (That’s so dumb!)