Siobbhán looked back at the ice cream van with something like contempt. ‘You got all the way from London in that? My God, girl, you need to get yourself a proper gypsy trailer, and a nice, strong four by four to tow it with. Move those dresses off the bed, would you, Rawnie?’
The gypsies had at first mistaken them for the police, come to move them on, but the van had saved the day by treating everyone several rounds of its Popeye the Sailor-Man jingle before giving up altogether. This broke the tension. The large, scary-looking ‘menfolk’ turned back to their music, breaking open fresh cans of beer with tattooed fingers – they were having an impromptu party to celebrate the great moon’s visit – and a group of women and girls, summing up Marie’s situation at a glance – shepherded the young couple to a particularly large trailer on the edge of their encampment.
‘We save this one for birthings,’ Siobbhán explained.
‘And for storing our party dresses,’ piped up her sixteen year old daughter Rawnie.
Marie was dazzled by an array of sequins, satin, net and general bling. Neon pink seemed to be the overwhelming favourite, with electric blue and arctic white as runners-up. Rawnie lifted six or seven of these creations off the bed and hung them one by one, on a dress rail. ‘Thousands and thousands of pounds, these cost,’ she boasted. Marie could believe it and was impressed, in spite of the contractions, which were coming more frequently now.
Sepp, in the meantime, was speechless, overwhelmed by glitter and pink and … femaleness. Everywhere he looked was unfamiliar territory. And then everyone suddenly turned to look at him.
‘You must go,’ said Siobbhán, ‘Go join the men.’
‘But I promised my wife I’d be present at the…’
‘That’s the gorgja way, I know, but it’s not ours. We will fetch you after – very soon after.’
‘It’s OK, Sepp,’ said Marie. ‘I know how squeamish you are. I knew you were only being brave when you offered. Go and join the men by the fire. Talk about man-things.’ Man-things? thought Sepp. What man-things do I have in common with a band of huge, tattooed Irish gypsies? But he went, stumbling across rough ground in snow and darkness, and they made room for him in their circle. Someone put part of a tree branch on the fire and someone opened a can of beer and passed it along to him. The man sitting next to him slapped him on the back and grinned. ‘Young man, you’ve no idea what you’ve let yourself in for, and that’s a fact!’ And everybody laughed. Someone picked up the fiddle again, and someone else started singing in a language Sepp had never heard. It was comforting to hear. Something about it reminded him of Ma and Pa in the kitchen, talking Italian together, renewing their ties to each other and the land they had left behind many years before.
And so it was that baby Gesù was born, surprisingly quickly and not at all as planned, in a gypsy trailer somewhere in Norfolk, or possibly Suffolk, whilst outside snow fell and fell, blanketing East Anglia, fiddle music and beer-fuelled laughter echoed around an empty field and a rare supermoon shone in through the trailer window, silvering the faces of the women within.
Except the field wasn’t empty. Later that night, Sepp and Marie lay side by side on the narrow bed, their baby between them in a striped cardboard box that a very expensive gypsy dress had come out of, wrapped in pillow case and covered in a folded shawl. And unseen and unknown to them creatures began to gather around the trailer – a couple of sheep and a fox, a badger, a rabbit and a mouse, an owl on the roof, maybe even a rat or two. Creatures that would normally have hunted or avoided one another waited in the snow, basking in the strange warmth that seemed to be radiating from the trailer, at peace with one another for a night.
And inside the trailer, under the bed, also unknown, a lurcher suckled four new puppies and spiders crept from who knows where, to keep their own vigil.
Marie was sleeping, exhausted.
‘That moon is so bright,’ murmured Sepp, nine parts asleep himself, as a faint, ghostly light shone up from the padded dress box and its occupant, Gésu, his firstborn son.
(Luke 2: 1-7)
Angels & Other Occurrences is a kind of ‘alternative nativity’ short story sequence. To read other stories in the same sequence just click on Angels & Other Occurrences in the Category Cloud to your right.