When he saw what stood there, he almost fainted. It was too much. He had hoped for a few more months at least of sanity – maybe increasingly forgetful sanity, but a little more time to spend with Jen and the boy. And now, suddenly, this thing that couldn’t possibly be there. This madness.
“Marcus,” he said, “I think you’d better take me home. It’s my head, it’s … oh Marcus it’s some sort of delusion. I can see a…
Marcus took his arm, but didn’t take his eyes off the open doorway.
“…a lamb, but with wings?” he asked.
“You can see it too?” Could brain tumours be hereditary? Oh no, not Marcus. For the first time in years he found himself praying. Please God, not Marcus too. Not my boy. Please God…
“Yes, Dad, I can see it. It looks like… a Lambfairy.”
The lamb laughed.
Lambs don’t laugh, he thought.
“Lambfairy will do well enough.”
Lambs don’t speak, either.
“Did you… hear that, Marcus? Did it…”
“Speak? Yes it spoke. Um, maybe we ought to say something back?”
What do you say to a lamb with a halo round it and little fluttery wings?
“Hello, Mr Lambfairy,” said Marcus. “How may we be of assistance?” He had heard this phrase in a TV drama recently. It sounded odd – overly formal – but it seemed to mean what he meant.
The Lambfairy laughed again.
Lambs don’t laugh.
“Hello, Mr Marcus. And how are you this fine winter’s night?”
It knows his name. It knows my son’s name.
“I’m OK, Mr Lambfairy.”
“You can be of assistance, actually,” said the Lambfairy. “I just need you both to follow me down the valley – it’s not far – you can see the encampment from here – and I will light the way. I would like you to visit a baby, a new little friend of mine.”
“But that’s the gypsy camp. They’ve been there for weeks. Is it a gypsy’s baby?”
“No, in fact. Well, in a technical sense I suppose He is everyone’s baby. He is the Son of God. Worth a visit, wouldn’t you say?”
That took a moment or two to sink in. Then, seeing his poor Dad was rooted to the spot with his mouth half-open, unable to take in any more of this fantastic stuff, Marcus took charge.
“Definitely worth a visit, Mr Lambfairy. But why us? Dad’s just a sheep farmer and I’m just a… a boy. We were just watching the sheep because the security cameras… I mean, Dad…”
“Dad cut the wire to the security cameras,” supplied the Lambfairy, becoming slightly impatient now. “Yes, I saw him. Marcus, I am asking you because you are a good boy, and your father because he is a good man. You care for your flock, you care for each other and you care for your mother, Jen. This is a special night and you are special people.”
“Your father is sick. He’s in pain and I feel it. This night I shall give him back his strength.” And at that the lamb rose in the air on its gossamer wings and something – might have been snow, might have been fairy-dust, gold-dust, rainbow confetti or some kind of mirage – but something started to flutter around the older man. And there was all this singing, suddenly, like a whopping great choir in the sky.
“I feel better,” the man confirmed when the singing stopped.
“You are better,” said the Lambfairy.
It was hard to take in. The man’s mind, circling in confusion, lighted on a relative triviality. “But what about gifts? We can’t go and visit the baby without gifts.”
“Look in your pockets, gentlemen.”
The man felt around in the pocket of his greatcoat and to his surprise brought out a silk headscarf in a paper bag. It was sky blue, with a band of gold and green flowers for a border. He’d spotted it on a market stall this morning and had decided to buy it for Jen. She was a great one for blue, and flowers.
“But I didn’t buy it!” he exclaimed. “I meant to buy it but something distracted me… can’t remember what it was… and I forgot. I meant to. I could have kicked myself when I got home.”
“I know. I saw your intention and I saw your disappointment.”
“So I could give this to your little friend? This would be enough?”
“He will love it. He’s a great one for blue and flowers too, you know.”
Marcus rummaged in his own coat pocket and found, to his surprise, his school craft project – a little chain carved from a single block of wood. He had been working on it for weeks with the help of his woodwork teacher. He’d hoped to finish it for his father, to cheer him up. But only yesterday there had been an accident and he’d ruined the whole project. Somehow or other the chisel had slipped and taken a very obvious chunk out of one of the links. Marcus had thrown it down on the bench in disgust, breaking another link in the process. He’d have to start again from scratch.
Yet the chain he drew out of his pocket was the same chain – any carver can recognise his own work – but as he had wanted it to be. No break. Completed.
Marcus turned it over and over in his hands, lovingly exploring the curves and edges of his handiwork. “This?” he asked.
“Your gift,” confirmed the Lambfairy. “Right, gentlemen. Follow me.”
They were half way down the lane when the man’s phone rang. It was Jen, with an edge of anxiety in her voice.
“I was wondering when you were going to call it a quits, sweetheart? Dawn will be breaking soon and I’m sure any foxes are asleep in their beds by now. I… I’ve been worrying about you. What with…”
“I’ll be home soon, Jen. I’m just having to follow the Lambfairy. It isn’t far.”
“Lamb… fairy? Darling, is Marcus there? Would you pass the phone over to him, just for a minute? I’d just like a word.” This is it, she was thinking. This is the end stage, but come so suddenly. This is what we’ve both been dreading. And he’s out on the hill in the dark, without me.
“It’s OK, Mum,” Marcus whispered. “Dad’s OK – in fact he’s better than OK. There really is a Lambfairy, you see. I’ll explain – well, I’ll try to explain – when we get home.”
“What? Marcus? Marcus, are you there?”
But Marcus had gone. He was following his father and the Lambfairy down the lane, staying within the orbit of its guiding light, skirting round mud and puddles. And now he could see it, the trailer on the far side with the light coming from it, and the animals all around.
(Luke 2: 8 – 15)