The Unravelling: a nativity

As it’s Christmas, here is an extract from one of my books, The Unravelling, where Karen Rothwell, lost in memories, recalls the school nativity play when she was ten.

I am trying not to shuffle. We’ve been told not to shuffle, because we might push Colin onto the stage too soon. But it’s difficult not to shuffle if you’re wrapped in a sheet, with cardboard wings slipping down your back and a tinsel halo that makes your scalp itch. Me and Jacqueline Winstanley. We’re attendant angels. We get to chant ‘Glory to God in the highest’ when Colin’s finished, and that’s it.

Colin Chivers is Gabriel, who is sort of angel house captain. He does all the talking. He’s really loud. That’s why Miss Hargreaves picked him, only now she keeps having to say ‘Don’t shout, Colin. You’re not broadcasting the good news to Scotland.’

I’m an angel, which is loads better than having to wear socks on my hands and a woolly hat and pretending to be a sheep, but I’d really, really wanted to play one of the big parts where they have real lines to learn. Kings or shepherds or Gabriel. It’s not like you have to be a boy. Angela Bryant’s a king, with an orange wool beard that keeps tickling her nose and making her giggle. I could have done that. The innkeeper would have been great, but Michael Wiley got that because he’s good at making people laugh, and the innkeeper’s supposed to be funny. Michael’s really small and Barbara Fulbright, who plays his wife, is really big and that’s supposed to be funny too.

Trouble is there were too many of us squabbling over the good parts, so I didn’t have a chance. I never do. Others got chosen and I got to be in the crowd, snivelling over the unfairness of the world and being handed tinsel and white socks.

We never squabbled and snivelled over Mary, though. It went without saying, there’s only one girl in the whole world who could play her. Serena Whinn. None of us even sighed with disappointment when Miss Hargreaves beckoned her forward and said ‘We’ll have you as Mary, shall we, Serena? I’m sure you’ll play her beautifully.’ Of course she will. Serena was, is, and ever shall be, Mary, Mother of God.

Now I’m standing in the wings, trying not to scratch, with Colin blocking my view and roaring his lines.

‘Fear not! Behold! I bring you great tidings of good joy!’

Miss Hargreaves is hissing, ‘Good tidings, great joy!’ but Colin is roaring on. If I peer round him, I can see one of the shepherds, Shirley Wright, finger in her nose, kneeling up to peer into the audience. She’s not interested in what the angel has to say, or in Miss, who’s flapping her hand to make her sit down. She just wants to see if her parents are watching.

My parents are out there too, but I don’t want to look for them. I just want to rest my eyes on the pool of light at the far side of the stage – at the kneeling vision in blue, Serena Whinn, still and quiet at the heart of a world that spins around her, hands pressed together in prayer as she gazes down with angelic blessing on the plastic doll, wrapped in a nappy, that is our Lord and Saviour. My heart is bursting with love.

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