This first appeared on Sally Cronin’s splendid blog, here, but I’ve repeated here, in case you’ve not seen it yet.
Gilly looked awful at breakfast. ‘I had the weirdest dreams, about you and me and chocolate.’
‘Shouldn’t eat cheese late at night, Mum.’ Emily forced a smile and promised herself she’d leave the advent calendar alone.
Her mother blinked several times. ‘Do you know why my suit is filthy?’
Emily couldn’t meet her mother’s gaze.
All that day she thought about the calendar. She awoke again, at just after midnight and saw the box had appeared at the end of her bed. She refused to go near it. The next night she got up and looked at the drawers. The “4” of the night before had gone, but the “5” had appeared and it seemed the gold paint was even brighter. The urge to tap the number and make a wish was so strong. Could she think of a wish that it wouldn’t misconstrue? She forced herself to ignore it, sticking it in her sock drawer at the back.
The next night, when she woke at midnight – it had become a habit now – the box had somehow been placed by her bed and the “6” had replaced the “5”. Seeing it she had to look away; it was so bright it burnt her eyes, like if you look directly at the sun. She just knew she couldn’t let it get any brighter so she went to the bathroom and splashed water on her face. As she did so, she saw, with horror, a large spot had erupted on her chin. That would do it. Turning quickly, she went back to the box, tapped the number and held the Make a wish brick. ‘No more spots, please.’ She added, ‘On my face.’
She touched her skin as she returned to the mirror. The spot had gone, but her face felt odd. She soon saw why and reeled back. Instead of her usual pale complexion her face was covered in red and white diagonal stripes. Tears sprung to her eyes. She hated this calendar. She hadn’t asked for stripes so why did it choose stripes in place of spots?
Later that morning, her mother was horrified when she caught sight of her and asked her if she’d used some new cosmetic that had caused such a bizarre reaction. Emily told her she had and asked to stay off school, which her Mum agreed to, reluctantly. She wanted to take Emily to the doctors, but Emily made her promise to wait a day.
She drifted off into a strange sleep and woke as if poked at midnight. The “7” glowed softly. Emily hurried to tap it, took out the Make a wish brick and wished her old face back, spot and all. Her fingers touched the zit on her chin; never had she loved any blemish as much as she did this one.
By now she was certain it was dangerous to leave the wishes. But if things went wrong she hated the idea of waiting a day to be able to correct whatever mess she had made. As usual she woke at midnight with a start and stared at the “8”. Somehow she forced herself to ignore it, managing to grab snatches of sleep until her mum called her to get up. School was awful – she felt like a zombie but gritted her teeth setting her alarm for just shortly before midnight, nearly a whole twenty-four hours after the “8” first appeared. It still glowed, like it was challenging her. Taking a deep breath, she tapped it, took the Make a wish brick and said, ‘Please make me happy.’
For the next thirty-two minutes she felt she would explode. Laughter couldn’t escape quickly enough. Her throat hurt and her eyes ached as she tried not to wake her mother. She saw the “9” appear and laughed louder. It seemed to take an age before she managed to wrestle the box to the floor. She was almost having hysterics by now but finally her finger touched the number, the drawer opening and a Make a wish brick tumbling out. She wished herself back to her old self and immediately fell asleep.
She woke with a start. She was in bed, but everything ached, and bruises were beginning to show on her arms. The box was once more perched on the table, with no number glowing. Leaving it seemed to intensify the results but asking for anything felt like a recipe for disaster. What was she going to do? At least she’d had some sleep and managed to pass the day without anyone commenting on her sunken eyes. Once again, she woke just after midnight with the “10” glowing and ignored it throughout that day. Once again, just before midnight she tapped the “10”; taking a deep breath and holding the box as well as the brick, she wished her room to be decorated for Christmas. Instantly everything started to be wrapped in gaudy paper with lights emerging like snakes and twisting round her chair and table and then her legs. Baubles and tinsel were next. She gripped the box hard, trying to swell the growing panic as she was covered in more and more decorations, her finger pressed against the eleventh drawer. As soon as she felt it pop open she wished her old room back to how it was. In moments she was in bed and falling asleep as the last of the glitter, tinsel and paper retreated. She was at her wits’ end and exhausted.
She dreaded the following day. Once again she woke at a couple of minutes after midnight and spent the next seven hours fretting over the “12” that glowed at her. When her alarm went off and her mum called her for breakfast it took a major effort of will to drag herself downstairs. She was on the verge of tears.
In the kitchen, her mother looked at her with worry across her face. ‘You look awful. Are you going down with something?’
‘I’ll be fine, Mum. I just need to survive until Christmas.’
‘Goodness that sounds dramatic. Shall I give you a lift to school? I need to pop to the shops after anyway.’
While her mother went to their old car to “warm her up”, Emily collected her books and bag. A noise brought her to her bedroom window. Her mother was standing by her car, red in the face and kicking the tyres. Emily went downstairs to find out what was happening.
‘Sorry, love. Car’s kaput. Sounded terminal this time. Maybe we can get a jump from Mr Grumpy next door. You try and get it to start and I’ll go and speak to him. If that doesn’t work, I’m afraid you’ll have to catch the bus. How on earth will we afford the repairs this time?’
Emily sat and stared at the dashboard. Her eye was drawn to the clock on the dashboard. The “12” glowed gold. She was certain that wasn’t the usual colour. Glancing in the mirror to see if her mother was coming she saw the box on the back seat, the “12” glowing brightly. It must have been reflected in the dashboard. Trying not to think about what she was doing, Emily twisted round and tapped the number. If the car is buggered as Mum said, what harm could this wish do, she thought? She held the Make a wish brick. ‘Fix Mum’s car.’ Surely this can’t go wrong?
Emily stared as all the lights came on, on the dashboard. The engine started and began idling easily. The windscreen wipers swished once, clearing the remnants of last night’s rain from the glass.
‘You been taking car repairing lessons?’ Gilly stood by the driver’s door, peering inside her car. ‘It even looks cleaner. Come on. Hop out and I’ll drive you.’
As they drove Gilly fiddled with the dials. ‘What did you do? The interior light and heated seats are fixed too. They haven’t worked in ages.’
All day Emily wondered if the car would be okay. When she got home her mother held out a small package. ‘I don’t know how you did it, but that car is like new. You have miracle hands. Thanks, love.’ Inside was a small silver necklace. ‘Early present.’
That night Emily had a mad idea. As usual she woke at midnight. She touched the “13”. This had better not be an omen, she thought. Then, ‘Get rid of Mum’s curly fringe.’ Gilly hated the way her fringe curled, whatever she did to it.
In the morning, Emily waited for her mum to appear. She seemed to be spending ages in the bathroom. When, finally, she came into the kitchen Emily said, ‘What have you done to your fringe, Mum?’
Gilly shook her head. ‘Nothing. It’s… straight. The curl’s gone. I’ve been wishing it away for thirty years and at last someone has listened.’
‘It looks great, Mum. I must dash.’
Emily could barely contain herself. She now understood. Wish for something for herself and it went horribly wrong; wish for others and it worked. She spent the day working out what she might do with the remaining wishes. They couldn’t be dramatic, or people would have too much of a shock. Part of her wanted to wish her dad back to life but somehow, she knew that was going to be a selfish wish and she didn’t dare think how that might come out. Instead she helped her best friend’s mother with her backache, the homeless man with the dog that limped and the shopkeeper whose son had an awful skin problem.
The numbers came and went, and it worked. She actually felt excited. Eventually, the last drawer, number “24” glowed on the box. She knew exactly what she was going to do. It was Christmas Eve, and having hung on all day, as she went to bed, she touched the “24”. Taking a deep breath, she said, ‘Give Mum whatever she really wants.’
Emily slept soundly. On Christmas morning she awoke with a start. She heard her mum in the kitchen singing along to a Christmas song. Grabbing her dressing gown, she bounded down the stairs. ‘What did you get? What was it?’
‘Didn’t you get the thing you want most?’
Gilly looked confused and then smiled. ‘Silly, I’ve got that already.’ She hugged her daughter. ‘You.’