Down and Out at Christmas Time, by Madeleine Calcutt

‘Welcome to Sunny Palms’ the park sign said.  Lucy had lived in the Sunny Palms Caravan Park for five months now and, although she’d been looking, she’d never seen a palm tree there.  The closest she’d been to a palm tree was to look at the gaudily painted palm tree on the caravan park sign.  The closest she’d been to sunny was the other day when the sun peeped out just before the rain that had pelted down solidly for five days, causing flooding near the toilets.

Most of the caravans were leaking and Lucy’s caravan was one of the worst.  She had run out of buckets.  However, buckets wouldn’t solve the problem of the leak above her bed.  As the bed was attached to the wall, the only way to solve the problem was to sleep at the other end and curl her legs up so that her feet didn’t get wet.  This was annoying because the pillow kept falling onto the floor and the Park light shone in her face when she was trying to get to sleep.  The caravan had a musty smell that didn’t go away, no matter how much she opened the windows.  Also, there were mice, and the van smelt like mice urine.

Lucy looked out of the caravan window which had started to mist up.  I wish the rain would stop, she sighed.  I can’t hang the clothes on the line, so I can’t do my washing.  I’m running out of clothes to wear.  I wish I could afford to use the drier.

She was once a well-known author of children’s books, but her mind had dried up as well as her money.  She was on the disabilities pension.  Manic Depression, they called it, she thought.  That’s what I’ve got.  No cure, just tablets and more tablets. 

Down but not out in Sunny Palms!  Well, the ‘out’ part might come later.  It was just a matter of time.  They said the depression and panic attacks were due to something called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder which happened to her after her daughter died from an overdose of heroin when she was only seventeen. Lucy’s son blamed her, refusing to speak to her again.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knocking at her door and someone calling out about a cuppa.  “Come in, Brenda!  The door’s not locked.”  In came Brenda.  She was a short woman with long stringy, grey hair, wearing a well darned poncho and down at heel old flat shoes.

“Oh, the rain’s getting me down, that’s for sure!” Brenda exclaimed, shaking herself like a dog.  “Sorry, love.  Did I wet ya?  Will I put the kettle on?”

Lucy nodded and just sat there, not moving, still staring out of the window.

“Thought you’d still be in bed,” said Brenda, removing her wet poncho.

“It’s twelve fifteen!”

“Well, you were still in bed at three o’clock the other day.”

“I’d gone back to bed,” said Lucy indignantly.  “I wasn’t well.  Anyway, what’s there to get up for?”

“Oh, love, don’t be like that.  Hey, did ya hear the racket last night?  One of old Arthur’s drunken, homeless mates yellin’ and bangin’ at his door, wantin’ a bed for the night!  I don’t suppose you heard it up this end, did ya?”  Brenda poured out two teas and handed one to Lucy.

“Yes, I heard something.  That’s the second time this month it’s happened.  Woke me up, and I couldn’t get back to sleep.  Brenda, can you empty out those two buckets for me and put them back under the drips?  Thanks.”

“Mine’s bad, too.  I’ve given up asking the owners.  They won’t fix the problem.  I’ve got water running down my walls in a couple of places, coming from where the walls join the roof!  So what are ya goin’ to do this Christmas?”

“What I always do,” sighed Lucy.

“Oh, what’s that?”



There was silence.  Except for the drip, drip, drip of the water into the buckets.  Brenda looked at the ceiling, and Lucy stared out the window. 

Sadly, Lucy came upon hard times and had to leave the caravan park as she could no longer pay the rent.  The only possessions she could take with her for her life living on the streets were her grandfather’s gold watch, some clothes, her last Christmas card from her daughter before she died and a small blanket.

One day, late in the afternoon, Lucy took her grandfather’s gold watch out of her backpack, shook it, and listened to it.  It wasn’t going.  She spat on it and rubbed it with the sleeve of her ragged, worn jacket.  Comes up very shiny, she thought. 

It would soon be dusk.  The sun was disappearing behind the skyscrapers and Lucy made her way to her sleeping place for the night, a group of thick bushes in the park.  Fortunately, the nights were fairly mild now.

It was a few days before Christmas and, at this time each year her thoughts always turned to her family.  She hadn’t seen her son for fifteen years and didn’t know where he was.  Lucy’s eyes filled with tears as she saw her daughter Marilyn’s face in her mind’s eye.  It was distorted with anger and hatred towards her.  That was her last memory of her daughter before she died.  Lucy put that vision out of her mind and instead, there appeared a vision of her son, Brian, when he was a young boy kneeling by a Christmas tree looking for his presents amongst the packages there.  Things were happier then.  She had a home, a career as a writer, a husband, and children, and she felt loved.  It wasn’t like that now. 

She put the gold watch in her backpack out of sight, got out the small blanket, put her head on her backpack and looked up at the stars above that were beginning to appear between the cluster of twigs and leaves that was her ceiling.

The sun woke her early.  She felt the warmth filtering through the gaps in the leaves above her as she yawned and rubbed her eyes.  I’ll look for Johnny today, she thought.  He owes me money.  If he comes through with it, I’ll be able to eat tonight.

Early evening and I haven’t found Johnny yet.  Maybe later tonight, Lucy thought.  I hope so.  Two days to go till Christmas.  She sighed.  During the weeks leading up to Christmas it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement and anticipation of it.  But when the day came, she always felt flat and empty.  She had no family to spend it with.

The Salvos’ Christmas lunch was always nice.  It was quite good to see some old faces, but it wasn’t the same.  At that time, Lucy always recalled the Christmases she spent with her family when life was full of joy.

In the city, she sat on the pavement outside a shop and placed her backpack next to her.  While she watched the crowds, she noticed a little girl clutching a present with her mother.  They were walking along hand in hand towards the Myers’ windows to see the decorations and coloured lights.  She was startled for a moment because the pair reminded her of her daughter and herself.  She used to take Marilyn to see the Myers’ windows at Christmas time.  The little girl looked so like Marilyn.

Watching the two of them, Lucy realised that they must have been talking about her because the girl kept pointing in her direction.  On their way back, the little girl skipped up to Lucy and handed her the Christmas present she had been carrying.

“Happy Christmas!”

Lucy was overwhelmed and thanked her, the tears streaming down her face. 

Later, having searched in vain for Johnny and feeling tired and very hungry, she headed for the park to settle down for the night.  After creeping under her bush, Lucy opened the present.  It was a music box with a little ballerina in it.  She opened and shut the lid a few times, then left it open and went to sleep to the strains of  ‘Green sleeves’, a to the strains of ‘Green sleeves’, a smile on her face.

On Christmas Day, the Salvation Army dinner was packed with the usual crowd and some new faces.  After a thanksgiving prayer, they sat down to a nice roast chicken dinner.  Lucy was just lifting her fork to her mouth when she stared, her mouth open wide.  She looked at the young man dressed in the Salvation Army uniform standing over in the corner talking.


The young man turned his head in her direction.  “Mum!”

He came around to her and gave her a big hug.  “Where’ve you been?  I’ve been trying to find you.  I’ve put notices in the Missing Friends and everything.  Now we’ve moved here, we’ve been wanting you to come and live with us.  We have a little flat out the back.”

“I thought you hated me!”

“I’m so sorry, Mum.  I don’t feel that way at all, now.  I want your forgiveness for that.  I was a different person, then.”

“I do forgive you.  Of course I do!”

Just then, a little girl pushed in between Lucy and her son, saying, “Did you like my present?”

Lucy stared at her.  It was the little girl in the city who’d given her the music box!  Brian introduced her and also her mother, his wife.  This was certainly the best Christmas she’d ever had!

Madeleine Calcutt, a creative writing tutor, librarian and teacher, has always loved writing.  Madeleine has written children’s books, short stories for adults, and an adult novel due to be released in July.


The Australian Literature Review

This entry was posted in short story and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Down and Out at Christmas Time, by Madeleine Calcutt

  1. Dionne says:

    That was a beautiful story which gave me a few tears.

  2. Madeleine Calcutt says:

    Thanks, Dionne
    Bits and pieces of it are autobiographical but with a few changes. The rest came from my imagination. I love writing and have had a teen novel published. You can see it on It’s called ‘All Aboard!: Jenny’s Story of the Mayflower Voyage’. I am having an adult novel published and it should be out in July or August. It’s called ‘Step of Faith’.
    God Bless from Madeleine

  3. Barbara Jones says:

    I loved the story and wonder if you were born in 1944. If so we are cousins. I’d love to hear from you. Was you Dad Maurice? I belonged to Dot and Jack. Bea

  4. Don Lowe - Alberta, Canada says:

    Speaking of cousins, just added you to my family tree which is via Birnie and Stewart with history in PEI, Canada. Have a quick look here and email me if you like. Magdalen Stewart’s father John, #14 in the file was my 4th ggmother’s sister. Send Barbara to me too, if Dorothy is her connection, my research hasn’t found a marriage for her yet.

  5. Don Lowe - Alberta, Canada says:

    Actually John was my 4th ggmother’s brother……

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s