A Child's Christmas in Wales - Part I

by Dylan Thomas

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town
corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices
I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether
it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed
for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and
headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at
the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the
snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white
bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea,
and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's
garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always
snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though
there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous,
our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long
as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink
and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim
and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road,
would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats
never appeared.

We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence
of the eternal snows - eternal, ever since Wednesday - that we never heard
Mrs. Prothero's first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or,
if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our
enemy and prey, the neighbor's polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder.

"Fire!" cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.

And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, toward the house;
and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining-room, and the gong was
bombilating, and Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in
Pompeii. This was better than all the cats in Wales standing on the wall
in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at
the open door of the smoke-filled room.

Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always
slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was
standing in the middle of the room, saying, "A fine Christmas!"
and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.

"Call the fire brigade," cried Mrs. Prothero as she beat the gong.

"There won't be there," said Mr. Prothero, "it's Christmas."

There was no fire to be seen, only clouds of smoke and Mr. Prothero standing
in the middle of them, waving his slipper as though he were conducting.

"Do something," he said. And we threw all our snowballs into the
smoke - I think we missed Mr. Prothero - and ran out of the house to the
telephone box.

"Let's call the police as well," Jim said. "And the ambulance."
"And Ernie Jenkins, he likes fires."

But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three
tall men in helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr. Prothero got out
just in time before they turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas
Eve. And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet,
smoky room, Jim's Aunt, Miss. Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at
them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them.
She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in
their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving
snowballs, and she said, "Would you like anything to read?"

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