Countdown To Christmas – Episode 20

A THIN wintry sun was shining low through the stained-glass windows of the church, creating pools of kaleidoscopic colour on the dark red carpet of the choir stall.But if the sun was weak and wintry, the sound rising from the choir was full of rich warmth as they led the congregation in a heartfelt rendition of “Jerusalem”. Kate’s school anthem, it had always been her favourite song of praise, and she sang lustily, Steve’s deep rumble comforting by her side.As the final notes died away and the congregation sat, the vicar rose to invite them to join him in a prayer of thanks. Kate reached out to clasp Steve’s hand and felt his squeeze hers in response.There were few intimations this wintry morning, the season for weddings having passed, but sadly there were two deaths in the parish to be announced, plus the current sum raised for the Christmas show by the church’s weekly bake sale. And then the vicar paused meaningfully.“Our choir has prepared a special piece for us this morning. Mr McAulay, over to you!”Brian McAulay, the choirmaster, came forward from his front pew and took his place before the choir, bringing them to their feet with a simple gesture.There was a rustling of winter coats, a few self-conscious hands smoothing imaginary wayward curls, a discreet clearing of throats, and an expectant hush prevailed.He raised his hands, and to the low accompaniment of the church organ, the choir’s voices joined in perfect harmony to reach into every corner of the vaulted ceiling.Church was important to Kate, especially because it allowed her an hour of perfect relaxation in the midst of a very busy life. As she closed her eyes for a moment and let the beautiful music flow over her, she felt it soothe her soul and quiet her mind.The first verse ended and Mavis Prior took one pace forward to commence the next solo. She opened her mouth to obey the choirmaster’s command . . . and nothing came out but a strangled squeak.Consternation wrinkled her brow.Brian held up his hands, flat palms facing her, as if to say, “It’s OK, we can try it again.” Mavis’s hand went to her throat while the rest of the choir showed admirable discipline in continuing to face forward, exchanging glances only from the corners of their eyes.Brian raised his hand again and this time directed the whole choir to sing the next verse. Mavis stepped back into their ranks, but did not open her mouth again. She looked pale with shock.Kate and Steve were agog, but resisted mentioning it until the service had finished and they were on their way through to the church hall for the usual post-service cuppa and to buy some of the fund-raising bakes.Judging by the hubbub, everyone else was having roughly the same conversation.“What did you make of that?” Steve began. “Isn’t Mavis the star of your show?”“I wouldn’t say that,” Kate protested, bristling. “Though she might. But what on earth do you think happened?”It was a question Mavis, trying not to panic, was asking herself as she joined the rest of the choir in the vestry.They clustered round.“It’ll only be temporary, Mavis,” Doreen from the sopranos assured her.“The atmosphere’s always dry when they’ve had the heating on,” baritone Alan Edwards put in. “It makes the dust rise. You’ll be fine once you’ve had a cup of tea.”“Of course,” Mavis said, grasping at that suggestion. “A cup of tea will do the trick.”Like a Secret Service protection detail, the rest of the choir formed a human shield around her as they escorted her to the little hall, and fussed around getting her a cup of tea with extra sugar.“I suppose it should really be honey. Isn’t that what all the great singers use to soothe their throats?” Doreen said.Mavis had the grace to demur modestly.“Sugar will be just fine,” she insisted. “I’m sure Alan’s right it was just the air in the church. I’ll be right as rain in a minute.” She was persuading the others, if not herself. For she’d never had such trouble before in all the years she’d been singing at St Marnock’s.Sipping slowly, Mavis eyed the cluster of buyers round the bake sale, and it reminded her of the show. The show that was only four weeks away. She had been practising every night to be sure that her solo spot was perfect . Had she been overdoing it? But no, she told herself. She had been singing for years! Why should a little extra rehearsal now make any difference?Doreen and Alan were still by her side, watching her closely with solicitous concern, but they parted to let Brian McAulay through.“Feeling better now, Mavis?” he asked brightly. “You gave us all a bit of a scare there, you know! We can’t be losing our star soloist at this late stage.”“I’m fine, fine,” Mavis returned stoutly. “Why, I’m sure I could sing that solo right now.”She was being brave, but Brian took her at her word and rattled a teaspoon against a cup to quiet the crowd.“Mavis would like to take this opportunity to sing for you the verse that she was unable to sing upstairs, if you’d like to hear it.”“Oh, but, Brian . . .” Mavis began, but it was drowned out by the rising murmur of encouragement.“On you go, then, Mavis,” Brian urged. “On the count of three . . .”Carefully she placed her cup and saucer on the table, took a deep breath to calm herself, then another to fill her lungs, and as Brian marked the count, she opened her mouth to sing.Nothing.She was the star of the Christmas show and she couldn’t sing a note!


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