David took a deep breath. The musty smells of the old town hall made his nose itch. This place no longer reminded him of community gatherings, nativity plays or combined Easter services. An old plastic Christmas tree leaned against the wall; bent over and covered in cobwebs. He pushed aside the sagging stage curtain and touched one of the fifteen tarnished Christmas bells which hung in a neat row. He closed his eyes and tried to recall the familiar sounds. All he heard was the squeak of the front door.
"Mrs. Jessop, good to see you. What’s it been...?”
“Twelve months,” she groaned. The old woman placed her scarf and handbag on a nearby table. “Where is everyone? I want to be home early tonight.”
“Well, Teresa married in January and moved to the coast. Donald won’t be here… you knew his wife died from cancer a few weeks ago?”
“Yes, I read the funeral notice in the Enquirer but I was busy.”
David was about to continue when a soprano rendition of Hark the Herald Angels Sing echoed in the empty hall. He turned toward the door and laughed as he was approached by his star performer. The girl’s chubby face reflected enthusiasm which oozed from her. “Meredith, you look um... colorful... as usual.” He stepped back and gazed at her peculiar outfit.
Mrs. Jessop stood with her hands on her hips. Her head moved slowly from side to side. “I hope we’re not dressing in florescent angel costumes this year and sing Angels in the Realms of Glory.”
Meredith giggled. “It’s been a fabulous year, David. I earned an art scholarship in London.” Her eyes sparkled. “I always wanted to work in London. Perhaps this will be my big chance.”
The side door swung open and a middle-aged couple entered. “David, I can’t believe it’s that time of year again.” The woman smiled and offered a hug. “John won’t be coming. He’s still away at boot camp.”
Mrs. Jessop frowned. “Well, well. That was a bit inconsiderate of him, Joan. He could have at least waited until after caroling season before he joined the Army." With another shake of her head she slumped heavily into a chair.
Almost simultaneously, two other choir members burst through the two entries. The commotion rose with reminiscing and laughter which now seem to brighten the dreary hall.
David glanced at his watch and whistled. “Okay, everyone, you know the routine. We’ll have three practices before we start caroling. Let’s begin tonight with Meredith’s choice, Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” He paused as the choir members took their places in a curved line, shuffling closer to fill gaps where others had once stood. David cleared his throat. “It’s sad to think that if we go on like this, within a few years our town’s caroling group will no longer exist.”
Smiles disappeared and expressions became solemn. Whispers betrayed their thoughts.
Joan grew anxious. “Oh please, don’t say that, David.”
David straightened and coughed. “Well let’s not spoil our practice. Maybe we can have a meeting some time and do some recruiting for next year.”
Mrs. Jessop made a throaty gruff noise. “Oh, but we can’t have strangers sing carols with us.”
“Why not?” Meredith’s face flushed.
David tapped his baton on his music stand. “Twelve years ago we began with fifteen carolers. We all knew each other like family and regardless of which church we attended, we visited each other during the year. We shared each other’s joys and sorrows.” He sighed heavily. “When was the last time we commenced our annual caroling practice with a party… or polished our bells?”
Meredith sat cross legged on the floor and held her head in her hand. The line dispersed. Joan’s husband, Rolf, brought a chair over so Joan could sit.
“So it’s come to this?” Mrs. Jessop sighed.
The hall grew silent. The only sound was the occasional creaking of the rafters and the wood-rotted door rattling with the slightest breeze.
“I still want to sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” Meredith whispered.
David tapped his baton again. “Okay, let’s sing our best this year. We’ll polish our bells and let the whole town know that we want caroling to continue. Let’s announce the birth of Jesus like we haven’t done for years.”
A gentle white snow began to fall outside and the words Hark the Herald Angels Sing echoed in the old town hall and throughout their little town.
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