Lyceum Christmas Tale #6: Miracle in Muirhouse, by Tony Cownie

This winter, the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh has commissioned a series of Christmas stories from some of Scotland’s best-loved writers, performances of which will be available to view online. Here, we publish an extract from Miracle in Muirhouse by Tony Cownie, along with a link to the film

Tam Dean Burn in Miracle in Muirhouse, by Tony Cownie PIC: Aly Wight

It is a cold, rainy night, and a dark cloud is hanging over an ordinary wee house, down an ordinary wee lane, in the middle of an ordinary wee street, in Muirhouse, Edinburgh. Jessie McKenzie is sitting at the kitchen table, with her half-eaten sandwich and untouched glass of juice, staring at the pile of Christmas cards she hasn’t the heart to write. What’s the point, she thinks, will there even be a Christmas this year? She hears raised voices and a slammed door from upstairs. Her mum and dad have argued before, but never for as long as this. The house feels empty and lifeless. You see, by this time on Christmas Eve, people should be arriving for the party, but that’s been cancelled. It feels, to Jessie, like Christmas has been cancelled! She lifts a piece of ice out of her drink, watches it slowly melt into her hand, and begins to smile. It reminds her of last year. That was a different story altogether. In fact, it was more than a story, it was a miracle. A miracle in Muirhouse.

So come with me on a wee trip down memory lane, well, down a wee lane in Muirhouse, on December 24th 2019...

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The McKenzie’s Christmas Eve party was a neighbourhood tradition and last years’ started off like any other. There wasn’t much to them that Jessie could see - apart from a buffet that took over the kitchen table, and lots of people talking and drinking, and the fact that the more they drank the louder they talked. On the plus side, it meant bedtime was a lot more relaxed. Well, it wasn’t possible to sleep with all the noise going on anyway. Something both she and her little brother Joe had agreed on, back then, was how wonderful a Nintendo Switch would be. They had suggested having one to share, but were told it was far too expensive and that Santa had ran out ages ago. Besides, sharing something between them was sure to be "a recipe for disaster.” That was probably true, she’d thought, as she looked out of the bedroom window into the frosty back garden.

“The lights on the den look really good in the dark!”

The "den” she was referring to, was of course, the garden shed. And like every Christmas, their mum had covered the outside with fairy lights.

She turned to her brother, “Did you hear what I said?”

“What?” replied Joe absently, unable to tear himself away from his comic. “Amazing facts about Santa. Did you know that his sleigh is the fasted vehicle ever made? And, he can actually communicate with animals!”

Tam Dean Burn in Miracle in Muirhouse PIC: Aly Wight

Having heard this ten times already, she shook her head, looked back outside, and there it was - bang centre of the garden. “Look! Joe come quickly! Look!”

“What?”

“Look!”

“Wow! Is it a fox?”

“Yes!” replied Jessie. “It’s got something in its mouth!”

“What is it?”

“A bird I think! You can see one of its wings. It’s trying to escape!”

“We’ve got to help it!”

“Yes! Come on!”

They rushed downstairs, put on their wellies and ran outside.

“Where is he?” asked Joe.

“Gone!” replied Jessie “We must have scared him off. Poor bird. Hope it managed to get away.” As she peered into the darkness something caught her eye. “What’s that on the grass? Looks like a pile of clothes or something!”

As they got nearer, it was clear this was no “pile of clothes" but an old man. He had long grey hair and a beard of the same colour, although it was partially covered in blood that poured from a nasty looking wound on his head.

“It’s a man. He must have fallen!”

“We should get dad!” urged Joe.

The old man groaned.

“Wait!” said Jessie “He’s trying to say something!”

“Help me up!” the man demanded, holding out his hand.

“There’s lots of grown-ups inside.” she explained “They’ll help you!”

“No grown-ups!”

It wasn’t easy. He was much heavier than he looked and the ground was slippy. After a few attempts, they finally managed to help him to his feet. It was obvious he was hurt quite badly. His head was bleeding and he seemed to have trouble keeping his balance.

“My bag! Where’s my bag?” he demanded.

“Is this it?” asked Jessie, picking up an old brown sack. She couldn’t help but think him a bit rude, as he snatched it out of her hands.

“Give it here!” he growled and peered inside it. “Thanks” he mumbled, “I’ll be on my way. Not a word to anyone mind!”

“Not a word” Joe replied, giving Jessie a nudge.

The old man pulled his hood up, over his bleeding head, and threw the sack over his shoulder. He could only have taken three or four steps before falling to his knees.

Jessie instinctively ran to help.

“We should call you an ambulance!”

“No ambulances!”

“Why not?”

“I’ve got lots to do tonight. I’ll be fine. Just need to sit down for a wee while.”

“You could sit in the den?” suggested Joe.

“The den?”

“He means the shed. There’s a comfy chair inside. It’s a bit old, so it’s not very…well, comfy, I suppose.”

“Yeah. That’s fine. Just for five minutes.”

It would have been a bit scary inside the shed, but the fairy lights wrapped round the outside, were casting some pretty colours through the cracks in the wood.

“We could call you a taxi.”

The man just laughed.

“Where do you live?”

“I don’t have a house. I’m homeless!”

“Where do you sleep?”

“On the ground.”

Joe looked confused “The ground?”

“Aye!” replied the man, smiling. “Sometimes you’ll see me high as a kite though. That’s me at my best.”

“Is it true that snow in Lapland doesn’t melt until every present’s been opened?”

“If you believe it’s true, then it must be.” he replied, closing his eyes.

THE AUTHOR

Tony Cownie writes…

“We all know, no matter how old we are, that Christmas still has the ability to create a sense of hope for a better, kinder world. Children know this instinctively and their belief in its magic can go a very long way to achieving just that.”

*To sign up to receive The Lyceum's eight free Christmas tales, or to buy tickets for the four live streamed stories, please visit www.lyceum.org.uk or contact the box office for more information on [email protected] This production has been made possible by Creative Scotland's Performing Arts Venues Relief Fund.