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The magic slingshot

a Christmas story by Birgit Floßdorf

She was wearing a pale blue linen dress that seemed too big for her. Olivia was leaning in the doorway between the kitchen and the hallway, drying her hands on a tea towel. Her daughter skipped down the spiral staircase, taking two steps at a time. Any halfway normal person would take two stairs up, but not down. Olivia shook her head with a grin. Phoebe stormed past her mother with a hand clap and then rummaged a pink mohair scarf and grass-green mittens out of the wardrobe basket, fished her colourful Peruvian poncho off the hook and slipped into her beige fur boots. Olivia had not commented on her daughter's daring pattern and colour combinations for a long time. However, the dress did cause her some concern.

"Why are you wearing your sister's dress and isn't a summer dress a bit daring in December?" She chorused with her daughter, "Mum, I'm 13 years old and I have a brain of my own to think." While smacking a kiss on her mother's cheek, Phoebe added, "besides, Charlotte let me." Phoebe threw her backpack over her shoulder and skipped out of the house. In winter, all her classmates took the bus to school, Phoebe preferred to be independent and pedalled on her cross bike through the freezing morning air.

In the classroom, she piled all the extra clothes on her table. She was sweating and she was glad she had chosen a summer dress.

"Well, Snow White, did we get the season wrong?", Benjamin tugged at Phoebe's ponytail and lounged in his seat behind her.

Mrs Adams handed over the essay on mystical creatures and showered Phoebe with praise. "Nerd," it ricocheted against the back of her neck. Catty-corner from her, Sheila stuck her index finger down her throat. "Just don't pay any attention to her," Lucy whispered . "That's a great essay, I wish I had your imagination." Phoebe replied with a shrug. "Tomorrow is the last day of school before the Christmas holidays," Mrs Adams tried to drown out the recess bell. "Bring your favourite stories and whoever likes, home-baked biscuits. We can also talk about your wishes. So, bring your wish list tomorrow."

Phoebe cycled home, just in time to help her mother bake biscuits. "Sweetheart, sweetheart, sweetheart ...", Olivia held her cupped hand in front of the opening of the caraway spice bag, the entire contents of which threatened to disappear into the vanilla biscuit dough. "No one can eat that anymore. Besides, caraway seeds don't belong in vanilla crescents." "It's an experiment!" protested Phoebe. Olivia sighed. "Whatever, but take some of the dough into another bowl."

Cumin, aniseed, cardamom, curry, rose pepper, coriander, vanilla and rum crammmed into the mixing bowl one by one. Phoebe whisked them wildly through the batter, forming bizarre Christmas biscuits ranging from a misshapen angel with oversized wings to a small mound that looked like a dog turd with ears. The experiment was a success and Phoebe put the baking tray in the oven.

„Hi, you two, that smells great," Charlotte had interrupted her homework, whisked her index finger through Phoebe's bowl of dough, licked it with pleasure, and at the same moment bent over the sink, which had to do with the awful taste. "What's that? That's disgusting." Charlotte's face morphed into a grimace that inevitably ignited a fit of laughter in Phoebe that would not soon be brought under control. Olivia banished her daughters from the kitchen.

Phoebe snuggled into the living room armchair by the fireplace. On the coffee table was a notepad with the logo of her father's company. She scribbled on it: a slingshot, red and black checked trousers with a pink jumper, a toad in a terrarium, a magic box, snow at Christmas and fantasy. Yes, more fantasy, that would be good. "Another slingshot, you already had that on your list for last Christmas." Santa Claus ran his right hand slowly through his long white beard. Phoebe looked critically at her wishes. "But you didn't bring them to me." "And what's the use of more imagination? You have enough of it. You could give some to others." Santa rolled his ice-blue eyes and then gave in, "Very well, you scratch the slingshot, I'll think about the fantasy." With a heavy heart and a deep sigh, Phoebe erased the slingshot and replaced it with a compass. Phoebe crumpled her wish list into one of her boots in the hallway and opened the door for her father, who was just putting the key in the front door.

It was snowing when Phoebe woke up the next morning. The dancing flakes encouraged her to get up and the banister invited her to a morning slide past her mother, who handed her the biscuit tin as it flew by.

Mrs Adams read the story "The big carp Ferdinand" by Alfred Weidenmann which Phoebe had suggested. Both the story and the biscuits were a resounding success. The class bent over with laughter at Dr Mannhaus' many unsuccessful attempts to stab, shoot, drown or kill the Christmas carp in the bathtub in any way possible. Roaring, spitting biscuit crumbs, they were tossed back and forth between fits of laughter and disgust. In those moments Phoebe was the heroine, except with the dollies and cheerleaders, as Phoebe called the Sheilas of the world. But she didn't care, until the coming winter ...

„This is David, Mrs Adams introduced him to the class two weeks before the Christmas holidays. A murmur went through the girls' benches.

"David, you can sit next to me," Sheila whispered. "David will sit next to Harry," Mrs Adams determined. "Deiiwid," Lucy mimicked Sheila in a whisper. David was very popular and besieged by the school cheerleaders. That winter, Phoebe wished to be one of those cheerleaders for the first time....

"You're not serious...", Santa Claus gathered his white-blond beard into a ponytail and let it fall again immediately.

"Less imagination." As if he couldn't believe what he said, he repeated a few times, "Less imagination... less imagination..." Shaking his head, he paced back and forth. "Yes, exactly. Less imagination," Phoebe echoed defiantly. "You humans never know what you want either. One day giddy up, the next day giddy down. But good. I hope you realise that you can't just get fantasy back once it's gone. It was hard enough last time." "It has to be," Phoebe whined. "And since when did you start wearing low-necked jumpers and wishing for lipstick?" Santa seemed disgusted, but being well and open-minded, he respected Phoebe's wishes.

During the school year, Phoebe developed into a cheerleader. She constantly wanted new clothes, Roxy jeans, jumpers from Emily and shoes from Vans. From then on, Phoebe strutted down the stairs like a model on a catwalk. "Her performance is consistently good and she is suddenly no longer the troublemaker and clown of the class," Mrs Adams explained to Olivia on the occasion of the parent-teacher conference. "However, her essays are no longer as imaginative and powerful in expression". "Our daughter is growing up," Olivia remarked. She would miss her little Phoebe.

It was summer. She wore a dress of cobalt blue linen that seemed too tight for her. Phoebe strolled in the playground with a Shakira hip swing towards David, who was leaning against the trunk of a huge maple tree. Just as Phoebe is about to purse her mouth and murmur a seductive hello to him, Lucy flies past her and falls around David's neck. "Well," it hissed against her right ear. "I guess he's more into the easy types," Sheila laughed hysterically. Phoebe couldn't believe it. Her best friend... Formerly best friend, Phoebe had to correct herself. Because after her transformation into a cheerleader, she had more or less given Lucy a cold-shoulder. She was simply out of her league. She looked after David and Lucy, who disappeared hand in hand through the school gate. I just have to change again. I simply have to change again...

Over the coming weeks and months, Phoebe did everything she could to start some kind of transformation back. She wore her sister's clothes that flapped around her knees, she put on an old sailor's cap from her grandfather and wore knee socks in winter, but it didn't help. No one seemed to want to notice that she was different or wanted to be different from the others.

Phoebe was lying on her bed and brooding. Suddenly she jumped up and shouted: "Fantasy". That's what I'm missing. Phoebe reached for her diary and tore out a blank page. She wrote "Wish List" above it and below it in big letters F A N T A S Y. On Christmas Eve she put her wish list in her boots. She knew it would be difficult and the Christ Child had not shown up either.

It was Christmas Eve. Under the Christmas tree were leather gloves, a computer game, a manicure case and an eyelash curler. Phoebe looked disappointedly at the lights of the Christmas tree. "Here's another package for you," Olivia handed her daughter a small jute sack bundle. Phoebe unwrapped it impassively. Her face lit up at the sight of a slingshot. At the same moment, however, disappointment was back in her face. "How am I supposed to use it without a rubber band?" she hissed at her mother. "Think of something, sweetheart, because imagination is not something you get for free, you have to train it...

Maus Freepick

A mouse under the bed - by Birgit Floßdorf

It's spring at last. Purple and yellow crocuses are blooming in grandma's garden behind the house. The first daffodils are sticking their heads up in the sun. Grandma and I sit on the garden bench and watch a pair of finches, who frolic through the air. "How's it going?", grandma waves to Mrs Battleford over the garden fence. "Tha mi gu math. Ciamar a tha thu?" Mrs Battleford is from Scotland and answers, as usual, in her secret language. Just as Grandma is about to step up to the garden fence to hold a lengthy secret conference, as Grandpa always calls it, with Mrs Battleford, the doorbell rings at Grandma's front door.

I run ahead and tear the door open. Uncle Joseph is standing on the landing with a large jute sack over his shoulder. "What have we here?" grins Grandma, laughing at me with her big green eyes. Uncle Joseph puts the sack down in front of Grandma in the hallway and immediately the sack starts to move. "Meow, meow," it sounds. "A kitten," I exclaim, beside myself with excitement.

"Is it for me?" I shout. "It's for all of you. For you and your sisters. Well, let's let it out of the sack." With these words, Grandma loosens the cord holding the sack together and a tiger kitten jumps out. It hides under Grandpa's shoe stool in fright. "Grandma, it looks like one of Mrs Beasley's kittens!" I babble, trying to coax the kitten out of its hiding place with a "kitty, kitty, kitty". "Who is Mrs Beasley?" asks Uncle Joseph curiously. "That's our big cat. You know that. We got the name from a TV series. The girl Buffy has a doll. Her name is Mrs Beasley." "Then why don't you call the little girl Buffy," my uncle suggests. Grandma and I, however, think that my siblings should have a say too. "Will you stay for a cup of coffee, Joseph?" "Well, sure, there must be that much time." And Uncle Joseph traipses through Grandma's polished hallway into the kitchen in his field boots. Grandma serves homemade apple pie and coffee. I sip a cocoa. It makes me giggle. "Do you know what Mrs Beasley used to do?" I ask Uncle Josef and deliver the answer straight away: "When she was very young, she caught lots of mice and sometimes birds." I feel sad at the thought of the birds. Grandma notices immediately and strokes my hair, "That's the way nature is, sparrow." "Anyway," I continue to explain to Uncle Joseph, "Mrs Beasley usually caught mice. Quite often she put the mice on the doormat in front of the front door. Sometimes she even carried some into the house. Dad always says that Mrs Beasley is proud of the loot and wants to give us a treat. Once Mum thought my sister Lisa's room smelled strange. We were supposed to tidy up our rooms so that she could clean them. That's what we did. When Mum held the trunk of the hoover under Lisa's bed, it sucked up something grey. It looked like a piece of mouldy bread. Everyone screamed in disgust. Dad then threw the decayed mouse on the compost heap." "You know," Grandma said, "after an animal dies or a plant dies, decomposition sets in. Decomposition happens through bacteria and fungi. Corpses can only decompose when there is oxygen and then it stinks. If you had buried the mouse in the garden as soon as it died, it would not have decomposed so quickly because there is only little oxygen under the soil. Even on grandpa's compost heap, the dead plants decompose. The remains are then eaten by worms and insects or it turns into good soil after a while." I don't really understand Grandma's story and I believe Uncle Joseph didn’t either. He looks so funny. Grandma wants to explain it to me again later when I'm older. I don't feel like sitting at the table any more and prefer to go and see what the kitten is doing in the hallway.

Copyright Birgit Floßdorf