Claire Jaggard


Home For The Holidays

How do you piece together the truth when you realise those closest to you have been lying? This was selected for publication in Secret Attic's April 2024 Short Story contest. It was also shortlisted for Stroud Short Stories in October 2023 and came third and was commended in the 2024 Mid-Somerset Festival.

It was one of those tricky jigsaws; the sort where pieces look so similar at first they can be wedged into spaces where they don’t belong, and you only realise later when the correct shapes surface from the muddle in the box and slot seamlessly into place.

Evie had been handed the puzzle to keep her occupied while the grown-ups played out their usual charade of camaraderie. Her role was not to bother anyone.

She knelt on the carpet, expanding a landmass of cardboard between the forest of ankles and furniture legs, only raising her head now and again to push her dark hair back from her even darker eyes.

As the party and the tiny glasses of sweet sherry warmed up, inhibitions were shed and the observation simply slipped out. It was carried to Evie’s ears on a whisper of cigarette smoke, settling on her shoulders and refusing to slide away.

‘Those eyes. So like her mother’s.’

Spiky heels pivoted and sashayed away, oblivious as the elements of Evie’s small world broke apart and swirled in confusion.

Evie lifted those irrefutable eyes to steal a glance at the woman she knew as her mother. Lillian had thrown back her head to laugh at someone’s joke, painted nails clutching at a choker of bulbous faux pearls. Her exposed neck, framed by strawberry blonde curls, glowed shockingly pale and her eyes, her clear green eyes, glinted as they caught the lamplight.

Evie pressed her knees into the carpet pile until the pain of the fibres digging through her skin brought her back to the room. The jigsaw was called “Home for the Holidays” and the picture on the lid showed a pink-cheeked family reuniting on a snowy station platform. Dressed in improbably bright colours, relatives hugged and chatted, a young boy threw a ball for his dog and a girl with brown ringlets chased a red balloon.

Pieces in the puzzle of Evie’s short life that had almost, but not quite, fitted into place suddenly revealed themselves as interlopers. She finally understood why the image had never been clear, and began to rearrange the interlocking shapes.

Later, much later, Evie confronted her father. He bluffed and scoffed and eventually, shamefully, admitted the truth. He’d intended it to be a mere fling, a minor rebellion against respectability. Fate, however, had intervened to punish him with first a pregnancy and then a tragic childbirth.

He had carried the motherless bundle to Lillian and asked for forgiveness. She had offered collusion: they would gloss over the truth and raise Evie together, maintaining to the world that she belonged to them both.

Little surprise that Evie had sensed Lillian’s detachment.

‘It was for the best.’

‘For you, maybe. Not for my real mother, not for me.’

‘We did what we thought was right at the time.’

‘You lied.’

The party was drawing to a close as Evie nudged the last few jigsaw pieces into place. Relatives were shrugging on coats, exchanging pleasantries and heading off in different directions. No-one was watching Evie.

Carefully she unpicked the piece that showed the face of the little dark-haired balloon chaser and pocketed it. Then she broke up the rest of the puzzle and returned the pieces to their box, pushing the lid down firmly.

The grown-ups had wanted Evie to create a perfect picture.

She wasn’t going to play their game any more.