The Crime Readers' Association

Christmas Socks 

by Miranda Rijks

Maddie closed the bedroom door gently and leaned against it, letting silent tears slip down her cheeks. When she first started caring for Dora, she found the old woman cantankerous and judgemental, and she sympathised with Dora’s family members who visited as little as possible. But over the years, she grew to love the elderly lady, smiling at Dora’s acerbic humour and enjoying the many peaceful hours when the two of them sat side by side knitting sock after sock while listening to Radio 4. She will miss Dora.

No one is sure exactly how old Dora Smythe was. Brian, the postman, delivered celebratory cards from Buckingham Palace wishing her a happy birthday every June for a few years, so she must have been well over one hundred and five.

Maddie walked down the imposing oak staircase and into the living room. There were thirty-two little parcels placed on the floor in front of the fireplace, each wrapped up in brown paper and tied with string. The recipients’ names were scrawled in barely decipherable writing. These were Dora’s Christmas presents; one for every member of her family and a few kindly people from the village who bothered to ask after her. Maddie sighed. She had little doubt that Dora’s family would be swooping down within the next couple of days, eager to discover who was to inherit the big house and who would get the collection of antique clocks, the silver platters and fine oil paintings. Maddie reckoned she was the only person in the world who would actually miss Dora.

Two weeks later and just four days before Christmas, Felix Carruthers, Dora’s pompous grandson arrived, peeling off his black leather gloves and thick herringbone patterned woollen coat, before signalling to Maddie that she should sit down.

‘I would like to thank you for looking after Dora. The house will be sold in the New Year. As we no longer have any need for your services, I’m letting you go.’ He produced a creased envelope and handed it to her. ‘There’s a cheque for payment for the rest of the month,’ he said. ‘I’m going to lock the house up, so I’d like you to leave by the end of the day.’

‘You’re chucking me out so quickly?’ Maddie stared at Felix in horror. Where was she expected to go at that time of year? There was no way she could afford to fly back home to her family in Auckland just before Christmas.

‘You can hardly expect us to keep you on with Dora gone!’ Felix said, rolling his eyes.

Maddie stood up. ‘The Christmas presents from Dora for you and your family are on the table,’ she said.

‘Not more pairs of socks!’ Felix exclaimed with a scowl. ‘They’re ugly, scratchy and totally useless. We give them to the charity shop when we can be bothered. Otherwise they go straight into the bin.’

Maddie turned around and walked out of the room.

Some weeks later, Maddie received a phone call. ‘This is Anton Faulkner. I am the executor of Dora Smythe’s will and she has left you a legacy. The code is embedded in your Christmas present; a pair of socks, I believe.’

Maddie sat down with a bump. She was wearing the socks: a particularly fine pair knitted in a Fair Isle pattern with pale blue and cream merino yarn.

‘If you use the Morse code, you’ll be able to decipher what you have been left.’

Maddie burst out laughing. Clever old Dora. ‘One stitch in the darker colour is a dot and three stitches in the darker colour are a dash.’

Maddie pulled off her socks. It took her a while to decipher what was written in them and when she did, she double and triple checked. Tears sprung to her eyes as she read the message aloud.

To whoever owns these socks, I leave my house and all my cash in the bank.’

Unsurprisingly, there was the biggest furore. Most of Dora’s sock recipients had either thrown them away or donated them to charity. Dora’s relatives scoured all the local charity shops, but how could anyone tell whether they were knitted by Dora or another kindly, unsuspecting knitter who unwittingly included a morse code in their socks? One young man, whose home was a cardboard box, came forward with a pair of red- and fawn-coloured socks. The knitted morse code stated, ‘To whoever owns these socks, I leave my collection of antique clocks.

Felix was apoplectic with rage. He fully expected those clocks to be his. Unsurprisingly, the family are mounting a legal challenge to the will. Mr Faulkner thinks they will lose, but Maddie doesn’t mind what the outcome is. She just misses her old friend Dora.

You can find out more about Miranda Rijks and her books here.

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