Tom Galiff’s Story
Tom Galiff’s Story
by Something Hunt
The little man gasped for air, coughing the last of the water out of his airway. His muscles tensed for a fight.
“You’re safe here,” the Lord of the Washout said, in that comforting tone he used on all the new arrivals to his domain.
The little man looked up at the kindly bearded face and thought, just for a moment, it was someone else.
“Rest, friend, you look like you’ve had a hard go of it.”
The bearded man didn’t know the half of it.
“The Thames has a reputation for being quite a killer,” he said. “But she has a kindly side, which deposited you on my banks, as she has done with so many. My name is John. Would you like something to eat? A bit of gin? I’d offer better, but it’s all the spirit we have these days.”
John held out a small jar of the spirit. The little man took it.
“Do you have a name? Or at least something you want to be called.”
A sip of the gin made his throat feel like it might work. So he tried to answer.
“Tom Galiff,” he rasped. “That’s my name. It would please me greatly to be called by it again.”
“Pleased to meet you, then, Mr. Tom Galiff,” John smiled.
“Is there more than ‘John’ to yours, if I might ask? So many Johns about of late,” Tom Galiff spoke, his voice getting stronger with each word.
“Openshaw,” the bearded John replied. “I am the keeper of this little corner of the Thames, beneath piers no one looks under, off riverbanks no one can get to. Just one of many dead men and women who found a new place to hang our river-damp hats. It’s a meager living, but at least there’s life here.”
Tom Galiff began to notice more people moving about not far away. It was a whole community.
“You had a wound when we found you. As we started to dress it . . . well, you seemed to get better.”
“My people do that,” Tom replied.
“Your people?” John Openshaw wondered. “Not from around here, I take it?”
“You know London. Gets all of us eventually.”
“It’s been a long journey. I accidentally fell overboard during a delivery run, and was badly injured. Those that found me completely misheard my name, mistook my origins, and I became someone else for a time. Like I said, it’s good to hear my name again.”
The two men spoke for a time, telling stories of adventures and near-death escapes. A couple came around with bowls of soup and hard bread, which they took gratefully. And then, Tom Galiff heard a familiar sound.
“Here come the river urchins,” Openshaw laughed as a small pack of children came swarming upon them, having heard there was a new face in the camp, and a full-grown man who was their same height.
Tom laughed with delight at their attentions It brought back so many memories of his old life.
“What do you have there, lass?” he asked one young lady.
“Jingles, sir,” she answered and held out her wrist. A string bracelet of small jingle bells hung from it. Tom smiled more broadly than he had in years.
“Could I borrow that for just a moment?” he asked her. “You can play a tune with these if you do it just so.”
The girl slid the jingle bracelet from her wrist and handed it to Tom.
“Thank you. You, my dear, are about to get an unexpected treat.”
John Openshaw looked at Tom quizzically.
Tom Galiff gave the bells a test shake. He pinched one of them between his fingers to bend the metal in again, then gave it another shake. That was better, he thought.
With that Tom Galiff began to shake the little string of jingle bells in a most magical, musical way, playing a complex tune of jingles and jangles, singing wordlessly along with the bells. It was spellbinding, and every child stared at him wide-eyed, mouths agape. Minutes passed, and more minutes.
John Openshaw was the first to hear the answering jingle bells in the distance . . . coming from . . . the sky?
Somehow the children knew. That was the thing Openshaw would puzzle over later. It wasn’t the flying beasts or the big red boat they pulled, making a landing in the water at river’s edge. It wasn’t Odin-esque figure who hopped out of the boat, greeting Tom Galiff like a long lost friend. The thing that Openshaw would always wonder about was that the children seemed to understand everything, like it was just as normal as the sun coming up. And he would wonder if he understood that when he was a child, but had forgotten.
The big man went back to his boat and retrieved a big flat box, which he handed to John Openshaw.
“The call was a bit unexpected, and I’m a bit out of season,” the man laughed, “But the missus did have an extra large batch of fresh cookies just out of the oven.”
The box smelled fantastic. It had been a while since anyone down here had gotten their hands on a fresh-baked cookie.
“Thank you,” John managed to say.
After saying a few things to this child and that, promising this thing and that later in the year, the great visitor went back to his boat, with Tom Galiff hopping in to take a seat beside him.
“My deepest thanks, friend!” Tom Galiff called back as Santa started to encourage the reindeer forward. “And if you see that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson again, tell them its coal for them from now on. They should be more careful about who they shoot.”