Jessie sighed contentedly under the table. Christmas had been a whirlwind in Santa’s house. Jessie had traveled with Santa on the trip around the world. It had been extremely exciting for the dog but uneventful.
The pair had returned home exhausted and they slept for the next two days. When they finally awoke Molly had rushed them through a series of parties to celebrate another successful year. Now Jessie, Santa and Molly were sitting by the fire relaxing. Jessie was almost asleep when Molly put down her knitting needles and picked up a letter from her sister. She opened the snowy paper and began to read mumbling to herself. Molly smiled and then looked at Jessie. “My sister writes stories, Jessie. She’s written another one. Would you like to hear it?”
Jessie raised her head and looked at Molly. She lightly barked in agreement and turned around in her bed to get comfortable.
Molly smiled. Cleared her throat and began to tell a story her sister called the Feather Fight.
It was a humid day in the middle of summer and Toby walked through the park with several of his school friends. He wished they could go into the air conditioned theater but the kids from his school didn’t have the money to waste on luxuries. Instead, they mostly hung around the park playing soccer, having water fights and teasing girls.
He could see Misha and his cronies down by the mill pond. They skateboarded toward Toby and his friends. Misha was rich or, more precisely, his parents were rich. Misha went to the private school in town and did all the things that Toby wished he could do. Every time Toby saw that superior look on Misha’s face, he wanted to hit him in the face. So, when Misha skated by, Toby grabbed Misha’s arm and pulled him off his skateboard hoping Misha would fall on his head.
Misha fell to the ground with a thud. Misha held his arm for several moments as his face turned red. He breathed deeply and looked up at Toby.
“What did you do that for, doofus? Think you own the park, do you? Well, you own nothing. Nothing at all. You’re poor and weak and an idiot and I’m going to pound your face in.” Misha scrambled up and leapt forward, reaching out to hit Toby. Toby edged forward, taunting him to strike.
But before Misha could punch Toby, Misha’s brother Eric grabbed the boy’s arm. “There must be some other way to solve this, Misha. You know what Dad said would happen if you got into another fight.” The brothers looked at each other and Misha slowly relaxed the grip of his fist.
“You don’t expect me to let him get away with that, do you?” spluttered Misha. His gaze bore directly into Toby’s eyes.
“No, but maybe I have a better idea.” Eric pointed across the street to old man McCann’s pillow factory. “The garbage bin is open. There’s always dud pillows in there. What if we used them to fight? Dad can’t actually say anything if we hit each other with feathers, now can he?” Eric grinned and pointed at Toby. “Are you in or are you and your friends too afraid to face us.”
Toby’s eyes burned. He longingly gazed at Misha’s leather coat and blushed when he saw Misha watching. His hand was clenched in a tight fist.
Toby took a deep breath and glared at Eric. “We’re in. Perhaps I can suggest a bet? The losers have to run through the winners’ school wearing only their underwear. Are you in?”
Misha didn’t hesitate. “We’re in.”
“Come on then. Let’s go get the pillows.” Toby hurried forward to cross the small road to the pillow factory.
The two groups of boys watched each other as they walked across the parking lot. They opened the garbage bin and pulled out a variety of pillows. Some of the pillows had tears, some had feather’s sticking out of the fabric and others were missing zippers. All of the pillows couldn’t be sold but were good enough to make amazing weapons.
The boys returned to the park and in quiet agreement went to the corner of the field where they were out of view from of the pillow factory. They agreed that the last boy standing was the champion and then began striking each other with their pillows.
Misha slapped Toby and Toby slapped Eric. Eric clopped another boy and the other boy smashed Misha. It didn’t take long before the groups of boys were hitting each other with the pillows in a free-for-all. The hits were initially hard, but after ten minutes of pounding each other, something strange happened. The boys calmed down. They were no longer angry and they no longer really cared if they won. They were standing in the warm sun, with feathers fluttering and floating around them. The warm sounds of laughter filled the air.
Toby fell down and Misha found that he was the only boy left standing. He sneezed from the feathers floating around him and then curiously examined Toby’s expression. Toby no longer seemed angry. In fact, he seemed amused. Misha moved forward to demand that Toby honor his debt and then changed his mind. He held out his hand, and called to Toby. “Best two out of three?”
Toby smiled, took Misha’s hand, and rose to stand beside him. They grinned and began to pelt each other with the pillows once again.
It just so happened that a local newsman was in the area and saw the pillow battle from his car. He began taking pictures of the boys. He waited until they were exhausted and finished their fight. They had just called a truce, with no winner, when the paper man then came forward. “Hello, boys. I see you’ve been getting into mischief this fine summer’s day. What a glorious day for a pillow fight. Mind if I take your pictures for the local paper?”
The boys looked at each other and turned red. “Only if you won’t tell anyone where we got the pillows from,“ said Toby.
The reporter smiled. “Of course.”
The reporter took a picture of Misha, Eric and Toby holding each other up, with pillows in their hands and feathers filtering through the air.
The newspaper article ran in the Gazette the next day with the picture of the boys on the front page. Their smiles filled the picture. The reporter, true to his word, did not say where the pillows were from but everyone in the community could guess.
The boys’ antics made many of the adults in the community smile to themselves and remember their summer outings when they were children. Mr. Wilds, for example, talked to his wife that evening,” I remember as a boy sneaking out to go skinny dipping with my friends on steamy summer nights. “ Ms. Wilds smiled and admitted,” we used to steal apples from the mayor’s tree and my brother tried to run away to the circus.” They chuckled each one thinking that the boys would remember the feather fight fondly when they grew up.
But there were others in the community who said that the boys should be disciplined for taking the pillows without permission. Ms. Gilley, for example, dropped her crocheting and went down to the police department. “Those boys should be charged with mischief. The pillows didn’t belong to them and the expense to clean up the park has to come out of someone’s pocket. What do you have to say to that sheriff?”
The sheriff cleared his throat. “The boys can only be picked up if Mr. McCann decides to press charges. I don’t think we want to go that far do we Ruth?” He shuffled his papers and pointedly picked up his coat. “I have to go on patrol. Good night Ruth.” The sheriff shooed the woman out of the building and closed the door behind him as he left to patrol the streets. ‘After all’, he thought, ‘boys will be boys’.
Mr. McCann was a jolly fellow and laughed when he read the paper. The article made him think about his youth and the fun he had during his summers by the park. He decided that he was going to have a great feather fight for the other children of the community. He called the boys together. “Since you took my pillows without permission I would like you to help me organize a pillow fight for next year. You can use the reject pillows we would normally throw away and I’ll even provide refreshments for the party. What do you think, boys? Are you interested?”
The boys accepted Mr. McCann’s offer. They planned and worked together over the next year and became fast friends. The next summer they participated in the largest pillow fight in the province’s history. There was laughter and smiles all around the community that day.
The bet the boys made was never honored. Instead, the boys participated in the pillow fight every year until they grew older. The pillow fight continues on and is a tradition in the community long after Misha, Eric and Toby have been forgotten. Each year, feathers fly, children chatter and the bonds of unlikely friendships are formed.
Molly put down the story and looked over her reading glasses at Santa and Jessie. Santa had fallen asleep while she was telling the story but Jessie was wide awake. A tear welled up in her eye as she carefully folded the letter and put it in the envelope. “I’m sorry , Jessie. It’s just that I miss my family at this time of year. We’re so busy that I don’t get to spend the holidays with them.” She gestured towards the dog. “I know you must miss the lady you lived with too.”
Molly pushed her glasses up closer to her eyes. “Somehow reading my sister’s story reminds me of the old family holidays where we all surrounded the tree. Each year my sister writes something knew and recites it on Christmas eve. I’ve missed hearing her tales. I’m glad you could share this one with me.” Molly wiped a tear from her eye.
Jessie stretched and walked over to Molly. She put her head on her knee and licked Molly’s hands. Jessie gently pushed her head into Molly’s arms and rubbed her forehead against her leg.
Molly scratched the dog’s head and gazed into the fire. The pair sat comforting each other for a long time afterwards remembering the joy of past days but at the same time celebrating being together.