Read by Lin Sagovsky
When anyone asks – whether it’s Greenpeace chuggers or energy firms trying to sell me loft insulation – I tell them I’m not worried about Global Warming. They tut, and shake their heads, and as they turn away having dismissed me for the foolish woman I appear, I rub the numbed patch of whitened skin on the heel of my hand and think back to the coldest night I’ve ever known.
As soon as I got home, I cranked up the heating and I was just getting comfy when there’s a tentative knock at the front door. Now, tentative knocks don’t hardly compete with The Great British Bake Off so naturally I ignored it and burrowed deeper into the pile of fleece blankets, but there it came again, a little louder, a little more insistent.
Blow me, thinks I, who could that be? And there isn’t really much option but to slip on my fluffy bunny slippers and shuffle to the door and find out.
First thing I thinks when I open it, is that the Big Issue seller was wrong after all. There’s a full moon now, and everything - the hedge, the short path to the street, the parked cars, even the rooftops across the way, are a dazzling white. But then I twig that ‘cos the white is sparkling, it’s frost, not snow, but a frost like I’ve never seen before. I can’t help myself - “Frost!” I say.
There’s a lad – barely more than a boy – stood on the front-step, the timid knocker upon doors. He’s got his open hand extended, so I reach across to shake it as I look at him more closely. He’s about my height, thin as a rake, and wearing a shiny short-sleeved shirt. I’m just beginning to wonder how cold he must be in that getup, because I’m shivering just looking at him, when there’s a sharp burning pain in my hand, and I yelp, and pull away from his soft grasp, as he’s saying : “I’m sorry to disturb you Ma’am ...”
“Oh my!” I exclaim, “You poor mite! You’re frozen! Come in, come in, we’ll get you sorted!” and I’m pushing him into the hallway and slamming the door behind, kicking the sausage-dog draught excluder back into place to stop the biting cold that’s swirling around my ankles.
“Come through,” I say, and before I’ve even thought twice we’re in my lounge, the Christmas fairy lights twinkling away, and there – and there’s my nest, my sofa buried beneath its blankets and cushions and spare pillows. It looks a right mess. I can feel a flush coming to my cheeks despite the chill that has followed us in from the outside, and I hastily push a pile of magazines and romantic novels off Bob’s armchair. The stranger perches on the edge, looking uncomfortable and out of place and ever so slightly blue. “So, erm... what did you say your name was again, pet?” I ask.
He looks at me, a lost look on his face, and I feel for him, I really do. I’ve always had a soft spot for runts. It’s me the youngest kids come to when there’s been a dust up in the school canteen, me who takes them aside and lets them wipe their snotty noses on my pinny. The other dinner ladies all have kids, or grandkids, of their own. But me... I resist the urge to bound over and enfold him in my arms, ‘cos I’m sensitive too. He’s probably seventeen or something, and he’d be mortally offended.
“My name?” he says. His accent is most peculiar; American, or like someone who’s learnt English by watching American TV. “I’m... Mr Frost.” he says. If he’d said it with a small grin, or with puppy dog eyes, or even with a quiver of the lips, I’d have thrown him out for a cheeky bugger, but he says it flat, and truthful.
“Like David?” I say, and he nods his head and continues looking up at me. His pale features make me worry he’s ill, like maybe he’s been out in the cold too long. “But where’s me manners,” I say, “I’m Maggie. Please... make yourself comfortable. Can I get you a cup of tea?”
“Tea?” he echoes blankly. Maybe he’s simple? That gives me a shudder.
“Yes – or coffee.” I say slowly. “A - hot - drink?”
He positively beams at that. Smiles like the world – nay, the Universe - is suddenly alright again, and my nerves at having such an odd stranger in my little terraced house quickly fade away.
“A hot drink,” Mr Frost says with solemn gravity, “is the greatest gift of friendship that anyone can give another.”
Well now, I thinks to myself, it’s the dark chocolate hobnobs for you, my silver tongued friend!
When I come back from the kitchen, he’s still sat there, ramrod straight on the edge of the chair, watching the bakers hovering over their ovens. I put the tea and biscuits down on a copy of OK! and he eagerly takes the steaming mug in both hands.
“So what brings you out on such a night?” I ask, as I lean against the arm of the sofa, rubbing warmth back into my hand, which still feels cold and wooden to the touch.
He gives a gentle smile. “I’m on a mission...”
“You’re never one of those Mormons!” I exclaim, and then I realise how rude that might sound. “Not that I have anything against them, you understand ...”
“No,” he says, “I’m not a Mormon...”
“I’m Roman Catholic myself, but I don’t go to church any more. Was married in one though. Are you recruitin’ or collectin’?” I ask.
He looks up at me with misty white eyes, and says - “Collecting. I have a quota.”
“Ach, I’d help you out love, if I had any to spare, but it’s a week to payday. You should try the neighbours though - they’ve just got a forty-two inch.”
He nods, but I have an odd feeling he has no idea of what I’m talking about.
“I don’t usually see your lot around here.” I say, into the sudden silence, punctuated only by the muted tones of Paul Hollywood.
“First time,” he says, “It’s an experiment.”
I ponder for a moment. “You might do okay. Bit of a mixed bag, this street. A few Poles, a few orthodox Jews – they’re at the far end on the left – and there’s a council-rented flat at number twenty seven, but the rest of us are alright, if not exactly flush. Not like next door. Look, I can lend you a winter coat as long as you promise to bring it back?”
“Is it all right if I just stay here?” he says, the poor little tyke.
“Of course it is!” I says, thinking how cruel it is to force him to go door to door on a cold night like this. “Stay here as long as you like, pet. I’ll just go crank up the heating another notch. I could swear it’s gettin’ colder in here.”
I can’t really remember everything we talked about. I did ask him how many there were at his mission, and he said twenty, which seemed quite small, though he said that would rise to about a thousand if all went well. He told me where he came from – I can’t remember the name, but he said it was so cold they had to go a long way looking for new sources of heat, for places that had too much. But I suspect it was mainly me talking – it usually is.
The Bake-Off finished, and then the programme after, so he must have been there more than an hour. I proper talked his pointy little ears off; I’m sure I did, but then I don’t have too many visitors and I do like a good natter. I have to admit to snuggling back down onto the sofa, guest or no guest. My, it was cold that night! I was just thinking about putting the ‘lecky blanket on, when there’s a bleep from his odd looking wrist watch, and he ups and rises, gives a little half bow, and says “Maggie, thank you for your warm hospitality. I shall not forget it.” And I ploughed my way back up through the blankets and straighten my skirt as he once again offers his hand.
“Jeezus!” I say, as I quickly let go, “You’re still ice cold! You’re like my ex, a real heat vampire he was.”
Mr Frost blinks at me, a strange look in his eye, so of course I explain.
“Just our funny little term,” I said. “Bob always had cold hands, and cold feet. He’d make me yelp when we went to bed and he’d put his feet on mine, but he’d just leave them there and say he was stealing my heat. I took to wearing wool socks, not to stay warm, but to protect myself from him. Ah well, that was a long time ago. Turns out he had a cold heart an’ all. But you mustn’t listen to a crazy woman like me. You sure you won’t borrow that coat? You can bring it back next time?”
He shook his head, “I won’t be coming back this way,” he said, “I collect from a different area each time.” So I showed him out into the winter wonderland of frost, and waved him on his way, shouting “Happy Christmas” as an afterthought, and then worrying if Mormons had a Christmas.
First thing I did after heading back inside – beyond going “brrrr!” - was to duck into the kitchen to crank up the thermostat again, but it was already on max, and it was still bloody cold! I headed back to the lounge for the ten-o-clock news, and to bury myself under as many layers as I could, picking up a hobnob from the untouched plate on the way. Too polite, that was Mr Frost’s problem, I thought. Too polite by ...
And then I back-tracked and slowly, carefully, picked up the full mug of tea I’d made for him, turning it over until it was upside down. It was frozen solid.
Now, I’m not a well travelled woman; France, on a school exchange back when the Eurostar was just a twinkle in an engineer’s eye, and once - but never again - to Corfu. And I don’t class myself as educated either – not like those Greenpeace johnies with their University degrees who don’t even bother listening to what I have to say. So feel free to disagree with me all you want.
But when I say I’m not worried about Global Warming, it’s not that I don’t believe in it - I’m no climate sceptic. I mean exactly what I say. I know it exists, but I don’t worry, because there’s a factor those scientists with their fancy models haven’t taken into account.
Mr Frost, his thousand friends, and their quotas.
So, if you’re experiencing a sudden cold snap or a sharp frost where you are, look out for a thin young man in a shiny shirt with a bluish tinge to his skin, and invite him in. Crank up the thermostat, offer him a hot drink and let him stay as long as he wants. But don’t shake his hand, not if you don’t want frost bite. And when he leaves, remember to thank him. He might just save our planet.
(c) Liam Hogan, 2013
Liam Hogan is delighted by this, the reading of his 100th Liars' League story! He hastens to point out that is 100 submissions, and definitely not 100 acceptances, and should also mention this includes Leeds, Hong Kong, New York and Leicester as well as London. But still – 100 stories! ... He'd also like to thank Katy, who has read every single one, the good, the bad, and the really bad. Sorry about that.
Lin Sagovsky’s credits include talking books, TV narrations and BBC R4/World Service programmes aplenty. She’s equally passionate about taking her actor/playwright background to all corners of the business world via her consultancy Play4Real, helping businesspeople use voice and body to create presence and fun in their working lives.