Red Bicycle When You were Twelve

On a cold dingy day in the streets of London, a man leaves a police box casually and strolls down the lane, carrying something bulky under his arm. Making his way down to a somewhat run-down flat, he comes to a surreptitious stop outside the Powell estate.

A young girl with hair like cornsilk turns to a woman kneeling at a pile of tinsel and asks, "Mummy, will it snow tonight?"

"Don't be daft, it isn't cold enough for snow," snaps the woman. She runs her fingers gently over a picture of a regular-looking man, buried in the forgotten shining decorations.

Pursing her lips, the girl turns back to the window.

"Well, I think it'll snow anyway. It's got to snow on Christmas."

"You wait for God to get the timing right, and you'll wait forever," the woman remarks, pocketing the picture with stiff fingers. "Betty Johnson down the street hasn't got a baby yet, and goodness knows that's got something to do with timing. I'll tell you what, though, sweetheart. This Christmas," she says, taking the girl's little hand in her work-weathered one, "we'll put up the tree, how's that?"

The great brown eyes light up with childlike excitement.

"But we never put up the tree!"

"Because your Dad's the one who did it the year you were born," her mother wants to say, but chokes it down in yet another unrecorded act of love. Instead, she runs to the other room and drags out an unrecognisable lump of green.

"Always a first time."

"Will we put presents under the tree, like everyone else does?" demanded the child, untangling the plastic branches with unconscious dexterity. "I asked Father Christmas for a red bicycle."

"Yeah, and I asked him for the last twenty years back," the woman muttered, but aloud she said, "I'm sorry, sweetheart, but there won't be any presents this year. Things are still pretty hard up, and I'm doing the best I can."

There is a moment of silence as the child ducks her head and watches her fingers wind through the tangled tinsel. When she looks up, there is a smile on her face and a quiet sacrifice in the brown eyes that, even then, were tasting the first morsel of selflessness in the huge platter to come.

"It's all right, Mummy," she says cheerfully. "Mickey said he'd show me something real special. He said it'd be enough for two presents."

"Probably another daft drawing of people-eating monsters," the woman scoffs. "Insists it happened when he was little. The boy's useless. Mickey the idiot, his name should be."

Unable to help himself, the man lets out a half-snort, half-laugh outside the window.

"Who's there?" the woman asks sharply from inside. "If you're Mickey, only idiots listen outside the door." Then, as another thought comes to her mind, her tone became bright and coy. "Harold, if that's you, I made Christmas dinner for three."

He hears her get to her feet and approach the door, and his eyes widen in alarm as he remembers the woman's cooking. Setting the bulky item outside the door, he took a moment to adjust the bow on it and runs for his life down the hallway before Jackie Tyler could poison him, seven years too early.

Nevertheless, he lingers around the corner.

"What's this, then?" he hears the woman exclaim. "Rose, sweetheart, I think this is for you. Come and see, quickly!"

The child scrambles to her feet and runs to the door, where she stops short. From his angle, the man can't see her reaction, but he knows it very well-stunned brown eyes, parted lips, body still with shock, then-which was his favourite-her tongue would come out from between her lips and she would break into a beautiful grin.

Rose Tyler bends down to the bicycle and gives it a great big hug.

This the man could see, and he beams to himself with quiet happiness.

"Thank you, Father Christmas," the girl calls out with glee.

Still grinning to himself, the man turns and walks away.

"Merry Christmas, Rose Tyler."

Half a minute later, as the girl sits, marvelling, on her new red bicycle, there comes a great shout for her from the door.

"That thing I've got to show you," pants Mickey Smith, grabbing her hand as she came to the door. "It's here. It's here again. Come on, I'll show you!"

They run down the stairs together with him holding on tightly to her, and in between her panting and Mickey's excited promises, Rose hears a strange sound echoing from outside.

"It made that sound last time," cries Mickey, half-delirious with anticipation. "He was here, just about a week ago."

"What made that sound? Who was here? What are you talking about?"

"There!" They run out into the sunshine, and Mickey points to...nothing. "It's gone!" he yells angrily. "It's gone again! It's always disappearing like that! But I swear it was here! That man was here!"

"I didn't see anyone," Rose says uncertainly, but just as they reached the last step, she caught a glimpse of something-she didn't know what-fading. Just...fading into nothingness. And the sound she had heard-it was like the world, singing in a wordless voice. But she was twelve and sensible, and noticed something else.

"It's snowing!" she realises, and runs out into the open. "Mickey, it's actually snowing on Christmas day!" She dances around, laughing gaily as the snow flies around her and weaves itself into her hair.

And very, very faintly, as if only in her head, she heard a man's voice say, "Merry Christmas, Rose Tyler!"

"But it's not cold enough for snow," Mickey insisted. "It's a Christmas miracle!"

Rose knew better. Bicycles and snow were only two of the things he could do, and she was certain there was so much more.

"Thank you, Father Christmas," she whispers into the sky.