Behind the door, eight bay racehorses ate dates and grapes. Grey neighbours, stabled, grazed on hay. Ailing Ray raised maize through aches and pains, ably aided by straining cane.

A way away, May made Dave’s day by plating tasty Danish bacon. Fey strangers came to stay. They changed shape later, veiled by crêpe draped from gables: a crane, corncrake, a snake. The shaman capered in the rain.

Babe lay in manger, swathed.

Great apes at play ate apricots; at Aintree’s race, Ray’s favourite came in eighteenth. And May and Dave, now dazed, swayed, aimless, down the lane on Christmas Day.

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