by A. Ferguson
Karen inhaled a sharp drag on her cigarette, holding the burning toxic fumes in her chest for as long as she could before letting them out in one shuddering breath on the snowy rooftops below.
It was freezing. Karen had sworn she’d never do another Christmas Eve again but that man… that stupid idiot man.
‘I wish you wouldn’t smoke, dear. What if someone sees?’
‘It’s your fault I’m here at all.’
‘The little children, dearest, they look up to me; to us.’
She chanced a glance at Santa. His brilliant red jacket was now a patchwork of soot stains and there was a fresh tear in the shoulder.
‘Yeah.’ Karen grunted, stealing one last drag before stamping the cigarette underfoot. ‘Well. Can I go now?’
‘Ah, well, I wonder…’
‘What?’ Karen grunted.
‘It’s just the old knee, my dear. Dr. Jones said I should rest it but when you pulled me out–‘
‘I told you not to use the chimneys this year!’ Karen snapped. ‘I don’t know why I waste my breath talking to you.’
‘I’ve only got Glasgow and Falkirk to go, you’ll be home in an hour.’
‘Am I just free labour to you, is that why you married me? Dragging me out of bed on Christmas Eve–‘
‘Please Karen, it’s for the children. They’ll be so disappointed on Christmas morning if Santa hasn’t been.’ He implored.
‘Like I’ve been every Christmas I’ve had since I met you.’ She muttered, trying to seem indifferent to what the children wanted.
Santa didn’t say anything, but she could see he was hurt.
‘Fine, whatever.’ She huffed, climbing into his sleigh and taking the reins. ‘Are you able to get home in my sleigh okay?’
‘I’ll manage.’ He said.
‘Well mind and call if you can’t–’
‘I’ll be fine. See you when you get back.’
‘Please yourself.’ Karen snapped and with a sharp crack on the reigns she took off into the snowy night sky.
🎅 🎅 🎅
Karen muttered profanities to herself as she stuffed yet another oversized stocking (this one belonging to someone called Adam Forrester) with gifts and chocolates.
That man! This was what her life had become. Stockings, presents, Christmas trees and clambering up and down chimneys. It was all he cared about.
Exhausted from her work, she sat down on a nearby armchair. A plastic, cartoon portrait of her good-for-nothing husband grinned back at her from the opposite wall. On the coffee table, a small plate of mince pies sat beside a raw carrot and a glass of milk. Karen shuddered. How long had it been sitting there?
She looked at the clock on the mantle. Half past four. Enough time for a quick one.
Rummaging around in her pocket, she pulled out her cigarettes and lit one, trying to relax on the unfamiliar armchair, taking the mince pies off the plate and lifting the plate onto her lap to use as an ashtray.
Seventeen years of her life she’d wasted, married to a man who cared more about other people’s children than about her and about their children, not that they had any. He’d swept her off her feet that fateful morning seventeen years ago, when she interrupted him filling her stocking. He whisked her away for a midnight journey around the world in his sleigh and she helped deliver presents to all the children in the world. Afterward they returned to her place and shared a mince pie before he suddenly announced the sun was rising and he had to leave.
She couldn’t let him. She was young, starstruck and there was such an obvious and irresistible chemistry between them that she went with him. She married him and, for a while, life was one big festive adventure but now… now she was trapped in the dwindling hours of an everlasting Christmas evening, when the presents are all unwrapped and the turkey is all gone and the tree doesn’t seem to sparkle quite as brightly as it did a few hours before. That was her life, all year round with him locked up in his workshop most of the year then expecting everyone to jump to his command come December. The sleigh was just a mode of transport now. Giving gifts to other people’s children was nice but it wasn’t quite enough and whenever she tried to talk about starting their own family, he would find some excuse to change the subject or–
‘Who are you?’
Karen nearly fell off the armchair as she smashed the cigarette furiously into the plate. There was a man in the doorway, presumably Adam Forrester. He was a little younger than Karen, perhaps, but not by much, maybe early thirties. He didn’t look particularly bothered to find a stranger in his living room.
Of course not. He was expecting one.
‘The first openly female Santa.’ Karen grunted.
‘Are you Mrs. Claus?’
‘Karen.’ She grunted. ‘Karen Claus. You’re supposed to be sleeping.’
‘Couldn’t sleep.’ Adam said, matter-of-factly. ‘Too excited. I love Christmas.’
Karen snorted. ‘You’re worse than my husband.’
‘Don’t you like Christmas?’
‘Every day is Christmas with us.’ Karen snorted. ‘This is just work. His work. Only reason I’m here is he got stuck in a chimney earlier and hurt himself.’
‘Oh, so you get lumbered with it whenever he’s not well?’
‘I don’t mind doing it.’ Karen said. ‘It’s great giving gifts to all the children and everything, it’s just…’ Karen paused, hunting for the right word.
‘Christmas isn’t Christmas anymore.’ Adam finished for her. ‘Like you said, it’s work. His work.’
‘You wanna talk about it? I know we don’t know each other but if you want to let off steam or…’
Karen sighed. ‘That’s very kind but there’s nothing to tell. I’ll tell you this though, one day you’re gonna meet someone and you’ll think to yourself, “that’s it, this is the One for me!”, ‘cause there’s so much chemistry between you and you think he’ll make all your wildest dreams come true. But you can’t live like that…’ Karen looked in her cigarette box. It was empty. ‘You marry someone like that and you realise what’s really important to you. Not the sleigh rides or the presents or the fact he can do magic. Boring stuff, like raising a family and knowing he cares about you more than all that other stuff; Christmas, or whatever it is makes him feel good about himself.’
‘I guess being married to Santa must be a bit like being married to a celebrity.’ Adam mused. ‘Christmas is what he is and everyone loves him for it, expects it from him. And you just get absorbed into all that whether you like it or not.’
‘Yeah.’ Karen said. ‘Yeah, exactly. So now it’s all just Christmas this, Christmas that, all year round. It’s not magical anymore, but it’s not quite a proper life either. And that’s what I want, a proper life. I love Santa but I want a normal life too. I want to get excited about Christmas like a normal person and and see my own children getting excited about it every year instead of just standing in the background making Christmas fun for strangers
‘You know, we had this big fight last Christmas. Something that was important to me but he didn’t want to know. After that he spent all year locked up in his workshop, hardly came out at all, just says he’s gotta get ready for Christmas.’
Karen exhaled sharply through her nose. She looked down at her hands and tugged at the fingers of her gloves.
‘You know what? No, I don’t like Christmas, not any more.’
Adam didn’t say anything. She looked up to see him, focusing intently on her with genuine concern on his face. He seemed like a kind man.
‘Look, never mind about me.’ Karen said, rising to her feet slightly embarrassed by her own catharsis. ‘Tell you what, since you love Christmas so much, why don’t I give you a quick ride in the sleigh? Just to say thank you.’
Adam’s eyes lit up. ‘Really? Well… yes! Oh, I’d love that.’
Karen smiled, feeling a whole lot lighter than she did half an hour ago. ‘Get your coat. It’s chilly out.’
🎅 🎅 🎅
The sleigh ride did not last long. It was too close to daybreak to take Adam beyond his own city. There was a tiny chink of light on the farthest point of the horizon when Karen and Adam landed back on Adam’s rooftop and Karen couldn’t help feeling disappointed it was over.
‘Well,’ Adam said without rising up from the sleigh. ‘Thanks for a wonderful night.’
‘No, thank you for listening to me. For understanding.’ Karen said.
Adam smiled and Karen felt her heart skip a beat.
‘Well,’ She said, business-like. ‘You’d better get to bed or Santa won’t come.’
Adam took a long time to clamber out of the sleigh. When he finally did get out, he walked around the sleigh to be as close to her as possible.
‘You want to come in for a coffee or something?’ He asked.
Yes. Yes, I do.
‘I can’t, Adam.’ She said, feeling sick. ‘The sun’s coming up, I have to get back.’
‘Before you turn into a pumpkin?’
‘Something like that.’ She grimaced.
‘Alright.’ He said, taking a single, very small step back from the sleigh.
‘Goodnight, Adam.’ She said, cracking the reigns hard to return to Santa.
🎅 🎅 🎅
The sun was just beginning to rise over the snowy Korvatunturian landscape when Karen landed the sleigh in front of the quaint log cabin which was their private residence. Smoke puffed happily from the chimney and a warm glow from the windows gently illumined the snowy ground but she felt more miserable than ever. Two serious faced elves met the sleigh as soon as she arrived, taking charge of the reindeer, allowing her to go immediately to the house.
Inside it was quiet, though the hallway was warm. He was up, but she just wanted to go to bed and forget about the last twenty-four hours.
‘Is that you dearest?’
Karen swore under he breath.
‘I’m going to bed.’ She called back.
‘But it’s Christmas!’ He called back. Karen heard his heavy footfalls coming towards the hall. A moment later, he appeared in the living room door, wearing those ridiculous red and white pyjamas. ‘Maybe Santa’s been!’
‘I live with Santa. It’s nothing new.’ She grunted, walking past him to the stairs but he gently took her hand and stopped her.
‘Karen, please.’ He said in a softer voice. ‘Come and see.’
‘Can I have a fag?’
‘Fine.’ Karen sighed. ‘But then I’m going to bed.’
Santa stepped back from the living room door, making a grand gesture of inviting her into the room. ‘Of course.’ He said solemnly.
Karen entered the living room, a little surprised and even a touch disappointed to find it unchanged. Warm, cozy, with a fire blazing in the hearth and the same small bundle of presents under the oversized Christmas tree. Instead of going to the presents, however, Santa crossed the living room towards his workshop and stood beside the door.
‘In here.’ He said, gesturing to the closed door. ‘Merry Christmas.’
Karen regarded him suspiciously and felt an unwanted smile begin to force itself upon the corners of her mouth. ‘What is it?’ She asked, as disdainfully as she could.
‘Your main present,’ he said. ‘From your husband.’
Karen approached the workshop and pushed the door open. She seldom ventured here herself. It was always full of mess and business as Santa and his elves worked furiously preparing all the toys and gifts for the following Christmas. Something she had lost all interest in.
She could hardly believe her eyes when she opened the door. All of the workbenches, machinery and magical paraphernalia were gone. There were no elves and no mess. The entire room had been redecorated from top to bottom in soft pastel shades. On one side of the room, there was a white chest of drawers with soft edges and bulbous, rubbery handles. A similarly styled wardrobe stood directly beside it. There was a large selection of soft toys populating the top of the drawers. The windows were covered with pastel blue blackout curtains which prevented any sunlight from getting into the room. There was a white lampshade with tiny little reindeers dangling from the light, casting reindeer shaped shadows all around the room. On the far side of the room, there was a simple white wooden cot and a baby changing station. Karen was speechless.
‘Where’s the workshop?’ Karen gasped.
‘Dismantled.’ Santa said. ‘I’ve decided to advertise for someone else to take over. They can have it all. I thought about what you said last Christmas and you were right.’
Karen looked up at her husband, his face uncharacteristically serious though not stern.
‘I’ve been too absorbed in my work. I’ve just been doing it so long, it’s become my life. So it’s time to retire. To focus on our family.’ He nodded into the workshop-turned-nursery. ‘I know this doesn’t make up for everything but-’
‘But it’s a start.’ Karen said, nodding. ‘And I’m sorry. For everything.’
‘So…’ Santa said. ‘Not a disappointing Christmas this year, then?’
‘No.’ She said. ‘I think this is going to be the best Christmas ever.’
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