A Christmas story every day this week.
Got sidetracked there for a bit.
However, I have a special story for you all today.
It’s a little whimsical but definitely written with the spirit of Christmas in mind.
Wishing you and your loved ones much comfort and joy this Christmas season.
Jess was the first to admit that she was a little slow when it came to paying attention. She liked to daydream and that was the truth. She dreamed about happy things because everybody knew how desolate the world was at times and if you thought about it too much you would just stick your head in the gas oven and be done with it.
Like Sylvia Plath. Poor thing. Jess sometimes cried for the people who hadn’t been able to keep the bleakness at bay. It was always the gifted ones too – never the irritating loudmouths who complained you had charged them ten cents too much for their organic baby figs nestled in soft red paper like Christmas baubles. They were 35.99 a kilo for goodness sake – what was an extra ten cents either way?
Jess liked working in the fruit shop most of the time. With her father and her grandfather and her Uncle Baz who spent all day flirting with the young female customers and comparing their anatomy to various types of fruit. Plums were his favourite. He also favoured nectarines and peaches. Uncle Baz’s ideal woman resembled a piece of fruit. Thank goodness it was a voluptuous piece of fruit and not something like a zucchini. Jess couldn’t stand it if he started favouring the androgynous.
Wake up, Jess, Uncle Baz and her father were fond of calling out as she arranged the string beans into fan shapes. Or polished the red delicious as she thought of Snow White cleaning the house of the seven dwarves. It was better than thinking of poor Sylvia. She would cry all day and all night if she thought about a woman who could write of such beauty –
The empty benches of memory look over stones
Marble facades with blue veins and jelly-glassfuls of daffodils
It is so beautiful up here: it is a stopping place.
And not be able to remember her words, her gifts, in her darkest of hours.
It was Jess’ own fear. To have the storm clouds crush her.
That was why Nicholas was so good for her. She didn’t want to say he was the love of her life but he was. He was a bright spark, so her father said. A human rights lawyer. He spent most nights working with Mission Beat getting food and blankets to the homeless people in the city. Jess didn’t mind. She knew how important Nick’s work was. She knew how much those homeless people loved him. She didn’t blame them. He was a very lovable guy.
And children. How they loved him. No matter where they went a child would come over and start talking to them. They flocked to Nicholas. He had a real way about him, everybody said so. A good man. A trustworthy man. The patience of a saint. He had time for every single child. Every one. It was heartwarming.
One thing worried Jess, however. Nicholas was starting to put on weight. It happened every year as Christmas drew near. She knew it was because so many of his clients treated him to lunches, bought him cakes, left chocolates on his desk as a surprise. It was nice to be appreciated but not good for the waistline. Nicholas was just a young man. He didn’t want a middle-aged paunch.
When she mentioned to Nicholas that she thought he was getting a little plump around the middle he gave his typical, endearing laugh.
Hohohohohohoho. A few cakes at Christmas never hurt anybody, he said. I’ll lose it once I go back to salads and mineral water in the New Year.
The other thing that worried Jess was the amount of mail that arrived at the house. Thousands of letters written in childish scripts, addressed to the same person – Mr. Santa Claus.
Jess had no idea how they ended up at her house. Most of them didn’t even have a street name or number. She took a pile of them to the post office to complain, but the woman behind the counter, cranky from a hundred customers a day putting the incorrect postage on their Christmas parcels, said she didn’t have time for people being smart alecks.
So the letters piled up.
Nicholas read them after work over milk and cookies, laughing intermittently.
Johnny wants a pair of skates. Susie wants a sled. Mary wants a picture book – yellow, blue and red, he said. Hohohoho nothing ever changes.
Mrs. Butterworth came in three days before Christmas for her tray of mangoes. Her mango salad was famous. People from all over town pretended they had been invited to Christmas dinner at Mrs. B’s place just so they could taste her mango salad. And butterfly prawns, big as your hand.
I saw Nicholas the other day, Mrs. Butterworth said. He’s grown a beard. It suits him. It’s grey for such a young man. It was that really windy day we had, remember? He had on a red hoodie. It must have been a trick of the light but for a moment he looked like a young Santa Claus. It was so funny to see him there. Made me feel like a child again. Made me remember the Christmas magic.
There’s no such thing as Santa Claus, Jess said.
That night Jess decided to talk to Nicholas about all the goings on, about what Mrs. Butterworth had seen, but he was working late. When Jess went out to put some rubbish in the bin she found bales of hay at the end of the garden. And carrots – boxes and boxes of carrots. She went to sleep with what she could swear was the sound of hooves on her roof. And the faintest trill of bells.
On Christmas Eve Nicholas was distracted. Jess had made a special dinner with lots of leafy vegetables and not too many carbs. She had opened a bottle of wine and put out her best candlesticks. Nicholas’ beard was long and white under the candlelight. He had files on the table almost a metre high. He would turn to a new page every few minutes and mark something off.
I’m making a list and checking it twice, he said.
Jess grew tired from the wine. The candlelight was making her eyes swim.
I think I’ll go to bed, she said, kissing Nicholas goodnight
Jess fell asleep instantly but was wakened shortly before midnight. She heard a commotion in the garden and looked out the window. There was a sleigh on the lawn and eight reindeer. They were stomping and snorting. Jess just knew they were going to destroy her flower garden. She banged on the window, trying to scare them off but they ignored her. There was a scent of crushed carrots in the air.
As midnight struck a man came into the garden dressed in a red suit. He had a red hat with a white pom pom on the end. The suit didn’t hide the fact that he was slightly portly around the middle.
The man laughed when he saw the reindeer stomping on the grass.
There was no doubt about it. The man was Nicholas. Her Nicholas. He held the files in his arms. He placed them in the sleigh. He got in. There was an enormous sack beside him full of iPods, Playstations and Harry Potter Lego.
Nicholas picked up the reins. The reindeer snorted, suddenly excited. He shook the reins – once, twice, thrice. A light rose from beneath the feet of the reindeer – a kind of dust, gold and silver.
The reindeer extended their legs, flicking their tails, ascending into the sky. The gold and silver dust followed them, filling the sky like glitter. Jess rubbed her eyes, sure she was dreaming, after all it was what she did all day long, why shouldn’t she daydream at night too? When she stopped, Nicholas and the reindeer were gone. But on the grass bent this way and that where the reindeer had stood was one word.
And suddenly everything made sense.
One simple word, putting it all into perspective that made Jess fear the storm clouds less and less.
One word, striking in its power.
*Image – Santa Claus by Meltkor TP via DeviantArt.
** According to the wonderful website Santa Claus.com Jessica is the actual name of Mrs. Claus.
*** The quote is from Berck-Plage by Sylvia Plath which is found in Ariel.