A Most Disgruntled Santa by R.T Hardwick

‘I just can’t do this any more.’

‘George, I don’t know why you went in for it in the first place.’

‘Funnily enough, Martha, since the shipyards closed, there seems to be a less pressing need for caulkers. At least that’s what they tell me down at the job centre.’

‘There’s no need to be sarcastic, George, I am on your side, after all.’

‘Sorry, Martha, it’s just that I’ve had such a trying day.’

‘I can see that from the state of your Santa suit. What’s that on the front?’

‘Ice cream. Some little perisher decided to see whether it would melt if he shoved his ice-cream cornet into my chest, reasoning that, as I came from frozen Lapland, it wouldn’t. It did.’

Martha fetches a damp cloth, a bottle of Dabitoff and rubs vigorously at the stain.

‘It’s no good. It’ll have to go to the dry-cleaners.’

‘Four thousand kids.’

‘Come again?’

‘That’s how many I’ve seen since Black Friday. Now it’s Christmas Eve. Thank God it’s all over.’

Shoulders slumped, hands in pockets, stocking cap hanging limply to one side, George is the picture of misery.

‘I wouldn’t mind if the store had a substitute. I can’t even get away for a toilet break.’

‘Good job you’ve got a leather bladder, then.’

‘And then there’s the rouge I have to put on my cheeks and nose to give me a suitably weathered look.’

‘It suits you.’

‘It’s no laughing matter, Martha. Nine pounds an hour to bellow Ho-Ho-Ho, take the little brutes on my knee and listen to their ridiculous demands for Christmas presents.’

‘You don’t promise them anything, do you?’ asks Martha.

‘Not on your life. Not with the evil eyes of their parents fixed upon me. Half of them haven’t a penny to their name. They would lynch me if I said: ‘Yes, sonny, of course you can have a Number Ten Meccano set or an X-Box worth a month’s rent.’

‘What do you tell them, then?’ asks Martha.

‘I say: “God hasn’t given Santa permission to spoil the excitement of Christmas morning by revealing your gifts.” That normally satisfies the little wretches, and it pleases the parents.’

‘George, I’ve been married to you for thirty years, and you’re an irascible man. How on earth do you keep your temper?’

‘I must remain in character at all times, whatever the provocation from the little horrors. I use a wrinkle I learned at school, whenever I was up before the beak. I think about something that makes me roar with laughter - those jolly, rib-tickling Laurel and Hardy films. It seems to help.’

George takes his right hand out of his pocket and throws a tube of mints across the room.

‘I loathe these things. I have to eat them all the time to keep my breath sweet. It wouldn’t do to have a Santa Claus with halitosis. If I never see another mint again, I’ll be a happy man.’

‘Calm down, George. I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.’

‘Another thing...they ask for toys I’ve never heard of, even though I pore over those blasted toy catalogues for weeks. A little imp asked today for a ‘Glow Geode Elf Kendal Hippy,’ as if I knew what that was.’

‘What did you say?’

‘I said I would check with Mrs Claus, because stocks might have run out and she’s in charge of stock control.’


‘You have to think on your feet in this line of work. And then there’s the aches and pains of lifting these little blighters on and off your lap. Since I took this job, I’ve developed tennis elbow, housemaid’s knee and a frozen shoulder. I ought to sue the store for damages.’

‘George, I know you like I know the back of my hand. There’s something else, something much deeper, troubling you. Won’t you tell me about it? I can’t help you if you won’t tell me what it is.’

A tear starts to trickle down George’s face. It cuts a groove in the rouge on his cheek. He nods miserably.

‘There is.’

Martha is a good, compassionate wife. She strokes his sleeve in sympathy.

‘Come on George, let it out. It’ll do you good.’

George nods, and sniffles. She passes him a handkerchief. He blows his nose noisily.

‘Last one today before I knock off,’ he says, ‘little girl, about seven. Lank hair, pony tail, glasses, cheap worn dress and what looks like a hand-me-down jacket. Hungry and wasted. No sign of her parents. A little boy standing nearby. Resembles her - careworn, unhappy. I lift the girl onto my lap. She weighs as much as a bag of feathers. She has a trusting face, even though it’s a sad one. She’s not like some of those other cheeky little terrors that tell me I’m not Santa Claus, I’m George Phibbs and they know me because I live just down the road from them.’

‘She has a name, this girl?’

‘Tracey. She’s called Tracey. She tells me the boy’s her little brother, Thomas.’

‘Carry on,’ says Martha. ‘I’m listening.’

‘She sits there, still as Buddha, and looks up at me with the pleading eyes of a spaniel. I say to her “Ho-Ho-Ho, Tracey, what do you want for Christmas from Santa Claus? I can’t promise you a toy, for that would spoil the surprise, but you can tell me what you hope for.” She has a faint little voice, no more than a whisper, really, and I have to bend my head to catch what she says -

“Dear Santa, neither Thomas nor I wants a toy.” What do you want, then? I say. She pauses for a second before replying: “Santa, can you bring our mummy and daddy back together again?

He left her a few months ago and now we’re really struggling. We miss our daddy so”’

‘Oh, George, those poor children.’

‘As I said, Martha, I just can’t do this any more.’

Published in Issue #22

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