Writing Contemporary Scottish Fiction

A CHRISTMAS TALE

It was a grey day in early winter and the leaden sky was a perfect match for Santa’s mood.
“It gets harder every year,” he grumbled to Rudolph.

The red-nosed reindeer looked up from the chaise-longue, where he was flicking through a copy of Playdeer Monthly and snorted. “I don’t know what you’re moaning about. I’m the one who pulls the damn sleigh.”

Santa rose with an arthritic groan and walked over to the stove. He picked up the kettle from the side and put it on a hook over the flames. As he stood spooning tealeaves into an earthenware pot a sharp jingling of bells announced they had a visitor.

The old man sighed and hobbled to the heavy wooden door, pulling it open with some difficulty. A tall figure, thickly-clad, stood on the threshold, a flurry of snow blowing in, around him.
“Don’t just stand there,” Santa said. “Come inside. You’re letting all the heat out.”

The figure entered, and began peeling off layers of clothing, letting them fall to the floor. Santa lifted the wet clothes and hung them on hooks by the stove. Then he then turned to inspect the visitor. Tall and athletic, he was dressed curiously, in tights and a tunic. On his head he wore a felt hat in Lincoln green, perched at a jaunty angle. He stood stag-like, surveying his surroundings.

Rudolph peered over his glasses. “Is that what you call a cocked hat?”

“It’s bycocket, actually,” the visitor said. His eye fell on the kettle, steaming merrily. “Ooh you making tea, Santa?”

The old man raised an eyebrow. “You have the advantage of me, sir.”

The visitor smiled broadly and stepped forward, hand outstretched. “Hood’s the name,” he said. “But you can call me Robin.”

Rudolph put down his magazine and swung his back legs round and off the chaise-longue. “As in “Robin Hood? Of Sherwood Forest?”

Robin beamed. “The very same. Milk, two sugars, if you don’t mind,” he called to Santa, adding “Any biscuits? I missed lunch. Bloody ClausAir wanted ten quid for a venison sandwich.”

Rudolph winced, and Robin had the grace to blush. “Sorry — didn’t buy one, obviously.”

Santa brought over a tray of steaming mugs and a packet of Jaffa Cakes which Robin fell upon, grabbing them two at a time.

“So,” the old man began, “if it’s not an impertinent question …”

“What am I doing here? Eww — Jesus! Lapsang Souchong. You might have said.”

“I’ll have it,” Rudolph said holding out a hoof, but the visitor waved this away, clasping his hands round the mug.

“You were telling us why you’re here,” Santa reminded him.

“Oh yes! Hmm — bit awkward, actually. It’s about Christmas …”

Santa and Rudolph exchanged glances.

“What about it?” There was no mistaking the warning in Santa’s tone. Rudolph sat forward. He hadn’t seen a decent fight in ages.

“Well — it’s not really working, is it?” Robin said. He began walking round the room, stopping at a pile of gifts, stacked against the wall. “Look at this,” he said. “Presents everywhere, elves working day and night, reindeer pulling a sleigh. It’s not exactly twenty-first century, is it.”

Rudolph tossed his antlers. “It’s not as easy as it looks, you know,” he said. “You want to try it.”

“I do actually.”

“Oh really?”

“Oh really!”

“And how do you propose to do that?”

Robin smiled. “There’s no need to be so hostile, Bambi. I’ve got it covered.”

Rudolph’s hackles rose. He reached across to the table and picked up a pack of Slim Panatellas then sank back in his chair. He withdrew one from the pack and lit it, inhaling deeply. He blew a succession of perfect smoke rings. “You reckon?”

Robin waved the smoke away. “Passive smoking. Not cool, Bambi.”

The reindeer ignored this. “You were saying?”

Robin sat down again and leaned in towards Santa, his hands clasped. “We’re going to nationalise you.”

Santa’s jaw dropped. “You what?”

Robin nodded. “You see, I’m not just Robin Hood.” He drew himself up to his full height. “I’m also the Right Honourable Member for Sherwood North. Huge majority at the last election.”

Santa opened his mouth to interrupt but Robin was into his stride now. “Our chief manifesto pledge was to put Christmas on a more regular footing. Take your elves,” he went on, waving a Jaffa Cake airily. “Are they unionised?”

There was a silence. Santa looked at the floor while Rudolph pretended to examine his hooves.

“Thought not. Living wage? Minimum wage, even?”

Santa cleared his throat. “It’s not all bad, you know. They get bed and board. And plenty of time off in January.”

“It’s sweat shop labour, and you know it.” Robin looked round the room. “I mean, what are you even doing this far north? It’s bloody miles from anywhere. Your heating bills must be through the roof. I reckon we could ship the whole operation back to Sherwood Forest, throw up a factory, get these elves a Shop Steward, proper rate of pay, pension, health insurance — the works. And still save you money.”

There was knock at the door and Santa rose, thankful for a distraction. But the visitor leapt to his feet and moved in front of the old man.

“Don’t answer it,” he cried.

“I can hear you,” a female voice said from the other side of the door.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Robin tried.

“Had them last week,” Rudolph said, taking another drag.

Santa pushed Robin gently aside and shuffled to the door.

A dark-haired woman of about twenty-five stood in the doorway, swathed in a voluminous hooded cloak of blue velvet. She unwrapped this to reveal a long yellow skirt and blue top. Her dark bobbed hair was held in a red hairband. She held her cloak out for Santa to take and scowled at Robin. “You might at least have shared a taxi.”

Robin shrugged. “Didn’t notice you.”

“You were behind me at check-in!”

Santa sensed tempers were rising. “Tea — er — madam?”

The woman held out a soft hand. “White. It’s Miss White.” She beamed round at them. “But you can call me Snowy. And I’ll have a cup of Darjeeling, skimmed milk, ginger snap on the side, please. Gluten free,” she added.

Rudolph, having finished his cigar, sat forward, holding in his stomach. “Erm, on holiday, Miss — er — Snowy?”

She flashed him a smile. “Something like that Rudy. I can call you Rudy, can’t I?”

Rudolph blushed to the roots of his fur and nodded. “Smoke?” he said, holding out the pack but Snowy waved this away.

“Gave up last year. Still miss it though …” She looked wistful for a minute then her expression changed. “I’m here on a mission, actually.” She beamed round at them. “I am the Right Honourable Member for Sherwood South and I represent the Select Committee on Manufacturing. I’d like to help you grow your business.”

Robin was scowling now but Snowy ploughed on. “I can help you find the right strategic fit for your results-driven end-goal. So to speak,” she added.

Santa looked at Rudolph who shrugged his shoulders.

“Exploitation,” Robin said, his face scarlet. “Downright exploitation! She tried the same thing last year with the Easter bunny.” He leaned over, wagging a finger in Snowy’s face. “It didn’t work then and it won’t work now!”

Rudolph looked from Snowy to Robin, then back at Snowy again. “So,” he began, “you two — work together?”

“No!” they said in unison.

“Mr Hood,” Snowy said, “is stuck in an age where the workers ruled all, regardless of the consequences. I, on the other hand, take a more global approach — if we maximise profits, then we secure jobs for the workforce.”

Robin snorted earning him a glare from Snowy.

“You should ask my dwarves what they think,” she said. “A happier bunch of lads I’ve yet to meet.”

Robin banged his hand down on the table, making his Lapsang Souchong rattle. “If I hear one more word about those bloody dwarves …”

“The trouble with you, Mr Hood, is you have no vision. You’re so …”

Rudolph rose and moved to where Santa was standing next to the stove. “They go on a bit, don’t they?”

Santa nodded.

“Gonna make her a cup of tea?”

“To be honest, Rudolph, I doubt she’d notice, either way. She’s scarcely drawn breath since she arrived.”

Rudolph looked towards the heavy front door then back at the pair who were still bickering. “We could go across to the barn and make a start on the wrapping. Get a bit done before bedtime …”

They began walking to the door. “Smoke?” Rudolph said.

Santa fished a cigar out of the pack. “Don’t mind if I do, Rudy, don’t mind if I do.” He slapped the reindeer on the back.

Outside the weather had improved. A watery sun was making a brief appearance just above the horizon illuminating the freshly-fallen snow. It creaked beneath their feet as they walked towards the barn and its contents which would soon bring joy to children the world over.

 

© Marion Todd – All Rights Reserved



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