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A Christmas Tale

by
Sharif Gemie

‘It’s not so much the volume,’ Santa muttered, ‘as the substance.’

        ‘Morning, Santa,’ said Holly, the elf in charge of Reindeer Procurement and Development. ‘What’s wrong—the deliveries?’

       Santa looked at his team of six trained reindeer, their breath steaming white in the crisp Lapland air. They were noble beasts, the best, they served him loyally every year.

        ‘There’ll be no problems with them,’ he replied. ‘You’ve trained the team well, as always.’

        Holly grinned, but looked back at Santa, ‘So why—’

        ‘Never mind, Holly, it’s just an old man worrying.’

        Santa tugged at his long white beard, then stepped away. His feet crunched through crisp snow as he walked over the brow of a hill. He looked down on the heart of the operation, the immense log-cabin in the middle of snow-clad valley. As he grew closer, he saw one shift of elves leaving and another trooping in. The two shifts teased each other, calling out age-old taunts:

        ‘Finishing early, eh? Leaving the real work for the ones who count?’

      ‘Thought you’d roll in now, did you? Save any mince pies for us? Nice of you to spare the time from your important nap schedule.’

 

         Trixie the Floor-Manager spotted Santa, ‘Top o’the morning, Big Guy. Ready for tonight’s operation?’

         Santa nodded wearily.

         ‘Itinerary and selection satisfactory?’

         ‘The AI’s directions are as clear as they could be,’ agreed Santa. ‘We set it to generous, didn’t we?’

         Trixie smiled. ‘Only repeat-offender bullies and unrepentant Trump fans excluded.’

         ‘So, no moral dilemmas for us.’

         ‘And the schedule? I know, it looks demanding—’

        ‘—but the multi-dimensional generator has solved all the old problems. Now I can be in all places at once.’ Santa beamed and, for a moment, Trixie expected one of his famous belly-laughs. But no, that strange, vacillating expression returned, flickering over his face.

        ‘Lighten up, Big Guy. Before you know it, you’ll be back in no time for a sherry, a mince pie and a nap in front of the old log fire!’

        ‘Got something on my mind.’ Santa looked away. ‘Do you ever wonder why…’

       His voice died away. For a moment, the two old friends watched the last elves leave the log-cabin. Trixie tried to guess what might be bothering Santa.

        ‘It’s just nerves, isn’t it? You’ll be fine, you always are.’

        ‘So they tell me,’ replied Santa.

        ‘Have a walk,’ said Trixie. ‘Nothing like a stroll through snow-clad pine trees to set yourself straight.’

        'Maybe Trixie was right, thought Santa. He nodded goodbye to the Floor-Manager and stomped towards the mosaic of white and brown pine trees that stretched out, over the snowy hills, to the horizon.

        The beauty, the sheer beauty of the place still took his breath away. A single crystal icicle, gleaming in a ray of sunlight. The gentle patter as snow slipped from a green branch. The clean, fresh smell of the winter trees. Santa pulled his red coat tighter and adjusted his hood. Who could be unhappy in front of these sights? And yet…

       It wasn’t the volume. He knew that, with the help of his reindeer and the multi-dimensional generator, he’d complete his allotted task on time. Every good child on the planet would wake to a carefully-chosen gift from the only entity who truly cared for them. He’d done the work for centuries and was more than capable of doing it for centuries more. My task, the one no one else can fulfil. He sighed and a waft of Claus-y breath floated up through the snow-draped branches. The army of elves, the crack team of reindeer, the mystery of omnipresence, another miracle at Christmas. But: what was it for?

          Santa stomped back to the immense log-cabin and went inside.

          ‘Spot inspection,’ whispered one elf to another.

         Their labour continued seamlessly—a cascade of gleaming new presents, all white plastic and shiny metal parts, rolled down on to the assembly line, the right wrapping paper was selected and applied, then the address was presented, confirmed and added. The elves worked diligently, the regular chugging of the factory’s belts and drives disturbed only by the occasional whistled tune and elvish giggle. Santa approached Thistledown, responsible for quality control.

           ‘And what are this year’s favourites?’

          Thistledown grinned. ‘Barbie’s had a big revival, as you might expect. Play-stations, toy drones, wooden cafes, AirPods… A bit of everything, as always…’

         Santa bent down and picked up an object from the factory belt. Big blue plastic eyes gazed back to him. This wasn’t happiness, this wasn’t joy.

             ‘What’s it all for?’ he muttered.

             Thistledown looked up in alarm. ‘Santa, you mustn’t ever forget that Christmas is all about--’

           ‘You know something, Thistledown. Fuck it. This just isn’t worth doing any longer. There are better ways for them to find joy.’

Sharif Gemie is a retired Professor of History. He was a university lecturer for 32 years. Originally a historian of modern Europe, he grew interested in the histories of marginalized and minority peoples in Europe. He wrote (or co-wrote) eight non-fiction works, and countless academic articles. His most important books include: Women and Schooling: Gender, Authority and Identity in the Female Schooling Sector, France, 1815-1914 (Keele University Press, 1995); Galicia: A Concise History (Cardiff: UWP, 2006); French Muslims: New Voices in Contemporary France (Cardiff: UWP, 2010); Outcast Europe: Refugees and Relief Workers in an Age of Total War, 1936-48 (London: Continuum, 2011), co-authored with Fiona Reid and Laure Humbert; and The Hippy Trail: A History (1957—88) (Manchester University Press, 2017), co-authored with Brian Ireland.

His debut novel, 'The Displaced', is due for publication by ASP, this year.

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