“Where the bloody hell have you been?” Mrs Crass scolded. “No, don’t tell me. I can smell it on you. What have I told you about nipping off to the pub in your costume? Well, the costs of the dry cleaning will come out of your pay-packet. That’s supermarket property, that is. Someone’s got to wear that next year – and the way you’re going, that someone won’t be you. You reek of whisky. Here, chobble on a few candy canes to take the edge off. Try not to breathe directly in the kids’ faces.”
The Father Christmas did his best to look suitably abashed. Let the manager have her rant and she’d bugger off all the quicker and leave him in peace. Peace and goodwill to all men. Well, one out of two wasn’t bad.
Kirsty, a Saturday girl earning a few extra quid through the holidays dressed as an elf, appeared. “Hello,” she beamed. “You’re back. I told the queue you were making final preparations for tonight. You know, loading up your sleigh, making your list, checking it twice.” She laughed. Lovely girl, thought the Father Christmas. They’re not paying her enough. Mrs Crass was far from charmed.
“Just get on with it. And try to shift more of the space-blasters, if you can. We’ve overstocked.”
She turned on her stiletto heels and stalked away to check off something else on her clipboard.
Kirsty rolled her eyes. “Come on then, Father Christmas,” she took him by the elbow, “Let’s get you installed in your grotto.”
“You’re a good girl,” said the Father Christmas with a booze-fuelled hiccup.
“You remind me of my granddad,” she said. “He was always pissed on Christmas Eve. And any other day, come to think of it!” She laughed again. It was like bells jingling, the Father Christmas realised.
She sat him on his throne and adjusted his hat so the pompom hung just so. Standing back to admire her handiwork, she rubbed her chin. “That’ll have to do, I suppose. You ready for the first one?”
The Father Christmas grunted. He tried to stifle a belch.
Kirsty giggled. “You are awful, you are! Not to worry. Only three hours until closing and then it’s all over. We can all go home and get our feet up. Won’t that be lovely, eh? I know most people my age will be out on the town but not me. I like to stay in with the family on Christmas Eve – it’s when we put the tree up. I can’t be doing with all this decorations-up-in- November nonsense, can you? Spoils it, I think. Christmas should be special not dragged out for half the year. Hark at me! You must think I’m a right old fart! Anyway, I’ll send the first one through.”
She skipped away, a blur of red and green.
The Father Christmas slumped in his throne. Feet up, my arse, he reflected. He had overnight deliveries to make; the original global courier!
As the pickled onion crisps he’d bolted in the Red Lion threatened to make a resurgence, he remembered being bright-eyed and innocent like that lovely girl.
When did I become so bloated and cynical, he wondered?
Merry bloody Christmas!