I am hot and pissed off. I tear another piece of tape off the roll and the sharp jagged edge of the dispenser drags my thumb along with the adhesive, neatly opening up the skin. I swear and pop my thumb in my mouth while I rummage in my handbag for a plaster, which I place over the cut and then pick up the offending tape dispenser again.
It’s Friday afternoon, I’d taken the afternoon off of work, and I’m hanging Christmas lights in the school, in a classroom which is currently being unused as school is still in just now. Some asshole – namely myself – agreed to be chairman of the PTA, and for my sins it meant being hands-on with absolutely everything, including decorating for the Christmas fair. I have been sick for a week, I have too much work to do at my actual day job, and this PTA stuff had had me spinning my wheels for ages. To say I had lost my goodwill towards my fellow man was an understatement.
With an angry grunt I grab the tape dispenser to get some tape to hold the lights from the ceiling, and as I rip the tape I once again graze my finger on the teeth, ripping open another finger. I sit down heavily, and sigh heavily. I drop the tape at my feet, childishly, drop my head to my chest, and feel sorry for myself for a moment.
“Can I help?” comes the soft voice behind me.
In spite of myself, I smile. I don’t look up. I don’t need to.
“You always help.”
“I’m quite good at hanging lights. I took a course on it and everything.”
“There are courses on hanging Christmas lights?”
“There are courses on everything, my girl,” comes the laugh, and a strong, warm, and very solid hand lands on my shoulder, gripping me gently.
I breathe deep. Gingerbread, snow, pine trees. It’s all there, all enhanced by the gentle undercurrent of…
“Is that reindeer I smell?”
“Occupational hazard,” comes Santa’s reply as he sits next to me. He smiles. “Hello, my girl.”
I smile back. “Hello, Santa.”
“How are you doing?”
“I’m fine,” I answer automatically. Santa’s smile doesn’t waver, but he leans in.
“Are you sure about that? Don’t forget, I see everything.”
“I – ”
I close my mouth and look at the wall. “Things are hard, Santa.” I turn to look at him, and find myself break open a little wall inside, which I had papered over. “I don’t really want to talk about it. It’s not the end of the world, people have things much harder. I’m here complaining and Syrian refugees are freezing to death. My life is a piece of cake compared to that.”
“I’m here to talk to you,” Santa said, placing a white gloved hand over mine.
I look at that immaculate glove and I just give in. “A lot is going right, you know? I have a good job. A great job. I have a warm, nice, lovely man who is totally prepared to survive should the zombie invasion come. I am the mother to the two greatest small people in the history of the world, ever. And the puppy is finally housebroken, so I can safely say the chaos of living with two rescue dogs is a little less chaotic. Oooh! And my Christmas shopping is done.”
“When was that done?”
“October.” I catch him looking at me with raised eyebrows.
“What?” I say defensively. “It’s one of my things.”
“And yet…” Santa says softly.
I look up at the twinkly fairy lights, which are dangling from the ceiling in a chain of unfinished business. “And yet…” I parrot softly. “And yet I started anti-depressants a month ago.”
I let that hang there in the air between us, like the Christmas lights, like the years that have gone by.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” he says calmly.
“I know. I know there’s nothing wrong with it, lots of people are on them. It’s just…I don’t know. After all these years and all that I’ve lived, it seemed like some of what I was dealing with should be a breeze. But it wasn’t. And I couldn’t stand the sound of my own head, so I finally went to the doctor. It’s helping,” I add helpfully. “I mean, I am feeling much better. Still pretty nauseous, though.”
“I thought you looked thinner.”
“Well,” I smile ruefully, “I guess saying something like that to someone like me is only going to reinforce the negative.”
He reaches an arm out and wraps it around my shoulder, and I am so comforted by this small movement that I hold back tears.
“I’m here, you know,” he says.
“Yeah, but only in December.”
“That’s not true. I watch all the time.”
“Dude, that’s – ”
“Don’t call me Dude.”
” – Santa, that’s just weird. Like creepy weird.”
“It did sound weird. It wasn’t weird in my head, it was aimed at reassuring.”
We sit there in companionable silence, the arm of someone I love like a grandfather around my shoulders, the decorating halted as I waste time, talking to a giant elf.
I inhale and sit up straight. “I’ll be ok, Santa. I’m always ok.”
He smiles, and looks at me. “You are that, kid. You are always ultimately that.”
I look out the window at the lowering light of late afternoon. “I guess you have to be getting on. I mean, free therapy hour with the master of Christmas is awesome and all, but you have obligations.” I stand and go to the window, tracing patterns in the frost with my finger. “I do love Christmas,” I whisper. “Greatest time of the year.”
Santa laughs and I find myself grinning with it. His laugh has always reached in and lifted me up, and this year despite the SSRIs massaging my every emotion, it is no different.
“I like your T-shirt, kid,” he smiles.
I look down. I’m wearing my T-shirt with a giant outline of a narwhal and the words “Bye, Buddy! Hope you find your dad!” on it. It’s quite possibly my favorite item of clothing. Ever.
He stands and comes over to me, placing two hands on my shoulders. “What would you like for Christmas this year, my lovely old friend?”
I smile. “That one is easy, Santa. Every year I ask for world peace, or happiness – ”
” – or a pony.”
” – or a pony. But this year I know right away what I want.” I look into his eyes. “I want to believe in magic.”
Santa smiles. “Ah. Magic.”
“Not the Darren Brown kind. Or David Copperfield. Or anyone else moderately disturbing. The real kind, the kind in your heart which you live and breathe and know as well as you know anything, better even.” I’m talking fast, thinking even faster, and it feels like my chest will burst. “I want to know that all that I believe in is real, and here, and can be a part of me in those darkest, hardest days when I am not sure what the point of anything is, when I don’t believe in myself and no one else does, either. I want that magic, to hold on to, to believe in.”
Santa looks at me. “Of all the children of the world, throughout time, there has always been one person that I know believes.”
“Well, besides Will Ferrell.”
I cock my head at him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I get that you mean me, but I’m here telling you that I need a boost up on the magic. It’s failing me, it’s leaving.”
“You’re wearing a T-shirt from the film ‘Elf’.”
I look down. I am indeed.
“And look at your plaster.”
I look at my thumb, repaired magically with the power of a Peppa Pig plaster.
“Every night this month you’ve moved around Rudolph the Reindeer toys so that the twins think they come to life and get up to mischief.”
“Yeah, but that’s for them. That magic is for the twins. I love seeing their faces in the morning as they race in to see where Rudolph and Humble Bumble are.” I smile in spite of feeling sweaty and pressured.
“But that’s what magic does. We get it from others and we pass it on. We don’t hold it, we share it. That’s how it keeps going.”
“I get that, Santa. I’m all about the sharing. Honestly. Only maybe right now, my well is a little dry.”
We stand there quietly, and I hear him softly say. “Wait. I know something that will help.”
The room is darker now, and the twinkly Christmas lights are flickering gently, illuminating the room. I hear something then, something soft and gentle. It starts thinly, a high sound like a breeze.
“Oh holy night….”
I cock my head to the side, recognizing it.
“The stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth”
I walk forward towards the sound, which starts to grow in strength and volume. I look in the door and see the children in the school, singing.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”
I look around and see the twins singing, side by side, their heads moving in symmetry as they open their mouths and hearts and sing.
“The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
I put a hand to the glass and try to reach them. “Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices. Oh night, divine. Oh night, when Christ was born.”
“Truly He taught us to love one another,” I whisper along with them as they sing. I slide to my knees as the magic of 200 children raises to the roof and swirls around the school. I watch my children sing with everything that they can, I watch as they reach out and hold hands and open their voices to the sounds of Christmas. The two most amazing people in the history of the world are singing, and holding hands, and witnessing it was possibly the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The singing swells and grows and if I could reach through the walls and hold it in my hands it would glow a bright burning amber throughout me. As the children hit the final note, the song slings and echoes throughout the school and throughout my heart, and in all my misery I find I am crying happy tears.
I know then that we all get a second chance. And a third. And a fourth. And as many chances as we need.
When the last droplets of sound cease, I watch as the children all laugh and grin at each other while the music teacher claps her hands and tells them the next instructions. I turn behind me and see Santa standing there, smiling at me.
“Children singing,” I say stupidly through my tears.
“The best source of magic in the world,” he says kindly.
“Thank you, Santa. Thank you. That was just what I wanted for Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, my girl,” Santa said, and waved to me. As I watched him, he faded gently out until where he stood, the space was warm and clean, and smelled faintly of cookies and peppermint and, yes, that slight reindeer smell.
I wiped my face and stood up from the doorway, and grabbing the fairy lights with one hand and the tape dispenser with the other, I started singing as I hung the lights up, light in my heart in a way I had not been for so very long, readying for the Christmas fair and the chance for the kids to find the magic themselves the next day.