‘…Always the same these days,’ said the old man randomly stabbing the buttons on the remote control. ‘Reality TV and repeats. Whatever happened to Morecambe and Wise? Whatever happened to Only Fools and Horses? Whatever happened to Val Doonican?’ He switched off the set as the latest X-Factor winner made his final ever TV appearance before returning to his life of flipping burgers and performing in the local Working Man’s Club on a Saturday evening – a valid life, with which he would have been perfectly happy, if only some idiot had not told him he could be a star.
‘Here,’ said Mrs Claus. ‘I was watching that.’ With a glare, Santa turned the TV back on. ‘Moan, moan, moan,’ continued the old woman, even as the seasonal Celebrity-Something-Or-Other burst into noisome life. ‘That’s all you do these days, moan, moan, moan. I’ll be happy when December comes about again: get you out of my hair.’
‘Yes, well,’ said Santa, stroking his beard agitatedly. ‘I’ve been thinking about that. I think I might retire. I’m tired. This is no job for an old man.’
Mrs Claus stared at him for a very long time whilst she considered spending even more time with him than she currently did. ‘What do you mean, no job for an old man? Who else is going to do it? It has to be an old man.’
‘Could be a woman.’
‘Not according to all of the literature.’
‘Literature can be modified,’ S.C. muttered, darkly.
‘Besides,’ ploughed on the old lady, ignoring the truth in her husband’s argument ‘You only really work one day a year – it’s a long day I’ll grant you, but other than have a few kids to sit on your lap through December, what else do you do?’
‘Elves don’t look after themselves, you know,’ he snapped. ‘Elves do not forward plan. Leave it to the elves and we’d have, come Christmas Eve, nothing more than dolls and wooden forts. And’ he continued, a steely glint entering his eye ‘Kids do not sit on my knee anymore. Not allowed. If I can drag the little bleeders away from their mobile phones for a minute, they pull my beard, wipe KFC down my coat and kick me in the shin before asking me for a vaping kit.’
‘What you need is a good sleep,’ soothed Mrs C. ‘Why not go to bed? Don’t worry about setting an alarm; I’ll wake you in March.’
‘Why March? What’s happening in March?’
‘Just a few promotional shots. Nothing taxing. Maybe a video or two. Few minutes work; nothing more.’
‘Promotional shots?’ he spluttered. ‘Promotional shots? Why do I need promotional shots? There’s only one of me. I’ve got more people on my books than I can handle already.’
‘Never hurts to advertise,’ she said, placing a small glass of sherry at his side. ‘Here, drink this.’
The old man eyed the drink. ‘Sherry?’ he coughed. ‘Sherry? Have you any idea how many glasses of sherry I drank last night? You’ll be offering me a mince pie next.’ He glared into the fire. ‘I’ll tell them in the morning,’ he said at last. ‘I’ll tell them I’m packing it in; that I’ve had enough.’
‘Well… I’ve no idea. I’ll find someone.’
‘And what about the children?’
‘They won’t even notice, as long as they still get all of their stuff, they won’t care who brings it. The magic has gone already. They’ll never know.’ Despite himself, he drained the sherry in a single gulp. ‘I’m off to bed,’ he said.
‘Fine,’ said Mrs Claus. ‘No problem. Just before you do, though, can you read this so that I can reply.’
‘What is it?’
‘It’s a letter. It came down the chimney earlier while you were out talking to the reindeer.’
‘A letter? My God, they start earlier and earlier with their demands, don’t they? Can you read it to me? I don’t know what I’ve done with my glasses.’
Mrs Claus unfolded the single sheet of paper and, having cleared her throat, she read. ‘‘Dear Santa. Thank you for everything. I hope you get some rest today. I love you X.’ Carefully she refolded the letter, ‘Shall I burn it?’ she asked.
Santa coughed slightly and rubbed gently at what might just have been a little itch in the corner of his eye. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Give it to me. I’ll reply now and then I suppose I’d better go and get some sleep. I’ve got a busy December next year…’