Fiction - The Christmas Dilemma

When he was working in the lab, Dave knew how important it was to be factual and accurate in all that he did. In some jobs you can fool yourself into thinking that you are better than you really are. In the lab though it was different, any attempt at bluffing or covering the cracks as he worked his way through a process would quickly backfire. That was why he found Christmas such a difficult time of year.

All around him people were busy building up a fantasy world for their children and worse still, his children. It wasn’t easy being the odd one out; in fact it was getting harder. When the twins were younger they didn’t really care where the presents came from, didn’t understand what the sudden surge of shiny new things to play with was all about. They accepted whatever was pushed in their direction. Now though, questions were starting to be asked about the man in the big red suit.

Last year Suzy had been able to distract the kids whenever the subject cropped up. Well that was what Dave saw anyway, but when he wasn’t around? How had the chats gone then? He knew that Suzy thought that his rigid approach to always telling the children the truth was daft.

“Sometimes, when your not in the lab,” she said. “You have to bend the formulas a little to make them work.”

He couldn’t see it though. Parenting scared him: there were two many choices, too many options when it came to moulding a life. The only thing that he could do was be completely honest with them at all times, about everything. Magic, rumour and mysticism wasn’t for him or his kids.

It was December 23rd and he was having the most pointless row he had ever had. Suzy wanted the kids to put out some treats for Santa and the reindeers on the night of Christmas Eve. Something in him just wouldn’t let it go, “no” was all that he could say. He loved Suzy and couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t support him on this. All she would talk about was the kids being deprived of the magic that all their friends would be enjoying. She just didn’t get it.

That night was a frosty one in more ways than one and, as he scrapped the ice from the car the next morning, Dave was decidedly lacking in Christmas spirit. It was a typical Christmas Eve working day, nobody really doing any work, just idly filling time until someone from the management team had the courage to send people home. Well that time arrived just after noon, as the grey sky started to fill with white flecks. As the “Happy Christmas” farewells echoed around the lab, he grabbed his coat and bottle of screw top wine that was his Secret Santa gift and headed for his car, still unsure of what sort of welcome he would get.

On his drive home he decided to stop off to buy another gift for Suzy. Although convinced that his logical clear-headed approach was correct, he had come to realise that this was driving a wedge between the two of them. A wedge that was unnecessary and it was up to him to make the first move.

He went to a small jeweller that he knew Suzy loved and after some help from the shop assistant; he selected a necklace that he was sure she would adore. The assistant kindly gift wrapped it for him, he hopped that Suzy would see that this was a signal that he really loved her and that their love deserved a fresh start. He made his way back to the car, the snow was really starting to take hold and the pavement was a little tricky in places. Just as he was about to reach the car, he heard a groan from behind him, then instantly he was barged in the back and found himself knocked to the floor.

Turning his head, he saw a large elderly gentleman; the redness of the old mans face was highlighted by the whiteness of his beard and the snow that nestled around his prone body. Though winded, Dave was not in any pain, so he raised himself from the ground to see if the old man was ok. The man was full of apologies as Dave gently helped him to his feet.

“So sorry,” the man said. “That will teach me for trying to rush. You know how it is everything has to be done by this evening and I suppose I was just trying to move too quickly for these ancient legs of mine.”

Dave remembered that he had the wine in his car and asked the man if he would like a drink to settle his nerves? The man smiled, a lovely kindly smile and said that he would be very grateful. So they made their way to car and then spent a few minutes sitting in the vehicle, whilst the old man sipped the wine from cup of the travel flask that Dave had in the car. There were also a few mince pies that Dave had taken from work, so he offered his new friend one of those, which was gleefully eaten. Whilst they were talking, Dave introduced himself and started chatting about his difficulty with the family and the “magic” of Christmas. The man listened patiently, whilst helping himself to another cup of wine.

Eventually Dave asked the man if could offer him a lift anywhere?

“No. No, I’ll be ok. I’m meeting some of my helpers just around the corner. You’ve been very kind, especially as it was me that bumped into you.”

Dave helped the man from the car.

“Happy Christmas, young man, I’m sure that you and your family will enjoy this Christmas!” The gentleman exclaimed as he made his way around the corner from Dave and his car.

Dave tried to tell Suzy about his minor adventure when he got home but she wasn’t really interested in anything that he had to say. The children were excitedly running around the house and he couldn’t wait for them to go to bed, so that he could say sorry to Suzy for being such a grump. He would give her the necklace then, hopefully that would enable them to start the next day in a better frame of mind.

He was though, still unsure about putting out the snacks for Santa. Suzy mentioned it and without meaning to do so, all his old thoughts came flooding back into his head and he started to say that he didn’t think it was the right lesson for the children. Then, when they were still debating, Suzy suddenly started putting some mince pies on a plate, along with a glass of milk. She called out to the kids.

“Come and see the snacks that we are going to leave for Santa.”

The children ran excitedly into the room. Dave was furious as the children carried the plates into the front room. He could see the pleasure on their faces, normally this would make him happy as well but when the joy was based on a lie, well it just made him feel like a fraud.

Soon enough the kids went to bed and Suzy and him edged around each for the rest of the night. There seemed little point in giving her the necklace now, the moment had gone. Yet again his stubbornness had caused a rift between them. In virtual silence they brought the children’s presents down to put around the tree. Eventually Suzy went to bed, leaving him to stare at the plate and glass that had been left alongside the Christmas tree.

He decided that he would just leave the necklace by the tree; Suzy would find it there in the morning. He went to the hall to retrieve the small box from the pocket of his overcoat, yet when he checked the pockets, they were empty. Maybe it had fallen out in the collision with the old man? Or maybe the whole collision had just been an elaborate set-up for the seemingly jovial fellow to steel the gift from him? What a fool he had been to take the man at face value, worse still he even given him a drink and some food. The spirit of Christmas eh! Well what a sucker he was. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he was that the man had taken him for a fool.

He turned the lights off and made his way upstairs. Suzy was already asleep, so he slipped quietly into the bed, hoping that somehow they could make a fresh start in the morning.

Of course with young children in the house, the morning came very early on Christmas Day. Just after six, the kids were knocking on the bedroom door and asking if they could come in. Suzy told them they could and the door burst open. Both the kids were already in full flow.

“He came in the night!”

“Father Christmas left us presents, can we open them?”

“Just wait a moment. We can all go down together,” Suzy said to the kids. “Did you eat the pies and drink the milk? She silently mouthed to him, with her back to the children.

Dave had forgotten that he was supposed to drink the milk and eat the pies, apart from a few crumbs. His head slumped back onto the pillow; Suzy turned away and left the room without a word.

From downstairs he could hear the kids.

“Come on Dad, come and see what Father Christmas has left us.”

“Coming.” He shouted back and he worriedly made his way to the stairs.

As he entered the living room, he was just getting ready to explain to the children that Santa must have been in too much of a hurry to take the nibbles they had left him when Suzy came up to him and gave him a lovely kiss on the cheek.

“Look Dad, Santa left us a note.” He heard someone say. At almost the same moment he heard Suzy say, “Oh what’s this little box, with my name on it?”

One of the children was pointing at the plate, which apart from a few crumbs was empty and the clear glass was drained of all its milk.

“Can I open this?” said Suzy. She held aloft the gift-wrapped box that he had last seen in the jewellers on Christmas Eve.

He was very confused now but luckily Suzy and the kids were too focused on their gifts to notice. He came to Suzy’s side just as she opened the box.

“Oh, I love it,” she cried out. “Thank you darling”, then she whispered “thank you for dealing with the Santa snacks and leaving that note as well. It means so much to the kids, I know it wasn’t easy for you!”

He looked from her to the empty plate, then the empty glass, finally to the slightly crumpled note in his hand.

“Dear Dave, Suzy, Gerry and Tom. Thank you so much for looking after me on Christmas Eve when I was dashing around. I really appreciate the food and drink; it’s helps to keep me going. As you know I have a lot of houses to visit. I hope you enjoy the presents and never forget the magic of Christmas. Santa.”