Santa’s Sister

Santa’s sister Debbie was not amused. Her brother was ballooning out of control, from sampling all those cookies and drinking all that milk. She had long suspected he was lactose-intolerant, as was she. She had her health well in hand, being rational above all. She sometimes wondered if they really were related, if one of them (him, surely!) was adopted. She did not want to nag but he wasn’t getting any younger. She had talked to her sister-in-law on the side, hinting at diets, gifting them books on health which she saw re-gifted almost instantly. She was thinking of doing an intervention, but the elves would not take part in it and she didn’t know who else to enroll.

She convinced Niklaus to wear an activity tracker which would also allow the kids to follow his whereabouts on Christmas Eve. For her part, she was hoping to raise his health awareness. However, wearing the device had unexpected consequences. Santa became obsessed with his heart rate and sleeping habits. He convinced himself he needed to sleep longer hours and avoid strenuous activity. He started being concerned about suffering a heart attack. As he was progressively getting more sedentary and afraid, his hearty laugh no longer booming in the elf factory, Santa started hinting that it might not be advisable for him to do the rounds on Christmas Eve. He cited his statistics, his health, the strain of going up and down chimneys, even the strain of laughing heartily.

Her sister-in-law was furious, calling Debbie meddlesome and refusing to have any further contact with her as she tried to change her husband’s mind. The elves convened, and a delegation went to see Debbie to apprise her of the latest developments. She had not foreseen this and did not know what to do. “Do you have any suggestions?” she asked hopefully. The elves looked shyly at each other, and one of them came forward. “We were wondering if you would consider replacing Santa on Christmas Eve this year?” Of course, when they were young, both Niklaus and Debbie drove the team of reindeer. They had grown up in the North, knew how to thrive in that country. One way was to respect the wildlife and work together with them. As they grew into adulthood, they had gone their own ways. She married and became an accountant, he married and became Santa Claus. Ironically, neither had children.

Debbie had kept fit and trim doing cross-country skiing. She hadn’t driven a team since university and, of course, she didn’t know the route. Yet she felt like this mess was her fault and couldn’t see a way out. Reluctantly, she agreed, but on the condition that she would do it her own way and that the elves would follow her directions. They enthusiastically agreed. Secretly, she had often longed to distribute the presents all over the world. Due to her competitive nature, she thought she could do it quicker and more cheaply. She also thought it was time a woman were in charge. She thought long and hard. She interviewed the reindeer to see if she should plan an alternate route.

The red sleigh was iconic and so was the fat and jolly silhouette. She had to find a way to preserve the tradition yet promote a healthy weight. That was quite the challenge as thin Santas did not appeal. She had to effect a mindset change in her target audience. She used social media to try and get the kids to consider Santa’s health and well-being. She suggested glasses of water (you’re never too hydrated) and carrots for the reindeer. The cookie companies retaliated with ads and commercial campaigns took off. It was a real nail-biter to see how it would play out the day of. Her list was computerized – she thought she would tally the kids who were not health-conscious and perhaps leave a thank you note to those who left her water and carrots.

Meanwhile, Santa had more time on his hands, being bedridden. He was following the smear campaign with alarm. He was a health risk? A bad example? No more milk or cookies? He complained to the elves and to his wife, to the reindeer and to his sister. This farce had to stop. Debbie explained her approach, her concerns, her strategy, all to no avail. At least, it resulted in Santa getting out of bed and regaining control of the situation. He did understand, for the first time, that his sister wanted to be part of the tradition, in her own way. He asked her to oversee the carollers, but that was not glamourous enough. She felt it was patronizing. She wanted to lead the way, and to keep an eye on him.

Well, as we all know, Santa can do magic. How else could he deliver presents all over the world in one day? And so, Debbie agreed to be Rudolf one day a year, leading the way and being the one the children spotted from afar. When Santa took too long (Is he eating still?), she would stomp her feet or jingle her bells. She enjoyed the sights and smells of the whole planet, and the jolly company of her brother. And never again did she meddle in his well-run enterprise. As for him, he ditched the electronic activity tracker, and accepted her gift of a year-long trainer. On Christmas Eve, he straps on a pillow on his trim figure, and wears his oversized costume. He wears a fake beard on his clean-shaven face where the cookie crumbs still gather. Some things never change.

Mr. President

He was rummaging through his pockets, a frown wrinkling his forehead.

– Mr President? May I help you with something?

– I don’t smoke anymore, do I?

– No, Mr. President. The First Lady has forbidden it. It’s bad for your health. They are waiting for you for the lighting ceremony.

Hands in his pockets, still fiddling, the President turned to follow. “Will there be kids?” “A choir, Sir.” “Let’s not keep the children waiting.”

They made their way to the large hall. The First Lady was already there, all smiles. He waved enthusiastically at the children, some of them waving back, all of them smiling. Their pure voices rose in the great hall, perfect acoustics. The Christmas tree was majestic, looking at them benevolently. The President and the First Lady were beaming at the choir. Proud parents were lined behind, taking pictures, more excited than the kids. Security was unobtrusive. Everything was going well. The President made an impromptu speech. He exuded warmth and seemed to have all the time in the world. He made a joke which got a good response, and then hit the switch. The lights in the great hall dimmed and the tree shone bright, to oohhs and aahhs.

The President then approached the choir and ruffled hair, caressed a few cheeks, chatted up the youngsters. He would not be hurried along and glared at his aide. The dignitaries would wait. Finally, he sighed and regretfully took his leave, the children breaking into song again. As he left the great hall, the First Lady pecked him on the cheek. “Nine o’clock, don’t be late.”

He saw the dignitaries, a secret meeting that could not be avoided, then retreated to his quarters to change into a tuxedo and met up with his wife in a beautiful silver gown. He shook his head. “What?” she enquired. “You’re so beautiful. I don’t deserve you.” “You’re pretty strapping yourself,” she answered. Little Johnny was playing underfoot. “Daddy, daddy, look at my train!” The train was circling the base of their tree. It had a secondary track and a station. Some wagons were loaded with miniature gifts and others with all manner of things the child had found, a pair of socks, a small teddy bear, hanging precariously.  The tree was large and the track a bit convoluted. The nanny kept an eye on the boy. A security agent was close at hand. “That’s a great-looking train, Johnny!” “It can go real fast!” “We’ll play with it later, son. I’ve got to meet some people and do grown-up things first.” “Okay, daddy. See you soon.”

The President was looking distractedly around the room, his eyes searching every corner. He walked over to his desk and opened a few drawers. “Anything the matter, dear?” He looked at her. She could see alarm in his face. “What is it?” “I… Have you seen… Don’t mind me.” He was sweating, and she discreetly called the security agent. “Get the doctor, will you?” She did not hurry her husband along, instead took her time applying her makeup and fussing with her hair. He went into the adjoining room where he could be heard opening and closing closet doors and quietly sliding open drawers. She waited. “The Doctor is here,” said the agent. She got up to greet her and whispered something to her. The President came out. The doctor had brought her bag and a bottle of Scotch. They shook hands. The Doctor proffered the bottle “For later,” she cautioned. “First, please have a seat. It’s time for your blood pressure.” The others exited the room, save for the security agent, sworn to secrecy.

“Is everything okay?” she asked. The President was clearly agitated. “Well, since you ask. I can’t really tell anyone. I really feel like a fool.” She waited quietly. “I can’t find the button.” “The button?” He fidgeted and lowered his voice. “The detonator. In case of a nuclear attack.” She did not immediately answer but blanched. “When did you notice it missing?” “An hour or so ago, before the lighting ceremony.” “Have you told Simone?” “Simone, no, no, no. I don’t want to worry her.” “Have you told anybody else?” “Only you. You are sworn to secrecy.” She was taking his blood pressure and noting it down with the time of day. “You need to tell someone. They will help you find it.” “You’re not listening! My enemies will have a field day. ‘He’s getting senile. He’s not fit for office.’ They’ll hang me out to dry. I just need to retrace my steps.”

A discrete knock. Simone’s smile at the door. “Ready when you are!” She beamed at her husband who beamed back. He started rolling down his shirtsleeve. “Be right with you. I’m as fit as a fiddle,” he boasted. Her eyes darted at the doctor, who averted her gaze. Back at her husband, putting on his tuxedo. He offered his arm. “Shall we?” They were magnificent together and danced with much grace. The banquet was a success, allies vying for his time. A little before 9, he announced he had a meeting he could not postpone with his son. Cheers rose. “I will only be a moment.” He seemed back to his old self, unburdened and light. The couple left for their apartment, to tuck in their young son.

Johnny was already in his pyjamas, having eaten and taken his bath. He was waiting in the living room, playing with his electric train, nanny at the ready. “Daddy, you promised.” The President kneeled by his son. Johnny was excited. He turned the knob too hard and the train derailed behind the tree. The President reached out to right the locomotive and set the wagons back on the track. On the side, in a jumble, the teddy bear and… the detonator. He looked at little Johnny. “Where did you find this?” “Under your bed,” answered the boy, unconcerned. The President pocketed the detonator and embraced the boy in a bear hug. “To bed, my Prince.” Little Johnny knew better than ask for a few minutes more.

The President scribbled a note which he sealed. “To the Doctor,” he ordered the agent. As the couple was heading back to the soiree, the President squeezed the First Lady’s arm. “What a sweet boy. I am glad we slipped out to tuck him in.” She knew him so well. Family was the most important thing to him. He would never hurt a fly.

Angel

I’m new at this but getting better. I’ve met some of the others, joined the choir (they’re always recruiting). You can be attached to a human, as a guardian angel, but I’m not ready for that yet. I’ve only just gotten my wings. It’s an advanced posting, where you care for a human. I mostly do backup vocals “Fa lalalala, lala la la” that sort of thing. It’s easy to follow, and a sure winner. I was a musician, back on Earth, so they gave me a harp. It’s a thing of beauty and I carry it with me everywhere I fly. The sound you get out of it is amazing. I got a used one, for practice, and will get a new one when I graduate to actually playing with the others. In the choir, you get to meet fellow angels and mingle. Not much is asked of you. It’s hard to mess up doing backup vocals.

I am still learning. For example, the wings don’t grow by themselves. Rather, they are ingeniously attached to a harness, so you can put them on, but most importantly take them off when you go to bed. You wear the harness under the robes which are ample and hide the contraption. There were some issues with the original design, with the wings not folding up properly so the harness is an improvement. Except when it’s defective. Which explains why I ended up with a concussion in the ER. They found the harp close by and surmised it was mine. I am told they went looking for the halo as well, thinking I was costumed. Of course, as I was unconscious, the halo was turned off to save energy and guarantee a good night’s sleep.

They are now asking all manner of questions to which I have no answer. I have refused all tests, head scans and such. My field of energy will bust all their earthly apparatuses. They do not want to release me back on the street. The psychiatrists do not work on Christmas eve, but of course I do. They want to ascertain I am not a suicide risk. They say I am lucky to be alive. I can’t tell them I am immortal. They have taken my wings away from me. I feel naked and vulnerable. What is an angel without its wings? I have zero credibility in my hospital gown. I light the halo to read the fine print on the pills they have prescribed me.

I remember the fall but not the landing. I was stuck in a tailspin of increasing velocity. One wing was fully deployed but there was a glitch on the other and I couldn’t find a cloud on which to rest to figure things out. Cloudless skies are problematic for angels with faulty wings. They have written Angel on my chart and checked Hispanic for race. Why it matters, I don’t know. I am sharing the room with an anxious man. To the nurse’s surprise, he’s been sleeping soundly ever since I’ve arrived. They did not even have time to medicate him, but I know the powerful rays I emit have calmed him down.

They’ve asked me to ring them if I need help to go to the washroom. Now you’re wondering about the sex of angels. Sorry, I won’t enlighten you on that one. I have bigger fish to fry. My neighbour has woken up and is staring at me. I stare back, benevolently. “Are you a musician?” he asks tentatively. I look surprised. He stares at the closet. “I saw them put your harp in there.” Normally, I would have flown over. As it is, I was out of bed in no time. The closet door flies open and there stand my wings and harp. One wing is in a sorry state. I bring it back to bed to try and fix it. The man clears his throat. “Mighty nice wings,” he offers. “This one is mangled,” I reply. “May I? I study birds, I might be able to offer some insight.” I hand over the harness and wings. He whistles softly. “I’ve never seen anything so perfect. The balance, the weight,… Did you make it yourself?” Well, I am an angel, I cannot lie. “They were given to me.” “You must be mighty special!” He’s playing with the switch, looking intently at the mechanism. “There’s a flaw here,” he mutters under his breath. He gets up and retrieves a little screwdriver from his jacket pocket. “My glasses are not holding on too well. I got tired of stopping at optometrists. If you want something done well, you’d better do it yourself.”

He says that but holds on to my wings. I am not sure if he expects me to fix them myself. I’m spared the dilemma as he exclaims, “Got it!” He smoothes out the feathers dreamily, smiles a beatific smile and hands me back my wings. I adjust the harness on my shoulders. It sits better. I flap my wings languidly. “Wow,” he says again. I smile and my halo lights up. “What is your name, kind man?” “Joe, I mean Joseph.” “Are you a musician, Joseph?” “I play the guitar in a band.” “I would like to repay your kindness. Would you like my harp?” I bring it over and run my fingers on it. A celestial music plays. He is at a loss for words. “This harp is yours, Joseph. With my thanks. Go with God.” A little crowd has gathered when they heard the music. I hear murmurings about the wings. It’s true that when I spread them, the wingspan is impressive. The feathers are all fluffed up, thanks to Joe’s loving fingers. I turn and bow, say my goodbyes to Joe and fly through the window, soundlessly. They see me go through the window without so much as a clink, no breaking glass just an expansion, a distortion, and I am on the other side, larger than life. The clock strikes midnight. My friends have been waiting for me. They welcome me by singing “Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

It’s Christmas day.