No Christmas for Santa?

No Christmas for Santa?

            It was crunch time at the central office of Santa Claus, Incorporated.  The hallways were filled with the sounds of computer printers, incoming emails, and percolating coffee machines as the 12,000 odd employees – mostly office assistants and upper management – worked three shifts for a full 24-hour cycle making sure that all the children of SCI subscribing customers received their share of holiday gifts.

Once, long ago, there were short-statured craftsmen and women employed here, people who loved nothing more than making things for children and for adults who never grew old, but they were gone now, replaced by conscientious list-makers who couldn’t imagine giving something for nothing.

No one noticed the portly gentleman who silently walked the halls on his way out the door.  A few receptionists looked up at him as he passed their desks – pausing in their answering of the endless phone calls from SCI representatives all over the world.  They couldn’t remember who he was, though his face was strangely familiar, and they let him pass unchallenged, surrounded as he was by a shadow of something unusually cold and still that made a few sensitive ones blink rapidly.

He heaved a great sigh as he stepped into the snowy night and had to blink his own eyes a few times very quickly.  Then he turned his coat collar up, buried his hands in his pockets, and hunched his shoulder against the bitter cold before turning to find the transports to somewhere else.

A few hours later he was walking down a silent street in some American town.  It didn’t take long to find the address he sought, he’d found it in an electronic trash bin after the name was deleted from the system-wide list of approved names.  It wasn’t a large house, in fact it was rather small, and in the darkness of the nighttime the front window shone with light from inside, in spite of the single forlorn string of lights encircling it.  He stepped up to the door and paused only a moment before knocking.

He could hear voices singing inside, some holiday tune that wasn’t on the approved play list for the corporate building he had come from.  They stopped at the sound of his knock and he heard steps approach the door.  Then there was the sound of locks turning and the portal opened, bathing him in light and warmth.  A woman stood on the other side with dark blonde hair threaded with lighter shades.  Her face was kind and comforting, and he did so need comforting.  Her four children looked on expectantly behind her.  His eyes went blurry as he saw for the first time the faces of one family who wasn’t having an easy time this season.

“Yes?”  She was a widow, and far from any family of her own, and though she tried as only a parent could to make ends meet, SCI’s fees were non-negotiable.

He blinked his eyes rapidly.  “I’m Kris.  I – I couldn’t take it anymore.  I quit.  Could – could I come in?”

She gasped in surprise and the children sent up a shout of joy as she opened the door wider to allow him entrance into the warmth and closeness of their little home.  “Yes, yes, of course.”

No sooner had he sat down than the littlest one, a cherub of a bare five years, climbed on his lap.  It felt so right after all this time to be holding a child again instead of leaving the task for SCI representatives.  The nine-year-old twins started talking very rapidly, demanding new stories about his life in the Corporation, and wondering if he had any new pictures for them.  The twelve-year-old exchanged glances with her mother and then went and fetched some of the cookies they’d baked earlier that day.  It was like eating a bit of heaven it had been so long since he’d been allowed to eat any cookies.

He’d met this desperate mother after the death of his own wife had driven him to the Internet, desperate for some sort of conversation.  A few messages on some boards, then exchanging email addresses, and then he’d even taken up playing some of the online games he so often saw on the purchase lists for SCI customers.  It wasn’t as though there was anything for him to do in the Company he’d been a part of for so long.  The Board of Directors ran everything the way they wanted to, not the way it should have been done.

The last message he’d gotten from her was an invitation to visit, and he’d almost not gotten it after the Corporation email filters removed her name from his approved list.  That was when he’d done some digging and found the old databases with names upon names of boys and girls who had been removed from his awareness not because they’d grown up, but because their parents couldn’t pay.

He looked around at the home, so bright and cheerful in spite of the old, worn furniture and the cracking linoleum, and his eyes went blurry again.  The littlest one reached up to gently touch his cheek and then pat his beard.  “It’s okay,” she said, “Santa comes tonight.”

The tears rushed past his ability to blink them back and he held the little girl closer.  “I know, little one, I know.”

The twelve-year-old edged closer.  “Santa isn’t the only one who gives gifts you know, Wendy,” she said, addressing her baby sister.  The others gathered around as their mother brought in an old set of time-worn figurines.

“Grandma’s Creche!” Little Wendy climbed down from his lap in excitement.

Their mother smiled.  “Why don’t you tell the story this year, Andrea?”

Andrea nodded.  “Once upon a time a little baby was born.  His parents didn’t have a home to go to; they were traveling and the only place open for them was a barn with the animals.”  The twin boys carefully placed the cow and the donkey in the stable on the coffee table.  The ordinarily active boys were quiet and careful with the heirlooms.  Wendy crowded closer to them, watching with great interest as the old family tradition was replayed before her eyes.  “They were young parents and they didn’t have anything to give their newborn son on that Christmas morning.”  Quietly the father-figure and the mother figure were placed around the tiny feedbox holding the baby.  “Soon shepherds came in from watching their flocks, but all they had to give the tiny child was a song.”  Andrea was adding to the story, not that she could resist it.  Here a tiny voice piped up, Wendy stood up straight and sang the song of a message that traveled from star to lamb to shepherd boy and from him to a great king.  Kris was blinded by tears, but he didn’t mind.  The two boys quietly placed the shepherd boy and his sheep.

When Wendy finished the song, her mother knelt down next to her and held her close.  Andrea nodded and continued.  “Then kings came from far away carrying gifts of their own, of gold, and precious spices.”  She nodded to her brothers and they lifted their untaught voices in song for the three kings as their figures were placed.  “All this was done because the baby himself was the greatest gift we have ever been given.  He came to Earth as a Christmas gift to the children of men, who most certainly did not deserve it.”  She looked up at Kris with such an understanding look that he knew her mother had explained to her about the Corporation he was escaping from.  “So every year we remember the Gift we don’t deserve.”

Kris nodded.  “That was what I wanted, when I started doing what I did.  I’ve known that story for years, though how it got so removed from what those around me were doing, I don’t know.”

“You can still give gifts, you know.”  Belle held her younger daughter in her lap and smiled up at him from where she knelt surrounded by her children.  “Anybody can.”

“But I can’t give you the Christmas you deserve.”

Michael glanced at his twin, Stephen, and then looked at his sisters and his mother.  “All I want for Christmas is what I’ve got here, though it would be nice to have a Dad again.”

Kris looked at Belle for a moment, trying to regain control of his vocal cords through the tenseness of his tears.  “What do you want, my friend?”  In truth, he’d come to feel more than simple friendship for her as they’d given and received comfort through the sometimes distancing medium of electronics.

She looked at the children around her for a moment, all of whom looked at her expectantly.  “I think that tonight is too soon to say, but that one thing is certain; you are still going to be here come daylight, and that’s all the Christmas I want this year.”

There was a shout of joy as he felt arms surround him in hugs of happiness and love.  It took longer than usual to get the children to go to sleep and he and Belle were up later than that talking about everything in the world.

Wendy found them asleep on the couch and pattered up to tug on her mother’s sleeve.  “Mommy, you gotta come see this.”

They were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes when they looked up and saw the tree surrounded by hundreds of presents stacked one on top of the other.  The other children were standing off to the side, grinning from ear to ear.

            Hanging from the tree by a large golden bow was a card of some sort addressed simply to “Kris”.  He reached forward and took it in hand and didn’t even try to stop the tears as he read what was written.

            Hey Boss!

                        We never left you, but we did find a new organization.

                        If you’re interested, there’s an opening available year-round.

                        Give us a holler when you’ve got your new family together.

            The Elves

                        P.S.  You should see the retirement and benefits package!

            Have a very Merry Christmas!

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