Ho ho ho

Oh, I assure you that Santa Claus is real. But whomever led you to believe he is good and kind provided you with the greatest lie he wishes all of us to base our myths of him upon. No, he is not good. He is magical, however, and that magic needs fuel.

Indeed, once every year old Saint Nick lives outside of time, travelling all over the world. I’m not so sure about a flying sleigh, but he gets around, stopping at every door. Or chimney, if you prefer. But he doesn’t bring gifts. He doesn’t bring anything. He reaps.

Christmas is his harvest time. It provides him with that fuel he needs. One endless night for one year of magic. One year of power. And his crops are the pain of unfulfilled promises. The hurt of shattered expectations, of broken dreams. The all-consuming despair that ushers in the final moments before the eternal end to bitter loneliness.

He feeds on our misery, thrives on it. Though ever more so than that, he takes sustenance from our lies. Yes, the lies we tell each other, speak to our children, smiles on our faces. The lies we willingly apply towards keeping our youngest and most in need of truth ‘innocent’. He collects the energies of this perverted practice of protecting our most ignorant, hoards it and uses it to keep dominion over his own little kingdom. His empire of elves.

Yes, elves. His slaves. But they are not magical. They were once just innocent children themselves. See, that whole thing about ‘he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake’, that’s true. He knows that every good lie must hold a kernel of truth. He knows. He and his elves don’t make toys. They watch. They record and archive. Knowledge is power too and he doesn’t want anyone to have more than he does. And you know that bit about a lump of coal? Well, it doesn’t go down your stockings. He can’t have anyone figuring out what’s really going on, but the truth has a nasty way of surfacing. And he has a nasty way of dealing with it.

Some children truly believe. You figure they’re old enough and you tell them that Santa’s not real, that it’s been you getting them nice presents all those years. But they won’t have it. They believe. Maybe they saw him once, glimpsed him in a glitch. Maybe it’s just a gut feeling. But they know. And he knows that they know.

He gathers these children along with all that pain and all those lies, praising them and promising them the world. His elves hold the children down as he cuts out their hearts and replaces them with his coal. Their ears are snipped to mark them and he colours his clothes with their hot blood while they look on with dead eyes, ready to do the same to the next child.

Yes, Santa Claus is real. He comes by every year. He knows. When you are sleeping. When you’re awake. He knows.

Ho ho ho 01

Illustration by Suzan Becking

Nice day out

She sat down in the clothes that had been lain out for her and opened the envelope on her dressing table. In it were a small note, some money and various slips of paper.

 

Good morning! I hope you like the dress. I’m sorry I can’t be with you on your first day in the city. To make it up to you, here are tickets and coupons to fill your day with fun and relaxation! Enjoy yourself and don’t worry, I’ll be back to join you in no time! 

I love you, honey XOX 

ps. Say hi to the guy down the hall. He’s our (temporary) roommate and he kind of helped me put this day for you together. 

pps. Don’t worry about the vanity! I’m having the mirror fixed!

 

She loved the dress. It was her favourite colour. She started leafing through the tickets and coupons. They seemed to be stacked in order of succession: a fancy breakfast at a hotel, a bus tour around the city, a hotdog with everything on it…

“A hotdog isn’t real food and you know it,” she said with a half smile.

…a ticket to an expressionist art exhibition at the museum, a three course meal at a French-Spanish restaurant and finally Don Giovanni, her third favourite opera.

“I love you too, honey.”

She smoothed down her dress and got ready to go.

“I wish I had that mirror now,” she said, admiring the lace. She noticed her hands were a bit rough.

A knock at the door.

“Yes, hello?”

“Ma’am, there’s a taxi for you outside.”

“Oh!” she was surprised he had even thought of that. She opened the door. A tall, skinny young man was walking down the hall.

“Thank you!”

He turned his head.

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, I said thank you. Thank you for helping my husband with arranging such a wonderful day.”

“It was my pleasure, ma’am,” he adjusted his glasses, turned and walked down the hall.

“Well, yes it was, it was very kind of you,” she said quietly to his retreating back.

She went downstairs to catch her cab.

The taxi dropped her off at the hotel. She had Belgian waffles with cream and fresh fruit and two mimosas. She sat by the window, watching the people go by, wondering if they all were off to work or if any were lucky enough to have the day off, like her.

“I love having a day off on a workday,” she said to the waiter clearing her table, ”It feels special, like I’m on vacation.”

“I’m sure miss. I’d love to have today off.”

She blushed a little, thinking she might have offended him. She turned away to look outside. Her reflection looked odd. But then she noticed the tour bus right outside and realized she needed to hurry. She left the voucher and a tip on the table and rushed outside.

The tour was wonderful. She loved learning things about the world and the history of how things came to be. It all felt horribly familiar to her, but that didn’t dampen her enjoyment. It was a nice day and the tour guide had a nice voice and made corny, but funny jokes. Most modern cities must seem alike in many ways.

After the three hour tour she was feeling a bit peckish and debated whether she should skip off program to find something other than a hotdog. In the end she decided to trust her husband, but wouldn’t go so far as to leave the relish on.

The art exhibition had a certain hit and miss quality to it. For every piece that demanded at least fifteen minutes of her time, there were ten that she surmised were more the product of good sales qualities than actual painting talent. The museum was huge though, and more than large enough for her to fill an afternoon. However, one particular painting caught her eye.

“I just love this piece,” she said to what seemed to be an arts student, who sat off to the side, behind an easel, sketching the painting. “I get the feeling I’ve known it all my life.”

“I know right? The juxtaposition of the real imagined with the esoterica of the assumed experience really cuts deep. I’m going to write my thesis on his collected works.”

“That’s nice.”

She sat there for the better part of forty five minutes in silence, before getting up to make her way towards the exit.

The sun had started to set outside, bathing the glass of the surrounding buildings in its warm hues. She headed off towards the restaurant. Her voucher came in a beautiful little envelope that also contained a small city map. It was only a few blocks down from the museum, so she decided to walk.

Her table was waiting for her when she arrived and she felt a little silly at first, seated alone, but forgot all about it when the food arrived. The meal was exquisite. The first course was a spicy fish with lemon and rosemary and it had little bubbles of some sugary substance on it that each released a puff of paprika infused smoke when she burst them with her fork. The main course was thinly sliced salt cured ham and a cutlet of slow roasted ham sprinkled with crystallized coffee. For dessert she was given a small bowl of champagne and a small bowl filled with little balls of orange spun sugar, which she would dip in the champagne, causing them to snap and crackle and explode with sweet, orangey flavour in her mouth.

Sated and content she checked the time and figured she would have just enough time to quickly go to the restroom. The restroom mirror had been covered with a trash bag and tape.

“Here, honey, would you like to use my mirror?” an older lady next to her offered her a small pocket mirror.

“Oh, yes please, thank you.”

She could barely see more than her lips in the small mirror. She reapplied lipstick to her admirably done mirror-less job from that morning. She noticed a few dark lines at the corners of her mouth and tried to rub them away, only to find they were wrinkles.

“I’m sorry, honey, but I should be getting back to my table.”

“Yes. Yes, I’m sorry. Thank you again.”

“Wasn’t nothing, dear, but you’re welcome anyways.”

She followed the older woman out and went back to her table to pay. Once again, she left the voucher and this time, a very nice tip. She asked the waiter for directions to the opera house and he offered to call for a cab.

She enjoyed the opera. She loved the outdated comedic situations by Da Ponte and the score by Mozart, but she could never really take the serious parts seriously. She would always joke with her husband that she would kill him herself before some statue could if he pulled any of Don Giovanni’s tricks.

The last of the money was more than enough for the taxi home. She figured she’d give the rest to the young man down the hall as a thank you. She went up to her room, hung up her beautiful new dress and got ready to go to bed. She read the note her husband had left her one last time, pressed a lipstick kiss on it and slid between the sheets, tired but deeply, deeply satisfied.

 

It was the dead of night when the young man quietly slid into her room. He let the dress hang where she had hung it herself and lightly snuck over to the dressing table. He picked up the note and was about to slide it into an envelope filled with slips of paper when he saw the lipstick kiss. He sighed softly and in the dim light from the hallway he copied the note onto a clean piece of paper. He slid the new note into the envelope, closed it and placed it on the table. He made his way back to the door, pausing right before he closed it.

“Goodnight mom,” he said, softly.

The Phoenix

and just like that, like coffee spilt one morning you’re in a hurry, like the nap that catches you unawares on the subway and suddenly, although the ride takes ages, you’ve got to fly out at your stop before the doors close. Like the irrepressible blush thundering up your cheeks when someone comments on your “striking new suit” (stained from the coffee, and you know they see it, but they hide their scorn or sympathy or some other horrible sentiment behind a sugary smile and a second compliment).

Like walking into a lamppost or a streetlight or a crate of oranges outside the local fruit-and-veggie shop whose owner is prone to demand payment if your glance lingers for too long on his precious pears, and you fluster about for a bit, confused, wondering at the tangibility of the Universe and your own blindness and how they keep colliding, physically, and you ponder the likelihood of Earth being malevolent and poltergeisty, purposefully placing objects in your way just for the heck of it and laughing at you afterwards: laughing so hard that there’s an earthquake in California – especially since it knows that you’ll have no choice but to blame your clumsiness, as you’re not very religious or superstitious in any way.

Like a flight of birds bursting out of a lush, leafy tree into a pale blue sky (and you realise with a start that the days are growing longer again), like a puddle of rainwater that never used to settle in that particular spot before, but now it’s almost the size of a pond and of course you stepped right in it with your new shoes. Like a ripple of laughter from a small child or a purring, soft cat happily rubbing its head against your hand and twining its tail around your legs that evening after your boss shook your hand for the last time – making you marvel that such a tiny thing can flip your mood around.

Like that overpowering sort of flutter in a part of your stomach you didn’t know existed, and perhaps it never did; a flutter that makes the corners of every house and every person around them gleam at the edges as if a beam of light always finds them – even if the sky is overcast – making them appear to you the way a skilled photographer attempts to lure the light into accentuating his objects’ best sides through his small lens and there capture them, perfect, always.

Like the emotion that lingers, persists; a greedy leech which drains you for blood and also, mercilessly, injects into your body some unearthly substance that throbs through your veins and makes you sense the caress of colours, bright, beautiful and warm against your skin even in the closing cold of autumn. You can smell the happiness in a sandy, busy playground and breathe the euphoria from the corners of a smile on a stranger’s face. You can taste the music of every clarinet laugh, every muted bass drum footstep; every cymbal cacophony of every sunset branch casting its yearly corpses to the ground, until you feel dizzy and have to watch your step – and come to think of it, maybe that’s why the owner of the fruit-and-veggie shop glares at you with such an exceptionally palpable menace nowadays, for although none of his fruit is outside at this time of year you still go to his shop all the time to buy tangerines if he has them in stock. You think that if you eat ten or eleven of them every day, maybe you’ll start smelling as fresh and sunny as a tangerine and everyone would sniff and turn when you passed them on the street. You would cry tangerine tears, slightly tart from the salt but still delicious when they trickled to your tongue, and you would read sad stories on the subway and on cafés and make sure you wept a little onto napkins and newspapers, and then leave them behind for people to pick up and get a whiff of tangerine melancholy.

Like lying on your back in the soft grass one of those summer days in July or August that would be too hot if it were not for a perfect breeze; one of those complacent days when nothing seems important because in that moment nothing is, and a spectre smelling of gall and guilt is fighting to flow to your consciousness, but losing pathetically to that loveliest of fires gushing down on you. And so you simply stroke your fingers slowly through the fresh, green pelt and you start breaking twigs that you come across and float away until you hear the baby screaming.

Like when the white stillness of snow has enveloped everything overnight, when nothing is recognisable (the game is always to only walk where no one has yet set foot) and it is winter, it is cold and just like that