The Media Trust
Ledbury Calendar

David Waller


Christmas Cracker: Short Story PDF Print E-mail
Written by Nick Alexander   
Tuesday, 25 December 2007 00:00
Article Index
Christmas Cracker: Short Story
Page 2
All Pages
Why was he doing this again this year? Doug felt like a prize sucker as he buttoned up the red Father Christmas jacket. He’d already slipped the thin cotton trousers over his jeans and the beard and hat were drooped across the back of the chair.

As he checked the jacket in the cracked mirror, his thoughts couldn’t help straying back to last year. What a flaming fiasco! He’d agreed to man the Christmas grotto in his Uncle’s family supermarket. The place was underfinanced, situated in the degenerate rather than regenerate part of town and the premises themselves had a funky dampness in some of the far-flung aisles, particularly the one to which Santa had been exiled. Outside, the shop’s lights gave off a steady forty watt glow, which was completely overshadowed by the blaze of the High Street a little further up the road. In fact the Christmas lights strung across the road stopped short of this end of the town by a good fifty yards – a gulf of swirling half-light separating two universes.

Then there’d been the clientele. A succession of rude untameable little dung-monkeys had traipsed through his grotto, pulling his beard and barking his shins. He’d hidden some wire wool in the beard for the afternoon session, but after two of them had come away with bleeding fingers he’d had to cut it out (literally) as murmurings of complaint had been heard.

Then the little darlings had started their revenge. He hadn’t even realised it was happening to start with, nor could he have foreseen that they would have access to such industrial quantities of superglue. Trussed and glued he had been rolled out into the store and pushed backward and forward like a giant weeble, so that he swung to and fro, unable to release arms or legs for protection, his head crashing into great stacks of tinned Christmas puddings to send them flying in all directions. Then, he had been manoeuvred into the vegetable aisle where they could achieve a greater swing. A vast pile of satsumas had been scattered in an avalanche of Xmas jollity toward the tills, but at least they were softer to the head. The melons were a bit much, but the most painful had been the coconuts.

The fire brigade had had to spend about three hours cutting him out of his costume before they delivered him to the hospital. His neighbour of two doors away had been amongst the fire crew and she had had the unenviable task of cutting his trousers and underwear free. What an introduction! He had wanted to make an impression, and he had at least done that!

Over the last year since then, actually, they’d become good friends and in a way his decision to return to the grotto this year had been seen by both of them as a fitting tribute to their meeting. She had made sure that she was on duty again and was now keenly awaiting the call-out. He had sworn to himself that she wouldn’t be seeing his Rudolph Glow In The Dark boxers this year – not in public, anyway.

If anything, trade had dropped off since last year, but the local paper had printed a little article recalling the frolics of the year before and a small queue of ghouls had started to form by the time he took up his position in the grotto.

The customary unpleasantries were exchanged with a parade of small Herberts. One sweet little boy managed to smear seasonal dog muck along the back rung of Santa’s chair, which leant a certain heady atmosphere to the proceedings. An angelic looking seven-year-old girl reeked of absinthe as she burped, causing his eyes to smart.

The store had had the foresight to install a winch, which enabled him to cope with the large number of elephant-sized pre-teens who scattered chocolates and pies in their wake. It didn’t relieve Doug of the support his body had to provide once they were lowered into position, but at least it meant that they didn’t have to crampon their way in, which usually involved a detour via his testicles. Last year they had ended the tour of duty looking like table tennis bats, an abnormality that had caused no end of confusion when his neighbour had initially burrowed her way into his nether regions, not having arrived by helicopter.

After a couple of hours, Doug felt as though his knees had played host to most of the Welsh pack, and his thighs were particularly well tenderised.

The day drew on and he began to allow himself the glimmer of a belief that he would emerge from the experience relatively unscathed. The afternoon rush had ended at about 3.50. That’s when the local theatre opened its doors for the pantomime performance. All the mini hard nuts in town deserted ‘Santa’s Grotty’, as they liked to call it, and were now in the panto queue, racing through their first box of malteasers.

The clock ticked slowly while the floral reindeers wilted. Santa’s little helper, Rita, aged 63 and cheerful as a mugging victim, went off for a fag and shopping expedition and forgot to rush back.

Doug took the opportunity to stand and try to massage some feeling back into his thighs. From a standing position, he could just see through the dirt of a high side window out into the sleet that passed for atmospheric Christmas cheer at this end of town. A distant glow enveloped the larger emporia enjoying the Christmas rush further up the street. He slunk back to his chair, unable to raise sufficient interest even to be depressed about the situation. He gazed at a black scuff mark in the lino about a yard in front of his feet. It was shaped just like a porpoise with an elephant’s head. Well, it was out of proportion, but he was prepared to argue the point with any passing gainsayers.

A rather elegant Jimmy Choo arrived in his field of vision. It was filled with an equally well-turned foot, and rapidly followed by its twin. His disbelieving eyes underwent a transformation, a sort of thaw, as the drudge surroundings receded from conciousness.  Soon, those same eyes, jaded only moments before, ached with pleasure as they followed the natural line upward, ever upward. He proceeded as slowly as eagerness would allow.

He was not disappointed when he eventually reached the face of the woman who stood before him.

“Father Christmas, I presume?” she purred, like a fine-tuned Silver Shadow running on purest octane Tanqueray.

Doug looked around. There was nobody else to whom the question could have been addressed. “Yes, that’s me.”

“I have the tiniest little problem and would be soo grateful if you could help a desperate girl in her hour of need.”

“Well, I’ll do what I can,” offered Doug as positively as he could, although he felt unusually inhibited just at that moment.

She shifted her position, and spoke slowly, articulating each velvet-clad syllable. “I’ve just had my handbag snatched and I have no money. Could you spare me some change so that I can make a phone call? I would be very grateful indeed.”

Doug rummaged, possibly somewhat over-vigorously, and a small split appeared at pocket level. Terrible visions flashed through his mind of a repeat of last year’s humiliations, which had an immediate calming effect. He retrieved a couple of pound coins and a fifty pence piece from his pocket. He hesitated as he remembered that this money represented his chance for a pint on the way home. ‘Oh! For God’s sake, it is Christmas, isn’t it? John’ll stand me a couple anyway,’ he thought to himself.

He looked at the woman, ready to say a few words of friendly advice concerning the scourge of scrounging, work-shy bimbos roaming the streets on the make, and it was no excuse to come into the shop, it didn’t show enterprise, it displayed a higher level of venality and was equally despicable. But he thought better of it. Now that he looked at her, he realised how extraordinary she was. He felt sure that he had seen her before, but in a newspaper or magazine or some similarly removed realm of existence. She was utterly out of place in these surroundings. He gave her the money.

Surely, here was a visitation, come in angelic form. There! In the distance, was that not a heavenly choir? With a jolt that did not quite derail the beauty of the vision, he realised that it was actually old Norm at the bus-stop with a few too many on board. But, of course, it was only he, Doug, vouchsafed this revelation and the world outside did not, could not, intrude. Just think! This grotto, his grotto, would become a place of pilgrimage in years to come.

He leaned back in his chair, suddenly conscious that he hadn’t had the courtesy even to stand for her. He was about to stammer an apology for his rough manner (and manor) when she promptly sat astride his lap. Her perfume enshrouded him in helplessness.

She bent towards him. “Thank you so much,” she said and her lips parted as she leant to kiss him. The slow meeting of lips lasted for what felt like an eternity. He dared not breathe for fear of disturbing the purity of the moment. Finally, his grip on reason was released as he surrendered to the pulse of tangled dreams.


“Come on, Doug! Wakey wakey!”

Dulcet tones began to coalesce toward the iron-filings end of the auditory spectrum as the yellowing face of joyless Rita swelled ever nearer in appalling corporeality. With a start, Doug jerked his head up. A toothless, wrinkled, unsmiling, smoke-breathed visage was thrust into his face.

“Arghh!” he shouted.

“It’s Christmas,” she said, “It’s time I got home and started bastin’.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 October 2008 12:22