T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for one naughty little boy who was so excited he couldn’t possibly sleep.
He tossed and he turned, he wriggled, he lay still, but nothing could help him. He was just eight years old. He hears the adults partying below him, a whole family gathered. Well, he wasn’t going to let them get the glory of meeting Santa. Why did they get to stay awake and he couldn’t?
He climbed off of his mattress on the floor, creeping slowly towards the door. He worried, step after step, that one of the floorboards will creak beneath his weight, but he made it safely through to the wooden door. He figures, if anybody catches him, he will just say he needed the toilet. They’re sure to believe him.
He takes more steps, arriving at the top of the stairs. The family are all in the back room, but the fireplace is in the front room, so he can just go and wait for Santa there. One step, two steps, three steps…
‘Right, I’ll just go take a bite of the mince pie then.’ Uncle Geoffrey, skinny as a rake and wearing glasses that were constantly falling from his pointed nose, calls. ‘Which brandy do I get this year, by the way?’
The boy’s father calls back to his brother, ‘I think we went with the Remy Martin. You know, the one you gave me last Christmas?’
‘Oooo, excellent!’ Uncle Geoffrey stumbles towards the front room. THe boy sits on the stairs, knees hugged close to his chest, unable to believe the words he’s hearing. How can they talk about stealing the food for Santa? ‘Right, got the mince pie…’ The voice is clearly from a mouth full of mincemeat and pastry, words struggling and sputtering. ‘Shit, I’ve got to do the carrot too.’ The boy is horrified. First Santa’s and now Rudolph’s? He jumps to his feet, rushing into the room.
‘Stop it, Uncle Geoffrey!’ He shouts in blind panic as Uncle Geoffrey lowers the carrot from his mouth. ‘That’s Rudolph’s!’
‘I… I… I was going to replace it?’ Geoffrey is dumbfounded. He doesn’t have kids of his own. What does he do? ‘That’s right, I was just a little peckish.’
‘LIAR!’ The boy shouts, running out the room and down the corridor, tears streaming from his eyes. His father waits in front of him, arms open, ready to give the boy a comforting embrace. The boy gratefully accepts it, feeling his father’s arms hold him tight.
‘It’s alright Ed. Come on now.’ His father’s words soothe him, but the boy knows something is wrong. ‘Let’s get you back to bed, alright? Or Santa won’t come, you know that.’
‘Santa isn’t coming anyway. One of the boys at school said it was just going to be you or Uncle Geoffrey in a suit. And I saw…’ He points toward the front room. ‘I saw him eat the carrot!’
The conversation goes on like this all the way back upstairs. The father, skilled in this art, deflects the observations, defends his brother with his replacement theory and works hard to reassure the boy. ‘Tell you what, I’ll get Santa to write something for you. How does that work?’
The boy is silent. Pondering. He waits for a long time before he says ‘Ok.’ But even with his eyes closed, the lights off, the door shut after his father rejoins the party, he does not sleep. There are no sleigh bells to be heard, no footsteps from downstairs other than the adults, no rustling in the chimney as Santa forces his way down.
‘Santa isn’t real.’ Ed says to himself as sleep finally comes to him.
The Idiot In Tin Foil