Making the best of an impossible situation has unexpectedly positive consequences for grotto conscript Amy…
“Me?” Amy stared at Mr Wetherall. “I can’t be Santa. I’m a woman.”
“Once you’ve got the suit and the beard on,” said Mr Wetherall, “nobody will be able to tell.”
Amy couldn’t decide whether to take offence at that.
“Can’t you do it?”
Mr Wetherall laughed.
“Now, please, Amy, don’t be silly. There’s no one else available.”
“What about Alan?” she persisted. “Or Colin?” Anyone! “Reg in Cookware already has a grey beard.”
Cookware was on the third floor of Cobham’s department store. Santa’s Grotto was on the ground floor.
Deputy buyer Amy was currently an elf – with pointy boots, green tights and a nifty hat – and had been happy enough directing children into the Grotto.
Then Santa – or Kevin, as he was more usually known – was called away urgently. Something about his wife going into labour.
Very inconsiderate, Amy reckoned. Which left them today – a week before Christmas – with a Grotto but no Santa.
“What about Jo?” Amy said.
Jo was also an elf and was showing more cleavage than was probably appropriate.
The dads in the queue were enthralled by Jo’s straining costume and Amy was sure some had been round more than once.
“I think Jo is doing an, ahem, outstanding job where she is.”
So Amy found herself in the Santa costume, adjusting padding and belts to accommodate her more slender frame. She studied her reflection in the staffroom mirror.
“Ho ho ho.” She slipped on the beard and a peculiar sensation bubbled in her chest. “HO HO HO!”
Down in the Grotto, Amy settled herself on Santa’s chair and the first child shuffled inside through the fake snow, past the snowmen and the reindeer and the trees, clutching his mother’s hand, his eyes wide with awe and excitement.
“Hullo!” Amy did her best Santa voice. “Have you been good?”
He nodded firmly.
“What would you like for Christmas?”
“Stormtrooper laser gun.”
“Eh?” She blinked.
“And a Star Destroyer.”
“Right.” She reached into her sack and handed over a wrapped gift. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy this just as much.”
“Say thank you, Freddie.”
A steady stream of children filed through – all shapes, sizes and moods – and Amy couldn’t believe she had initially objected. She felt wonderful, touched by magic.
Then a girl with plaits came in.
“You ain’t Father Christmas. You’m a lady,” she said accusingly.
“Actually, I’m Missus Christmas.” Amy pulled down her itchy beard. “See? I’m Santa’s wife. I’m standing in while –”
“Santa ain’t got no wife.”
“Yes, he has. And I’m –”
“Santa lives by hisself at the Norf Pole, he do.”
“Do you want a present or not?”
Shortly after that Amy took her break. In the staffroom she lay back, coffee mug resting on her fat padded belly, beard round her neck, eyes drooping with exhaustion.
It was wonderful to see Christmas through the eyes of the children, but tough work.
The door opened and Amy flinched, realising she might have dropped off for a moment. Her coffee sloshed.
“Excuse me,” said the bearded man in the doorway. He was wearing corduroys and a reindeer jumper over an enormous stomach. “Amy, isn’t it?”
“What? Oh. Yes.” Amy sat up, trying to blink away her drowsiness. “Can I help you?”
“Just wanted to say you’re doing a brilliant job, Missus Christmas. Keep up the good work.”
“Oh, well, thanks.” She frowned, her nap still tugging at her. “Do I know you?”
He smiled. “Everyone knows me.” He winked, and a tingle rippled down her spine. “I like to visit all the Santas before the rush on Christmas Eve. Like to make sure you’re all keeping the reputation intact, you know.”
“Eh?” Amy had the funniest feeling, as if she was six years old again.
“What would you like for Christmas?”
Amy was still trying to focus.
A man to fall in love with, was her immediate thought. A man to kiss under the mistletoe. Someone kind, handsome, intelligent and charming. Someone I could stay with forever.
What she said was, “Oh, well, a handbag would be nice.”
“HO HO HO!” His laugh was so genuine it made her want to cry. He stroked his pure white beard. “We’ll see…”
And then he was gone. Vanished.
Amy flinched, feeling as if she’d really woken up this time…
She shook herself, finished her coffee and hurried back to the Grotto.
She dispensed with the beard this time, deciding to be a proper Missus Christmas instead, and the steady stream of kids trooping through seemed to love it.
Then a young boy raced in, tripped, and launched himself into her lap. Her chair fell backwards and they toppled together, taking down the tree too.
A man ran in and scooped up the boy, depositing him safely to one side before righting the tree and helping her up.
“Sorry! Little terror! He’s my sister’s. I’m only looking after him for the day.”
The man was dishy, with dazzling eyes behind intelligent specs. And his embarrassment was oh-so-charming.
Amy recognised him instantly.
“Paul!” She hadn’t seen him since that wonderful year at university.
Paul frowned. “Amy?”
“Fancy meeting…” Then she caught a glimpse of a fat, bearded man in a reindeer jumper passing by outside the Grotto. “…you here.”
The bearded man winked.
“Merry Christmas,” he mouthed. Then he vanished again, with a reverberating HO HO HO.
No, it was ridiculous! After all, how could Santa have time to visit every Grotto in every town in every country?
But then, she realised, he did manage to visit every child’s bedroom on one single night.
That night being, of course, Christmas Eve – which was when Amy found herself kissing Paul under some handily-placed mistletoe.
He’d been waiting for her that day when her shift ended and they’d been inseparable ever since.
“Best Christmas present ever,” Paul was saying, “bumping into you again.”
Amy couldn’t agree more.
A gift to Missus Christmas, from Santa himself.
She’d received the handbag she’d asked for, too…
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