• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 01
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The Quality of Santa

You’ll be an elf, they told Linda. Linda wasn’t best pleased. This was all because of last year’s summer-fair hotdog debacle. Now Linda had been demoted. Linda was an elf. She wasn’t going to take this lying down. She made bunting. She made 125 identical snowmen adorned with glitter gel scarves and black coal buttons she’d pressed with the hole punch. I don’t get it, said Norman, her husband. Linda shooed him away from the table. Your dinner is in the oven. No one will notice, he says. I will, she replies. She watches him hover in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil. I don’t like chicken drumsticks, he says. He eats them anyway.

Linda buys new boots – knee length and cranberry leather and gets her hair blow-dried. She decorates the gazebo at Wood Leigh Primary School with her bunting, fake snow, real holly stolen from the neighbour’s garden and premium fairy lights (not coloured; they look tacky). She wraps fake presents to surround the school office armchair.

Santa arrives half an hour before the fair begins. He shakes Linda’s hand limply. His complexion is gaunt, his eyes brown. He isn’t even fat. The girth is all concentrated in the gut area, his legs long and gangly so he looks like a stork. Linda scans down to his feet. Black wellies. Linda isn’t happy. She sees the silhouette of a child waiting by the gazebo entrance. She steps outside and ushers the child in. Santa speaks with an accent. Santa is apparently a bit East End. She glares at him to deepen his tones, to laugh from the bottom of that beer belly with all his might. He doesn’t even try. The child doesn’t even notice. But she does. A little effort for the sake of the children? Alright, treacle. Well done for being a good girl – my chief elf will send you on your way, cheers. Linda reaches over to give the child their 99p shop present. She gets a whiff of bad breath and gin.


The Quality of Santa

The grotto makes £98.00. Linda collects all the money, sorting all the coins into their right denominations. Santa gets changed in front of her. It turns out the gut wasn’t real at all. It was three bath towels rolled under a belt. Underneath that, his frame is frail, his skin translucent and he has a QPR tattoo on his right bicep. How old are you? Santa laughs. He takes off his red velour suit to reveal a pair of cargo trousers. Santa never tells. When he takes off the beard, Linda turns away and hurries to the entrance of the gazebo, pinning the bed sheet door shut. The beard lies there; wisps of cloud like cotton drenched in Santa's sweat and spittle. The kids, you can’t let the kids see that.