Little Jenny hopped up onto Santa’s knee. She couldn’t believe she was actually meeting him! Tara at school was never going to believe this.
She instantly regretted it.
The moment she got into his lap, he let out a little burp, turning the air foul with a combination of stale cigarette smoke and 40% proof alcohol. Not that Jenny knew that. To her, if just smelt “icky”.
“Oh God, you know your problem kid? You’re spolit. Spoiled? Spioilit. Yeah. All you kidses in your generations is spolit brats. You are.” He prodded her shoulder with his spare hand. “I feels sorry for your parents. I do. I do. They gotta put up with-” His voice launched into a piercing shriek that hurt Jenny’s ears. “-’Ooooh, Mum I want a XboxMachineThing or a pretty…’” His voice dropped, masked by another little burp. “Pretty thing. You… Uh… What do girls like now, anyway?”
Jenny resisted the urge to cry. “I like dolls.”
Where were Mum and Dad?
Santa saved his hands, nearly throwing Jenny from her perch. “’Oooh, I want a f***in’ doll. It’s just. It’s just it’s f***in’ stupid, you know? All of it. It’s a f***in’ charade. No-one can afford it. I f***in’ can’t. Buy this. Buy that. Buy more s*** so your kids’ll love you. They don’t. Mine. My kids? My kids never call. Like, ever. F*** ‘em. I could be dead.”
He looked at the ground.
“I feel dead.” He tapped his chest. “In here.”
He started crying while Jenny tried in vain to process what was going on. Eventually, after a few moments the felt like an eternity, he sniffed and wiped his eyes with his posh white gloves, blowing his nose on one for good measure. “Oh, I’m sorry. What was your name?”
“I’m sorry Johnny. I’m…”
He started breaking down even more. Jenny didn’t know where to look.
She looked at a camera, trained on her and Santa. This was meant to be special, but it was making her feel sad. The camera had a red light on top – someone told her that meant it was seeing all of this. The man behind the camera with the big headphones looked shocked. Other people, further back in the seats and shrouded in darkness, also seemed worried, as best as Jenny could tell. Despite the gloom, she could see one of them had their hand on their forehead in the way Mum did when Dad said something bad in public.
There were lots of people back there, watching. Everyone was staring at sad Santa and Jenny. The lights were bright and making her very hot.
Santa burped again between wails.
She was starting to lose her fight against the tears, too.
* * *
In the control room, Trevor sat with his head in his hands. When he looked up, just as Jenny was being asked what girls liked, everyone was turning away from their monitors to look at him.
“I told them. I f***ing told them that if Chris couldn’t hold it together today this whole thing was f***ed.”
“We could cut to something else?” mumbled a voice in the glow of the monitors.
“Cut to what? This was meant to be the big finale. The other presenters have already f***ed off home. One segment. He had to hold it together on his own for one segment. Tina?”
Someone in the dark answered with an efficient “Yes”.
“Find out who let him have his booze in his dressing room and fire them for me.”
“But it’s Christmas.”
“Yeah, and it’ll be a miracle if any of us have jobs after this.”
Jenny was looking directly into the camera and out into the studio audience beyond. In close up, it was plain to see that she was on the brink of tears.
“I swear to God,” mumbled Trevor, planting his face in his hands again, “If he makes that kid cry we’re done for.”
* * *
Jenny looked at the set around her. It was like an idyllic Christmas; roaring fire, big tree, huge presents. It was all fake, of course, but it felt real to her.
It even had Santa. Even if Santa was crying lots, mumbling something about ‘taxation’ – whatever that was – and smelt like Grandpa did for a week after New Year’s Eve.
He was making her sad, but she had to be brave. He was Santa, after all, and she was determined to be on his good list.
She took a deep breath and gave him a hug. He still smelt sour.
“Don’t cry, Santa. Everyone loves you. Tasashun is just a bully. Don’t let him make you sad.”
Someone, somewhere out there in the dark beyond the camera, giggled.
Another voice joined in.
Soon there was a wave of giggles and laughs. A few people even chimed in with “Awwww.”
Under her little arms, she could even feel the juddering movements of Santa chuckling. He started coughing violently, too – big, wet-sounding heaves – but he was still chuckling nonetheless.
She’d never know it, but up in the control room, Trevor thought that perhaps they might get out of this after all. Sure, it’ll get paraded around on more than a few clip shows, Chris was going to need some help, and the person Tina was off firing should probably be re-hired before the incident went to a tribunal but, all in all, it could have been worse.
On a number of the tiny screens Chris, wobbly but calm enough, was wrapping up the show, complete with special thanks for his “psychiatrist” Jenny.
Trevor held his breath, waiting for one last crisis to navigate.
The credits started rolling just as Chris punctuated his last sentence by very nearly throwing up. A couple of mortifying seconds passed before Chris managed to hold it back and start his cheery waving again, just as they got to the credits for the camera crew.
Finally – mercifully – the credits finished rolling and they were done for the year.
– Merry Christmas, everyone!