I saw Daddy kissing Santa Claus. That was this time last year. I don't see much of Daddy these days. Mummy made sure of that, with something called an injunction. I can't say I'm 100% sure on what an "injunction" is, but it sounds painful, and I think it involves needles of some kind. Now it's nearly Christmas again, and I've been really good this year, so I’ve written a second letter to Santa with a very special request.
I asked if he and Daddy could come down from the North Pole where they live together, and have Christmas dinner with me and Mummy. I haven't told Mummy about the letter, as every time I mention Daddy she starts throwing around the word "migraine" and then I have to go and play in my room. I think it is best kept a secret, for now at least. After all, everybody is nicer on Christmas Day - surely if Daddy and Santa show up, she'll have to make them welcome? We did a whole play on it at school.
Tonight is Christmas Eve. Mummy has laid out a carrot for Rudolph, but she refuses to leave a mince pie or glass of milk for Santa. I feel the beginnings of doubt in the bottom of my stomach. What if she goes into one of her very grown-up strops tomorrow? I know there is nothing to be done about it now, so I let her tuck me in and kiss me goodnight, then squeeze my eyes shut. I can't get to sleep straight away, so I occupy myself by trying to remember all the names of Santa's reindeer. There's Rudolph, of course, but I always struggle with the others. Donner. Dancer. Prancer. Dasher? Cupid and Blitzen. The other names evade me as I drift off.
I wake up early the next morning, and run into Mummy’s room, shaking her shoulder until she opens her eyes and grumbles at me to put the kettle on. I carefully make a cup of coffee, like she showed me, and take it up to her in bed. She gulps half of it down and then smiles at me mischievously, reaching under her pillow and retrieving a small red box with a green bow. She hands it to me and I rip it open – it is a new bicycle bell.
“Your bike will look good as new with that snazzy new bell,” she says, finishing her coffee. I force a smile and I say thank you, even though I feel a little crushed. I’d asked for a brand new bike this year.
We go downstairs together and Mummy makes us both cheese toasties for breakfast. When I have eaten mine, and washed the crumbs from my hands, I am allowed to choose a present to open from my stocking on the hearth.
It is a book. I smile and say thank you again, slightly less convincingly, and then I give Mummy her present, the one I have spent the last few weeks working on. I’ve made her a photo album. I have avoided putting in pictures of Daddy, so mainly it is just photos of Mummy and me, padded out with pictures of Mummy’s brothers and sisters and Granny and Granddad.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Mummy says, tearing up. “I love it. Thank you.” She hugs me so tightly that it hurts a bit, and kisses me on the cheek, leaving a wet lipstick print behind. I wait until her back is turned and rub my cheek furiously with my sleeve.
The next present I open is a bookmark. To go with the book, I suppose. I can’t help sighing just a bit, and immediately I feel the room go cold.
“Sorry, darling, if this isn’t quite up to scratch,” Mummy says icily.
“No,” I protest, “it’s fine, honest.”
“Fine? Oh, it’s fine? Well maybe if your pervert of a father hadn't decided to up and run off with Pere Noel, we'd be able to afford better presents. But he didn't. And we can't. So you'd best like it or lump it, my little prince!"
I apologise, and Mummy calms down. I am starting to seriously rethink my genius plan when the doorbell rings. It can’t be them, can it? Daddy and Santa? It’s too early! I look at the clock and realise I must have woken up later than I thought – it’s nearly noon.
“Oh no,” I whisper under my breath, and as Mummy leaves the room to answer the door, I think I might be sick.
“What are you doing here?!” I hear her shriek from the hallway. “And you brought him with you? What were you thinking?”
“We thought you knew,” I hear Daddy say, calmly. “We got a letter…”
I don’t hear the rest of the conversation, but I am familiar enough with the stern, adult tone they are using with each other to know that I am in serious trouble.
When Mummy re-enters the living room, she is followed by Daddy and Santa. Santa isn’t wearing his uniform, which surprises me at first, but then I imagine he must be shattered after his night shift.
“I think you have some explaining to do,” Daddy says to me, but I am just so happy to see him that I begin to tear up, and simply run into his arms. Suddenly, the loudest thing in the room is Mummy’s silence.
“Please let them stay,” I plead into Daddy’s jumper. “Please can they stay?”
I don’t have to be able to see Mummy to sense her exasperation as she sighs and reluctantly agrees.
“Thank you,” Santa says quietly, clearly embarrassed by the whole thing.
For the next few hours, Mummy busies herself in the kitchen preparing lunch, clutching a glass of white wine like a good luck charm, leaving Daddy, Santa and me in the living room, playing with the toys they brought me. I am so grateful to have them there that I don’t dare ask Santa why I didn’t get the bike I asked for in my first letter.
When the four of us sit down together, Mummy insists on carving.
“After all,” she declares, “I’ve become the man of this house. It was a desperately deprived role.”
Dinner is eaten in near-silence, and I start to feel rather foolish. This is far too much like the Christmases we had before Daddy moved in with Santa – quiet and tense. I finally understand that grown-up expression “an atmosphere you could cut with a knife”. Maybe things would have been best if I hadn’t written my letter at all.
But it is good to have Daddy around again, even if it is only for the day. I hadn’t realised how much I missed him until I saw him come through the living room door earlier, holding Santa’s hand. I think Mummy has noticed too – that this is the Christmas present I wanted more than anything, even more than a bike. I keep seeing her from the corner of my eye, watching me and Daddy. I wonder if this means she will let me see him more.
Over Christmas pudding and custard, it strikes me that I’ve been rather selfish. I wished and wished for what I wanted for Christmas, when I should have been looking for a way to make Mummy less sad. I decide that my New Year’s Resolution will be to cheer her up properly, so that she’ll be the way she used to be.
After dinner, everybody avoids looking at me when I suggest we play a game. I think Mummy wants Daddy and Santa to go. Santa tries to shake her hand as they leave, but all he gets in return is one of her famous frosty glances. Daddy at least gets a hug, before he sweeps me up into a huge kiss and cuddle. Then they are gone.
I thank Mummy as she closes the front door behind them.
“You’re welcome, my little prince,” she says. “He’s your Daddy; I never should have made him stay away.”
“So I’ll get to see him more?” I ask.
“Yes. As much as you like.” She replies.
“And might I be able to go and stay with him and Santa, up at the North Pole?” I continue, hopefully. Mummy freezes.
“We’ll see,” she says, finally.