I knew the game was up when she said Santy had given her a list. I had met his many imitators and knew they were not the real deal just benign North Polar ambassadors but lacking in magic. I’d seen him in Lee’s on the main street of Dun Laoghaire, in a family sized red tent with a strip of silver tinsel around the entrance. His cottton wool beard dangling on ear-itching elastic, his nicotine fingers rumaging in a plastic laundry basket that was loaded with presents. There were two baskets, one for boys and one for girls. He sounded just like the driver of the 7A bus who’d bring me home from school each day. “Ah, son have ye been a good lad?”
It was like First Confession all over again but with different costumes and just like my first time in the confession box armed with a few rehearsed sins, I told him that apart from puncturing my neighbour’s bike I had been good. Santy coughed and scrathed the stubble under his stick on beard. “Ah, you’re a good lad, fine fella….”. Sounding like one of the pocket fumbling priests who’d try for compliments after you’d served mass for them. Searching for a key or a coin as they told you how well you served. Santy was like that in Lee’s.
I thought, he might be anxious to get back to The North Pole and away from George’s st., this was his busy time and every hour spent here in Lee’s was time away from directing operations in the snow drifted toy factory so far from Dun Laoghaire. All that deep snow and cold scared me, why had he ended out living in such a desolate place. Something eery always hovered around Santy. Who was he really? Had he done a terrible thing once? Forever making toys in the world’s most inhospitable place…..was he trying to say sorry. And who were the elves? The only dwarf I’d seen was the paper man outside the church on Sundays, and he frightened me, I’d take my mother’s hand as we’d walk in to church to feel safe from him.
Sometimes, my mind would race with questions. How did a team of paper-men end out working with Santy? Then a dream, came to me somenight before Christmas……there were other dwarves I’d heard of. The Seven who’d lived with Snow White, always loved that story but felt it ended very unfairly for them, all their joy taken away by a tall Prince. And so I saw the seven of them trekking away towards to the world’s darkest corners and everywhere they went they wept for losing her and cursed themselves for being short. And their tears froze….every where they went to forget their sadness, they’d leave behind vast acres of ice and snow.
And that was how I learnt that The North Pole had come in to being….Trailing far behind them I saw a man on his own, swaying in the cold and slush, weeping too and cursing what he had done…years earlier….he had let go the rope that dangled deep in to a well….children used to often speed up and down the well, like a thrill ride, collecting pebbles down below….and he, the well man had let go and two children were lost….And I learnt at eight that the saddest people wander the
furtherst….And so the world’s saddest tall person and the most tearful short seven met and started on this strange enterprise….Santy was forever saying sorry and the dwarves found some solace in helping him….It always came as relief to me when a dream put me at ease and told me a new truth….little nuggets I’d keep for myself.
So, leaving the tent in Lee’s he handed me a package from one of the baskets….I pointed at him and siad “Santy, did you really once work at the well? I know how you met the dwarves and how The North Pole was born.”
“Am I well? Santy is always well….off with ye now”
“Ah, what are you saying to the man, Billy….??” My mother pulling at the hood of my duffle coat. Ah, she had said it. “The Man.” So he was not
Santy and he had said that Santy was always well…..but I knew he wept most days for what he had done.
I tore at my package and saw that he had mistaken me for a girl, a string of plastic pearls a mirror and a comb….I went home, put on my necklace and waited for the real Father Sadness to come