"There's this, Sir," said the Job Centre lady as she slid a sheet of A4 paper across the desk towards Michael, "I know it's not exactly what you were looking for, but the money's pretty decent and there's not much else going over Christmas. It's this or retail." In-Store Santa, he read off the top of the paper, and without realising, let his hands fall against his ample belly, which was more than round enough for the role. "And there's nothing else, nothing at all?" he asked. Santa was the last thing Michael wanted to be this Christmas.
It wasn’t that he was the Bah-humbug type, anti-holidays or anti-children for that matter. Sure, at the end of the day, children are just little versions of ourselves, minus the constant pressure to conform, monthly gas bills and ever increasing body hair. No, his aversion to this job had nothing to do with the season. It was down to that Santa Claus episode in 1986, a Christmas he will never forget.
Michael was only a slip of a lad back then, when his uncle Geordie came to stay with the family while he ‘got back on his feet’, and they had to give up the settee for a couple of months. Michael remembered it well: Uncle Geordie and his moustache, he was a dead ringer for Nigel Mansell; Reet Petite by Jackie Wilson was Christmas number one, and young Michael had stood, nose pressed against the window because Wendy from next door had told him it would be a White Christmas at last. Of course it wasn’t. But that didn’t matter because what Michael saw was far more interesting.
Snow be damned; Michael was just about to step away from the window when he noticed a familiar figure walking up the road. Maybe not walking, listing more like. It was Uncle Geordie, a Santy hat on his head and a barrelful of porter in his belly. But it wasn't Uncle Geordie that Michael was interested in; no, it was the woman linking him, trying to steady him into a straight line - Michael's mother. Just as they reached the front door, Uncle Geordie grabbed a handful of greenery from the wreath, held it over his head, and with a roar of "MISTLETOE!" kissed Michael's mother full on her very surprised lips.
“Mistletoe,” Michael growled lowly.
“Sorry?” said the Job Centre lady.
He shook his head as if to suggest he’d been lost in thought.
“Yes, mistletoe,” she said, “Santa’s grotto is in the seasonal section so there will be plenty of it. Is that what you were asking?”
“Dangerous stuff,” she said, flashing a nervous smile, then looking down to her papers.
“Indeed,” he said, flatly, unsure where she was coming from.
She looked up, embarrassed, said: “I meant because of the berries, not the… kissing… doesn’t matter.”
Michael nodded, smiled, “Yes,” he said, shoulders lifting, eyes wider, “yes, of course, mistletoe berries…”
“Put you in hospital, or worse,” she said, clearing her throat, “that’s all I meant.”
“Great," he said. "I’ll take the job."
She pushed another piece of A4 towards him, finger on top of an address, said, “You’ll be the perfect Santa, Michael.”
“I know,” he said.
“Any other plans for Christmas?” she said, smiling.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m making someone a big pie.”