The Ghost for Every Christmas

The Ghost of Every Christmas 

 

It is cold. The tunnel is hewn from ice and ice surrounds  

the two of them. Beyond them the sounds of animals,  

hoofs stamping and scraping, breath echoing, the mist  

from their wide mouths imagined but no less real. 

 

She tells him that he drinks too much. He nods, his long 

white beard pushed against his red coat, spread out like 

paint brush pushed against a red canvas. Her hand lingers  

at the flask in his pocket. He moves his black-mittened hand  

over hers, softly, as if he could never stop her. 

 

She pulls out from under his mitten, lifts her hand to his 

breast, lays her fingers and palm against his coat, feels the  

warmth. He says something but his beard muffles his voice. 

She lets the warmth fill her hand, elate her, move slowly 

into her wrist, her arm, a golden surge. 

 

He mumbles something again, lifts his chin. Don’t take it all, 

he says. I never would, she says. She stares into his eyes for 

as long as she can. Seconds. Moments. Anymore and she  

would fall into the infinite sadness. Save it for those who 

need it most, she says. Does he smile? See you in the 

morning, she says. He nods, turns, walks to the reindeer. 

 

High, high above the world, lonely as a satellite, he looks  

down from his sleigh. Lights. So many lights, spreading like  

fire without heat. Light is life but this life has no warmth.  

He stays high in the darkness, the light not reaching him,  

just distant illumination that can’t touch him. 

 

The reindeer snort, paw at thin air but they are tiny up here,  

an unnoticed dot. For years he has moved unseen amongst  

the peoples of the world. He has worked hard to remain invisible. 

Not anymore. So much of the world is barred to him now,  

especially those who need him most. 

 

Lower, lower, sweeping to a stop on a row of terraced houses,  

chimneys proud against the frost, TV aerials sketching patterns  

in the night, the cloudless sky filled with blind stars. He swigs  

from his flask, grabs the sack from behind him, slides down  

from his sleigh and approaches the first chimney, fishing in his  

sack as he goes. He withdraws a clenched fist, sparkles falling  

from between his fingers, and holds it over the chimney pot. 

 

He pauses for a long time, staring at his hand, at the glitter falling  

and spiralling into the dark, reflections from streetlights flashing  

light and dark, spinning through life and death. It is all he can give.  

Every year it seems like less: children’s toys ground down to make  

some giants’ bread. 

 

A black cat circles around his black boots, purring into the cold night. 

He smiles through his beard, opens his fist, takes a pinch of  

sparkles; the glitter disappears into the creature’s fur. The cat  

leaves him, its purrs louder, the night stiller. He turns away,  

pours the sparkles down into the chimney, then moves on to  

the next and the next until he’s done the whole row. At the end  

his sleigh waits for him exactly where he hadn’t left it. 

 

Across the city, to chimney after chimney, fistfuls of sparkles, the sack 

never emptier, always ready to give its contents.  

 

He stares out at the high rises that dot the city’s skyline. No chimneys. 

 

And then he is atop the closest, his sleigh and reindeer waiting for him,  

the animals pawing and snorting their impatience to fly again.  

He peers over the edge and imagines all the glasses of sherry and whiskey  

in this one building. He takes a pull from his flask, sighing loudly through  

his nose as the hot liquid hits his stomach. He takes another. And another. 

 

Like the sack, the flask never empties. Like the glitter, the alcohol barely  

touches him. He plunges his gloved hand into the sack and pulls handful  

after handful of glitter and sends it sparkling across the roof. Every space  

is covered, the roof a dead galaxy of immobile stars. 

 

cold, lifeless display, so like the cities of this world seen from high,  

high above. He bends to touch them, placing his palm flat on the roof, willing  

his warmth through his gloves and into the sparkles, into the roof. Both hands  

now; he is on his knees. He pulls off his gloves, lays bare, pale flesh against  

the sparkles. 

            Nothing. 

He runs and kicks through the display, shattering galaxies. They flick and flop  

and fall. And lay still. He stops. He’s breathing hard, his breath misting over  

and over. He pulls the flask from his pocket, takes a swig, pauses for breath,  

then another, and another. He upturns the flask, gulping at the hot liquid,  

letting it wash his insides. Tries to drink himself blind. 

  

‘Another year done,’ she says to him. Her breath mists in the ice tunnel. 

She can’t see if he smiles beneath his beard.   

Reaching out to his breast, she feels that he is cold now. She nods.  

‘Well done,’ she says. 

 

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