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
a paint brush pushed against a red canvas. Her hand lingers
at the flask in his pocket. He moves his black- 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
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 holds it over the chimney pot.
He pauses for a long time, staring at his hand, at the glitter falling
and 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.
A 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
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.