Christmas wasn’t promising to be a happy one for Adam. His ex-partner had relocated without giving him her new address, taking their seven-year old daughter with her.
Adam had planned to see his little girl Lucy over Christmas. He wanted to make it up to her after he had been so unreliable throughout the year.
“I can’t keep letting you destroy my plans,” his ex-partner Melissa had told him, after another no-show on one of the weekends he was supposed to be looking after Lucy.
Whether out of malice or exhaustion, Melissa had moved on with her life without telling Adam.
He had turned up to her apartment on a cold November morning to find that she had gone. Nobody he knew was able to tell him her new address, either because she had silenced them or they really didn’t know it. He knew her sister lived nearby, but he didn’t know where.
“Thanks for nothing,” he said haughtily to Melissa’s former neighbour, who he believed was holding something back from him. He looked up and down the road, lit his last cigarette and thought about Lucy. He missed her.
As Christmas drew nearer, he was no closer to finding out Melissa’s address.
“I just wanna see my daughter,” he told his friend Mark over a cup of cheap coffee. “I had everything planned out. This year was really going to be something, you know? I got myself a job finally, a new place and some money at last. I’ve already bought her about ten presents, including one of the latest dolls off the TV.”
Mark had an idea, but he wasn’t sure if it would work or not.
“Be Santa Claus. The mall is looking for a new one, so apply. If Melissa is still living in the city, there’s a good chance she’ll take Lucy to see Santa. She’ll never know it’s you under there.”
For the first time in over a week, the normally reticent Adam allowed himself to smile.
Mark knew he was just being a good friend saying nice things. As far as he was concerned, the perennially unemployable and quick tempered Adam had no chance of being Santa Claus.
By a stroke of good fortune or finesse on Adam’s part, he was installed as the new Santa Claus at the mall within four days. He brought to the role his usual charisma, quick wit, and his natural rapport with kids.
“I want a space ship for Christmas this year, Santa” one boy shyly told him.
“A space ship? You don’t want much do you?” asked Adam with good humour. “I tell you what. Since you’ve got the gall to ask Santa for something as BIG as a space ship, I’m gonna give you something a bit more special. Next year, you and me are gonna deliver the presents on my sleigh together. How does that sound?”
The boys eyes widened. “Is it like a space ship?”
“Oh, heck yes. It’s the mother of all space ships. It can take you to Mars, to Saturn … anywhere you want it to. It’s a magical space ship.”
After two days in the mall, a young blonde girl with big and kindly but sad eyes perched herself on Adam’s lap. It took her a while to answer Adam’s question. She thought it over, and seemed hesitant to respond. And when she did, she asked him:
“Santa, is it okay to ask for something that isn’t a toy?”
“Why, of course it is. You can ask for whatever you want.”
“Santa, can I see my daddy this Christmas?” she asked quietly.
Adam looked over at the girls mother who was smiling.
“He’s gone away,” said the girl, embarrassed.
Adam’s heart sunk. He looked into the girls eyes.
“Of course,” he said hoarsely.
After a week at the mall, and with only five shopping days until Christmas, Adam was losing his optimism about seeing his daughter at Christmas.
His landlord reminded him that he was behind with the rent, and Adam got drunk.
Working hungover as Santa Claus was difficult. Whether his senses had been derailed by the lingering alcohol in his blood, or whether there was something in the air, the fact was that the kids all seemed more hyper than usual as he struggled with nausea and a headache.
“I want a pony, Santa. And a HUGE doll house with lots of dolls. Both boy and girl dolls, of course. And a car to drive them to work and back. And, oh, can we also have an Eminem CD for my brother?” asked a particularly excited young rosy-cheeked girl.
“One present to each child,” Adam said wearily.
“But, Santa, you don’t understand. I need all these things.”
“And I need a beer, but life isn’t fair okay?”
Adam immediately regretted his terse attitude.
Later in the day, the young girl who had asked to see her dad this Christmas sat herself on his lap again.
“I’m sorry for asking for something you couldn’t give me last week,” she said with a level of maturity that shocked Adam. “I know you’re not the real Santa Claus, and I know it was wrong of me to put so much pressure on you. You’re just a regular guy with a regular job who has his own problems. It’s just that I’d like to believe in magic and miracles, and I really would like to see my daddy this Christmas. But I want to say sorry. If you’d let me, I’d like to ask for a pencil this Christmas, and some paper. I’d like to draw something.”
“Don’t ever be sorry for wanting to believe in magic and miracles,” whispered Adam, whose soul had been profoundly moved. “I am Santa Claus, and there is magic in the world. Never let anyone tell you there isn’t. Miracles happen. I know that it sometimes seems like they don’t, but they’re happening all the time. Always believe.”
He saw the girl cover her nose momentarily. He sensed that she was as politely as possible trying to shield herself from the alcohol on his breath. He remembered the first time Lucy had seen him drunk. He felt covered in shame again.
“It’s okay,” she said softly to him. He felt his face redden.
She gazed up at him searchingly. He could feel a lump in his throat, and felt vulnerable before this innocent, bright young girl. It was as though she was able to read his thoughts.
That night, he turned his friend down when he was asked to go out for a drink. He stayed inside the gloom of his flat, and looked at the presents he had bought for his daughter.
He remembered the girl and what he said said to her, to believe in magic and miracles.
Enlivened by the image of the girls angelic face and her humble request, he bought some decorations and Christmas lights from a local store and hung them up in preparation for when Lucy came over. The only thing now missing was a tree. He bought a small one after work the next day.
“Well, if she doesn’t come to the mall, I’ll just have to find her,” he told Mark.
“Christmas drinks first, though?”
Adam turned him down, saying he needed to be sober.
“If I had Christmas drinks with you, I wouldn’t wake up until Easter.”
He was still in hight spirits the next day at the mall, and chirpily granted many children their wishes. But as closing time arrived with just one shopping day left before Christmas, he began to feel as though the game was up.
He trudged home forlornly.
Outside his flat, he bumped into Melissa’s sister. She explained to him that Melissa had moved with Lucy to Los Angeles. The news struck him like a blizzard.
“I can’t get to Los Angeles for Christmas, she knows that. Why would she take Lucy over there?”
“Well, you weren’t around last Christmas or the one before that,” replied Emily without a hint of sympathy. “So, I guess she figured she’d do something she’s always wanted to do without putting you first for once. You had your chance.”
“Things have changed. I’m a different person now, a better one. I had to get my life together. I’ve done that. I’ve bought presents, got a flat where Lucy can stay in her own room. I’ve got a job.”
“As Santa? Well, I guess it’s a step up from working as an elf like last year. Was that what sealed the deal for your new employers?”
“Fuck you, Emily!”
“See you around,” she said as she walked away.
Adam was left bereft. He clutched his Santa hat in his hand, dangling it by his side.
The next day was Christmas Eve. Adam had slept in his Santa outfit and woke up late.
A bright red envelope had been pushed through the letterbox. It was addressed to Santa.
Adam opened it slowly with curiosity.
Inside was a pastel drawing filled with colour. It was the work of a young child; technically poor but wondrously imaginative. It depicted a man holding his daughters hand. Above them was a big yellow sun. To the left were the letters ‘LA’.
There was a handwritten letter in the envelope, too. It read:
“Dear Santa. I watched you last night. I know times are hard right now. But remember that the world is filled with magic and miracles. If you believe, you will achieve your dreams next year. There is still time. Love, Madeleine.”