“The night Santa went crazy, the night Kris Kringle went nuts…” The kids screamed Weird Al from the backseat and Carole did her best to smile and bop her head along to the music with them.
It had been a long drive, but Gammy Muriel’s house was finally in sight and soon Carole would be able to deliver her sweet precious monsters to her parents and break open a bottle of wine.
The SUV slid into the immaculately shovelled laneway and Molly and Brad, ages six and ten, didn’t even wait until the engine shut off before jumping out and running to the front door.
“Gammy! Gammy!” they shouted, and barrelled against the welcoming legs of their grandmother who stood waiting for them in the doorway.
“Look at you both! You’re huge! Come on inside, there’s cookies and a big glass of milk waiting for you on the table.”
The kids whooped and disappeared in the warmth of the house while Carole unloaded suitcases from the trunk. Muriel stepped around the back to help her, her sweater wrapped close around her.
“Brr,” she shivered. “How was the drive?”
“Long,” Carole sighed and gave her mom a tight hug.
“And how are you?”
Carole shrugged and focused once more on unpacking the vehicle, piling backpacks and tote bags on her arms. Muriel grabbed the remaining Dora the Explorer and Spiderman suitcases and wheeled them to the front of the house.
“Well you’re not allowed to be depressed in my home. It’s been a year, it’s Christmas Eve, and you’re surrounded by people who love you. Think you can crack a smile for that?” Her mother’s words were harsh, but her eyes belied the lecture. Carole gave a pathetic attempt at a grin and Muriel rolled her eyes, pushing her inside.
“Go eat some cookies.”
That night around midnight, Carole woke up. She wasn’t sure what had woken her – there were no children to be seen or heard and she couldn’t remember any bad dreams. For a moment she lay in the darkness and felt tears trickle out the corners of her eyes. Every day since Tom left had been hard, but Christmas was proving even more so.
She heard a noise from downstairs, the sound of tree ornaments shaking. Is that what had pulled her out of her sleep? She frowned. It was probably Brad trying to sneak a peek at his presents. Hopefully he hadn’t corrupted Molly, too.
Carole pushed the covers off, pulled on her robe and went downstairs to the living room – to see a man in a red suit dancing with their tree.
“Excuse me?” she asked, fear struck in her heart. Was he trying to steal it? Some thief dressed as Santa?
“Huh?” the man turned around, staggering on unsteady feet. “Who’re you?”
Nope, just a drunk in the wrong house. “I think you may have gone through the wrong front door, buddy. This is Muriel and Kevin’s home.”
“Oh! Muriel, I like Muriel, she makes good cookies. Who’re you?” It was a trifle difficult to understand him through his slurry words.
“Carole,” Carole replied, her mouth a thin line. She wanted him to leave before he woke up the kids.
“Carole, hi, I’m Dan. Sing with me, Carole. Your sister can sing too, I like twins.” He grabbed her hand and spun her around in a stumbling waltz. Carole tried to push him away, but not too hard. Her goal was get him gone, not angry. “Rudorf the lead-nosed reindog,” he sang. “Tha’s not right, does that sound right to you?”
“Not exactly,” Carole agreed.
“Wait – who’re you? This isn’ my house. Oops.” He let go of her and scrubbed at his fake Santa beard. “You’re a good dancer and pretty.”
“Thank you,” Carole played along. “Now how about you go home and sleep this off?”
“Yeah, tha’s a good idea. Nice to meet you, Annie.”
He shuffled to the front door and out into the snow. Carole watched him leave with a shake of her head and shut the door behind him.
“I can’t believe it,” Muriel sputtered over her coffee the next morning. Molly was entertained by her new plastic ponies and Brad by his army men. Kevin sat reading yesterday’s paper and Carole sat with her mother at the kitchen table. “Dan Sutherland, our neighbour. He was playing Santa at the hospital charity party last night. Apparently he got so drunk he stepped on the fake presents, tripped on a child, kissed a nurse and walked all the way home from the hospital. It’s strange, he’s always been so polite – and chairman of the Board at the hospital!”
A laugh burst through Carole’s lips – a full, deep refreshing laugh at the reminder of last night’s visitor.
“Mom? What’s so funny?” Molly asked. She couldn’t remember seeing her mother laugh that way before.
“Nothing, honey,” Carole grinned. She leaned back in her chair and began to sing softly to herself, “The night Santa went crazy; the night Kris Kringle went nuts…”