How Mrs. Claus Got Her Groove Back
A fresh log glowed red in the fireplace; garland and twinkling lights lined the mantel. A most cheerful picture, normally, but the yuletide trappings still left Emma Claus cold. She’d tried everything to awaken her Christmas spirit: hitting the Black Friday sales online, reading letters from the children, baking tray after tray of cookies. Even the sappiest of holiday movies failed to lift her mood—even the ones with Colin Firth.
Just to make sure she’d given Hollywood a fair shake, she clicked the remote to the Hallmark Channel, which was showing the same snowed-in romance brewing at the same over-decorated country inn. Emma merely clucked her tongue. “Fools,” she said. “Do those innkeepers ever sleep? All that work! Cooking and cleaning! Sweeping up pine needles, drizzling everything with tinsel just so, tending the fires in every room and dusting twice a day from all the ash…what kind of life is that?”
And then her gaze fell to her own labor-roughened hands, still clutching a dishtowel, and she wept. She hadn’t even heard Santa walk into the room. “What’s this?” he said, voice so kindly that she cried harder. “Tears, Mrs. Claus? During the most magical time of the year?”
She shook her head and dabbed at her eyes with the cloth. “Oh, it’s just the story.” Emma gestured to the television. “This one makes me weepy every time I see it.”
The lines in his face softened. She could never get away with lying to him, the man who’d patented the Naughty/Nice meter. “Don’t you dare say it,” she squeaked out. “Don’t you dare say the same old things about bringing joy to the children.” Granted, it was an admirable mission. And she was grateful. Decades earlier he’d rescued her, a poor orphan girl from the village, and found her a job in the factory. Then, when she reached marriageable age, he’d made her the beloved bride of the most generous man in the world. But clearly, something was missing.
He nodded once, and then twice, and then muttered, “I’ll be in my workshop.”
She sucked in a few deep breaths and made a deal with herself to hold it together, for his sake. She’d done this forever, after all. Sat by the fire on Christmas Eve monitoring the sleigh’s progress on NORAD, fed the hungry elves, met him on the launch pad when he returned. And then endured the silence and loneliness when, exhausted, he collapsed into bed and slept for days. The sleep of a man happily consumed by his work.
Somehow, Emma managed to get through the long, bereft days leading up to the Big Night. Santa had to have noticed the misshapen cookies, the lackluster dinners, the depth of her sighs. Smart man that he was, though, he said nothing. Just made himself a sandwich and retreated to the company of his elves.
Then Christmas Eve came. As she’d done for more years than she could count, she pressed his velvet suit, polished his boots, and left him to dress while she prepared his favorite pre-flight meal. But he didn’t come down. She called for him, and he answered in a deep, wrenching moan.
Emma sprinted up the stairs and gasped when she saw him. In bed, clutching his belly. “Oh. Oh, my dear,” he said. “I don’t think… I don’t think I’ll be able to make it. Just the thought of… Call the elves…” And then he passed out.
Her eyes widened and she rushed to him, pressing a hand to his less-than-rosy cheek. Still breathing and heart strong, thank God, although clearly he was in no state to travel. He’d never missed Christmas. There were emergency provisions, of course, in the event that NORAD had to alter his flight plans, but it had been such a long time and all had gone so smoothly that she didn’t even know where the binder was. She managed to calm herself enough to make the call. Doc Elf was on his way, and the other elves had been alerted, but there was still the matter of distributing the presents.
Emma took a few steadying breaths. The elves were good, and the factory ran well, but how could she trust them with this most important task, which she and Santa had magicked together from the very beginning. She eyeballed the red suit hanging in the corner and felt a shiver sweep down her spine.
She would do it herself.
With wobbling hands she dressed in the velvet coat and trousers, with shaky fingers adding the belt and cinching it tight. “I don’t want to leave your side, Mr. Claus,” she said to the prostrate, bearded lump of man on the bed as she smoothed the white hair from his forehead. “But we don’t have Amazon drones and these Kindles aren’t going to deliver themselves.”
As she fit the cap over her silver curls and strode for the door, a bit of the process started coming back to her. By now, the elves would have already assembled the sleigh and the reindeer; on many occasions of late, Santa had waved off praise for his efforts, saying that he had automated the practice so well that basically all he had to do on the Big Night was sit back and let Rudolph’s GPS guide the way. And thanks to her good cooking, she’d grown as well padded in the belly as he, so she doubted that anyone spying them from a distance would notice it was not Saint Nick at the reins.
Still, she allowed the air traffic controller to help her into the cockpit and nodded as he rattled off a list of instructions, a mix of excitement and dread spiraling through her stomach. Finally, with a last wave from the ground crew, she was cleared for takeoff. Emma gulped as the sleigh began a vertical ascent from the launch pad. She grabbed onto whatever was handy, bracing herself to be jostled about, but she soon discovered that there was no need. Even when they zoomed off into the night, climbing higher and higher, there was not a bump or a jolt to be felt. And soon she released the death grip she’d had on the upholstery and the dash—she’d even put down the reins and whooped like a giddy child on an amusement park ride.
The radio crackled, and a small voice cleared its throat. “With all due respect, Mrs. Claus, we need to focus on the task at hand. Just follow the coordinates on the monitor and you’ll find the addresses—”
“Oh, pish on that,” she said, emboldened by the magical ride and the power of being in the driver’s seat. “This was meant to be a labor of joy, not one for the auto-pilot. I’ve read all the letters; I’ve followed the radar maps for years; I know where the children live.” She laughed as she clicked off the radio, imagining all sorts of fright going on at headquarters, the gossip among the elves: The missus has gone rogue. “Hit it, Rudolph.” She flicked the reins. “It’s you, me, and your eight buddies tonight. Just the way it was supposed to be.”
And, following the stars, they flew from the North Pole all around the world, landing on rooftops of the good and the naughty, for she believed everyone deserved a little magic on Christmas. When every last gift was delivered, she directed Rudolph to take them home. She was still giggling with delight when nine sets of hooves touched down lightly on the launch pad. For a moment she sat, laughing up at the stars as a gentle snow began to fall and the sleigh’s bells jingled to a stop.
“Santa!” she gasped, remembering his state, and leaving the reindeer to the stable master, rushed into the house.
And there, playing video games, all manner of junk food spread before them, sat her husband and three of his elves. The old sod had never looked healthier in his life. When he noticed her staring, he gave her a slow grin and a wink. “Red is definitely your color, my dear.”
She pressed her fists into her hips. “You conniving b—”
“Ah. Language in front of the elves.” He jammed the joystick forward and digital explosions blasted from the speakers. Then he let loose a jolly ho-ho-ho. “Come on, admit it,” he said. “You’ve always wanted to drive that sleigh. And you’ve never liked auto-pilot.”
A blush overtook her face at being found out. And then a smile. “Can I do it again next year?”
He lifted his shaggy white brows. “If you always come home to me looking so happy, you can take the reins for the rest of our lives. Although we’ll have to fashion you a fake beard.” He patted the cushion next to him. “Now park it and let’s celebrate a job well done. I saved you some pizza.”
Thank you to Martin Crosbie for pulling this holiday event together. I hope you’ll join us tomorrow for Heather Haley.
Miss one of the days? Here are the blogs posted so far:
Dec. 13 Ellen Chauvet
Dec. 14 Sarah Lane
Dec. 15 Keith Baker
Dec. 16 Virginia Gray
Dec. 17 Gordon Long
Dec. 18 RJ Crayton
Dec. 19 Jennifer Ellis