STAND IN SANTA

Amid all the pres­sure to meet tar­gets and keep my job, this last-minute can­di­date seems too good to be true…

My Weekly Special - - CHRISTMAS FICTION MINIMAG - By Ly­dia Jones

What do you mean, he’s not tak­ing the job?” I stare at my as­sis­tant in hor­ror. “He said his pre­mium bonds had come up.” Amy squirms. “So he’s go­ing away for Christ­mas. To – um – Ja­maica.”

Poor Amy is puce in the face; she looks about ready to bolt. It makes me re­alise how hard I have been on her th­ese last few stress­ful weeks.

“Right.” I grab my hand­bag and coat. “I can’t deal with this now. I’m off out for lunch.” “But Moira, you never take lunch.” “I do to­day.” Wind buf­fets bare trees in the park. I pull up my coat col­lar and wish I’d worn some­thing as sen­si­ble as a scarf.

No Santa Claus. Af­ter all the prod­uct can­cel­la­tions and sup­ply prob­lems, now Dal­rym­ple’s Depart­ment Store has no Santa Claus this Christ­mas.

I’m sec­tion head of Toys. This Christ­mas was sup­posed to be my plat­form to prove my worth – pave my way for pro­mo­tion.

Since Mr Dal­rym­ple sold out to a na­tional chain in spring, all se­nior staff have been un­der close scru­tiny from Mr Stephens, the new store man­ager. He says we’re a team, but Mr Smarmy Stephens isn’t fool­ing any­body. There will be some se­ri­ous “re­struc­tur­ing” for any man­ager not hit­ting their tar­gets this fes­tive sea­son.

I’m young for a sec­tion head. I don’t have a de­gree in re­tail man­age­ment. Mr Dal­rym­ple be­lieved in me, but Mr Stephens is un­con­vinced.

For me this Christ­mas is less about glad tid­ings of joy and more about good tak­ings for toys.

Next Satur­day is the Christ­mas lights switch-on. Mar­ket stalls; dancers; bands; fire­works. Dal­rym­ple’s Santa is star of the pa­rade. Just shoot me now.

I press fin­gers into my eye sock­ets and mur­mur a prayer for a mir­a­cle.

I love this job. I don’t want to watch some whizzkid from head of­fice waltz in to take charge. “Toys” is mine.

I take a gulp of icy air; tilt my chin. I am not giv­ing it up with­out a fight. Even if I have to wear the Santa suit my­self.

Ap­pli­cant for the job of Santa,” Amy says, eyes wide with hope, when I stride back onto the shop-floor. She beck­ons and points through the blind.

In the wait­ing area I see a dis­tin­guished-look­ing man sport­ing a sig­nif­i­cant salt and pep­per beard. “How?” “Search me,” Amy says. “He said he’d heard there was a va­cancy. This is his CV, here. His name is Mr Noel.” “You’re kid­ding.” “He’s lovely,” she mouths as I push open the door. “Hello Mr – err – Noel.” “Ni­cholas.” He stands and in an en­dear­ingly old­fash­ioned ges­ture, ex­tends a hand. “Your name is Ni­cholas?” This is so a set-up. I bet it’s that su­per­cil­ious So­phie from cos­met­ics. As Mr Stephens’ niece she’s sup­posed to be work­ing her way up but she acts like it’s al­ready her store.

My skin prick­les; I glance anx­iously side­ways to spot snig­ger­ing con­spir­a­tors but there are none. I sit; so does he. “Ni­cholas is your real name, right?” He looks as though he doesn’t understand the ques­tion. I won­der at what point he’s go­ing to come clean and ad­mit he’s a stooge.

“I mean, you’re not go­ing to get into any street fights and end up in court?” Now he looks alarmed. “Like in the movie,” I ex­plain. “You know – MiracleOn34thStreet?” “Oh, no – yes – ha, ha, ho – no.” He even laughs like ev­ery “real” Santa you’ve ever seen in a film. He’s well-re­hearsed. I’m im­pressed my ri­vals man­aged to rus­tle him up so quickly. To buy some time I scan his CV. Pre­vi­ous work; up-to-date child pro­tec­tion cer­tifi­cate.

“You’re very ex­pe­ri­enced – err – Ni­cholas. How come you’re not al­ready con­tracted this Christ­mas?”

“My wife and I agreed I’d give the store work a miss this year. But I heard you were stuck.”

“How did you hear? About the – um – va­cancy?” I bris­tle. “Dan Carter told me.” “Dan?” Why can’t I even say his name

My feel­ings for Dan are so ob­vi­ous I might as well be wear­ing a sign

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