Read by Sarah Feathers
It was the night before Christmas and Rudolph was pissed. It always happens at the office Christmas Eve party. How else do you think he got the nickname Red Nose?
"It was on a starry night ..."
"WHEN RUDOLPH HAD ANOTHER SHOT!”
"All the hills were bright ..."
"LITUPBYRUDOLPH'SMOTHEFUCKIN'NOSE! WOOP! WOOP! MOTHERFUCKIN' NOSE! WOOP! WOOP! MOTHERFUCKIN' NOSE!"
"Earth lay sleeping, sleeping calm and still ..."
"WOOP! WOOP! MOTHERFUCKIN' NOSE!"
"In a manger bed ..."
"OI, DANCER!" Rudolph shouted as she passed beneath a clump of mistletoe, disdainfully clutching her Diet Coke in a paper cup. "I'd like to take you back to my manger bed, if you know what I mean."
He pursed his reindeer lip suggestively, pointing at the mistletoe.
It was evident by the force with which she threw her drink that Dancer did know what he meant. Rudolph slipped off the table, whacking his backside as he crashed to the floor. Rolling out of the choir of celestial host who'd broken his fall, he held up one of their halos triumphantly as he tottered back onto his hooves.
The angels, who were coked off their faces, pitched in violently with fists and wings.
Rudolph managed one final "WOOP! WOOP! MOTHERFUCKIN' NOSE!" before Gabriel, using his own halo wrapped tightly around his knuckles, broke it.
After that, the company disciplinary process kicked in.
* * *
It was a foggy Christmas eve when I staggered out into the elements. I'd drawn the short straw. Missal, Trowe and Wayne were all snug at home in front of a cosy fire, the lousy, senior bastards. I was tired of being the junior member of their law firm.
Rudolph didn’t look too pleased to see me. Wiping the snow from my hair, I extended my hand.
"Hello," I introduced myself. “I'm from Missal, Trowe and Wayne Specialist Employment Solicitors. My name’s Smith."
“You’re a girl!”
"But I was expecting Marley and Scrooge," my client objected, sniffing. "They represented me at my last employment tribunal."
"Yes, Mr Rudolph. However, they're currently fully engaged with a defamation case against a writer. Also ... Marley died, you know."
"Did he?” Rudolph said. “I didn't know Marley was dead."
"To begin with, Mr Rudolph," I interrupted, moving on from the chitchat and longing for the warm fire at home, “I have to tell you that the allegations against you and Gabriel are very serious. Regarding the violence, Gabriel has prior history for this sort of thing so -”
“Nah, Gabby’s not violent,” Rudolph objected.
“Do you remember that stag’s party he went on in Egypt, years back?” I asked.
“Do I? That. Was. Epic.”
“It was epic?”
“Legendary! We tied Gabby’s cousin Lucifer, to a lamppost, stark six bollocks naked! Ha! ANTLER BANTER! And we emptied red soapsuds into the Nile and everyone who washed in it actually got boils! Oh, yeah, and the Apocalypse Horse got proper wasted and chucked lightning bolts about our hostel when he couldn’t find his bed! And Michael sneaked a box of frogs into a strip club and let them loose! Just for bants! Antler bants! The locals actually nicknamed us the Plague of Wild Animals! When we left, half the donkeys of Cairo had contracted STDs!”
“Right. Yes, I see, banter. But after all that gentle, laddish fun, then it all got just a little bit out of hand, didn’t it?”
“What, you mean Gabby threatening an Egyptian copper that he was going to kill every first born child? That was just banter! Legendary banter!”
“You were all fortunate that you only got deported.”
“Yeah, well,” he shrugged.
“In any case Mr Rudolph, Gabriel’s facing violent conduct but you’re accused of sexual harassment. That’s what you should worry about.”
“What? Sexual harassment? Who? Me, sweetheart? Me?”
I looked at him.
“Yes,” I said firmly. “Yes, Mr Rudolph. You.”
“I never sexually harassed no-one!” he shouted.
“What about Dancer?” I asked.
“Dancer? Her? Never!”
“Forty-two witnesses disagree.”
“But that was just a bit of fun. I can’t believe she’s put in a grievance. The stupid, stuck-up little doe.”
"Mr Rudolph, given the nature of the allegation, I think that using sexist language like "doe" in front of the tribunal will only make it worse.”
"It's just banter," he sulked. "No one else ever complains. Just Dancer. Never Dasher or Prancer, or Vixen."
"They've all put in separate sexual harassment claims."
"Not all of them? Surely not Comet and Cupid and Donna and Blitzen as well?"
"All of them,” I insisted. “Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donna and Blitzen.”
"Shit," my client said, realising. "I'm proper rutted, aren't I?
And he was.
“Look,” he said suddenly. “This isn’t fair, you know?”
“No. I’m the victim here. Actually, when I first started, all of the other reindeer used to laugh at me and call me names!"
"Like what?" I asked, interested, tracing the word ‘counterclaim’ in my notepad. Legally, if Rudolph was being victimised simply for who he was then he was in a really strong position. I imagined the brown-nosed reindeer using vicious, bullying nicknames like Rudolph The Racially Different Reindeer. Lightbulb Face. Hydrant Hooter. Glowstickhead. The Mega Muppet with the Crimson Conk. Or something even worse.
“They called me obnoxious," Rudolph whined.
Strike my last piece of legal advice. I drew a heavy line through the word ‘counterclaim’, sighing.
"Was there anything else? Apart from laughing at you and calling you names?"
"Yes!” Rudolph shouted. “They never used to let me play reindeer games either."
"Reindeer games,” I said. “Like what? Antler wrestling?"
"No. Strip poker! I was always trying to get them to play strip poker but they never would. Stupid does. It ended up being just me and Lucifer, and he’s never minded getting his kit off in public."
I shook my head silently, looking from golden tinselled wall to golden tinselled wall of the side office that we were sitting in. I suspected that I wasn’t the first person to have wanted to use it to throttle Rudolph.
“Mr Rudolph, to be frank, I think you should just resign. Based on the evidence, there is no hope of you winning your case. And your personality doesn’t exactly help you, either.”
“But it’s Christmas!” he objected “There’s always hope! Always chance for a miracle! Just you wait ...“
So we waited. Sure enough, one hour later, Rudolph was fired. I didn’t recommend him to lodge an appeal.
Most of the building turned out to watch as Rudolph and Gabriel were escorted from the igloo offices by polar bear security. They left with Bad Grace – that’s Gabriel’s harpy girlfriend, now ex – shouting vitriolic abuse after them.
“You’ll never manage without me,” Rudolph snarled back at the crowd as he left. “No other creature is qualified to do my job! Not at such short notice! There’ll be no presents delivered this year, just crying children in front of hearths, you stupid bastards!”
Which strictly speaking wasn’t true. I’d seen a long queue on my way in, headed by Pegasus and the Easter Bunny on a broomstick. News had travelled fast.
Anyway, it was still a foggy Christmas Eve as I slowly followed Rudolph out into the cold. Missal, Trowe and Wayne would still be snug in front of their cosy fires, and I thought longingly of my own.
Outside in the snow, I passed Dancer and the other reindeer, standing around the sleigh. It was shiny and filled with presents. The bumper sticker on the back read ‘Fat people are natural airbags, I don’t mind if you drive too close.’
“You look cold,” Dancer said when she saw me, shivering. “Would you like some hot mulled wine?”
I nodded eager gratitude as she handed me a thermos flask. Unscrewing it clumsily through mittens, I dragged the warmth of the spirit down my throat and into my veins. It danced there a while and I gasped with the shock of the heat, and then again as my gasp crystallised in front of my eyes.
I took another swig.
It was cold but Christmas was in the air. We stood there, feeling the magic of goodwill spreading its way across the world’s darkened skies. Tomorrow is Christmas Day: on Christmas Day, in Belgium and France, soldiers throw down their weapons in order to play football. On Christmas Day, Syrian Christians huddle close for the warmth of family in squalid refugee camps, singing carols and believing that there really is a future. Across the globe sheepish sons and daughters who haven't called home for a year are welcomed back with open arms. Drunks exchange greetings with those wandering back from Midnight Mass. Eyes of rich and poor meet. The lonely receive smiles from strangers.
And, through a thousand different tiny acts of warmth, those with nothing find just enough hope to keep them going for one more year, to believe, even to rebuild. Amidst the laughter and the nonsense of the season, there is poignancy, and there is hope, and there is humanity, regardless of race or even religion; there's the sense of people coming together, a sense of individual and collective worth, of life, and of goodwill, and of Christmas.
“Merry Christmas,” Dancer said sincerely.
“Merry Christmas,” I replied, and meant it.
We stood there pensively for a little until the moment passed, watching as the elves tried to fit the sleigh harness over the Loch Ness Monster, a headlamp wrapped around his forehead. Every time that they overtightened a strap he wheeled round furiously and sent them scurrying for cover.
“Dancer, do you worry that he won’t be able to work as a team?”
“Nah,” she replied. “Scotty’s not as independent-minded as he likes to think. We’ll do all right together.”
I asked what she thought Rudolph would do, now that he’d been fired. I couldn’t see him finding something else so easily, or a company that was as tolerant.
“Oh, he’ll be fine too. They’ll reduce it to twelve months' suspension and an equality awareness course when they return tonight. He’ll be back next year, as glowy and obnoxious as ever.”
“You think so?”
“Know so. They’re a soft lot, the tribunal. And it is Christmas, after all. Goodwill is an important tradition.”
“I suppose so,” I agreed, and we watched in friendly silence as the elves finally managed to harness Scotty.
“Merry Christmas, Nick!” we called back as he approached, clad in the full company red.
“And what would you like this year, young lady?” he asked me.
“Erm. A partnership?” I tried, hopefully.
“Missal, Trowe, Wayne and Smith Specialist Employment Solicitors. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I tell you what, I’ll see what I can do.”
“My pleasure. Always. And now ...”
He checked his watch.
“And now it’s time! Now, Dasher and Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Donner! And Blitzen! And also Scotty the Loch Ness Monster, too! We have presents to deliver!”
The reindeer ran to the sleigh, strapping themselves in with expert swiftness.
And then ... and then they rose to the air with, oh, such a clatter, folk ran from their igloos to see what's the matter. But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
(c) Peter Saul, 2014
Peter Saul's new year's resolution is getting into spoken word poetry. (In his own words, "I, you see, am a wannabe poetry MC with a plea that you agree with my guarantee that tonight's story be both literary and well worth the fee".) Peter can also rap badly in Spanish.
Sarah Feathers trained at East 15. Theatre work includes All You Ever Needed (Hampstead Theatre), A Hard Day’s Month (Rose Theatre, Kingston), 26 (BAC), Moll Flanders (Southwark Playhouse) and The Winter's Tale (Courtyard Theatre). Film includes Coulda Woulda Shoulda, Feeling Lucky and More Than Words. TV: The Real King Herod.