by Rebecca Adams, Age 14, Australia
Artwork by Katie King
I can remember when I saw it. I know it was real. Of course, it was real. It was there right in front of me! I was seven then, a lifetime ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. Although, I don’t know why I say that. I can’t remember yesterday.
Ah, the 20’s! Some called it the Roaring 20’s, others the Jazz age, or the Golden Age. To me, it was a period of time from when I was one to eleven. The memories I have of these years are few, and as the years go by they become fewer still, deserting my cranium of cobwebs like rats deserting a sinking ship. But there is one memory that sits vividly in my mind.
Christmas Eve, 1926. I was determined to stay awake to catch a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh, but I mostly wanted to see his magical reindeer. They would have soft, brown fur coats, hides dappled with tiny white specks, liquid brown eyes almost hidden by long lashes, hooves that stamped and pawed at the ground, and harnesses of gold and silver, adorned with bells that made the sweetest music. And all very well behaved of course.
I would spend all the days leading up ’til Christmas just imagining what they would be like, and wishing that I would get a chance to see one.
I was lying in my bed, too excited to sleep. Hours I was waiting. I counted to one thousand and back under my breath, straightened my stocking, made and unmade my bed, imagined the reindeer, read Dr. Doolitle, played with my doll Sally. But still Santa did not come.
Sleep was out to get me. It caressed my face with inviting fingers, sweet-talking me into lying down. I wanted to accept, but I would not succumb to its embrace. Not this time. Again and again I felt the powerful grasp of sleep. I yawned and rubbed my eyes. I had to…had to go to sleep…
Suddenly, the jingling of bells aroused me. I didn’t imagine it, did I? I threw back the covers and looked frantically outside. But all was black. My heart thumped painfully in my chest. Where was he?
A shape passed over little Sue’s house across the road. I tried to make it out, but it was swallowed by blackness. Then it appeared again over Johnny Parkers’, Patricia Wiseman’s, Betty Collins’, and Douglas Drake’s. But I could never make out the shape that flitted so quickly from house to house.
Then there was a bang, a shout, a crash, a skid! I peered fearfully out of the window, expecting a motorcar accident. But there were no cars around at this hour. Surely it couldn’t have been…Santa?
I put on my dressing gown and slippers, and slipped outside. My feet crunched loudly over the snow. I peered round the corner of my house and gaped in amazement.
A gigantic red sleigh filled with presents, reins of red, decked with holly and bells, and nine stomping, pawing creatures. I looked closer. They were reindeer, exactly as I imagined! I let out a gasp. My wish had come true. I pinched my arm to check if I was dreaming. I wasn’t.
A figure lumbered into view. “Well, my friends, look like we’re going to be a bit behind schedule tonight.” He said kindly.
“’Twas Dixon!” one of the reindeer said.
Dixon shook his antlers.
“No, it wasn’t me! ‘Twas Comet!”
“Nah!” said Comet, rudely. “’Twas Dancer!”
“Pardon me,” said Dancer, “but do you honestly think that one as graceful as me could have caused this commotion?”
“Oh? If you’re so graceful, would you mind explaining last Christmas?”
“’Twas the berry juice, I tell you. He had too much.”
They would have gone on all night bickering if they hadn’t been cut short. “Now, now, my friends, we have a guest,” Santa said, softly.
All heads turned to stare at me.
“Be polite. And who might you be young lady?” he asked me.
“I’m…I’m Veronica,” I stuttered.
Santa laughed, a great booming laugh. “Ah, yes, Veronica! On the good list hmm? Good! I like children on the good list,” he laughed again. “Well, Veronica, I’d best be off, lots of presents to deliver you know.” He gave me a wink.
“Oh, um, yes, of course, Sir,” I said, sadly. I didn’t want him to go just yet.
He must have seen my face, because he laughed again, softly. “Don’t worry, we’ll be back again next year, won’t we my friends?” he asked the reindeer.
“Do we have to?”
“Of course we do!”
“Why don’t you want to?”
“I want to, but I don’t want to, you know what I mean?”
“You’re not making any sense.”
Santa clapped his hands together, and the reindeer quietened at once.
“I apologise, they are not normally this rowdy. Alright, friends, time to go.” He climbed into the sleigh and waved at me. “A merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!” Then he gave me a wink. “And by the way, it was Dancer.”
“What?” exclaimed Dancer. “It wasn’t me, what are you talking about? I am the most graceful of all, I don’t see how I could have possibly caused such a…”
The sleigh took off with the reindeer still arguing. I waved until they were out of sight.
“Not very well behaved reindeer after all,” I said to myself.
* * *
Veronica Wilson stared out the window. Outside, people were being wheeled around in wheelchairs. A nurse came and sat next to her.
“Is everything alright, Veronica?” she asked kindly. Getting no response, she sighed, and stood up. It was a sad case this one. Thought she had actually seen Santa and his reindeer. That was the only thing she could “remember.”
She had been dismissed as a lunatic, a crazy old woman that was better off locked away in a nursing home. And that was where she’d been for over twenty years. The old duck was ninety-seven now, one of the oldest in the home. But she never did get visitors. She had no relatives to speak of.
The nurse gave her a pat on the back and turned to go. She gave a start when an icy hand fastened on her wrist. Fearfully, she looked down into the woman’s sunken eyes.
“Nobody believed me,” she croaked. “Not one.” She looked pleadingly up at the nurse. “Do you believe me?”
The nurse hesitated. She had been told not to go along with any nonsense, especially from this one. But she looked so sad! “Yes,” she said simply.
The old woman looked up at the sky. A faint smile played at the corners of her mouth. “Good,” she replied. “I’m not crazy, I knew I wasn’t. I saw them, I did. I know I did.”
“Yes,” repeated the nurse, “but I think it’s time for the psychologist to see you now.”
The woman allowed herself to be led away. “I’m not crazy,” she repeated earnestly.