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She shuffled into the bar a little later than usual that morning. Despite
the warmth of the season she still wore her woollen coat with the fake fur
trim and her Sunday once-best hat. She placed the shopping bag on the stool
next to her and fumbled in her purse.
"Look at that," she complained, holding out a handful of change. "You would
not believe the night I've had. The little buggers don't give a damn about
dental hygiene any more. I had to leave three quid under one greedy sod's
pillow. I didn't think I was going to have any money left over. And they've
all got to be handed in in half an hour. They hate it when I'm late with a
delivery you know. Never mind the years of service I've given them. I've
hardly got time to sit down and have a cuppa tea. Well, a gin and bitter
lemon, what are you waiting for? Bleedin' Christmas?"
Like many women of a certain age, she firmly believed in good manners and
polite language from all around her, saving herself, of course.
She sorted through the coins. "Make it a double, love. My arm's giving me
She took a generous swallow, closed her eyes and found a moment to savour
the taste, then she returned to her favourite topic. "Kids! I hate 'em.
Honest I do. They get worse every year, I swear." She dug her hand into the
shopping bag and produced a handful of teeth.
"Look at that! Hardly one that hasn't got a cavity or a filling."
"Steady on, love!" I complained. "I'll be serving food soon."
She dropped them back in the bag and dusted her hands off. "It's all that
bloody rabbit's fault. Him and Father Christmas. Not that he deserved to go
like that, poor beggar."
"Who? Like what?" I asked.
"I'll tell you if you like," she said, with a sly grin. "But me throat's a
bit dry." She pushed her empty glass across the bar. "Be a love and freshen
that up for me. Best make it a double."
She was a regular, she gave the place some character, and she could spin a
yarn. I thought, "What the hell," and poured her another gin and lemon.
"Well, Father Christmas and that bloody rabbit were peas from the same pod.
You wouldn't credit, would you? All 'little darling this' and 'little
cherub that'! They couldn't say no. 'Give her a doll', 'give him some
chocolate'. I know what I would like to give them, all right: the back of my
hand. Parents these days have no idea. In my day the parents were the boss,
not the kids. And those pair played right into the little... angels' hands."
"I'm sorry," I interjected, "but what rabbit are we talking about?"
She threw her hands up in exasperation. "The Easter Bunny, of course," she
replied, as if I had been taking stupid pills. "Who else did you think I
meant? How many rabbits do you think I'm on nodding terms with?
"The pair of them went soft over the years. When it all started kids got
some fruit at Christmas and an egg at Easter. And I mean a proper egg, from
a chicken's arse. And in those days those were real treats. The little
beggars were grateful, too, because they knew what they would get if they
"You see, the fruit got us through the winter. It was a way of saying, 'It's
manky outside, but summer's on its way.' And the egg was a way of
celebrating fertility and fecundity." She waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
I got the impression that she had read that somewhere and had committed it
"But then Father Christmas started adding the odd toy, so the rabbit had to
follow suit and started painting the egg. One thing led to another, and
before you know it we had today's pretty state of affairs. If a kid doesn't
get the latest thing that's been advertised on TV, or eggs with fondue
fillings (fondue fillings! I ask you!), then all hell breaks loose.
"So you can imagine things get quite hectic before Christmas and Easter. It
soon got that neither of them could cope on their own, so they used to help
each other out. Each autumn Bunny would go to the North Pole, each spring
Old Man Christmas would help the Easter Bunny out. Then each May they would
have a party. They never invited me, bastards, but I heard about them. Well,
you expect it from a rabbit, but from a man used to be a saint, well, I was
"Anyway, you remember that Christmas about five years back? The one where
all the kids wanted the Captain Atom action figure, only you couldn't get
one for love nor money? Father Christmas dropped the ball on that one, I can
tell you. He was distracted, if you know what I mean."
She looked at me as if of course I knew what she meant. I looked at her
blankly. She raised her eyebrows expectantly. I continued to look at her
blankly. She sighed in exasperation.
"Cherchez la femme," she leered suggestively.
"Sorry," I said, "but you've lost me completely."
She pushed her empty glass across the counter towards me. Reluctantly I
poured another, a single. She paused a moment, but when she realised no more
was forthcoming she grudgingly took a sip and then continued.
"Mary doesn't find Christmas fun anymore, poor cow. As soon as the pressure
starts to mount roundabout November she sinks into a pool of eggnog. She
used to help him, organising the list, working out the rota, knitting
clothes for the dolls, all that sort of stuff. But the stress of the job got
to her. Now he's lucky if she sobers up by February. So pretty much three
months of the year they hardly see each other."
"Mary?" I asked.
"Mary Christmas, his wife of course. You knew he was married, right?"
"Sorry," I said, "but I don't know the man. He never comes in here to
"Are you surprised? You don't think he drinks all that wine on Christmas
Eve, do you? No, he takes most of it back with him. It takes him all year to
drink it. No wonder he's always so jolly.
"So a little while back he decided it was all getting too much to run out of
a shed. He let most of the elves go and offered the manufacturing out to
franchise. There's this big elf family out in the Black Forest somewhere.
Don't ask me their name. The king is a bit old fashioned. He thinks elves
should still do housework and cobbling for scraps, but his eldest, well, she's
modern, she is." She gave a sniff of disapproval. "She went to school
somewhere. Got all these fancy ideas. Set up her own factories to turn out
the toys. Oh, there was a fuss, I can tell you. Elves are craftsmen, and
trying to get them used to a production line, well, it couldn't have been
easy. But she was a hard-nosed bitch, by all accounts. Didn't make many
friends, but she got the job done in short measure.
"So she got the franchise, and that meant her and lard belly had to keep
having meetings and stuff. The closer it got to Christmas, the more meetings
they'd have. His missus didn't care about his work, she was attractive,
well, she was an elf, you know how men react around them. One thing led to
another; you know how it goes.
"Lord knows what she saw in him. Maybe it was the fame, or maybe it started
out as a joke. Anyway, pretty soon they're at it like... well, like rabbits.
Hence the Captain Atom fiasco.
"Afterwards people say he had an attack of conscience. Me, I don't buy it.
Fat ugly git like him isn't going to give up a peach like that, now is he,
not if he can get away with it. No, I reckon Mary found out. I think maybe
him miscalling the Captain Atom demand tipped her off. Or maybe the Easter
Bunny told her. He was a bit jealous, if you ask me. There was something
unhealthy about the way they chummed up like that. I mean, a grown man and a
rabbit? It's not something normal, is it?
"Whatever the reason, he told her he wanted to stop seeing her. Can you
imagine? He said that to an elf. An elf, for crying out loud!" She looked
around her. "Not that I have anything against elves. Lovely people, help out
around the house and all that," she added in an unnaturally loud voice.
She leant forward and continued more quietly, "But come on, you've got to
admit that they're a bit... highly strung, shall we say." Personally, I'd have
gone with psychotic, obsessive loonies, but not out loud. It would not only
be bad for business, but bad for any hope I had of waking up the same shape
I went to bed with.
"Well, she hit the roof! Can you imagine? Elves are so conceited... erm...
justly proud," she corrected herself, "and to be dumped by someone like
that. And by that time she was smitten, by all accounts. Have you any idea
how an elf falls in love? Words can't describe it. It's like their entire
being is in it. Nothing more powerful in the universe, trust me. All that
passion, all that energy, and the idiot goes and tells her to take a hike.
He may know kids, but he has no idea about women.
"First off it was weeping and wailing, throwing herself to the floor and
tearing at her clothes. But that didn't last long. Next she was screaming at
him, smashing up his office, threatening him with all sorts. She was going
to turn him into something horrible, she was going to shrink his bits, she
was going to nuke his entire operation with the massed spells of her entire
family. All pointless of course. He was as magical as her. Spells don't work
against him. So she stormed off, fuming, all that hatred simmering.
"If Father Christmas thought that was the end of it, he was a fool. Elves
never ever forget a slight, you know. They can slow cook a grievance for
centuries. A few days later she calls on him at his home. Straight up to his
front door, bold as brass, ringing his doorbell. Bunny answered the door.
She told him Santa was hers, that he was going to come back with her to
Germany, that Mary was going to get what was coming to her. All this on his
doorstep, with Mary in the house somewhere. Probably still comatose from the
evening before, but still, the nerve of the woman. Flopsy told her to get
lost and shut the door on her. Later that day the reindeer hayrick
mysteriously caught fire. Then stuff started to disappear from inside Santa's
house. Afterwards they reckoned she got hold of a skeleton spell to unlock
"So after that Bunny took to carrying a baseball bat around the Christmas'
house. He was big, for a rabbit. He auditioned for Harvey, you know. And he
had a temper on him around Spring. It's all in the rabbit hormones, you
know. So the Christmases started to relax a little bit. After all, what
could a single elf do?
"Never, ever, ever let your guard down around an elf. They have no concept
of a fair fight. There's no way, face to face, she could have got the better
of that rabbit. No one ever found out how she did it, but Mary finds the pot
bubbling on the stove. Her brain's so addled with the booze, she has no idea
whether she put it there or not. So naturally she lifted the lid to find out
what's cooking. It must have been a hell of a shock to see that head bob up.
I've seen some sights, let me tell you. I've even had to encourage the odd
loose tooth to make my quota, but I'm glad it wasn't me. She must have been
scared witless, once she stopped screaming long enough to think.
"The elf high council had to get involved at that point. It was all hushed
up, what with her being royalty and Father Christmas not exactly wanting the
publicity. You'll still hear about the Easter Bunny, of course. He still
rots the kids teeth with chocolate. That's the thing about rabbits. They all
look the same, don't they? And as long as a rabbit delivers the eggs, whose
to say it's not the Easter Bunny?
"Mary swore off the booze and they've patched things up, for the sake of the
kids. So I guess it's not all bad."
She got up off of her stool and pulled her coat straight. "Well, these teeth
won't deliver themselves, will they? There'll be hell to pay if I don't get
them back to the yard in time. And I've got to get my beauty sleep."
"Hang on," I interjected. "What about the elf maiden?"
She paused and leant forward conspiratorially. "She disappeared," she said
in a stage whisper. "No one is looking for her, so the council must have
arranged it. Someone said she's back in the Black Forest, locked up in some...
what's foreign for castle?"
"Schloss?" I ventured.
"Yeah? Why was I thinking of 'gateau'? Anyway, I hope that tower is high,
and they have guards. Lots of 'em. I'd hate to have her rescued by some
knight on a horse. Come to that, I'd hate to be the knight what does it."
She rammed the hat further onto her head, picked up her bag and started to
walk unsteadily away.
"'Cause there's only one thing worse than being hated by an elf," she said,
as she weaved her way to the door. "And that's being loved by one."
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