Friday, 2 December 2016– Christmas Calories, Christmas fiction, free fiction, nutrition, Santa, short stories
Time’s ticking. There’s an air of expectancy. It’s coming up on midnight.
Sleet passes outside the window. It hurtles into the city, sparking in the street and office lights.
The nutritionist has stayed late for this. Her clients and staff are gone, leaving her alone in the building. Tonight she’s waiting on a special client. He has a problem with his staff, and it could destroy his delivery targets if it’s not fixed. Even so, this appointment is scheduled for so late an hour that she has experienced major protestations from her family. She knows she has to make it count. This is important stuff.
It would have to be as well, because there’s no other reason she’d miss being with her kids tonight. Tonight of all nights.
The office is dark but for a desk lamp and the nutritionist sits in the half-shadows it casts. She is a dusky, thick-haired woman somewhere in her mid-forties. She wears executive clothes, a business suit over a plain white blouse, but has tiger-patterned heels to show a little quirkiness.
For the last three years she’s been wearing eyeglasses. She knows they suit her; she can lower them to the end of her nose and peer over the frames at someone either seductively or threateningly. Both poses affect people rather to her liking.
Tonight . . . Well, tonight she doesn’t know how it’s going to go, if she’ll need to use them as a prop, though a secret part of her would love to go all seductive on him. As her tightest friends would say, “Imagine the bragging rights . . .!”
She hears a tinkle, right at the edge of her hearing. It’s followed by a thud from upstairs. She chides her foolishness. She should have been watching for him through the window. Right now the sleet has thickened though, and her windows are smeared with furred scratches that bleed water. She rushes over and looks out. There’s nothing but blurs of light and dark, traces of headlamps moving in the sparse traffic below.
Booted feet walk on the floor above her, and then down the stairs. He hasn’t taken the lift. He’s on her level now, and coming her way with heavy, purposeful thuds. There’s a pause and then he’s pushing through the glass doors to the outer office. Earlier she’d made sure they were unlocked. Another three steps - thud, thud, thud - and then another pause. Something in the air suggests he’s just the other side of her door now. The atmosphere is pure magic, seeping through. She feels her heart tremble like it did many years ago at the thought of him. Her blood is high, her cheeks flushing.
She returns to her desk and in as confidant a voice as she can muster, she calls out.
“It’s open. Come in.”
With a jingle and a jangle, the big man enters. He has to squeeze his shoulders and duck to make his way in at the best angle he can manage. He’s cautious about standing all the way up for fear of putting his head through the ceiling tiles, so walks in a careful hunch. He’s taken his hood down, and his white hair spills free, curling at his beard. But still, he is huge.
This is one thing about him that no one tends to mention. His real size. Yes, he’s overweight, and you see that in all the pictures of him, but he carries it well. He’s a giant.
But a friendly giant?
This is the first time she has met him. Truly met him and not one of his helpers. Their correspondence has all been by letter.
He smiles at her, his cheeks rich and rosy like the sweetest red apples you ever ate.
“Hullo, Joanne.” There’s a chuckle in his rumble of a voice, even though they’re here to talk about serious matters.
She can’t help but smile back, though she is trying hard to stay professional. She finds it hard to think of him without using the word “hearty”.
“Hi,” she says, touching the report she’s prepared, acting as if he’s just another client. “Come through, and take a seat.”
He won’t fit in any of the chairs before her desk – even the outsize ones for the sturdier clients referred to her – so she waves a hand to the sofa set at an angle to the wall. When she stays late, she often puts her legs up on it and reads through her reports.
Eyeing it with some suspicion, the giant lowers himself to the sofa. It protests loudly, its internal workings going boing, and wood cracks. A couple of springs burst through the fabric either side of him, pushing foam into the air. He looks settled if not comfortable. A giant in a child’s way.
Joanne says, “You’re here alone? Your helper, he’s . . .?”
“Looking after the ride,” the big man says. “He doesn’t know why we’ve stopped here. I’ve explained it’s a little extra business, something I need to tidy up. I’m worried about him though, he seems to be deteriorating quickly. He has an enormous stomach where before he was thin and fleet.” Aware his own stomach is not exactly insubstantial, he pats it a little guiltily and sucks it in. “And he’s very sluggish, puffing and panting when he walks very far. He sleeps a lot. If you’ve answers, I’d like to hear them. And I’ll just remind you that it’s a busy night for me, so you’ll understand if I’ve to rush you.”
Joanne nods and stands up, collecting the papers in the file before her. She walks around the front of her desk and hitches up a leg and sits on its edge, facing her client, serious expression on her face.
Leafing through the statistics even though she knows them by heart, she says, “Okay, the short of it is that while you are fine on your diet—”
“Should think so too,” he says, traces of his ever-present humour in his voice.
“—your ‘helper’ is, from a nutritionist’s point of view, in a seriously bad state. For one, as an example, his cholesterol is dangerously high. It’s only going to get worse unless you put him on a balanced diet. More fresh fruit and vegetables, regular roughage, and I’d suggest a good amount of white meats. Also, though your alcohol intake is frankly off the scale, it seems to have had no affect on your liver or other vital systems. Your ‘helper’ doesn’t have the same sturdy constitution that you’ve been blessed with. His blood sugar levels are far too high and the blood tests have hinted at other potential problems.”
She slips her glasses to the end of her nose, peers sternly at her client. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
He nods slowly. “Fewer drinks for him, you’re saying. Keep off the sherry.”
“Far fewer drinks for him,” Joanne stresses. “Have him count the calories and not exceed the recommendations I’ve made for him. Cut out as much sugar as possible. And I’m serious,” she says over her glasses again, giving him the scary look and holding it. Even he seems troubled by it for a few seconds.
Eventually though, the big man smiles and nods. “Very well. Message received and understood. And as long as he does that, he’ll be fine?”
“I should imagine so, if he sticks to his new action plan. Here, I’m made a list of foods and some exercises he should follow and adhere to. They’re at the back of the folder.”
She hands him her report, with all its recommendations.
“Thank you, Joanne. I knew I was right bringing this to your attention. You were always a good girl. One of my favourites, you know.”
Having got what he’s come for, he rises to his feet, remembering at the last to duck and not put his white-haired head through the ceiling tiles. (She’d have a hard time explaining that to the building’s maintenance team, Joanne thinks.) The sofa he’s just vacated is dead, and seeing so he smiles in chagrin, then hunkers up his britches, pulling tightly on the thick belt he wears around his middle. His jacket is fringed at the collar and cuffs with pale almost luminescent fur and Joanne has to will herself not to reach out and stroke it.
The big man scratches his beard thoughtfully, and says, “So finally, to go over it again. No more mince pies for him, and keep off the sherry, that’s right? Even though we only do this one night a year. And he’ll be all right?”
“Along with some exercise, which wouldn’t go amiss. The ones I’ve described in my report for you.”
He nods again, thoughtfully but with a smile, and pats the report.
Joanne can’t resist it, and says, “Believe me, I’m an expert. And I’m telling you the truth when I say that all that bad food’s not good for your Elf.”
The big man pauses to let the pun fall flat, groans happily then, and says, “Ho, ho, ho,” rather mechanically. He winks at her and with three tugs on his beard is stooping out of the door and gone.
Joanne puts her hands to her heart, not ready to release the magic she feels there, and listens to him make his way back up the stairs.
A minute later there’s a rush of sound, the sound of many hooves dragging a heavy object across the roof, and it rips down through the building to Joanne. This time she doesn’t forget. She dashes to the window, presses her fingers against the glass, wishing she could open it for a better view. She feels a thrill she hasn’t felt since she was a child, the same delirious emotions she imagines her own children must have felt this evening, and perhaps still are if they’re sneakily trying to remain awake to catch a glimpse of Santa.
She searches the sky through the bleary smears on the glass but sees nothing, only that the sleet has turned, thinning for a moment, to snow. Flake after flake after flake coming down.
Her disappointment lasts only a moment. Sleigh bells jingle through the night, high above, and a rich, laughing voice cries, “Ho, ho, ho.”
When she finally leaves the window, she sees a large parcel squeezed - as if by magic - into the middle of her office.
“How . . .?”
But she knows she shouldn’t ask. She just laughs. It’s in the shape of a new couch.
The tag reads,
Merry Christmas, Joanne.
A good girl always.
PS - Leave out the sherry and only one tumbler and mince pie next year.