Santa Claus was a mean old bastard.
That’s one of the first things I ever learned.
My fourth Christmas I asked for Castle Grayskull. I got chocolate. The next year I asked for Optimus Prime but I got a road atlas. Seven years old I asked for the Michael Jackson album but got a pack of blank videotapes. Long play. The following year I was the only kid who had a staple gun sitting under the tree on Christmas morning.
It wasn’t even wrapped.
It didn’t matter what I asked for, I would get whatever Santa could pick up from the all night garage on his way home from the pub.
My favorite was when I was thirteen. That year I’d asked for a Sega, but got a few packs of condoms and a little note instructing me on how to use them.
Fifteen and sixteen he got me good presents; Liquor. First cheap bourbon and then single malt. That final year we spent Christmas day drinking our way through the presents and talking. We started to understand each other a little more somewhere between the final drop of amber and the first kick of the hangover.
Maybe it would have been different if my mum hadn’t walked out. Mrs Sanderson across the way once told me that Dad fell apart after that. If you go for that kind of excuse.
Seventeen was the year.
I’d been home from work a few hours when dad got back. One look at me as he came in the door told me he’d forgotten it was Christmas eve, he was empty handed. He mumbled something about being right back and headed out into the cold.
I set out two empty glasses and waited for him to come back.
4 AM two police officers knocked the door. A tired looking man in his forties and a very serious looking woman about ten years younger. She flashed her ID but said her name was Laura, and when she used her first name I already knew what they were going to say.
Hit and run. He’d been on his way back from the garage on foot, holding two bottles of whiskey and a plastic robot. Laura said he wouldn’t have seen the car, it came up behind and the driver didn’t have his lights on. He was trying not to be seen because he’d had a few drinks. My dad was flipped over, landed on his back but somehow had kept the bottles from smashing. He'd crawled to the side of the road, to a payphone, and struggled to his feet to reach the receiver.
Laura didn't come out and say it, but it sounded like it was the exertion that finally finished him off. His broken body couldn’t cope with the movement.
A passerby found him a short while later, already dead.
The driver had turned himself in an hour later. He said he'd been drinking and fled the scene, but couldn’t face his family when he got home. It was an open and shut case.
The male cop handed me a bottle of whiskey, the glass was all scratched and the label was wet. He said it hadn’t really been evidence and nobody would mind if I found a use for it.
One other thing, Laura said, my dad had managed to dial a number. She passed me a piece of paper with a phone number written on it and asked, before she got someone to check on it, if I knew who’s it was?
I said I had no idea and she took the paper back, but I’d had enough time to memorize it. I’m good with numbers.
The two cops said they’d be back later with photographs for the formal identification. I sat and drank to him for a couple of hours. After I’d worked up enough Dutch courage I dialed the number. A woman answered on the other end, and I caught my breath.
I said, Mum?
She hung up.
Santa Claus was a mean old bastard, but he was the only dad I ever had.