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I know he’s here somewhere on what I call my Restitution List. E, F, ah here we go the G’s. Glockner, Gobomo, Gomez, Greengrass. Gerald Greengrass. Present wrapped all ready for transit. Special delivery. Job almost done.

            Maybe I should explain what my Restitution List actually is for those of you less informed about the contractual obligations of my chosen profession. In some years it’s kind of difficult to make a delivery to every boy and girl. Its okay for Postman bloody Pat but this is the real cut and thrust world of geographical upheavals’, gross human ineptitude and social-political conflicts. In other words floods, famine and war.

            And so it was the case with little Gerald Greengrass. Although he’s probably not so little anymore. Actually he may not have much use for what I have in the back of my sleigh, but hey, a contract is a contract for all that. And I don’t want to face the wrath of HR again, not after that rather unfortunate episode in Russia a few years ago. Well our Logistics department never informed me that the town of Chernobyl had been abandoned. There was I surrounded by empty tower blocks and abandoned cars for all the world feeling like a complete twit. And they usually look after me down in that part of the world, plenty of homemade vodka to keep the chill out. Poor people. Poor children. Many of them I shan’t be visiting again. Makes you think doesn’t it.

            Now where was I? Ah yes, Greengrass, Gerald. That wasn’t so much of a disaster, in the Chernobyl sense, more a matter of mistiming, in the Luftwaffe sense. I turned up at number twenty six Jubilee Terrace to find that the recipient had been evacuated a few weeks beforehand to some farm in South Wales, name almost unpronounceable. In fact Master Greengrass was one of hundreds who went without a special present that Christmas of 1940. Yes they all ended up on the Restitution List.

            Right, its time I was off for I don’t want to be late or run over schedule. The Chief Elf and his committee have come up with a Working Time Directive for me to adhere to. Seems as I’m getting older my performance is beginning to slip. Peaks and troughs, bell curves and convex functions, it’s all there on a large graph on his office wall. I wonder what HR thinks of it all. Must have a word on the quiet when I get back. Sort things out.




Gerald Greengrass was eighty six years old. Gerald Greengrass was in Saint Clare Hospice. Gerald Greengrass was dying.

            “Dad, Jackie and the kids are driving down from Newcastle today so you’ll have a house full tomorrow,” his youngest daughter Amy told him.

            Gerald coughed and adjusted the pump that was feeding him regular doses of morphine. “Will we all fit in here?” he asked and took a look around his small private room where he had spent the last fortnight, but wouldn’t see another.

            “We’ll make do, don’t worry. And Nurse Jackson told me that we can all move into the dayroom for our lunch if you feel up to it.”

            Her dad shifted his emaciated frame on the wheelchair and reached for her hand. ‘I’m not up to eating much,’ he wheezed and raised a smile. “Kind of lost my appetite, I don’t know why,” he joked.

            Amy squeezed his parchment thin fingers. ‘I know dad. But your grandchildren are excited about seeing you.’

            “Do they know?” he asked. “About . . . well my condition.”

            She closed her eyes and forced back tears. “Kirstie and Tom understand, mind you they are teenagers. Little James just thinks you have a broken leg or have had your appendix out. He wants to bring you a bunch of grapes.”

            A spasm of pain stiffened Gerald’s body. He turned the dial on his pump. “Goodness me but I’ve been so lucky in life,” he uttered hoarsely.

            Amy stood up and went to fetch a glass of water. “Phew it’s warm in here,” she exclaimed in a bid to change the subject.

            “Your mother and I never had a cross word in fifty years,” Gerald went on. “Half a bloody century. She’d be so proud of you all if she was still around.”

            “Have a sip of this drink and stop rabbiting.”

            He took a couple of tentative mouthfuls. He had to admit that his tongue felt like sandpaper and there was that corrosive taste which never seemed to leave him.

            “Right, I will love you and leave you dad. If you need anything just ring the bell.” She bent to give him a kiss on one sunken cheek. “We’ll all be here by nine thirty tomorrow morning.”

            She picked up her bag and made slowly for the door.

            “Just one thing Amy,” she heard him say.

            She turned.

            “Merry Christmas,” he whispered.




“How did you get in?” Gerald asked the large chap standing at the foot of his bed.

            The visitor shrugged. “Pretty nurse outside. I have a way with the ladies you see. Have them eating out of my hand sometimes.”

            Gerald sat up a little straighter and coughed. “I’m impressed.”

            The man reached for a chair and sat himself down, giving a weary sigh as he did so.

            “You don’t look too well,” he said with genuine concern in his voice.

            “Your powers of observation do you justice.”

            The unexpected visitor tugged at his beard. “How long?”

            Gerald looked at the bedside clock. Bloody hell, one o’clock in the morning.

            “How long is a very, very short piece of string?” he replied.

            “I’m sorry. Logistics should have explained,” and shrugged. “Not that it would have made much difference because if you’re on the Restitution List my delivery schedule has to be strictly adhered to.”

            The patient of this outstanding hospice coughed and watched the steady drip of morphine enter his system. “Amazon I take it.”

            The other man stood up and chuckled. He then ran both hands down his clothing almost proudly.

            Gerald massaged his shrunken features. “Your costume’s not quite as red as I always imagined.”

            The other walked over to the mirror above the sink. “It’s not a costume it’s a suit,” he explained rather tersely. “And this year I thought I might go for something a little less bright.” He turned and said to Gerald. “Cranberry Blush they call it,” and smoothed down his bulging jacket. “And all that white fur trimming was so merchandising a la Coca-Cola.”

            The dying man wanted to laugh at the absurdity of this situation but was still in a state of subdued shock. Perhaps it was the morphine making him hallucinate. Or he was still fast asleep and simply dreaming.

            And then the visitor resumed his place on the chair and reached for Gerald’s hand.

            “Have you prepared yourself?” he asked.

            The other slowly nodded. “My affairs are in order and I have had weeks to come to terms with the inevitable”

            “But you’re scared.”


            The man with the white bushy beard and a merry twinkle in his eye squeezed the others hand and held his gaze. “It’ll be okay. Believe me everything will be explained very soon.”

            Gerald’s chest wheezed as he tried to find the correct words. “Are you Him?”

            He smiled fondly. “HR? Oh no I couldn’t possibly impersonate Him.”


            “His Righteousness,” he whispered and raised one index finger towards the ceiling. “Well that’s what I call Him.”

            “I don’t understand,” Gerald said and laid his head back onto the pillow.

            “Well He’s always right about everything. It’s a kind of joke between us. I mean the two of us go way back. And He appreciates a little banter, don’t forget that Gerald Greengrass when your time comes.”

            The other closed his eyes, he was slowly drifting off to sleep.

            The big man with the florid complexion got to his feet. “Nearly forgot, I have a little something for you,” and handed over a small Christmas present all wrapped in gold wrapping paper and a big gold ribbon.

            Gerald had fallen asleep, his weak, emaciated body slowly moving in time to his laboured breathing.

            Outside it was beginning to snow, huge white flakes drifting earthward, stark against the frosty night sky.

            Very quietly the man in the Cranberry Blush suit left his gift under the small artificial tree near the large window, turning to look at the recipient with a serene expression of satisfaction across his face. Job done. Another name delivered to on his lengthy Restitution List.

            He passed the pretty nurse sitting in her office and gave her a huge friendly smile before opening the front door and moving towards his mode of transportation standing in the parking lot, all stamping of hooves and tinkling of tiny bells.




Alan Peat








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