A Christmas Story - but with a difference.
The old man sat on the edge of his bed and belched loudly. There were exactly one hundred and fifty-eight unopened bottles of port on the floor, each one silently screaming at him to drink them. The hundred and fifty-ninth stood almost empty on a table beside the bed and whispered 'finish me' to him - over and over and over. He obeyed, pouring the remainder of the bottle into the biological wine glass of his mouth. He gulped it down. He hated port but then he pretty well hated everything right now.
He put the empty bottle on the floor carefully, next to two others. It had taken him seventeen years to drink the first bottle and less than seventeen minutes to drink the last one. But nauseating as it had been, it had done its job - done its job admirably in fact. He now had enough courage to do what needed to be done. He looked at the other bottle which stood on the table. He couldn't see the label - in his condition he could barely see the bottle - but he knew its contents. It was full of sleeping tablets, guarenteed to give you a good rest. That was what he wanted now - a good rest. A permanent rest. The Big Sleep. That was why he'd needed the port. He didn't have the guts to take them sober.
In actual fact, he did have the guts because he was extremely fat. What he lacked, when sober, was the courage to take the tablets. Guts, he reflected with one eyebrow cocked in amusement, was something he had never been short of. Guts, in fact, had been one of his trademarks. Even now - now that he was washed up, now that he was a total failure - he still had guts to be proud of. No, it was courage he lacked. At least, that was what he lacked when sober. But now.....
He was about to pick up the bottle when he remembered his promise. He could break that, he thought. It had been a stupid idea anyway. And it was a promise by a failure to a failure - himself. No, he could forget that promise.
Only he couldn't forget that promise. He had always been a man of honour - a man of his word. He had always kept his promises - he had always delivered. It was another of his trademarks. He wrestled with the thought for a moment or two, then put the bottle back on the table. No, a promise was a promise - even if it was just to himself. He had made it and he should keep it. Before he gave up completely and took the tablets, he would give them a call. That was what he promised himself before he'd drunk the port, and even failures have got their honour.
He fished in the bed for his mobile phone. He found and flicked it open. It seemed to waver in front of his eyes, so he shut them tightly then opened them again. A little better. He did it again. Success. He could see the keypad. Slowly and very carefully he typed in a number and put the phone to his ear. After a couple of seconds he heard it ring at the other end. Twice the tone went and he almost put it down. Almost. But then someone answered.
"Hello - you have called Crisis Line. My name is Jane. Tell me about your problem".
The voice was soothing.
"Well" began the old man. "I guess I'm a failure" he said quietly.
"Now I'm sure that's not true, but tell me why you think it could be" said Jane.
"You see I dedicated my whole life to my children. To making them happy" he said. A tear ran down one cheek. "But now it's come to an end. No one likes me - they won't even let me give them presents" said the old man and sobbed quietly.
"Are these children your family?" asked Jane sympathetically.
The old man took a deep breath and said "No. I have no family. I'm all alone. I just like to make children happy, so I give them presents."
Jane made a note in her book on mandatory reporting.
"So who doesn't like you?" she asked.
"Everyone. No one" he said - a little confused and certainly still somewhat drunk. "The church lot for example. They say I'm evil. Some of them used to love me - I gave some of them presents too when they were children. But now, they hate me. I'm a bad influence, they say. I am un-christian, un-islam, un-jewish. You name it - they all want to be rid of me - for the childrens' sake they say."
Jane made another note in her book on mandatory reporting and signalled her supervisor to come over.
"Even the schools and kindergartens are against me now. I mean what's the harm in sitting the kiddies on my lap and give them toys? They say people might be offended. Offended?" he felt hurt and angry at the word. "How can bringing pleasure to little children be offensive" he asked loudly. But then he apologised. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell. It's not your fault - you are trying to help" he said.
Jane's supervisor had picked up a headset and locked into the call too. He exchanged knowing and suspicious glances with Jane.
"Tell me" said Jane. "You like children do you?".
The old man's eyes lit up. "Yes" he said. "They are wonderful. Full of innocence and hope. I love to see them happy". His face clouded over for a moment, then darkened. "But no-one else seems to want them to be happy. They just want to keep me away from them. And I can't bare it." He broke down and cried.
Jane and her supervisor both scribbled in their individual books on mandatory reporting.
"And I've just had this letter" said the old man. "It came today. It says I have to get a police check or I can't even see the children. It's the law, it says. A police check. And I can't do it. I can't. It's over. My life is over" and he broke down and cried again.
"Why not?" asked Jane, but there was no trace of sympathy in her voice now. "Why can't you - what are you afraid of?"
The old man said nothing.
"Well?" asked Jane demandingly. "What have you got to hide then? Got some special secrets have we?" she asked accusingly.
Father Christmas pressed the hang up button. What was the use? He'd kept his promise - he'd tried. But it was no use. He knew it would be no use - but he'd kept his promise and tried. How could he get a police check? He thought about the form they'd sent him laughed a humourless laugh. It was ridiculous. Name - Father Christmas. Address - the North Pole. Family - Reindeers and Elves. Purpose of Request - To visit children in the middle of the night while they slept and give them suprises. How could he put that down? They really would think he was a pervert.
He let the phone drop to the floor and picked up the sleeping pills. After a few minutes he threw the bottle to the floor in exasperation. Those childproof caps were a menace, he thought. He fell to his knees and crawled over to the bottle. He picked it up again and this time he brought it down upon the floor with his hand. It smashed. He looked, hazily, at the broken glass and the pills weaving about each other. No matter. A little glass might quicken the process he thought.
He was just about to scoop the whole lot up when there was a knock on the door. It's quite suprising how something very unexpected - even impossible - can sober you up. Father Christmas swept the broken glass and the pills under his bed quickly, stood up, and went to the door. There came more knocking - urgent knocking. No-one came to visit you at the North Pole - but someone had and they were in a hurry.
He opened the door. A large rabbit, about six foot high, stood there covered in snow. "About time" said the rabbit. "I thought you were dead" and it pushed past him into the warm. He closed the door after it.
"I nearly was" said Father Christmas soberly.
The rabbit looked concerned. "I was afraid you'd try something like that. So I came over. I brought some port" he said and then, noticing the bottles on the floor, added "but mine's non-alcoholic. Come on. I've got a couple of chocolate eggs left - we'll share them".
So the Easter Bunny and Father Christmas sat feasting on easter eggs and non-alcoholic port. And for at least one more night, hope remained for the Spirit of Christmas to triumph over the strangulation of red tape.