The sky was white. So was the ground. Snow thick enough to doubt the earth. Riled by a harsh wind, snow whipped against snow, an unflinching self flagellation that betrayed the cheerful lie of snow globes. And stark within the storm, a house that looked like it was made of candy canes and gingerbread.
‘Laquisha,’ said Father Christmas, ‘I have something to show you.’
Laquisha Christmas, sometime known as Mrs. Clause, looked to her husband with a smile of happy expectation that had dulled only slightly over the years. ‘Can it wait a minute? The kettle’s nearly boiled.’
‘I’m afraid it’s waited too long already,’ said Father Christmas. His tone, usually wrapped thick in holiday cheer, was naked. It cut through the mundanity of married life like an inappropriate Christmas present through a child who has just realised that sometimes Mum is right.
‘What’s the matter?’ said Laquisha, kettle forgotten.
Father Christmas held out an envelope, carefully opened, then crumpled, then hastily smoothed out. ‘We’re bankrupt.’
The kitchen window rattled against the polar wind outside.
‘How could this happen?’ said Laquisha.
Father Christmas met her eyes for the first time, and then looked away. ‘It turns out there’s a reason nobody else has ever built a factory in the North Pole and delivered all their products once a year, by magic reindeer, for free. It’s just not profitable.’
Like a cat without gravity, Laquisha scrambled for something solid to hold onto. ‘But you said all new businesses falter a little at first.’
‘It turns out that doesn’t necessarily mean that faltering means your business is doing well.’
The kettle began to boil, the same urgent shrieking Laquisha wanted to make. ‘There’s no way we could have predicted this.’
‘Really?’ said Father Christmas, crumpling the letter agin. ‘Because in hindsight it seems pretty obvious to me! Where exactly was the money supposed to come from?! Why did the bank give us that loan?!’
‘What about our shareholders?’
‘Who cares? They were only ever an excuse to flout environmental regulations.’
Laquisha took the kettle off the stove with a shaking hand and it ran out of screams immediately. ‘What do we do now?’
‘In the short term, we barricade the doors and windows. The elves are about to find out they haven’t been paid in months.’
Father Christmas looked at the cutlery drawer. ‘I thought we could commit suicide while holding hands.’
‘There must be something else we can do. How did the Easter Bunny handle it when he lost all his money on chocolate eggs?’
‘He’s in jail now. He shares a cell with the Enron guys.’
‘Then we’ll sell everything. Start over.’
Father Christmas shook his head. ‘The bank owns everything. We have nothing to sell.’
Her future suddenly unfamiliar, Laquisha looked to her past, to old wars, silent but not yet over. ‘I gave up my career for you. I could have been a tooth fairy.’
Father Christmas remembered the heat of battle. ‘Don’t you blame this on me! I didn’t make your choices!’
‘I won’t go back to waiting tables.’
‘Here it is, the elitism. Laquisha Christmas, too good for an honest job!’
‘And here’s your misplaced working class pride, glorifying your own hardships as if they somehow make you better than the middle class!’
‘Society would grind to a halt in a day without delivery men!’
‘Red makes you look fat!’
She’d known as she said it. A line had been crossed. The line they’d always known was there. Words were sucked from the room like snakes from a plane.
And then Father Christmas began to tear at his buttons. A furious fumbling as happy to rip and tear as unfasten. It was an act of anger at first, his clothes had become their marriage, her expectations of him, a burden no longer bearable. Until Laquisha began to tear at her own clothes. They fell to the floor, a single mass of heaving bodies grasping tight, passionate beyond anger or despair. The real world could wait a little longer.
Discarded clothes on kitchen tiles, black and white and red all over.