I wrote down the lyrics to ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ at the back of my blue exercise book that Mrs. Gibbons gave me last summer. I wrote down the words with a thin orange crayon from my pencil case shaped like a dog with big floppy ears and a red sticking-out tongue. I love the way when you run your fingers over crayons they feel soft and waxy and when the light catches the well-defined letters they shimmer like melted plastic in hot sun.
Mummy doesn’t know I saw her this Christmas or all the other Christmases now past, standing there by the tree with its wrap around tinsel and bright baubles and rows of silver threaded beads. He would be next to her in his bright red suit, drinking brandy from a crystal glass. He didn’t look like Santa, too pale beneath the pretend grey hair and the stuck-on beard and the big red hat that was too big for his small cadaverous head. Mummy would have a drink, burgundy sherry in a narrow flute glass than she held with perfectly manicured pink nails. Mummy has always been pretty. Last Christmas she wore a dress. The top part had no sleeves, just two thin lacy straps whereas the bottom flared out like a princess wrapped in whispers of blue chiffon. She stood out, unlike Santa or even unlike my Dad. He preferred black. Black everything. An anonymous black body. A shadow of a Dad. My Dad.
‘Why don’t you wear another colour?’ I once asked him at the breakfast table as I piled sweet, round Cheerios into my mouth.
He looked at me out of his penetrating, cold blue eyes that always gave me shivers and said, “I prefer to keep myself covered up.” Covered up? Like a nun? I guffawed and Mummy couldn’t help but smile as she drank black tea from a dainty white china cup and offered my dad his own mug filled with something thick and viscous that coated his top lip.
“What are you covering up from?” I knew I should stay quiet, not ask any more questions, but I couldn’t help it, my curiosity once more piqued.
“We have had this conversation.” That’s all my dad had said as he wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve and left the room, his pointed black boots with their silver trim clacking against the wooden floor.
Mother told me immediately after it was time for school, so I grabbed my things and left the house.
‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ played in my head as I walked along the dark street. I don’t think he’s real, Santa Claus that is, I had decided this when I was just turned six, which apparently was too young to stop believing in things that don’t exist. I pulled my coat tighter around me and dragged my red woollen scarf out of my pocket. The sun hadn’t shown up and the day felt bitterly cold, the air sharp against my face and darkness settled all around like an dense, opaque fog. I rememberer going to the Moors with mum and dad one autumn and feeling the fog roll in, the icy finger pricks on the back of your neck as you realise you can no longer see even an inch ahead.
Suddenly I stopped, my patent shoes coming to a halt on tarmac. My breath came out in a short, taut curl. Up ahead, in the rumpled curtain of battleship grey, I heard a noise. A low, faint scream. The sort that is muffled by large fingers on a even larger hand. My heart beat a new rhythm in my chest. I wanted to turn back. To run all the way back home to where mum would be after school with a warm, crackling fire and a pot of hot, boiling tea. I counted to ten, slowly, which had always helped in the past then hummed some more of the song. Now, now I said to myself like my mum would say when she found me upset and tried to calm me down, patting my tears with her little soft handkerchief that smelt of flowers. Then I stepped forward.
My foot caught something. I stumbled, used my arms for balance. Waddled like a penguin. I looked at the floor, my heart shivering and at the red and grey stiletto my own shoe had caught. My legs threatened to give way. Throw me in a pointy pile to the ground. Breathe I instructed myself. Trying to be brave. I put one foot in front of the other, following the woman’s body like map coordinates my Granddad had once shown me. Bile whisked itself up in my throat and ripped at my lungs.
Blonde hair. Breathe. A grey pinstripe suit. Breathe. A black leather bag with a gold zip. Breathe. And a gaping wound on her neck. I want to be sick. To vomit all over the frozen, grey pavement. I looked down. At the long gash. The frost will get in there I thought, which is an odd thought to have I suppose. I took some more deep breaths and looked around me. My stomach cramped. Screaming, I knew, would only bring attention. I had read enough books. Watched scary films at Ashley’s whilst her mum was downstairs watching The Good Life. I wondered instead where the nearest phone box was. There had been one, but now everything was so heavy and blurred, I wasn’t sure where it was.
Something moved. My peripheral vision picking up a beat. A flutter of black on black. I spun around on one skinny leg and stared. The woman at my feet wasn’t quite dead and made odd noises. I didn’t know what to do. Her noises made me want to makes odd noises myself. Another movement. I crept back and away, feeling my back touch something hard and solid that would help prop me up. I sunk down to the wet floor and drew my wobbly knees up to my paralysed chest.
In the distance, something tugged at the air, something trying to take shape, etching its way through the dim, dark shadows. “Who are you?” I cried. My voice caught in my throat and caught on the air that felt rigged with static.
Suddenly, he stooped down and placed freezing hands on my knees. White as alabaster. I looked at his pallid face and the line of smudged red around his blue lips.
“I thought you were….?”
“It’s still dark.”
“Does mum know?”
“She’s been kissing me forever.”
“I knew it wasn’t Santa Claus.”
Henrietta is an melancholic crank living in Scotland. She’s freelance writer who gets paid with thick chocolate filled layers of cake or occasionally a goat she can walk in the sweeping Scottish hills. Ideally. She’s just finished her first novel. You can find Henrietta at https://thetriumphantweed.wordpress.com/ or Twitter @hettiross