The end was approaching. The self-sufficient community that had been set up in times past was decimated. The only ones left were the old workers, the ‘elves’. Even they had begun the meticulous process of dying off. Morale at the workshop being what it was, Santa could only be grateful that – contrary to popular opinion – magic did not need the continuing belief of its beneficiaries to impose itself. The continued flight of the aged, worn-out reindeer was witness to this indisputable fact.
December 24th had arrived. Mrs Claus was bedridden, and in fact had not been seen on her own two feet for several months. Certainly she was very old, with a complexion that indicated that blood no longer pulsed through her cheeks as readily as it once had. Santa didn’t dare ask himself if she was on the verge of death. Would he be on his way soon too? The answer would have surely overwhelmed him and affected the arrival of yet another Merry Christmas™. Deliveries were being made with threads of will that could not be snapped, because if they were broken even once, then at his age Santa knew that the mission would be finished.
Santa commanded the reindeer off with a jerk of his wrists but without a word. He could hear the faint creaking of the worn, nostalgic sleigh as it glided far above white, moonlit hills. Had he ever felt this tired? That night he didn’t respond to the occasional dazzling bursts of joy that children gave him upon recognition.
He was struggling back up a chimney when he noticed an absence up above him. At first he was worried that the reindeer had run away and left him adrift. The stamping, braying and jingling sounds that reached his ears eased his anxiety and yet at the same time restored his puzzlement. He could not understand what it was by looking around him. It was only further along the track – several countries having been passed along the way – that he focused on this absence and saw it for what it was. His wife’s birth star, the one that he had always seen with his heart and mind if not with his eyes, had vanished. Santa struggled to comprehend this as he sat in the sleigh that was comfortably perched on the roof of a two-storey house. Amid the impatience of the reindeer, who Santa was ready to release from their harnesses and shoo away for the state he was in… amid the reindeer, he put his head down against the wooden frame of his sleigh, closed his eyes and began to tremble.
When he woke from his somnolent, solemn pose, it was already morning. The ensemble of sleigh, bells, harnesses, reindeer and fat man in red was still up there on the snow-covered rooftop. Santa was about to tell his reindeer in short order to head back to the North Pole for what might have been their last ever trip. Was the fate of the ailing Mrs Claus symmetrical to that of the fallen birth star? Before he found out, however, a glance at his still bulging sack caused him to pause. What would these undelivered toys do but clutter up the workshop and cause him to trip over them throughout his remaining days? They had to be delivered, if only to satisfy Santa’s desire for “a place for everything and everything in its place.”
The questions flowed as he continued with the undertaking. Once again he began to feel sentimental and nostalgic about the gratitude accorded to him. For the first time he was witnessing this gratitude first-hand, because this time he could talk to those recipients of his gifts who had risen with the sunlight that streamed through their windows. The thank-yous he received that day erased, with the help of the benign selection of memory, the bitterness of the previous years. When the noses of the reindeer were pointing towards the North Pole once more, Santa was overwhelmed by the certainty that he could not yet bring the mission to an end.
And so people would often tell each other about the occasion that they saw Santa Claus make his deliveries not in shadows but by the mid-morning light of the sun.