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(A short story of 2238 words)

Spit and Promise


by Vivien Jones

It was sweltering in the NAFFI hut. Father Christmas sat sweating, legs akimbo, showing his navy drill shorts and bare legs under the long red robe. He wore huge white plimsolls. His legs were damp and covered with ginger swirls of hair, and his white beard had slipped sideways so you could see his stubbled chin and the spray of freckles beneath. I noticed that his hands were huge, not, I was sure, the size of hands the real Father Christmas would have. I knew that the Royal Navy Children’s Christmas Party did not feature the real Father Christmas but a volunteer rating who received an extra rum ration for his trouble. This Father Christmas was a pretence for the benefit of the younger children. I was nine and didn’t require such charades.

However, the false Father Christmas had just called my name and he did have a parcel for me in those lumpy hands, so I stepped forward to take it. He straightened his beard and tapped his knees.

‘Hello, Vivien,’ he said, glancing quickly at the writing on the parcel. ‘Have you been a good girl this year?’

The other Father Christmases hadn’t asked questions. They just handed over the parcel and said ‘Happy Christmas.’ This one was hanging on to my parcel waiting for me to sit on his knee. Other children, further on in the alphabet than V, were starting to nudge me forward, impatient for their own presents from the sack. I took a deep breath and mounted the platform. His knees were open and the red robe sagged between them so I perched on one knee, holding out my hand...

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