While They Still Believe

SantySanty lives deep in the Aillwee Cave in the Burren, which is in the North Pole. When Kevin went to see him it was cold in the cave, and without the lightbulbs it would have been dark, because caves have no windows. He was surprised, really, that Santy didn’t live somewhere nicer. It dripped, and the walls were slimy. The stalactites looked like snots hanging from the ceiling, and if Terence was there they might have laughed at them together. _Greeners! Big frozen greeners! Greener ice pops!_ But he didn’t laugh, not when he was visiting Santy. He didn’t touch the stalactites because you aren’t allowed, and he wasn’t going to do anything that might put him on the Bold Boy List.

His thoughts spun, hot and tangled like knickers in the dryer. He couldn’t wait–please please please make the time go fast until Santy came–but at the same time he was afraid. What had he done and forgotten that might put him on the Bold Boy List? What did Santy know about his sulks, and the time he wouldn’t get into the car to go to granny’s like he was told? And the time he shouted that he hated mam because she made him go to bed instead of watching _The Little Rascals_ again–had Santy moved his name to the Bold Boy List? His face got hot as he pictured Santy shaking his head sadly, in front of Joe and mam.

And then he thought about his own list, the things he had asked for. The feeling of opening the box under the tree and finding a Nintendo DS was so real that it made him shake. Thoughts of Santy made him giddy and sick. He couldn’t stop them, nor did he want to, so he squeezed mam’s hand, and sucked his free thumb to hold himself in one place.

And when he finally sat on Santy’s lap, he forgot to breathe. He stared at the red velvety knees.

“Ho ho ho,” said Santy. “If it isn’t Kevin Scully. I must check my book, Kevin, to see what it was you wanted this year.”

“In-TEN-do!” said Joe, who was only three and didn’t even know what it was.

“Nintendo? Is that right, now? Well, that’s a big present. We’ll have to take a look to see where you are on the list, Kevin.” The brown leather book almost covered the small table on which it rested. Santy opened it nearly to the middle. “GOOD CHILDREN,” he read out loud, though Kevin could read it too, and it made his heart thump. Santy ran his finger down the page, then down the next one, then halfway down the next. “And here you are. Kevin Scully. And he’s on the right list, right enough, so he must have been a good boy this year. Were you a good boy this year, Kevin?”

Kevin said that he was. He saw the letters K-E-V-I-N in the heavy book. Through his relief he noticed that Santy had a wart on his Peter Pointer finger, and that his beard was yellowy.

“And I have on my list that you are looking for Nintendo DS, _or_ a Power Ranger Mystic Force and a selection box and a surprise.” Mam had helped him with the letter last week. He had picked carefully. You couldn’t ask for too much, because that was greedy, and greedy was bold. But Santy always brought more than you asked for, and a surprise could be two things, or even three, so if the Nintendo was too much he might still get something good.

“Well, Kevin, we’ll see what we can do for you. And remember to keep being a good boy. Do you know how I know you’re a good boy?”

He shook his head.

“The robins work for me, Kevin. They’re my little spies. You know the little robin red breasts in the garden? Well, they tell me what’s going on with all the little boys and girls in Ireland, and all over the world. They peep in the windows and they know all about what’s going on. Very good workers, the robins. I depend on them almost as much as I depend on Rudolph.”

Robins!

He was quiet the whole way home to Limerick.

On Christmas Eve, mam and dad wouldn’t stop visiting. They called up to Granny Neville, and then to Granny Scully. They called up to Aunty Deirdre, Aunty Laura, and Aunty Claire. They called to Sheena-next-door. Everywhere they went there were Marks & Spencer’s mince pies and smoked salmon, and wine for mam and dad. And prawns.

“Do you want Coke, Kevin? Will you have a bag of Taytos?” the aunties kept saying, and after a while he didn’t even want more Coke; he wanted to go home and wait for Santy, but mam and dad wouldn’t go even though he pulled on their arms and legs.

“And what’s Santy bringing you, Kevin?” they all asked.

“Nintendo DS _or_ Power Ranger Mystic Force and a selection box and a surprise.” He knew they didn’t really know what he was talking about. To them it was no different than saying how big he was getting, or what class was he in now, but still he wanted to say the list out loud so that it would come true. _Our Father who art in heaven hallowbee die Nintendo DS or Power Ranger Mystic Force._ Just saying the list made him bounce.

“Mam!” he said, “Mam! I want to go HOME. Stop TALKING.”

“Kevin, don’t be rude. We’ll go in a minute. Don’t you know Santy’s keeping particular watch on little boys on Christmas Eve?”

It was dark already. Santy could come any minute and they might miss him if Mam wouldn’t finish her bloody wine, but she had him caught.

“They’re talking about Santy on the News, Kevin,” said Sheena-next-door.

They were interviewing an air traffic controller at Dublin Airport, who said they cleared the flightpath for Santa Claus. Generally they did that just to make sure, he said, though of course they didn’t have exact knowledge of the sleigh’s flight plan. However, the radar did pick up some unusual northern activity that suggested Santa and the reindeer had probably left the North Pole around 4pm…

“Mam!” said Kevin, “he’s already gone! We have to go home!”

“And now over to Professor Michael Nolan of Trinity College, who will explain just how Santa Claus manages it,” said the newscaster.

Of course, it was very difficult to visit every single good child in the world in just a single night, said the professor. He looked cold standing outside in his anorak, waving at the sky. “Santy makes the most of it by crossing the international date line, which turns 24 hours into 36 hours…”

Gráinne Seoige wished all the good boys and girls a happy Christmas and lots of toys from Santy, and said good night.

“I suppose we better go home, so,” said Daddy, putting down his glass. “There’s a boy here who seems awfully anxious to get to bed. Very unusual.” Kevin was so relieved he didn’t mind being mocked. He didn’t even mind when the nerves and Coke and Taytos made him get sick on his pillow because he knew that Santy was coming.

They moved to the new house the following August. He stood in the back garden with Joe, watching Daddy hammer the swingset into the ground. This back garden was much bigger than the one at the old house, and he didn’t fully feel like he owned it yet. He still ran in circles small enough to have fitted in the old garden. Joe didn’t care; Joe ran everywhere.

A bird landed beside Daddy and looked up at them with bright little brown eyes.

“A robin!” said Kevin, “A robin red-breast, Joe!”

Even as the robin’s little head strobed, he looked intently at Kevin. Joe cocked his head just like the bird.

“He’s _Santy’s little spy,_ Joe. Robin red-breast. He’s looking to see if we’re good boys.”

“God, Kevin, you have a very good memory,” said Mam. She was smiling. “Mr. Robin Red Breast is here just to check to see if you’ve settled into your new bedroom, so he can tell Santy where to go next Christmas. He’ll make sure Santy finds you.”

“Mam,” he said urgently. “Will he know me with my new glasses? Will he know it’s me?”

“Well, I suppose he will. Santy knows you fairly well, doesn’t he? Remember how he recognized you in the Aillwee Cave?”

But why take the chance? He pulled off the glasses and knelt on the grass.

“Robin,” he said. “It’s me. Kevin Scully. I used to live in Ballinvoher and now I Iive here and I have glasses. So tell Santy. Okay?”

The robin appraised him, and flew off. They were both satisfied.

10 thoughts on “While They Still Believe”

  1. Ah, I can tell you’re not my real conscience. My conscience is much meaner and whinier. But thank you for the kind words all the same.

    My best friend from secondary school told me the germ of that story about her eldest son. It got me wondering why kids in Ireland are so much more consumed by the idea of Santa Claus than they are over here. One of the nice things about a tightly-bound society is that benign conspiracies work so much better. Of course, so do the malign ones.

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  2. Dervala, that’s a wonderful story and very well told. The bit about the slimy, drippy stalactites in Santa’s cave is an especially nice touch. That and the bird spies. I always thought there was something a bit creepy about Santa.

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  3. A bush confesses to providing refuge to red-breasted robin in domestic spy case. Even red-tailed hawks react angrily.

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