Maurice Weichert never appreciated gifts given to him by strangers as most of them were usually old tat, but once at an office party many moons ago, a forgotten-named someone, as a Secret Santa, heard that he liked to write so she gave him a stationery set which he thought to be quite impressive. It went unused, of course, because he lived in an era where handwritten letters had gone the way of the dinosaur. And how fitting it was that a dinosaur was now on the hunt to retrieve it.
He exhumed the set from the bottom of a box shoved in the back of the bedroom closet, and to his surprise, it was still in pristine condition. Clearing a spot on the dining table, he paired the parchment with two other gifts from long-ago holidays, a Montblanc pen and a glass of Gonzalez Byass Apóstoles Sherry.
Maurice wasn’t much of a drinker, which explained why the sherry remained untouched all these years but he required a bit of liquid courage so he downed the glass in one, poured himself another, uncapped his pen and commenced to write his letter. Having not written for quite a long while, his penmanship wasn’t as crisp as it once was and added to that fact was the tremor in his hand brought on by age and nervousness.
It has been ages since I last wrote to you and I realize that I am far too old to start doing it again but I am not requesting anything from you, besides the loan of a moment of your time. As the winner of the unluckiest lottery, meaning that I have somehow managed to outlive my parents, siblings, wife and all my friends, I could not think of another living soul who would care to read this besides yourself.
I am a lonely man.
You have no idea how this desolation of companionship feels, having no one to inquire about what is going on in your life or inside your head, no one to challenge your philosophies in a deep conversation, no one to hold you during the silent hours of the night when the mind buzzes with nihilistic inevitabilities, no one to protect thereby giving your life a sense of purpose, no one to hand control over to on the days when you are not quite strong enough, no one to occupy the dead spots and the void inside of you that books, music, television and movies are not capable of filling.
And then there are the visitations from memory ghosts of loved ones and special people and people who could have been special if only you had not gotten in your own way and run them off, ghosts of better times and better days that you would gladly give anything, even your immortal soul, to step back into and relive just one more time, ghosts of conversations when you said the wrong things to people who did not deserve it and were too stubborn to apologize for.
You have no idea how much it hurts to be isolated from the world at large, to know that you still have love to give but not a single solitary soul to offer it to, still have jokes to tell but no one to laugh at them, experiences to share and knowledge to impart that no one cares to hear.
What is a man to do when his life no longer has direction, and his spark has been doused a decade ago? What happens when he can no longer compartmentalize all the sadness, anger, guilt, heartache, hopelessness, and worthlessness? How does he stop his mundane existence from draining and crippling his soul as it makes his world grow smaller by the day and it gets harder to breathe and he can’t clear the fog from his head—
The pen dropped from Maurice’s hand almost as if in protest. This wasn’t the letter he intended to write. The plan was to create a magnum opus, the letter to Santa to end all letters, a missive that succinctly encapsulated his existence, but this…this was soppy cringe-worthy drivel. He would have to start it all over again, perhaps creating an outline this time to better organize his thoughts.
Crumpling the letter into a ball, he tossed it absently in the direction of the wire mesh waste bin…when a hand snatched it out of the air.
Standing behind him in full regalia was Father Christmas himself, jolly old Saint Nicholas, who said, “I’ll take that. It was meant for me anyway, wasn’t it?”
“Santa?” Maurice felt like he was having a hypnagogic hallucination, the kind that occurred during the transition between REM sleep and wakefulness.
“In the flesh, Reese,” Santa said. “Do you mind if I call you Reese? I’ve watched you all your life and calling you Maurice just seems so formal. You can call me Nick if you like, or Kris. Either one is fine.”
“What are you doing here?”
“You wrote me a letter.”
“And you personally visit everyone who writes to you?”
“Not usually, no, but I had a little downtime and thought, what the heck?”
“But how did you get here?”
“The usual way.”
“No, I mean how did you get here so fast? The letter isn’t even written yet.”
“The final version hasn’t been completed, but I know when someone is writing me a letter.”
Santa patted his belly and said, “I can fit this bulk through any chimney without getting stuck or catching fire, can levitate back up said chimney by touching my nose and nodding, I know the names of every person on the planet and if they’ve been naughty or nice, among other things…and my instantly knowing when someone writes a letter addressed to me is the thing you’re questioning?”
“I guess you’re right. Well, I think you wasted a trip because I wasn’t asking for anything, I just needed to air a few things out.”
Santa uncrumpled the letter and read it to himself. When he finished, he said, “Your feelings are valid and even though you think I don’t understand what you’re going through, believe me, I do. And you’re not alone in feeling this way, especially at this time of year. You’re also not dead yet, and what I mean by that is stop acting like you are. If you take good care of yourself, barring any accidents, you’ve got, at the bare minimum, twenty good years ahead of you. Years that you can make count for something instead of rotting away in a mausoleum of the past.”
Maurice was about to speak when Santa raised a hand to stop him. “Can we discuss what you didn’t get around to including in the letter, Reese? I’ve been at this a long time and have received millions of letters similar to this…”
There was a knock at the apartment door.
“I thought we’d have more time,” Santa said with a sigh. “You should get that, it’s for you.”
“Why did you sigh?” fear struck Maurice’s heart like a match. “I don’t like the way you said that. Who’s at the door?”
“Only one way to find out.”
Maurice approached his apartment door the way a hazardous devices technician approached a suspicious package. His hand hovered above the knob until he could muster the courage to open the door, and there he saw…
A frazzled woman, roughly his age, maybe a little younger, with shoulder-length silver hair, wearing a red and white Santa cap with the words Merry Christmas emblazoned on it.
“Hi, my name is Davina, and don’t worry, I’m not a crazy person, well, maybe a little, but fun-crazy not scary-crazy, I even wore the Santa hat to prove that I’m basically harmless, see?” Davina offered a toothy grin and pointed at the hat. “Anyway, I’m new to the building, your next-door neighbor, actually, and I hate to be a bother, especially so close to Christmas because you’re probably wrapping expensive presents or preparing some fantastic meal or binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix, or something important like that, but I really need to use your phone. It’s not a long-distance call or a phone scam to steal your identity or a call to some expensive sex chatline or anything weird like that, I just moved in today and I’ve got no electricity, gas or phone. It was all supposed to be on when I got here, but you know how these utility companies are, they get around to it when they get around to it because you’re always on their time and not vice-versa. So, would that be okay? Using your phone?”
Davina’s introduction was as rapid as machine-gun fire and Maurice stood in stunned silence for a long moment attempting to process it all. When his brain finally caught up, he said, “Um, sure. The phone’s just this way.”
He let her into the apartment and his brain began working overtime trying to invent a reason for Santa Claus to be sitting in his home, but when they entered the living room, Saint Nicholas was nowhere to be found.
“I’m so glad you’re home and you’re nice, you are nice, aren’t you? I think you’re nice and I’m usually a good judge of character, except when it comes to boyfriends, but why would you need to know that? I’m sorry, I tend to be a chatterbox when I’m nervous which is practically all the time, anyway, what was I saying, oh yeah, I’m so glad that you’re home and you’re letting me use your phone. I would have used my cell but the battery died while I was on hold with the electric company and I couldn’t recharge it because, you know, no electricity. Speaking of which, would it be okay if I charged my phone here?”
“Sure, the socket’s right by the phone.”
“You are a lifesaver, and I promise I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”
“It’s fine, take your time, no rush,” Maurice said still in a haze but he was present enough to remember his manners. “I’m not a coffee drinker but if you don’t mind tea, I can put the kettle on, or can I offer you a glass of water or juice, perhaps?”
“Oh, no, I don’t want to put you through any additional trouble.”
“If it was trouble, I wouldn’t have offered.”
“Are you sure?”
“Then tea would be lovely, but nothing with caffeine, please. You wouldn’t want to see me all jittery, trust me.”
He had absolutely no doubt about that. “The phone’s all yours, pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.”
In the kitchen, Maurice found a note taped to the tea kettle, written in perfect cursive on his stationery, which read:
Much like yourself, Davina has always remained on my nice list, but she’s gone through a bit of a rough patch recently and could use a friend who specializes in kid glove treatment. I know it’s a huge imposition and I wouldn’t dream of asking if I had any other options available to me, but I was wondering if you could help me out on this one as I simply don’t have the time or resources to handle this matter in the manner which it deserves. I would owe you big time and you never know when calling in a Santa favor could come in handy.
Oh, her utilities will be turned on in two hours, which should give you plenty of time to make her acquaintance.
Thanks for the assist, Reese, and Merry Christmas!
PS. If you decide to write me a letter next year, please put out some cookies and milk. The Missus has me on a strict diet and the only time I get to snack is when I’m out on business.