Christine Madden

journalist | editor | dramaturg | literary translator

Tag: satire (page 1 of 8)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, episode 24

This is the final instalment of the advent-calendar whodunnit published in December 2017. To start at the beginning, click here

The real Santa

The silence in the sitting room was absolute. It was like the moment after an explosion when dust sifts noiselessly down upon the debris. At the same time, there was a weird sense of energy fizzling out, not unlike when a sparkler sizzles down to the bottom and goes cold.

Granny was the first thing in the room to stir. “Ah, feck.” She let herself fall into a slumping position on the couch.

“Are you all right, Anna?” Marie asked, going over to her. She put her hand on Granny’s shoulder, but Granny shook it off.

“What actually just happened here?” Joe said. He glanced over at his mother, his children, the two gardaí. Holly and Noel looked dazed.

“Eh, well,” garda Selina Brady started. What could she say? What could they do? “Did all just see the same thing?”

“Yes,” said Holly. “There was a fake Santa who was Granny’s boyfriend and then he was a real Santa and then he was a bad Santa when Rudolf and the real Santa came and then they all left.”

“We can’t write that up,” said garda Paul McNamara.

“No.” Garda Brady had been in situations before when the facts had to be a bit massaged. She’d never been in a situation in which the entire situation had to be massaged. It was unpleasant, but she shook herself. “It wasn’t you who called for the guards yourselves in the first place, did you?” she asked Joe and Marie. They shook their heads.

“Do you have any further need of us?”

Joe and Marie’s eyes met. “I guess not,” Marie said.

“We’ll just move on, then,” said garda Brady. “Domestic dispute, minor injuries. Lots of them every Christmas. We’ll be off, then. Have a – ” She couldn’t quite bring herself to wish them a merry Christmas. “Have a healthy and peaceful holiday.”

“Happy holidays,” garda McNamara repeated, as he walked behind garda Brady through the front door. They continued silently to the car and got in. But after belting up, Selina Brady paused before turning the ignition. “Best if we never mention this again, to anyone. Even each other,” she said. Could she tell her sister? she thought. Probably not.

“Agreed.” As the car engine roared into life, Paul silently resolved to delete his Tinder account. It was a minefield out there and – especially as a public servant – he shouldn’t be compromising himself like that anymore. And anyway, he’d met someone now. It was the real thing. She already said she’d like him to meet her family and friends. She was a bit older than he was, but Tamsin was definitely the one.

In the house, Joe hobbled over to Marie and Granny. “Mam, are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” Granny said stoutly. “I’ll cry later.”

“Are you sure?” Marie asked.

“Of course I’m sad and disappointed,” Granny reasoned. “But he lied to me. I wasted months with that hooligan. And now he’s gone. Alone again, naturally. And at my age, who knows how much time I’ve got?”

“Oh, Anna,” Marie apologised. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry it didn’t work out and – ” She stopped, remembering everything that happened that night. It seemed a bit trivial to sum it by saying things hadn’t worked out.

Granny shrugged. “I don’t know if I was even actually in love with him. It was mostly about the – ”

“NO! Don’t say it! I don’t want to know!” cried Joe.

“The ROMANCE, you squeamish old eejit,” Granny snapped. “Did you think I was going to say sex? That’s not what I was after. I just wanted some companionship.”

“We’ll be your companions, Granny,” said Holly.

“That’s not what she means,” Noel muttered to her.

There was another silence. The Carroll family surveyed the room. The ceiling lamp was still blazing. There were blood and tea stains on the white carpet, still dotted with shards of amber glass from the broken whiskey bottle. It felt very empty.

“I guess I believe in Santa again,” Noel announced.

“Well, I don’t,” Holly huffed. “I didn’t like Santa. He was just a big eejit who didn’t want to share and let his fake Rudolf bully everyone.”

Joe groaned. “Oh God, has she got Stockholm Syndrome?”

“More like North Pole syndrome,” Granny said. “You don’t think that Kris or Brendan or whoever should be Santa, do you?”

“No. He was mean and lied to you,” Holly said. “I believe in Mum and Dad. I believe in us. We’re the real Santa.”

Granny sat up. “Good girl!”

“She’s right,” said Noel. “We don’t need them. We can make our own Christmas.”

“That’s the spirit, Noel!” Marie said, holding her arm out to him and giving him a squeeze. “But what do we do now? We can’t just go back to bed like nothing happened.”

Joe looked towards the window. He limped over and pulled back the curtains. There wasn’t a full moon, but a half-moon had just emerged from behind a bank of cloud. The snow that had melted and refrozen gleamed and glinted in the moonlight. “Mar, do we have some candles?”

Marie looked up at him, confused. “Yeah, we’ve loads. Every time somebody needs to give you an inexpensive present and doesn’t know what to get you, you get a candle.”

“Brilliant,” said Joe. “Get them. Get all of them. We’re going to light them all.”

A bit dubious, Marie left the sitting room to rummage for the candles. Joe hobbled back to the centre of the room. With some difficulty, he shifted a coffee table and an armchair over the stains on the carpet and kicked the bigger shards of glass into the corners of the room.

Granny got up from the couch. “Here, I’ll do that,” she said, and went into the kitchen, returning with a broom.

“I’ve got the candles,” Marie said, re-entering with her arms full of them.

“Great! Put them down here on the table and we’ll light them.”

Granny brushed the glass towards the walls; Joe, Marie, Holly and Noel each lit candles until the coffee table was aglow. The flickering flames danced off the tree ornaments and lent the room a warm glow.

“I’ll switch on the fairy lights,” Noel offered.

“NO!” the other four shouted.

“Right, OK,” Noel backed off.

“Turn off the light there, Noel,” Joe asked. “Now … ” Seated on the couch, he held one arm out to his son and put the other one around Granny. Marie sat next to her and put Holly on her knee.

“Now … here we are.” Joe’s voice softened to a whisper. “We’re all here together. It’s quiet and peaceful and beautiful. And in the end, that’s what’s important.”

The Carrolls cuddled into one another. And for the first time since he was a boy, Joe sensed that the promise of that former Christmas-night tranquillity had never really gone away.


Merry Christmas, everyone, and thanks for reading!

‘Twas the night before Christmas, episode 23

Be careful what you wish for

“It wasn’t like that!” Kris Kringle shot out.

Alias Rudolf ignored him. “He met Anna here, managed to charm her – he can be a smooth customer when he wants to – and used her to gain access to your house and plan an ambush.”

“You bastard!” Joe lunged forward, but Marie held him back.

“It was likely that Kringle would try something tonight,” Alias Rudolf continued. “I came down into your lovely home with Santa to check the coast was clear. And as we now know, it wasn’t. Kringle – who was nipping into your special whiskey, Joe – took a swing at me with the bottle. I parried his swing with my antlers – great things, antlers – grabbed one of your pressies – the hurley – and got him at the back of the head.”

“You hit him with my hurley?” Noel cried.

“I did,” Alias Rudolf said. “It wasn’t easy without opposable thumbs. But there you are. We reindeer have hidden talents. Anyway, before we could put it all to rights again, Holly turned up, so we had to scarper.”

“Why?” Holly interjected. “I wouldn’t have hurt you.”

“Santa had to move on and keep delivering presents, or the logistics of the night before Christmas would have crashed and burned. So I hung back, biding my time, waiting for the coast to clear. But things just continued to escalate. And here we are.”

“That’s his story,” Kris Kringle spat.

“Right, then,” Joe retorted. “What’s yours?”

Kris Kringle paused, which didn’t lend him much credibility.

“Why, Brendan?” Granny asked. “Or, Kris. Whoever you are. Why did you do all this? Why?”

“Cripes,” Kris Kringle grumbled. “Don’t you go all Cindy-Lou-Who on me.”

Holly ran up and kicked Kris Kringle hard in the shin, and he yelped in pain. “Don’t talk to my granny like that!”

“Good girl!” Granny.

“Nice one, Holly,” said Alias Rudolf. “We might have a job for you in a few years.”

“Why did you want to ruin Christmas?” Noel persisted.

“Ruin it? I didn’t want to ruin it!” Kris Kringle protested. “I would have been terrific! I had lots of good ideas. It would have been better than ever. I mean, look at him. He’s such an idiot,” he finished contemptuously. “I’d be a much better Santa.”

“Well, the jury’s actually out on that, Kris,” said Alias Rudolf. “And the verdict, sadly, is no.”

“So, now what?” Joe said.

“I’m off,” Santa announced. “I’ve still got the entire western hemisphere to tackle. It’s going to be a long night.”

“Wait, you can’t leave,” garda Brady ordered. “We’ve got to – ”

“What? Write up a report?” Alias Rudolf laughed, and Santa joined in.

He had her there, Selina Brady conceded silently. Her eyes met her colleague’s. It was hopeless.

Santa took a deep breath to stop his laughing and gave a nod to the two freelance elves. “Well, I guess this is all wrapped up. Ho ho ho!”

Alias Rudolf groaned. “Less of the stand-up there, Nick. If I were you I’d stick with the night job.”

“I will,” said Santa good-naturedly. “A merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” As Santa prepared to exit with his entourage, Kris Kringle turned to look at Granny once more. “I’m sorry, Anna.”

“Ha!” Granny barked. “Merry bloody Christmas to you, too!”

Then Santa Claus, Kris Kringle and the elves were gone. Nobody had actually seen them go up the chimney. It was as though they had evaporated and been sucked up in an instant.

Alias Rudolf, however, was still there. “Best if we all just forget this ever happened. Right?”

“Hold on a minute,” said Marie. “You can’t just leave like this. What have you done to our Christmas? How are we going to pick up the pieces?”

“Don’t worry,” said Alias Rudolf. “It’s all taken care of. You’ll get your presents. And of course we’ll replace the hurley for Noel.”

“That’s it?” Joe said. “You barge in here, use our sitting room to capture a notorious criminal, turn our lives upside down and then just feck off?”

“Well, Joe, you know, you’ve got a point,” said Alias Rudolf. “I’ll tell you what. I’m feeling generous, so I’ll get ye something extra. What would you like?”

“Noel’s smartphone,” Holly got in quickly.

“Right, it’s yours,” said Alias Rudolf. “That was easy. Got to be – ”

“That’s hardly a present,” Noel snapped.

“Well, you’re a smart wee fella.” Rudolf sighed. “OK, what can I get ye?”

“A new carpet,” Marie said quickly.

“Done. White again?” Alias Rudolf asked. “Brave colour choice. The lads will come by and measure for it next week.”

“Yeah, who, Prancer and Vixen?” Joe scoffed.

“I’m in a hurry, so I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” said Alias Rudolf. “Right, that’s me off now.”

Rudolf leapt out of the room and disappeared. The humans remaining in the room heard the back door slam shut.


Tomorrow: the conclusion

Or go back to the beginning to catch up


‘Twas the night before Christmas, episode 22

’Zat you, Santa Claus?

“Bad job, Kris,” said Santa. “You’re a ho ho ho.”

Alias Rudolf cleared his throat. “Let’s keep it clean for the kids, Nick.”

“But,” said Marie, looking from one to the other of the identically red-suited men, “didn’t he just say he was Nick?”

It was a bizarre sight. Two men, identically dressed in Santa suits and white beards, stood facing each other as though looking into a mirror: the one who had just magically entered looking triumphant and rather smug; the one pinned back by Alias Rudolf contorting his features in frustration and anger.

Smug Santa nodded at the reindeer. “Good work, double-O – ”

“ ‘Rudolf’,” the reindeer interrupted.

“Oh, right.” Smug Santa winked.

It was a struggle, but garda Selina Brady finally regained command of herself. “What’s going on here?”

“Very sorry about this, Selina,” said “Rudolf”. “We were trying not to let things get this far. I was waiting it out as long as I could, but I couldn’t let Kringle here get away. And maybe harm any or all of you into the bargain.”

“We’re not supposed to be seen, you see,” said Smug Santa, as two more individuals were somehow suddenly there. It was hard to say if they just appeared out of thin air, or if everyone was so preoccupied with the state of affairs that nobody noticed them coming in the door. The two arrivals were short men dressed in green and red, carrying what looked like gift-wrapping ribbon. They proceeded to bind Angry Santa’s arms behind his back, bundling him up like the present you definitely never wanted.

“Are they elves?” Noel asked.

“Not really. We’re freelance,” said one of the men. “We’re just on contract.”

“And lucky to get it,” said Alias Rudolf. “Just tie yer man up there, that’s a good lad.”

“We’re on it,” said the freelance elf, and they tightly bound up Kris Kringle with green and gold ribbon.

“What are you doing to my boyfriend?” Granny said, alarmed.

“Ex-boyfriend,” Santa corrected. “We go back a long way, Kris and I. He’s been after my job ever since – well, forever.”

“Your job,” Kris Kringle spat. “Who ever ordained that it was your job?

“Would you not have a bit of sticky tape for that fella’s gob?” Alias Rudolf asked the freelance elves.

“I don’t understand,” said Holly. “Why can’t you both deliver presents?”

“There’s only one Santa,” said Smug Santa.

“Says you,” Angry Santa snarled. “We could have worked together. But no. Mr I’m-keeping-all-the-glory-to-myself wouldn’t let me in on it.”

“You weren’t suited to the work,” said Santa.

“Oh, yes he is,” said Holly. “His suit looks just like yours.”

“Stop!” garda Brady ordered. “What happened here? What’s going on?”

“We can tell you,” Smug Santa chuckled. “But then we’ll have to kill you. Ho ho ho!”

“Santa, you’re the only one laughing at that,” said Alias Rudolf. “These good people are genuinely alarmed. Sorry, guys,” he apologised to the mortal occupants of the room. “Nick’s sense of humour can be a bit extreme. I’ll just give you a brief explanation. And I’d leave off taking the snaps if I were you, Paul,” he turned to garda McNamara, who had regained enough presence of mind to locate his phone and take pictures for evidence. “We don’t want our pics taken. But even if you do, and you go back to the station and show them all, what are they going to see? Two blokes dressed up as Santa Claus and a reindeer. That’s not going to get you a promotion.”

Garda McNamara reluctantly put his phone away. Garda Brady made an indefinite sound of frustration and helplessness, and massaged her forehead.

“To make a long story short,” Alias Rudolf began, “Kris Kringle has been after Santa’s job for, erm, from the start. There’ve been a couple of times – well, I won’t go into that now. Anyway, as I said, Santa got wind that Kringle was planning another coup. So I’ve been watching out for Santa, acting as bodyguard in the guise of Rudolf. What we didn’t know was that Kringle had been angling on the Internet, trying to find a way to catch Santa off guard – ”


Episode 23 here

Or recap from episode 1

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