Anything can happen behind the scenes in the malls and stores at Christmas time. But do we ever hear those stories?
Out of Character
by Cathy Cade
Christmas ads had been filmed and it was time for live appearances in department stores, handing out samples of Glint children’s toothpaste as the jolly, padded, fur-clad Eva Beaver. Children seemed to like her. The feeling was not mutual.
They reminded her of school, which had sapped what little confidence she had to begin with. If her parents had not given her such a stupid name, maybe teachers—and later her classmates—would not have sniggered at the contrast it raised with this mousy beige child with a mouthful of teeth. Her classwork was unexceptional. She was the last to be chosen for teams in sports lessons but, thanks to a sympathetic drama teacher, she participated in every school play. On stage, she could be anyone she wanted to be.
She had dreamed of an acting career. Once, she had believed her selection for the Glint toothpaste ads was a step nearer to her dream. But if that furry Eva Beaver costume sometimes felt like a straitjacket, at least she could pay the rent. Beggars with prominent front teeth and squeaky voices could not be choosy about their roles.
“I want a strawberry one. Don’t like mango.”
Eva rooted through her samples.
“Best I can do is raspberry.”
She thrust it at him in a take-it-or-leave-it kind of way. Santa’s elf shepherded the boy towards his father.
“I hope Santa brings you everything you want.”
The father leered. “I wouldn’t mind if he brought you down my chimney, love.”
Santa’s elf maintained a smile until she had bolted the scenery door behind them. She turned to Eva and mimed a gag response.
Eva smiled, “At least that’s something I don’t have to put up with in this outfit.”
It was not something she encountered out of the costume either. Santa pushed back his hood to reveal a head as shiny as Humpty Dumpty’s.
“That’s it for today, bless ‘em. Scott’s in tomorrow. I’m off for a week.”
“Lucky you,” she said, taking off the furry hood with its round beaver ears and furry cheeks that covered hers. “I start at Spencer’s in Warmington the day after tomorrow. I have precisely one child-free day.”
“Oh, I won’t be child-free,” said Santa. “I’m at the children’s hospice tomorrow. Then it is my kiddies’ school Christmas fair and our church on the weekend. Busy month, December. Don’t you love it?”
He headed for the cloakroom humming Jingle Bells. The girl in elf costume smiled.
“He’s our nicest Santa. It has been good working with you, Eva. Have a great Christmas.”
“You too,” she said to the girl’s back, not bothering to correct the name.
She even received mail addressed to Eva Troy. Out of the jumpsuit, she retrieved a large bag from behind the Christmas tree. Pulling out her coat and flat shoes, she stuffed the beaver suit into the bag and headed for home.
Another day, another grotto, another Santa, and another brat.
“Santa doesn’t exist. You’re just some out-of-work actor.”
“Ho, ho, ho,” said Santa. “Very funny, young Joel. Collect your present from the elf through that door.”
The door closed behind the boy.
“…Before I kick you through it.” Santa recalled he was not alone this week and glanced defiantly at Eva Beaver.
She smiled. “Don’t you just hate the little… darlings?”
He relaxed. “You know, I really do sometimes.” They gazed at the door in companionable silence. “All the time,” they said in almost perfect unison.
An elf held back the curtain. “Eva Beaver is visiting Santa today. This is Shelley.” The elf handed over her charge and returned to the queueing goblins.
Santa and Eva ate their sandwiches together in the staff room. She hardly noticed that his face was pinched and his hair receding. She laughed at his impersonations of spoilt princes and princesses and their powerless parents, pleased to have found someone who did not view her aversion to children as unnatural. She told him her dreams of acting, and he told her he would be rehearsing for pantomime over the weekend.
The next day, she wore a touch of mascara on her pale lashes. At closing time, she did what she could to brighten her mousy beige complexion in the cloakroom before she and Santa, whose real name was Ron, went for a drink.
On Thursday morning, she left her door open so that Mewsli could come in while she packed. The landlady’s cat would greet her when she let herself in as if he had been watching for her. He probably did the same with any lodger that stroked him, but she liked the camaraderie.
Tomorrow she would take her suitcase to work and commute home afterward, but she might be too busy to pack tonight.
Thursday was a late-night opening. After closing, Ron walked her back to her digs. Mewsli came to greet them and she bent to stroke the cat before starting up the stairs. At the sound of a yowl and a thump, she turned to see the Mewsli disappearing into the back of the house.
Ron raised his eyebrows as if to say, “What?”
“Actually, Ron… I have a headache. I’d better take a couple of pills and sleep it off, or I won’t be fit for anything tomorrow.”
He stood blankly before turning with thunder in his eyes and barely refrained from slamming the door.
The elves noticed the atmosphere the next day and were jollier than usual to liven it up.
Her friend Ginny worked her shifts in the pub whenever she worked as Eva Beavering. This week, she would cover for Ginny, who was in the chorus of Jack and the Beanstalk at the local theatre.
Ginny wangled her a free ticket and afterward took her backstage to meet the repertory group. She hoped to join them. Her initial nervousness was banished on coming face-to-rump with the back end of Daisy the cow. The front end smiled at her, clutching Daisy ‘s head in his hands while the rear unzipped.
Ron did not look pleased to see her. She restrained a giggle as she flung her taupe silk scarf across her shoulder. “It’s Helen, actually,” she said, taking Ginny’s arm to move on.
Cathy Cade Biography
Cathy Cade is a former librarian who enjoyed solving puzzles in retirement. She began writing to exercise the other side of her brain (the side that can’t find the word she wants) and now has little time for puzzles.
Most of the time, she lives with her husband and dogs, in Cambridgeshire’s Fenland. The rest of the time, they live across a fence from London’s Epping Forest.
Her story-verse, A Year Before Christmas, is available from Smashwords and your local Amazon. Her collection of short stories: Witch Way, and other ambiguous stories can also be purchased from Amazon, and Smashwords along with The Godmother, an alternative Cinderella, (Amazon, and Smashwords) and Pond People about the Mirlings that live in the fishpond (Amazon and Smashwords)
Now it’s your turn
Let’s get this story chat started. Sit down by the fire in your favorite chair with some delicious snacks and something warm to drink. Have fun with the story and each other.
Here are some questions to get you started, but don’t be shy. You don’t have to stick to these questions. Jump right in.
- Why do you think Eva refused to correct people to use her real name?
- What do you think happened between “Eva” and the cat?
- Why did she develop a headache and turn on Ron?
- Where do you think she got the courage to say her real name?
- Do you think the relationship between Ginny and “Eva” important?
Have fun and be safe during the holidays.