Exercising the craft—December 16, 2013

By Ekta R. Garg

This is Part 2 of our Christmas-themed story from last week.  For the first part, click here.  Enjoy the latest installment below, readers!

I tried not to fidget.  I didn’t want Mr. C. to think I was some sort of flaky elf who couldn’t even act like an adult.  But—well, I mean, this was the Santa Clause.  We see him down on the factory floor or strolling through the aisles between the tables where we wrap presents, but the only other time I had an occasion to be one-on-one with him was during my interview.

Bet you didn’t know that either.  That elves have to be interviewed before they join the team up here.  And not all of us are born elves.

After meeting me at the elevator, Mrs. C. had taken me to a sitting room where a fire in a stone fireplace kept the room warm.  She invited me to take a seat on the inviting sofa (a beautiful deep maroon) and said, “I’ll just go and get my husband.”  She left me there, alone, trying not to fidget.

I didn’t have to wait long.

“Curtis.”

I heard his voice but held my breath and for a few moments didn’t turn around.  Bowing my head, I whispered an appeal for strength and then held up my head just in time to see Mrs. C. wheel the Man himself toward me in a wheelchair.

“Mr. C!” I exclaimed, jumping to my feet.  “What happened?”

He rearranged the red velvet blanket across his legs.  “Thank you, my dear,” he said over his shoulder.  He turned back toward me.  “I was chasing after my grandson and tripped down the stoop and broke an ankle.”

“Oh my goodness,” I said.  “I’m so sorry about that.  Are you in a lot of pain?”

“Not as much as he’s being one,” Mrs. Clause said with a fond smile toward her husband.

“Easy for you to say,” he said in a grumbling tone.  “Your foot isn’t stuck in some cast that itches like nobody’s business.”

Mrs. Clause just patted his arm.  I got the feeling they’d had this same discussion several times since Mr. C. had broken his ankle.  Seeing them together made me think of—but, no, I couldn’t think of that now.

“So what can I do to help?” I asked immediately to redirect my own attention.

“I’m so glad you asked,” Mr. C. said, perking up immediately.  “The doctor says I need to stay on the ground until at least Valentine’s Day.  So I can’t fly next week, and I was hoping you would step in for me.”

My jaw dropped.  How could he just ask me that as if he was asking whether I wanted a candy cane in my hot chocolate?  This wasn’t some supply run or checking on the reindeer.  He wanted me to take his place in making the Christmas Eve deliveries!  I would have to keep track of everything, be everyone’s boss that night, try to coordinate drop-offs and pickups.

I would have to fly again.  And Mr. C. knew, from my interview five years ago, that I don’t fly.

As if my thinking the words made him recall the interview, I saw sympathy cross his face.

“Curtis, that incident happened more than five years ago.  I realize this is a difficult request to consider, but I don’t think I would want anyone else commandeering my plane.”

“But…but…why me?  There are plenty of elves who have way more experience and seniority.  Plenty of elves who have been on more Night Of shifts than me.  And…well, you already know my history, sir.”

“I know, Curtis, but I’ve been watching you for the last six months or so, and I had already decided I wanted to give you a promotion.  Think of this as a mini test for that promotion.”

I looked back and forth between him and Mrs. Clause, and I didn’t know what to say or even how to feel.  I tried to process what he was telling me.

“So you’re saying that if I don’t fly for you next week, I won’t get the promotion?”

Mr. C. shook his head.  “Not at all.  But I think this experience would be a good way to initiate you into the thought process of your new role.”

I inhaled deeply and let it out nice and slow.  What should I say?  Any elf would jump at the chance to fly Mr. C.’s route.  Sure, it was hard and exhausting, and I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would take to stay on course and not miss anything.  But the prestige of Mr. C. inviting me himself more than made up for all of that.

Still.  I don’t fly.  How could I get around that, regardless of the prestige?

“Curtis, my dear, I think my husband is trying to give you an opportunity to work through your past and give yourself another chance.  Redeem yourself, if you want to think of it that way.”

I looked at Mrs. Clause and thought again of my grandmother.  She even wore the round glasses that most of the pictures in pop culture have of her, and she smiled in such a kind, encouraging way that I almost said yes right then and there.  Then I remembered what they were asking me to do, and I turned to Mr. C.

“But, sir, how can I fly a plane—and it’s not even a normal one, it’s a supersonic jet!—when I’m so afraid of flying?  Of heights?”

“Are you afraid of flying and of heights, Curtis, or are you afraid of your past?” Mr. C. asked gently.

I inhaled deeply once again.  He had me there.  Going up in a plane would bring me front and center with my life from five years ago.  Going up in a plane that I had to control, where I had to take full responsibility for the safety of others—that would practically make me relive the nightmare.

“I don’t know, sir,” I finally said.  “But I think you have the wrong elf for the job.  I’m sure I can suggest some of my friends who would be—”

“There is no other elf for the job,” Mr. C. said in a way that told me he wouldn’t listen to any more arguments.  “You’re going on the Christmas run next week.”

I hung my head.  What choice did I have?  I couldn’t exactly leave the North Pole, because I really had nowhere else to go.  I would just have to face the plane and my past and take the consequences, whatever they might be.

To be continued…

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