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A sign of the times

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“But will he know, Mammy? Will he know?”
“Of course, he’ll know Oran.”
“But how will he know, Mam?”
“Because Santa knows everything, sweetheart.”

Laura sighed, unwrapped another cup from its bed of newspaper and put it on the counter before moving the empty box into the hall. There had been three months of indecision before the previous owners had finally agreed close the deal on this house that she had set her heart on. She wasn’t sure it had been worth all the stress. Only three days to Christmas; would she ever get this stuff unpacked?

Typically there had been a crisis in Mike’s office and he had to go, leaving her to a thumping headache and shouts of glee from the bedroom in the attic where twins Oran and Áine tested the durability of the bunks until there was a loud thump and the bellowing voice of Rosy, the youngest. Finding milk in the fridge was the easy part of making breakfast. Locating the cereal proved much more difficult. It eventually turned up in the box where video games had been packed, along with two small pairs of slippers and a half eaten sandwich. The kettle had been discovered before they retired the night before but sadly not until after, in desperation rather than celebration, they had opened a bottle of red wine and toasted one another at achieving their goal.

She felt a tug at the end of her skirt. Rosy held up her arms for a cuddle and Laura abandoned the unpacking and, with the toddler in her arms, clambered between the packing cases and into the sitting room. The old furniture had settled in very well. She had been afraid it would look shabby, but no, the tan leather shone invitingly. The removal men had placed the Christmas Tree in the window. She would move that into the porch as soon as Mike came home, that’s if she could find the lights. Her spirits sank again at the thought of all there was still to be done.

Oran clumped into the room, in a pair of his father’s shoes, closely followed by Áine who had found, of all things, a broken plastic flowerpot on which she was beating time with a kitchen spoon. Laura’s head began to thump again.

“Are you sure he’ll know where to find us, Mam? Are you sure?” Oran was obsessed with his fear of being overlooked. “Of course he will, darling.” She wondered indeed if Santa Claus would find them. Things had been so chaotic these past few days. There were still a lot of boxes to be unpacked, things to be accounted for. Rosy escaped from her arms and joined Áine who had run over and stuck her head up the chimney, checking on its width and girth. Sprinkles of soot descended onto the marble fireplace, before Áine’s head reappeared, her curls now peppered with black.

Just then the doorbell rang. Visitors in on top of all this mess! Her spirits sank again. Wiping her sudden tears on the cuff of her old cardigan she headed for the big mahogany door. Outside were her friends Gail and Jenny. “What’s this, what’s this?” boomed Jenny as she whisked Áine into her arms and headed for the kitchen to repair the damage from the soot. Before Laura knew what was happening she was sipping a steaming mug of coffee, her only chore to issue instructions to her friends as they unpacked and put all the things away where they should be. Pre-cooked dinners had been popped into the oven, and the children bathed and shining and watching TV by the time their Daddy arrived home, and Laura had recovered her optimism. Oran, however, was still worrying. As Mike brought them upstairs to bed, Laura could hear the child’s high-pitched whine, “But are you sure he’ll know, Daddy? Are you really sure?” This was followed by Áine’s matter of fact but pessimistic, “He’ll probably fly right on past, up to our old house and leave things there. Don’t worry.” There was another wail of anguish.

For the second time that day, the doorbell rang. Laura pulled the door wide open to the frosty night air. Standing on the step was pretty young woman, with twinkling eyes and a big smile.

“I’m Louise. I live just over there. Don’t worry, I won’t come in. But I saw you move in last night and thought you might need this.” She handed a wooden sign to Laura. “We came here to live two years ago at this time of year. This was invaluable.” With a cheery ‘Merry Christmas’, she turned on her heel and was gone.

Laura looked at the sign she had been given. In big, big letters it said, “SANTA PLEASE CALL HERE” – and he did!