What follows is a Christmas story. I have written it for all of the lovely people who read my blog. Thank you all. Wholeheartedly.
They were all worn out and grumpy, and as if she had read his thoughts the stamping started. Glancing down at the drooping antlers and shuffling hooves in front of him, Nils felt a deep anger rising from his stomach. The reindeer had already done five engagements so far, and this last one was a joke. A bloody Care Home! On Christmas Eve, too. He’d had enough at the Football club when that drunk trollop had trodden on the doe’s foot and grazed her leg. Still, the old girl had got her own back by relieving herself all over the trophy room (something which she’d never done before, in Five years of touring). Nils felt his anger turn to sadness as he thought back. It used to be enough to just see them. Hear the bells. Nowadays it was a circus, full of pawing hands and flashing cameras. He’d have quit long ago if he didn’t still love the deer so deeply. Perhaps he still would.
As he led the injured doe to the open doors he glanced up. A red, knitted heart-shaped ornament in the only lit window of the first floor caught his eye, with an incongruous ‘God Jul’ emblazoned across it. It looked old, and was twirling slowly. He was brought back to himself by Astrid hissing at him. Stupid girl. She’d raised the hem of her dress yet again, even though she’d been told not to. They were supposed to be representing the Sami people, not ‘Sausage-hunting’, as Harald had screamed at her on more than one occasion. Following Astrid and the other three deer handlers, he led the doe in to a large room that was filled with impossibly old men and women. Wheelchairs were arrayed like a chessboard, and the nursing staff weren’t even hiding the fact that they were more excited than most of the residents. Only one of the ancient folk seemed remotely aware that five, live reindeer had just come in to the room.
He turned, sensing a gentle pressure on his arm. A petite blonde haired nurse stepped up to him.’Listen Sir, there’s a lady on the first floor, but-‘. She was cut short by a burly, sour-faced woman who drew the blonde lady away, laying in to her with sharp words and gesticulations, all the time giving him saccharine glances. Nils knew a witch when he saw one. Harald, ever the manager, made a beeline for the burly lady, scared (as he always was), that one of the handlers had caused offence and made them liable for some petty thing. The doe rubbed her muzzle against Nils, keen to be with the security of the others ahead. Something caught his eye, though. From the corner of the room the little nurse was beckoning slowly to him, from the inside of a narrow lift. She pointed upwards, and beckoned more urgently. If he hadn’t seen Astrid batting her eyelashes at a muscled, handsome staff-member he’d have ignored her, but it was the final straw. He’d had enough.
Nobody noticed him step backwards, drawing the doe gently back with him. All eyes, as they always were, were riveted on Astrid’s glowing cheeks, cradling the baby fawn in her pale arms. The doe shot him a troubled glance as they stepped in to the lift, but he caressed her ears and patted her shoulder, as he had been instructed do to since he was a boy. The nurse stared fixedly at the witch-boss until the doors slid to a close. She turned her light-blue eyes up to him. ‘Thank you Sir. Thank you. She’ll absolutely love this. Quick, we don’t have long’. The doors pinged open and she walked him down a dim, narrow corridor, with her hand on the sleeve of his jacket. Stopping at the end she turned to him, looked intensely in to his eyes and kissed him fiercely on the lips, before opening a heavy door. The interior of the room was lit with a cosy, orange glow.
The frail old lady in the bed before him looked more like a fragile seagul chick than a woman. Bowed forward with hands clawed in to fists, she seemed to recoil from the soft pillows propping her up. Nils felt an overwhelming sadness for her, and the doe glanced up, as if sensing it. As she turned her head the bells rang out softly, and the old lady turned her head imperceptibly. She smiled. The gnarled hands opened slightly, and a faint clicking sound came from her mouth. The petite nurse stood transfixed, with eyes full of tears. As the clicks got louder Nils watched in wonder as the doe walked to the bed and placed her muzzle between the parchment-thin palms. At the touch of fur, the old lady seemed to unfold, and her eyes opened a little. A large tear rolled down the nurses face. ‘I KNEW she loved reindeers, Sir. I knew she’d love it, but that vindictive bitch said Bodil couldn’t come down in case she ‘made a scene. She’s cruel to the Dementia patients. Especially the advanced cases.’ Her words tumbled out in a rush, and stopped abruptly at the sharp ping of the lift behind them. ‘Well I don’t care if I’m sacked for this, its worth it’. She turned back to the lady, who was now stroking the reindeer, and running her thin fingers along the velvety antlers.
Nils thought fast. His English was pretty good, and he felt more than ready for a fight. As the witch-nurse strode in to the room he met her at the door, cutting her off before she could berate the nurse. Time for some bullshit. ‘ Before you say a word, know this. If you ever. Ever- say or do anything negative to this wonderful nurse, or this lonely woman again, I shall report you to the Care Commission for the eight health contraventions that I have seen so far. My Son is on the Board of Trustees, so do not think I won’t. I have this lady’s contact details already. Now go downstairs immediately and tell my colleagues I shall be with them shortly ‘. The witch turned on her heel and left without a word.
‘Thank you’ was all the nurse could say, before Nils turned again to the woman. Rocking slowly to the melody, she was humming to the doe. In response, the deer had lain her head on to the old woman’s knees, and sat patiently on her haunches. The nurse was wiping more tears from her eyes. ‘I can’t believe this. She’s not made sound for over a year, and we thought her hands were totally immobile. She was a Nanny once, I think’. Nils watched transfixed, listening to the humming. The lady looked visibly younger. Harald materialised like a stain behind him. ‘Nils, we have to go. It’s late, and we need to have words’. Stepping forward, Nils gently took the lady’s hands and held them, whilst guiding the deer backwards. ‘Goodbye’, he whispered. The nurse shook her head sadly. ‘She doesn’t speak, Sir.’ He watched the corner of the lady’s mouth crease in to a wry grin. ‘Tak skal du ha’, she whispered, with a quick wink, before settling back in to her hunched position. The nurse stood, with a wide ‘O’ of a mouth.
Moments later, back in the lift, Nils turned to the nurse. ‘I don’t care if I lose MY job over this. That was so worth it’. Turning to try and placate Harald as the doors opened on the ground floor, he again felt a gentle pressure on his arm. The nurse pointed to another lift. As the doors opened wide, Astrid and the muscly nurse slunk out, both looking very dishevelled and flushed. Harald saw them too, and looked appalled. A lot of were looking at the pair. Nils chuckled. ‘Ahem. Perhaps you should ‘have words’ with Astrid first, Harald, eh?’. Planting a gentle kiss on the nurses forehead, he gently led the doe outside, towards the bright glow from the hay-strewn trailers. Glancing up, the light still shone in Bodil’s room, and the decoration twirled a little faster.
© Tom Tide 2016