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‘FOUR DAYS LEFT UNTIL CHRISTMAS DAY,
THE WHOLE FAMILY’S GRUMPY
WHAT WILL SANTA SAY?
CAN YOU ALL FIX IT, OR IS IT TOO LATE?
WILL THERE EVEN BE CHRISTMAS?
OH, I JUST CAN’T WAIT!’
The note lay on the table between Mum, Dad, and James. Damien the elf sat with a pen tucked under his arm and that week’s page from Dad’s diary, which had been neatly ripped out, sat on his lap. The 25th of December was scribbled over with red pen and question marks surrounded it, the paper was torn slightly in places from how hard the pen had been pressed down.
Lola was watching TV in the front room, the annual showing of The Snowman was usually a family affair but she was happy enough on her own with her cuddly Snowdog and a bowl of toffee popcorn.
“It has to be one of us,” said Mum wearily. “And whoever it is, needs to stop.”
Dad sighed deeply and rubbed his face, “Well it’s certainly not been me. I’ve not done anything with it, despite accusations from all quarters. I mean, I bought it – but only because you said you thought it would be fun for Lola. It was your thing, other than that.”
“It’s not me. It’s never been me. Not the recorder or my bag or anything. Well, apart from the day with the apple but I only did that because…” James stopped, realising he had never mentioned the broken pen pot to anyone.
“…Because?” Dad prompted.
James looked at the table and shrugged. He’d been in enough trouble for nothing already, without adding Donald Duck murder to the list.
“Because what? I promise we won’t be angry, James, we just want this to stop. So we can get on with Christmas properly,” said Mum gently.
“Because the room was such a mess. I went downstairs to play on my Xbox before anyone else got up and when I went in the front room it was destroyed. The coffee table was on its side, the fruit was all over the floor, cushions everywhere and…” James took a deep breath. “And your pen pot was smashed on the floor, Dad. In three pieces.”
Mum put her hand over Dad’s to stop him from interrupting and offered James a weak smile as encouragement to continue.
“I thought maybe Lola had done it. That she’d knocked the pot and broken it and remembered you shouting at me about blaming the elf for something I’d done to get out of trouble. I figured she thought making the whole room a mess and dumping the elf in the middle of the dropped pens would cover it up. I didn’t want her to get in trouble so I tidied up and put him in the fruit bowl instead.”
Dad grunted. “And the pen pot?”
“The Super Glue in the fridge. I did my best, but one side’s a bit wonky if you look closely. I’m sorry.” To his horror, James felt his voice catching in his throat and he was briefly afraid that he was going to cry.
“That was kind of you,” said Mum. Dad nodded his agreement, though he was clearly still cross about Donald Duck’s fate.
James whispered, “I thought you knew.”
“What do you mean?”
“The note with Lola’s broken recorder. The first one. It said ‘Fix this then’ or something. I thought that was you telling me you knew I’d mended the pot.”
Dad inhaled sharply and looked at Mum, concerned.
“No! I just found that, I thought it was you being cruel to Lola.” She swallowed. “Steve?”
“I wasn’t even in the house, remember. I was… working late.”
They all looked at the little toy elf and then at each other. After a moment Dad stood up, picked up the elf and walked out of the room.
James heard the back door open and then the distinct clatter of the dustbin lid.
Dad came back in and they all went to join Lola to watch the last of The Snowman together as normal.