Rudolph the reindeer was grazing late at night in the North Pole Green house. Christmas was less than a month away and the elves had switched his feed to a hybrid high protein and carb wheatgrass. He had to put on as much weight as he could, since he would need all the energy reserves he could get to make it through C-Day. Outside, the almost-dawn of the northern night cast soft glow on the horizon, backlighting the elf village, the toy factory and the Red House. Every roof was covered with a thick layer of snow. Rudolph looked up for a moment and sighed. “Same shit, different year,” he said. Reluctantly, he leaned back down to the grassy floor and continued to feed. Then he heard the rustling of the insulating flaps that hang above the green house door.
“There you are,” said a slurred voice from behind him. “You weren’t with the others, so I thought I find my main-deer and see how he’s doing!”
“I’m cool, Santa,” said Rudolph through a mouthful of grass. “I’ll be over at the stable in a little bit.” But the Man in Red wasn’t listening. Instead, he was looking out at the horizon while fumbling with the cap of a flask he had pulled from his inside pocket. St. Nick was a bit tipsy. And when he drank, he got all… happy.
“Isn’t it wonderful, Rudy?” asked Santa with eyes that glimmered with nostalgia and inebriation. “Soon we will be crossing the world, racing against time on a an eternal quest to bring joy to little boys and girls.” He took another sip of his flask. Rudolph’s animal olfactory picked up the scent of Schnapps from across the room. “Just think,” Santa continued, “on Christmas morning millions of nice children will look under their trees and find exactly the gifts they’ve been wanting all season. And all because of us.”
“They won’t find any Nintendo Wiis,” Rudolph mumbled between bites of wheatgrass. The comment briefly stifled the Yule tide of glee that was a drunken Santa Clause.
“Yes, you’re right. The Backorder from Nintendo probably won’t get here in time. But there are many other presents that have made it here and with any luck the Elves in the Tech Division will be able to fully reverse engineer the new ipods. Christmas will still be magical for all the world’s children.” Santa was still looking through the greenhouse’s wall of glass, so he did not notice Rudolph’s ears perk up. Nor did he see the annoyed grimace on the head reindeer’s fuzzy face.
“Why do you always say that,” asked Rudolph.
“Say that we deliver to all the world’s children when you know we don’t?”
“Well … they, um… those other children, they…”
“Well, they don’t … believe in me. I can’t deliver presents to kids who don’t believe in me.” Rudolph, hearing this, became more upset.
“Don’t give me that. I’ve been through the Naughty/Nice List archive. We’ve delivered to George Carlin’s kids. We brought Elian Gonzales a damn Monopoly Board game. As if the irony wasn’t enough. Those kids don’t believe in you. But they get presents. Penn and Teller had to put “Do not enter” signs on their chimneys just to get you to stop stealing their cookies and disrupting the belief systems of their families. So come off it. The whole time I’ve been doing C-Day with you, we haven’t once delivered anywhere in Africa that wasn’t South Africa. We’ve never seen India. We’ve never seen China. And we order half our presents from those places. Just come out and say it, Santa: you don’t think those kids matter.”
Santa was flustered. “That’s not true, Rudy. You know me, I love all children. We just don’t have the resources to deliver to everybody. The world population has gotten a lot bigger than it used to be. A lot of elves have been leaving because of the melting going on here at the Pole. We have to make some tough decisions.”
“So you just decide to deliver presents to the children of the most wealthy nations in the world? Yeah, that does seem like a hard choice.”
“Now that’s not fair, Rudy. Europe is where I got my start. I have to stay faithful to my roots. I can’t desert the places that got me started. The best I can do is try to deliver to more and more places. You know I’ve been trying to get Mrs. Clause to put on a Magic Suit and deliver on C-Day as well. That way we can cover more ground.”
“Whatever Santa,” said the now pissed off reindeer. “Everybody knows Mrs. Clause just got tired of being your housewife and servant. We all know she’s been reading up on feminism. You’re just trying to give her something to do so she doesn’t leave ...” Rudolph trailed off as he saw sadness creep into Santa’s reddish face. After a pause he said, “Santa, I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to …”
“No,” said the defeated Joy-bringer. “It’s okay. I guess it’s no secret that Mrs. Clause and I are having problems. And I haven’t really had to face up to it for anyone. All the elves and the other reindeer just look the other way. I’m the king of this world, after all. What made you want to call me out?”
Rudolph breathed a long sigh. He wondered if he should reveal the secret of his insight to this, the man who he resented the most here on the top of the world. Fuck it, he thought.
“You remember the times before I ran C-Day? When I was just a no-name reindeer with a funny nose. Those were hard days for me. All the reindeer in the stable called me ‘tampon face.’ When I was sleeping, they would tie my horns to a stable post and I would miss breakfast trying to get myself untangled. They hated me because I was different. For no other reason than a funny colored, bio-luminescant nose. It sucked. But then C-day came and it was too foggy for them to see. So you put me in the reigns. Everything changed for me that day. Overnight, I was loved and venerated. My difference was celebrated and it was everything that I ever wanted. Until I realized I never actually got it.”
“But the reindeer shouted out with glee!” Santa interjected.
“I know what the damn song says. But it’s all lies. They suddenly ‘loved’ me because of your favor. That was a show that they put on and you and the elves were convinced by it. Even I was for a time. But eventually I came to see that they resented me. They were jealous. Suddenly the quality in me that spawned ill will was the most valuable. Enough to put me at the head of the sleigh. They hated it. But they know that the North Pole is a place of joy. They saw what went down between you and Jack Frost. So they praised me in public and simply ignored me in the stables. You can barely hear praise that faint. You cared about me because I could light the darkness and they cared about me because your kingdom demands nothing less. That’s why I don’t eat with them to this day. None of them can look me in the eyes.”
A long silence followed, as Santa considered Rudolph’s story. Having poured out his heart, the reindeer held his head downward and closed his eyes. Almost everything had been revealed.
“Rudolph. I’m sorry. I’m just so sorry. I had no idea. Maybe I should talk to the reindeer, maybe I can…”
“No, don’t,” Rudolph interrupted. There is no need. I think it just might be time for me to move on. Maybe leave in the next elf migration.”
“No, I need you here, C-Day…”
“It’s not about what you need anymore. I… I’m done.”
Santa turned back to the horizon and looked long into the sky. Finally, he said, “I guess there’s nothing I can do to stop you. I just hope you know that I’ll always care about you.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Rudolph as he walked toward the greenhouse door.
At the threshold, he paused. Slowly, he turned back toward the Man in Red. “Hey, Santa. Why do all those people in the Netherlands think that you bring presents with the help of 8 black men?”
“Yeah,” said Santa. “I knew somebody would ask me about that sooner or later.”