After their father died, their mother married the butler, Datty, and that is how he became part of the family. Datty the butler was coincidentally pronounced the same way an upper-class twit might pronounce “daddy”, which, as he had married into the family, he was now. Their father, the butler. One and the same.
“Datty,” Son-of-mine said, “I know what I want for Christmas, Datty.”
“What’s that, Son-of-mine?” Datty said. He was delivering a tray of vanilla snowcones, which is all the children would eat during holiday season.
“Datty, I don’t want presents from S.T.” S.T. was what the children called St. Nick, or Santa Claus.
“Don’t you want presents from S.T.?” Datty asked.
“No, Datty, I don’t,” Son-of-mine said. “And I’ve been a good boy this year, so I don’t want coal.”
“Don’t you want coal, Son-of-mine?” Datty said. “You’ve been a good boy this year.”
“No, Datty, I don’t,” Son-of-mine said. “I don’t want presents from S.T. I want S.T. himself.”
“Make a list,” Datty said. “Check it twice.”
“You do it, Datty. And leave it on the mantel,” Son-of-mine said.
“Yes, Son-of-mine,” Datty sighed, and he wrote the list and put it on the mantel for S.T.
Son-of-mine read the list and laughed. “When S.T. comes down the chimney, won’t he be surprised,” Son-of-mine said to Datty. “He’ll read our list, check it twice, and then he’ll have to wrap himself and leave himself under the tree. Won’t Christmas be über!”
“So über,” Datty agreed. Whatever he might really think, Datty had to agree. He worked for them, after all. Their butler, their father. One and the same.
Mother-of-two was in the kitchen, making a casserole and singing “Downpressor Man” from a Sinéad O’Connor CD.
“You’ll never guess what Son-of-mine wants for Christmas,” Datty said to her. He set down the empty tray on which had sat snowcones.
“He wants S.T.,” Mother-of-two said. “He’s been talking about it all year, ever since he read about it in a magazine.”
“Doesn’t he know that will never work?”
“He thinks he’s going to get unlimited presents,” Mother-of-two said. “Once he has S.T. captive, S.T. will have to give him everything he wants. It’s really smart.”
“But S.T. is made up!” Datty said. “So actually, he’s not going to get anything.”
“Hmm,” said Mother-of-two. “You’ll have to figure something out, Datty.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Datty said.
“Did you know Denmark claimed the North Pole? Apparently, there’s an underwater ridge that goes all the way out there. So Santa’s Danish. Who’d have thought?
“He’ll probably show favoritism now,” Mother-of-two mused.
“What do you want for Christmas?” Datty asked Daughter-of-mine. She was sitting on the carpet, playing with her tea set. Her dolls rode tanks and her cat wore a bandit mask.
“I want a jigsaw puzzle in the shape of the moon,” Daughter-of-mine said immediately. “And I want string cheese that tastes like spaghetti. And I want a magic featherduster that can make me into a macaroni. And I want shoes that turn blue at night.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Datty said. “So, just to reiterate, you want a jigsaw puzzle…”
“In the shape of the moon,” Daughter-of-mine interrupted.
“In the shape of the moon,” Datty agreed, as he wrote; “and spaghetti-flavored string cheese, and a feather duster that can make you into a macaroni, and shoes that turn blue at night. What do you want from S.T.?”
“That’s between me and S.T.,” Daughter-of-mine said. “Why do you want to know?” she added suspiciously.
“Well, just make sure to make a list and check it twice,” Datty said. “And leave it on the mantel with your brother’s.”
“I’ll put it there on Christmas Eve,” Daughter-of-mine said.
Datty sighed and massaged his eyebrows. “Fine. Do you know what your brother wants?” he asked her.
“Brother-of-mine, Son-of-thine, double trouble!” Daughter-of-mine said. “He wants to kidnap S.T. and take all the presents for himself. He wants none of the other kids to have gifts this year.”
“What are you going to do about it?” Datty asked her.
“I’m going to help him,” Daughter-of-mine said. “In exchange for half of everything.”
“We’re going to have a problem,” Datty reported to Mother-of-two. She was still listening to her Sinéad O’Connor CD. This track was “Obadiah”.
“What’s that?” Mother-of-two said, putting down her rolling pin and looking disturbed.
“Son-of-mine only wants to kidnap S.T. for Christmas,” Datty said. “Daughter-of-mine wants all this nonsense I wrote down, and won’t tell me what she wants from S.T. She’s going to put out her list on Christmas Eve only. And then she’s going to help Son-of-mine kidnap S.T. in exchange for half of everything. By the way, dear, speaking as your husband now, what do you want for Christmas?”
“Funny you should ask,” Mother-of-two said. She pulled a list out of her sleeve and gave it to Datty. “This is a list of the things I want. As the butler, I want you to pick them up for me. Those ones near the top are the ones I want to give: to my husband, to my children. Those ones near the bottom are the things I want my husband to buy me. You can tell him, but he’ll probably just tell you to buy them.”
Datty’s face contorted until it resembled a Picasso painting. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” he said. He took the list stiffly and tucked it into a pocket of his one-piece butler suit.
Then he walked out of the house and got on his bike and rode into town. “Christmas is now completely spoiled!” he said.
He was, after all, both husband and butler. One and the same.
Daughter-of-mine took her ear from the glass and the glass from the door. “Well, well, well,” she said to Son-of-mine, who was standing next to her, waiting for the report.
“What did you hear?” he asked her. “I mean, I heard it too, because the door’s not that thick. But.”
“They’re going to try some tricks on us. We need to outsmart them,” Daughter-of-mine said.
“I’ll follow Datty,” Son-of-mine said, “and see what he does.”
“I’ll follow Mother-of-two,” Daughter-of-mine said.
Son-of-mine hopped on his tricycle and followed Datty’s bicycle tracks through the snow and into town. He stayed just far enough out of sight that Datty never saw him, and Datty was angry enough that he didn’t notice the tricycle tracks wherever his bike had been. This is what Son-of-mine saw:
Datty went to the toyshop and ordered a custom jigsaw puzzle in the shape of the moon. He went to the supermarket and special ordered flavored string cheese. He bought a feather duster and a bag of macaroni noodles, and he went to a shoe shop and bought shoes that were blue all the time, not just at night.
Then he went to the costume shop and bought a red tuxedo and a red hat and a lot of fake ermine fur. Then he went to the yarn store and bought a dozen skeins of white yarn and a crochet hook.
Then he bound all that junk to the back of his bike with twine and rode home. Son-of-mine rode his tricycle home through the alleys and arrived first.
Meanwhile, this is what Daughter-of-mine saw:
Mother-of-two waited for Datty to leave the house. Then she listened at the door through a glass in case anyone was outside, which someone was, but they weren’t making any noise. Then she turned off the Sinéad O’Connor CD because she didn’t really like it, and went upstairs to her room. From a drawer in her desk she produced her Will, and with a fountain pen she struck all mentions of Datty from it. Then she burned her marriage certificate and all of Datty’s employment records. She began to sob and laugh maniacally at the same time.
“She’s disturbed!” Daughter-of-mine whispered to herself. It was true. Mother-of-two had stopped taking her medications, prescribed when their father had mysteriously died. Now she had nightmares, nightmares about being the one who pushed their father into the industrial meat grinder where he’d died.
Mother-of-two returned to the kitchen and continued to sob. She filled a pitcher full of tears and added lemon juice to it. Then she turned on the Sinéad O’Connor CD again and sang, “Vampire”.
Christmas Eve came, and Mother-of-two served the family her special lemonade. Daughter-of-mine and Son-of-mine, neither of them, drank it, and of course Mother-of-two didn’t drink it, so Datty had to drink it all.
Then Mother-of-two retired for the night and Datty washed the dishes, and the children were left to themselves, though presumably they’d go to bed—though presumably, they wouldn’t sleep very much, in anticipation of the arrival of S.T.
Datty hummed as he worked. He hummed because he knew a terrible secret: Nobody was getting any gifts this year. Not him, not Mother-of-two, certainly not those two spoiled brats he’d waited on year after year and who were now, legally, his children. He’d gone back into town and canceled all the special orders.
He hummed because he knew that in a few hours, S.T. would come down the chimney and ruin all their hopes and dreams.
Datty finished the dishes and went into the living room to stoke the fire. He wanted to keep it burning, so that the children would definitely go to bed. He reasoned that, as long as they stayed up, so did the fire, and S.T. wouldn’t be able to come.
He paused in the doorway to the room.
The fire burned merrily in the hearth. The strands and strands of Christmas lights twinkled. Glinting ornaments hung from the Christmas tree. The cookies and milk Datty had placed there earlier sat on the mantel beside the two wish lists. But something was distinctly wrong. His butler sense told him so.
He tiptoed into the room and took a poker from the rack, held it out in front of him like a sword. Then he saw it: the eyes.
Son-of-mine sat between the cushions of the couch, watching the fireplace. He held a slingshot in one hand, made of a forked stick and a rubber band. The shot was a lump of coal that S.T. had brought him another year.
“Son-of-mine,” Datty said in his most scolding voice, “you’re to go to bed.”
“I’m waiting for S.T.,” Son-of-mine said from between the cushions. “I can’t go to bed.”
Datty pulled all the cushions off the couch and threw them into the fire. “Now S.T. will see you, and he won’t deliver any presents.”
“I don’t want presents,” Son-of-mine said. “I want to capture him.”
“He won’t fall for that,” Datty said, “because he always comes down the chimney upside down, and peeks out into the room ahead of time to make sure it’s all clear.”
“Really?” Son-of-mine said. He sprang from the couch, tucked the slingshot into his pyjamas pocket, and allowed Datty to shepherd him off to bed. “What else does S.T. do?”
“What do you mean?”
“If he comes down upside down, how does he get out of the chimney?”
“Why, he does a handstand,” Datty said.
“And then what?”
“How does he know what presents to bring?”
“He reads your list and then gets the appropriate presents out of his sack,” Datty said.
“I see. And when does he eat the cookies and milk?”
“After he’s set the presents under the tree. He needs the sugar rush to do so much work at night.”
“I see. And when does he stuff our stockings?”
“Just before he leaves,” Datty said. “You’re full of questions this year.”
“Yes,” Son-of-mine said. “Goodnight, Datty. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Son-of-mine,” Datty said, and he shut the door.
Downstairs, Datty put the poker back in the poker rack when his butler senses went off again.
“Daughter-of-mine,” Datty said, “where are you?”
Daughter-of-mine appeared in the doorway, holding her cat. It was still wearing the bandit mask.
“What are you doing up so late?” Datty said. “You’re supposed to be in bed.”
“I’m waiting for you to go to bed,” Daughter-of-mine said. “I don’t want anyone reading my wish list, except for S.T.”
“I’m going to be up quite late tonight,” Datty said. He walked over the bookshelf and took down a thick and boring book. “See this boring book? I have to read the whole thing before I can go to bed.”
“That’s okay,” Daughter-of-mine said. She set up a sleeping bag on the cushionless couch and snuggled up inside. “I’ll sleep here tonight.”
Datty ground his teeth. “Fine,” he said, and he took the boring book and left the room.
A couple hours later, long after midnight, Datty tiptoed back into the room and surveyed it. Daughter-of-mine sat bolt upright, back to him.
“Still awake?” Daughter-of-mine asked. “Don’t worry, I am, too. If you finished your long and boring book, you can put it back now.”
Datty smiled grimly. He looked from the back of Daughter-of-mine’s head to her wish list on the mantel and back to her. “Goodnight, Daughter-of-mine,” he said.
“Goodnight, Datty,” Daughter-of-mine said.
Datty waited another hour and listened at the doorway, until he was sure Daughter-of-mine had fallen asleep. Then he went to the broom cupboard, where he had stashed his red tuxedo. In secret, late at night, he’d sewn all the edges with the fake ermine fur, and made himself a hat, and crocheted a beard with the white yarn. He put all these on now and slipped out the front door, climbed the drainpipe to the roof, and, feet crunching in the snow, approached the chimney.
“Drat,” he said. It was still smoking. With Daughter-of-mine there, he hadn’t been able to put out the fire.
Datty put on a pair of gloves and took a screwdriver out of his pocket. He unscrewed the cap on the chimney and put on a pair of goggles and peered down the chute. “What an idiotic way to get into people’s houses,” he said. “Honestly.”
He tossed a heavy sack full of beans down the chimney, hoping that would put out the fire. Instead, the sack got stuck halfway and Datty had to crawl in after it, holding on to the top of the chimney with his fingertips while he kicked at the bag of beans.
Presently, in a shower of soot, the beans shifted enough for the bag to come loose, and it fell and put out the fire, and sprayed ash and sparks into a smoked-out living room. Without anything to stand on, Datty suddenly had a lot of weight to support with just his fingers, and he dropped, and landed on the sack.
“Ugh,” he said.
He peered from the hearth to survey the room, and noticed all of Daughter-of-mine’s dolls on the carpet, sitting on their tanks. The barrels of the tanks pointed at the fireplace, where S.T. would come. Daughter-of-mine herself was sound asleep on the couch.
“Close one,” Datty said out loud, but quietly. “This must be why S.T. comes down the chimney upside down.”
He clambered out of the fireplace and cast about for the cookies and milk. Mysteriously, they were now on the far side of the room. Datty’s eyes narrowed, but before he’d taken one step, he noticed the popgun protruding between the branches of the Christmas tree, and felt something sock him in the stomach.
“Got him!” Daughter-of-mine cried triumphantly. Son-of-mine reloaded his popgun and they both took to beating S.T. with plastic baseball bats. When they’d subdued him they tied him up and put him in a cardboard box under the tree, and tied it with a ribbon.
“This is going to be the best Christmas ever!” Daughter-of-mine said.
“Über!” Son-of-mine said.
They hurried to the fireplace and tore open S.T.’s gift sack. The beans spilled into the living room.
“What’s this junk?” Son-of-mine demanded. “All S.T. brought is beans!”
“Never mind,” Daughter-of-mine said. “We have S.T. now. He’ll have to give us whatever we want.”
The next morning, Mother-of-two came downstairs to find the scene of a battle: dolls on tanks, a cat wearing a bandit mask, soot all over the living room, a torn sack leaking beans, and a great big box under the tree.
Daughter-of-mine and Son-of-mine stood proudly at attention, ready to show her what they’d done.
“What’s all this,” she wondered to herself. “And where is Datty?”
To the children she said: “Did S.T. not come this year, little ones?”
“Oh, he did,” Son-of-mine said.
“He sure did,” Daughter-of-mine agreed.
“But he didn’t eat the cookies,” Mother-of-two said.
“No,” Son-of-mine said. “I moved them, to give us more time to capture S.T. Datty explained how it worked: first he comes down the chimney upside down, and when all’s clear, he checks the list and gets the presents from his sack, and then he eats the cookies, and stuffs the stockings, and then he goes back up the chimney.”
“Tada!” Daughter-of-mine cried triumphantly, pulling the ribbon on the cardboard box and revealing…
“He’s dead!” Son-of-mine exclaimed. “S.T. is dead!”
He certainly looked dead.
“We didn’t put any holes in the box,” Daughter-of-mine said. “He must have suffocated!”
“What’s the matter with his beard?” Son-of-mine said. “It looks so…fake.”
He pulled S.T.’s beard off, revealing…
“Datty!” all three of them cried.
“So Datty was S.T.?” Son-of-mine said.
“No wonder he wanted to see the Christmas list,” Daughter-of-mine said. “But little did he know, it’s blank.”
She turned to Mother-of-two. “Speaking of which, where are all our presents?”
“Children, please!” Mother-of-two said. “Your father is dead. You killed him.”
“He’s not our real father,” Son-of-mine said. “Our real father’s dead. He’s just called Datty.”
Mother-of-two began to cry.
“Besides, what’s the big deal if we did kill Datty? It’s no worse than finding out he was S.T.”
“He wasn’t S.T.,” Mother-of-two said. “There is no S.T.! I hope you’re happy now.”
“It’s not like it matters,” Son-of-mine said. “I already knew that. I just wanted to screw things up.”
“I’ll go get you some lemonade,” Daughter-of-mine suggested. She returned with the pitcher. “Now, now, Mother, don’t cry. Everything is going to be fine. You can be our new butler.”
“I should call the police,” Mother-of-two said. “And report this accident.”
“Not so fast,” Son-of-mine said. “If you tell on us, we’ll tell on you. We know what happened with the meat grinder.”
“You can’t know!” Mother-of-two said, as she drank her lemonade. “Wait, this tastes like…” She keeled over.
“Poison,” Daughter-of-mine agreed.
The children looked at each other. Both seemed to be thinking: “Well, now what?”