I was going to wait a couple of weeks to publish this — but I can’t wait! 🙂
Here’s a new short story for Christmas, all about how Mrs Claus manages her side of the family business. (about 2000 words)
Mrs Claus, MBA
by Anne Marie Lutz
Ada Claus dropped her briefcase on the floor and went to warm her hands at the crackling fire. No matter the season, there was always a fire in the hearth here at home. She kicked off her pumps and walked barefoot through the soft carpet towards the bedroom.
It had been a long day. She’d gotten special permission to hop a flight into the military airport at Alert, the closest airport to home. Santa had sent Rudolph and the sleigh to bring her the rest of the way. Now Ada was exhausted from travel. It had been worth it though, to attend the seminar on Innovation in the 21st Century at her alma mater. And to share a few drinks and laughs with her old friends from MBA school.
As she was about to enter the bedroom, she froze. There was something new on the desk in the corner of the den. Santa’s snow globe collection had been replaced by a desktop computer, candy-cane screensaver running as if someone had just left it. The whole setup sparkled with the telltale glitter of conventional electronics running on the magical North Pole power source.
She wiggled the mouse, and the screen saver vanished to show what looked, at first glance, like a spreadsheet. But the screen scrolled up, data updating from some source Ada didn’t recognize. It had columns of names, and dates. Country of residence. A tally of who’d been naughty and who’d been nice.
The screen recorded each deed in a glowing font. Jacob stole his sister’s doll and put it in the dog house. Galina drew on Alexei with permanent marker. But, Gabriela helped her papa bring in firewood. Hasina finished her homework before dinner.
For advanced analysis by Santa later, there were notes about extenuating circumstances. Altan stole food from the school kitchen. But he had no food for dinner at home. Ella hit her sister. She was angry because mama said she couldn’t go to her friend’s birthday party. Ki trespassed in his father’s pottery studio, and broke a valuable piece intended for a client. But, his dream was to learn to craft the beautiful pots, and it had been an accident.
Troubled, Ada turned away. The machine kept scrolling, ticking, calculating, surveilling.
She unpacked and went to bed without eating any dinner. The computer hummed in the den.
Santa eventually tiptoed in, trying not to wake her, but he was a big man and there was no sleeping through him getting into a comfortable position in the antique sleigh bed. She hugged him, glad to see him even though her mind was troubled. He hugged her back and gave her a kiss, and she fell asleep curled into him beneath the pile of bright quilts.
Ada never got tired of making cookies. So the next morning, breakfast was eggs, fruit, and gingerbread cookies.
As soon as Santa put down his coffee, she set aside her tablet showing the morning business headlines and said: “Now Santa, what have you done?”
“Noticed, did you? It’s a pretty cool setup. I hired a tech wizard to program it for us!”
Santa recognized that sigh, clearly. “But I thought you’d like this! You’re always trying to improve our processes around here. You were the one who wanted me to use that fancy software to analyze our Christmas route!”
“That was so you’d get done in time, dear. Remember how those kids almost caught you in Seattle? And the early-morning television news crew in Baja California?”
“The thing is,” Santa said, “It worked. We get done earlier now. Rudolph and the other reindeer haven’t been so exhausted. And we haven’t ended up on the 6 am morning traffic report since then, either! You were right. You’re a genius!”
Ada smiled. “Thank you, dear.”
He stepped around the little table and leaned down to give her a hug. “So I thought I’d surprise you by automating our list-keeping process.”
Ada frowned. “Tell me about it.”
He sat back down. “Well, the tech wizard – his name’s Bill – told me about some cool applications for internet-connected technology. And I thought, you know how I sit by the fire every night and make my List? The one that tells me if the boys and girls have been naughty or nice all year? It takes a long time, and I don’t dare miss anyone. Why can’t the internet do it?”
“I’m not sure how the internet can do that.”
“It’s easy! Bill won’t tell me the details – says it’s proprietary – but he’s hooked up this system to our North Pole magic power source. It keeps a running total of what’s going on. And then adds it up and analyzes it, so by Christmas I’ll know exactly who’s been good and who’s been naughty! It’s such a time-saver.”
“What do you think you’ll do with all that free time?”
“Eat more of your gingerbread cookies, dear. Or help out with the toy trains.” He wiggled his fingers as if longing to get to work on some hands-on toymaking. “I’ve got some great ideas for those trains. Or even a self-driving toy car, maybe!”
Ada read the business news, as she did every day. After she made some changes in their investments, Ada sat down to design another Christmas tree. They pretty much had a tree up all year round; this was Christmastown after all. Her favorite was the arty one decorated with living birds of paradise, but that one only lasted a short time of course before the decorations flew away. Right now she was working on an eight-foot tree that would be sculpted entirely from peppermint candy.
The new computer hummed and glowed in the corner of the den. It was supposed to be unobtrusive, but Ada couldn’t help but think it was watching her. Just as somehow, it was watching all the boys and girls in the world and transmitting back information about whether they’d been good or bad that day.
“Santa, who is watching all those children to get that information?” Ada asked that night as they sat in front of the fire. Ada was analyzing production input spreadsheets for toymaking, and Santa, who would usually be working on his list, was eating potato chips out of the bag and scrolling through the television guide discontentedly.
“What? I don’t know.”
“How do you decide if the children are naughty or nice? You don’t watch everything they do.”
“Of course not. I’d have to watch all day, every day. Even North Pole magic wouldn’t allow me to do that. I’d be worn down to a sliver of myself in no time.” He patted his belly.
“Then, how do you know?”
“I just … do. It’s part of being Santa, don’t you know.” He stroked his long white beard and frowned. “But it’s possible I miss things.”
She fixed him with a determined stare. “I don’t like it.”
“Bill says it’s catching everything. They can’t filch a peanut from a bowl without the new machine recording it.” He looked troubled.
Ada was silent for a moment, letting him think. Santa was a little slow sometimes, but good at heart. It was one reason she’d married him, all that long time ago.
“But I thought you were in favor of progress,” he burst out. “You’re a businesswoman. You wanted to optimize our route, and it worked! And you wanted the elves to cross-train on making different kinds of toys, and — ”
“They were getting so bored, poor dears. They seem much happier now, and the toys seem more magical, somehow, don’t they?”
“And you pointed out the reindeer could double-check the deliveries while they were waiting. On a tablet!”
“Well, we don’t want any more mistakes like the one three years ago, when we gave little Sally a dolly instead of a doll.”
“I was tired,” Santa mumbled, flushing with embarrassment.
“And you had every right to be,” Ada said. “We fixed the problem, and now she has both! It’s just that I see problems with accomplishing our mission statement, and I want to make us more efficient. But this machine — ”
“It’s not right, is it?”
She shook her head.
“But it’s better than I am!”
“Is it? Love, what do you do with the List you make?”
“You know that.”
“Yes, but tell me.” She bit into a gingerbread cookie from the plate on the side table. It was sweet and soft, one of her better efforts.
“It’s the way I keep track of who’s naughty and who’s nice.”
“It’s a lot of work, you know.”
“I know. You work on it most evenings.”
“It’s not like I’m Odin,” he said. “He had Huginn and Muninn. No effort there. They just flew out – and they flew back. Told him everything. No need for pen and paper at all!”
“Would you like a chocolate chip cookie? I think there are some in the kitchen. Maybe a beer?”
Santa smiled. “Beer does go well with your chocolate chip cookies, Ada.”
She came back from the kitchen with a plate of chocolate chip cookies and two frosty mugs, foam rising over the rim.
“Let me ask again, Santa. What do you do with all that information?”
“Bill says it’s mission-critical! It tells me who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.”
She smiled at the answer that was not really an answer. “You don’t use it.”
“I do!” He hushed her.
“Fiddlesticks! Who’s going to know? It’s not like you’re Sinterklaas, after all.”
“That bastard!” Santa glowered. “With his candy for good children and broom to spank the bad ones. Like there are any bad children anyway!”
“I think you have it!” Ada beamed at her husband.
“Well, what do you do with the List? The one you spend most evenings working on.”
“I keep track of who’s nice and who’s naughty, of course! It’s in the job description.”
“And what do you do with that information?”
“I use it … on Christmas Eve?”
“Ach, no you don’t. You’ve never given a child a lump of coal or a spanking in your life.”
He flushed again. “Well, don’t let anyone else find out.”
“Why not? Why don’t you give the bad children a lump of coal?”
Santa got to his feet and waved his arms. “Because there are no bad children! Not one who’s bad at heart. Not one who deserves a lump of coal. Or a spanking. Or to be — ” He glowered – “Taken away to Spain by Zwarte Piet. What a thing!”
“Yes,” Ada said. “Spain is all very well. I’ve enjoyed our deliveries there, a beautiful country. But not if you’d been stolen from your home and taken there, I should think.”
She sipped her beer. “So if there are no bad children, why watch them and monitor them at all?” She held out a screen print, showing that Alice had given her cookie to her baby brother but Jenn in Norway had stolen a few kroner from her mother’s purse.
“You’re saying I don’t need the computer,” Santa said.
“But I don’t want to go back to sitting here making the List every night. There’s a whole world out there! I could help with the toy trains. I could write a novel – the stories I could tell, Ada! We could take a vacation somewhere warm. We never go anywhere warmer than North Dakota, except on the big night.”
“So don’t bother,” Ada said.
Santa sat there for a few moments, sipping his beer. The foam sparkled on the ends of his mustache. “That MBA has given you some odd ideas,” he finally said.
“What? The list process takes up lots of time, and you don’t use it. Because as you said, there are no bad children. So, let’s go to Hawaii instead. I’ve always wanted to.”
“Okay then. I’ll tell Bill in the morning.”
“And please, delete all those awful surveillance files.”
“Very well. Now come here, Ada. Put down those spreadsheets and come sit with me a while?” He patted the space beside him in the big easy chair, with the fire crackling cozily at his feet.
She smiled at him. And she did.