they reckon it was owl-strike, or a collision with one of the bigger witches. the sleigh jack-knifed, shearing the traces. this was four, five hundred feet up. they found the wreck a couple of miles above the saw mill. a rorschach of struts and runners, the man himself face-down on a pillow of red snow and a shrike’s larder of elves impaled on broken branches overhead. the sacks had split and the forest was peppered with gifts, many lodged in the trees like bright, little birds’ nests. the reindeer must have ridden out the turbulence, banked and come back to find their lives suddenly meaningless. kenny found them standing around, waiting for a whole string of things that weren’t going to happen.
we kept a couple in the paddock next to the goats. we called them prancer and vixen, but this was a guess. we thought the children might like them, but they stirred up too many bad memories. i liked the arctic strangeness of them but i don’t think it was a mutual feeling. they died in june, six days apart. angie said it was heatstroke but the vet couldn’t find anything wrong.
kenny cut the antlers off and screwed them to varnished pine shields and we hung them in the hall where the kids competed with one another throwing socks and underpants onto them.
i dream about it at night sometimes. not the crash. the gifts, mostly. i guess they’ve gone now. broken, rusted, earthed-over. but when i’m sleeping i see a milky way of chemistry sets and puppies and biros that write in six colours arcing through the black sky over the town. and i feel, for the duration of the dream at least, that spicy fire-crackle of childhood winters and i know that everything is going to be ok.
then i wake up.