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Robin Detje
translation by Lucy Renner Jones

 

A short story about the Christmas wars for older children. National Enquirer exclusive calendar with Santa Claus bearing a war medal!

 

Snow is falling all around. The boy waits. There’s a knock at the door. It’s Santa. Santa is covered in blood and is carrying a chainsaw. The boy grows frightened when he sees him and starts to cry. Then Santa says: Don’t be afraid boy. It’s me, your father.

The boy cries his eyes out. Everything that is touched by his tears turns to milk chocolate.

Santa Claus and the boy sit together. The boy has had his present. It’s a chainsaw. The boy cries and they eat milk chocolate until they feel sick. Then there’s another knock at the door. It’s the boy’s father, returning from war. Then who’s Santa Claus?

And who’s the father? The war was a long, long time ago. This is all way past being true!

–The present thing isn’t as easy as you think, my boy. We Santas have to go through a lot before we can bring you anything. Straight after Christmas, all the Santas gather at the border of Present Land where the presents for the following Christmas are waiting. But only one can cross. There are many thousands at the beginning of the expedition, split up into regiments, battalions, and divisions. Christmas tanks, Christmas cannons and heavy Christmas artillery are all manned. Santas are really tough guys. They march on and on in Christmas jackboots through Present Land. Present Land is defended by really brutal soldiers who wear polar bear skins, ambush the Santas and cut them into little pieces with chainsaws. Santa arms and legs and intestines fly through the air! The Santas fight back like dogs. They shoot their way through. They march on, in spring through humid swamps, in summer across hot taiga, in autumn over blue mountains. But there are too many polar bears. In winter, the Santas are surrounded in a city of ice and one by one, they are ripped apart by their enemies. The rest starve or freeze to death. Blood and my Christmas comrades’ sawn-off arms everywhere! We marched together for a long time. But one by one, I saw them die. I’m the only survivor. They took me prisoner. They tortured me for ten years in a camp. Then I was finally able to escape. While I was on the run, I stole a chainsaw. On foot, I made my way home, back over the mountains, through the taiga, across the swamps.

This chainsaw is my Christmas present to you. I had to travel for many years to give it to you. I wanted to give you a treat. So that you can laugh again. And what do you do, boy? You cry!

–But you didn’t need to do all that, cries the boy.

And once again, the new regiments gather for the next Christmas war on the borders of Present Land to capture presents for ungrateful children.

The chainsaw is big and heavy. The cutting geometry of the chain guarantees him the highest cutting performance and quality. The chain is still plastered with the clotted blood of Santas.

Now the boy and Santa have grown afraid of the chainsaw and have put it back in its chainsaw case. They sit on the engine. It’s a two-stroke milk chocolate engine with mixed lubrication. Santa is silent and the boy cries. Outside, the father is playing pensively with the pull starter.

The boy climbs up the wall, stretches himself out under the ceiling and hangs around there.

–You’ve been dead a long, long while Papa, says the son.

–You’re over-sensitive, replies the father. Then he just squats down in his long, grey-green wool-felt coat. There are pine cones and lichen stuck to it. From above, the father looks like a small wood. Deep inside the coat beats the heart of the 6th army.

The boy, the father and Santa are besieged by the neighbours. The neighbours want some of the milk chocolate that is spilling out of the house. The boy, the father and Santa have long grown sick of milk chocolate. But they don’t want the neighbours to have any either.

Then the neighbours declare milk chocolate war on them!

The boy, the father and Santa are all alone. The neighbours get closer and closer. In the house, they start up the chainsaw, hoping that the noise will scare off the neighbours. But the neighbours merely laugh!

Father and Santa fight side by side as if they had been born to do so. Reload, aim, fire! Why did Santa stay with us? Perhaps he’s fallen in love with my father. The neighbours attack mostly at three in the morning.

Then all the neighbours are dead. Snow is falling all around.

–What do want to be later, asks the father, when you admit that you’re grown up?

–A constellation of stars, replies the son.

–That’ll get you nowhere, says the father.

–What do you want to be, asks the son, when you admit you’re dead?

–A bookkeeper, says the father.

–That figures, says the son. End of conversation.

The son is silent and when the father doesn’t look at him, he shines from parts of his pale body, at the elbows and knee joints, like a constellation of stars.

The advent calendar is finished. Father and Santa made it for me. It’s come a bit too late for this year. Perhaps I’ll be happy next year when its little doors open. Behind every little door, you can see Santa being captured by the polar bears and filmed as a punishment for his war crimes. He’s wearing his Knight’s Cross medal. As a kid, I once got a knight’s castle for Christmas. I destroyed it straight away and Father was very angry with me. The captured Santa doesn’t look sad because he knows he’s going to be tortured for ten years and then march through Present Land on the run to bring me my chainsaw. He looks sad because he knows I won’t really like it and don’t really deserve it. Here you can see how sad Santa looks because he knows that I’ll disappoint him:

Father talks about the war. Santa talks about the Christmas Wars. The boy hangs on the ceiling and cries, and the house and all it furniture and the aquarium and the fish in the aquarium have all turned into milk chocolate. The tears have flowed out of the house and turned all the flowers and trees and butterflies into milk chocolate. The street has become milk chocolate, the dead neighbours have become milk chocolate and so have their houses.

Months later, the Easter Bunny happens to pass by with his chainsaw. He sighs and gets down to work.

And next year, we’ll be bringing you the story of mother and Mother Christmas.

 

By Robin Detje, first published in the collection Wie immer unverhofft – Neue Weihnachtsgeschichten (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2012). Translation © Lucy Renner Jones.

 

Robin Detje was born in 1964 in Lübeck and lives in Berlin. He trained to be an actor at the Dell'Arte School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, California and at the Otto-Falckenberg-Schule, Munich. He worked as a lighting technician and stage manager on independent theatre projects at the Stadttheater Heidelberg then became a theatre critic and feature editor at Die ZEIT, later the Berliner Zeitung; and finally a journalist for the Süddeutsche Zeitung. He has worked as a literary translator from 2006, including the authors Kiran Desai, Gary Shteyngart, Will Self, Denis Johnson, William T. Vollmann, Ned Beauman. In 2009, he founded the theatre and performance group "bösediva" with Elisa Duca. (www.boesediva.de)

Lucy Renner Jones studied German with W.G. Sebald at UEA, soon afterwards started a career as a fashion and reportage photographer in Barcelona, Hamburg and Berlin; returned to work with language and literature in the early 2000s. In 2008, she founded Transfiction, a collective of literary translators, with Karen Witthuhn (www.transfiction.eu) and was joined by Jenny Piening in 2012. She is the author of two book-length translations, Lyric Novella (2010) and Death in Persia (2013), published by Seagull Books and is currently working on the diaries of Brigitte Reimann.

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MadHat, Issue 14, Spring 2013