The Perfect Christmas Present

Submitted into Contest #122 in response to: Write about a character who won’t (or can’t) shop for the holidays.... view prompt


Christmas Contemporary Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

The perfect Christmas present

My Christmas pudding stood confidently upon her school stage, “I did it for Daddy” she explains as a microphone is presented in front of her face. A little girl, dressed as a Christmas pudding, singing with the sweetest voice, it was no wonder she won the Christmas talent contest. Katie’s performance of ‘Somewhere only we know’ was imperfectly perfect and reduced me to tears. Most of this imperfection, however, came from the audio from the recording of her performance that I watched after she returned home.

A common misconception about people with agoraphobia is that they dislike the outside world, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Watching my daughter through a computer screen, knowing that I could have been there cheering her on in person, haunts me with immense guilt and regret. But it was those words – “I did it for Daddy” – which had forced me to tear through the boundaries my mental illness had set for me, in desperation to give Katie what she deserved: the perfect Christmas present.

Ever since the release date, Katie had pleaded that I buy her the game. I counteracted her requests every time with the same phrase:

Wait and see what Santa brings you

But why should I have sat there effortlessly, whilst Santa Clause provided her with what she so desperately wanted? She didn’t win the contest for the big man in red, so why should I have relied on him to reward her. Don’t get me wrong, I know she wouldn’t have tried her best merely that she could be rewarded: her true motivation would have been to execute the perfect performance so that she could truly make me proud. I know she pities me; I wish she wouldn’t. But I pity myself, and the apple never falls far from the tree. Katie wouldn’t look down on me after I’d ventured outside and claimed that present myself though, it was time to make her proud. So, I was going to reach that shop. Eventually…

It had almost been two and a half weeks since Katie’s performance; Christmas was nearly at my door. Yet I had made little progress on obtaining her present: the furthest I had touched was the steel sign marking the entrance to our estate, and the exit to the main road. The further I dared to travel into the outside world, the more the outside world dared to intrude on my nerves. The busy road of which my attempts had concluded, seemed to be a threshold of which I could not surpass, a catalyst to those intrusive thoughts.

‘Go on, step in front of that truck. It’ll all be over after that. You will never make it to that present anyway: you are a letdown to everyone around you. Just end it now’

Although my breathing was rapid, I felt deprived of oxygen. Any louder and passersby may have thought it were a train increasing speed. My chest tightened, as if I was trapped in between two cars and their drivers dared to see how much further they could creep before my body crunched amongst their bonnets. It felt as though a jockey was desperate to be somewhere, as the hooves of their horse clopped rapidly against the world inside my chest: you could power a plane with the energy generated from my heart.

I faced away from the manic road, and guiltily made my way home, my head feeling numb with dizziness. I was a dog now wearing the cone of shame, as punishment for licking my wounds. With each footstep, I could feel my daughter’s pride drifting further away into the distance.

Every day I made that same pitiful attempt. Somedays I didn’t even make it past my drive.

It was on that Tuesday morning that I was able to push myself past the sign. Katie had left for school earlier; I wasn’t even able to escort her on her way. She was only six years old. Her rucksack was more effective at defending her against any evil that might be lurking on her path, what sort of father did that make me?

The process of making my way to the front door, after deciding to make my next attempt to escape into the outside world, was a strange feeling. Most days I’d be lying on my bed, surrounded by items providing my own comfort. Across the shelves and other surfaces were merchandise of my favourite franchises; most of them superheroes. Men and women of all shapes and sizes, dressed in colourful latex, some with capes, some with cowls. Posters of these heroes aligned the walls, figurines stood proudly on countertops, these items reminded me of simpler, happier times. Stepping out of my room, and making my way down the stairs, I was watched by memories of my past. Framed pictures of my family were painted across the walls, moments of mutual love from myself, Katie, and my wife, are frozen in time. My wife had been dead for two years, now her many forms watched me as I went about my day. I wondered what she’d think of me.

As I opened the door, the outside air seemed to steal me away from my comfort. There is no control of my surroundings outside, anything and everything seems to look down on me menacingly.

Like a mother cradling her newborn child, I held my hands in between my armpits as if for comfort, and wearily made my way up the pavement, cautious to restrain any intrusive thoughts from returning. Finally, I passed my checkpoint of the steel sign, surpassing the furthest distance I had made for the past two years. Now came crossing the road.

ZOOM, and I was hit as a sportscar flew by, though only in my imagination. BRUM, and a truck made its way over my worthless remains, but it was only a thought. NEOWM, and I mentally fought away these horrifying figments, and focused on the traffic lights ahead.

I pressed the button and waited for the red silhouette of a stationary man to switch into a green one in motion. After doing so, I realized the commitment that the crossing of this road would take – once at the other side, if I wished to turn back in a state of panic, I would have to wait once again for the lights’ approval of crossing, in which I have no control of when I am able to return. I lifted my head to turn back in the direction that I came, possibly in the final acceptance of defeat, when I noticed a figure positioned adjacent to me on the other side of the road. We stood waiting for the signal, eyes locked in a mutual glare, like cowboys in a shootout.

 I knew this woman, who obviously had been taking her infant out on a stroll, as she stood there with the handle of a pram in her clutches. She had been my next-door neighbor for a couple years now. Although, I knew she wouldn’t recognize me: being locked away from the outside world since she had been welcomed to the estate. For that reason, she probably thought it strange that my eyes were stuck in a gaze toward her. Matter of fact, I was jealous of her ability to show her child the world with such ease. If only I were able to do the same: I would take Katie to Liberty Island in America and grin at the look of awe on her face as she looks up to the statue, just as my parents did when I was around her age.

But I can’t.

Out there I have no control of what happens around me’

I thought as I was finally able to cross the road, detaching my gaze from the mother and her infant.

I suppose that’s why Katie needs this game’

The game was a portal to worlds of her manipulation. There she could have a tea party in a candy land of her own design. Heck, she could even visit the statue of liberty through a screen if she wished. That game was amazing. It was everything I was not. That’s why I needed to claim it for her.

Lost in my revelation, I had forgotten my state of discomfort in walking the streets. I looked back to see how far I had come, coming to a halt at the shock. Though the figment of Katie revealing her present on Christmas day, urged me forward in determination.

I was in competition with the father of Christmas himself and his army of elves, producing toys for all the children of the world. Yet I only needed to provide for one. A task which seemed to come easily for every other parent on the planet but was near to impossible for me. Almost as impossible as a magical sleigh, pulled by flying reindeer, carrying an endless sack of toys. Father Christmas, I envied the man. Travelling the whole world every year, in just one night. But I was a father myself. I did not need to squeeze through a chimney to deliver this present, although it felt like it, as a police car rampaged by, screaming its siren in my ear, blinding me with lights of blue and red.

This threw me off balance, numbing my stance, which caused me to seek support from a nearby tree. I felt an attack of panic sprouting up from deep down, where it had been hiding in my subconscious. Cupping my hands over my nose and mouth to control my breathing, I looked up to see my destination on the horizon, barely a five-minute walk to the sliding doors which would reveal my prize.

Five minutes was too long though. Any distance further from my home, which I so desperately needed to get back to, too far.

An elderly woman passing by cautiously glanced towards me, obviously my method of calming myself, revealed that I was in a state of distress. I felt it weak to seek help from any stranger who might soon offer it, so I slid my body down the trunk of the tree and curled myself into a ball, as if to hide from anyone who might spot me. If only I was a real ball, that way I could just be kicked into the direction of the shop.

Breathe in…

I inhaled a deep breath but was brought to exhalation too soon than I wanted, by a young girl who didn’t seem to get the memo that I wished to be left alone. She asked if I was alright.

Just taking a rest from walking, thank you

I lied. Purely so I could be left alone to calm myself down. Once she had continued on her path, I resumed my breathing exercise.

Breathe in…

I inhaled once again, imagining a warm, thankful hug from my daughter after I had presented her with the gift.

‘Breathe out…’

This exercise continued, until I was abruptly confronted by more people, who questioned my state of distress. It happened many times, each one increasing my panic more and more, until I was out of control, in a fit of intense breathing.

I was no longer confronted by any man or woman trying to calm me down, only disembodied sounds. I had shut the lids of my eyes, to visually disregard any existence of an outside world. Lost in the dark void that was the inside of my eyelids, the most prominent sounds were my breath. Like the sound of waves of the sea, coming in and out of the shore. Wooo…Washh. Wooo…Washh.

Suddenly a creature approached. It observed curiously with its nose. The sound of its rapid sniffing conflicted with my own breathing. Then a third participant joined in with the battle of the noises, along with a second sense of the touch of a hand on my shoulder.

Okay sir, I need you to slow your breathing. In. One, two, three. Out. That’s it

His voice had my full attention, blocking out the other sounds, and meditating with his soothing instruction. I opened my eyes to reveal the sniffing creature to be a Staffordshire Bull Terrier dog, accompanied by a man similar age to myself – around his thirties – guiding the dog on a lead.

When you feel comfortable talk, I would like to take you to somewhere safe. Is your house nearby?”

Once the dizziness subsided and my breath returned to a normal rate, I took the man’s offer and explained that my house was nearby. He held out his hand and introduced himself as Danny, and his pet as Buster.

The hope to claim Katie’s pride drained from me and the all familiar feeling of defeat engulfed me. It looked as though Santa would be Katie’s idol this year after all.

All of a sudden, and to my delight, we had stopped to let Buster take a short rest from walking.

Sorry about this. Buster has had quite the walk today. He is getting on in years you see, finds it very hard to get far”

Danny pulled a biscuit from deep in his pocket and presented it to me.

Do you want to give him a treat? Dogs are a great method to calming nerves, my lecturers let us play with a group of puppies before exams to relieve the stress, at university. It worked for me”

I took the biscuit from Danny and held it in my hand for Buster to eat. The Staffy gobbled it out of my palm in an instant.

He’s a very good boy

The man said to his dog, whilst ruffling his hand over its head to show how much he loved it. It was clear that Danny was genuinely proud of Buster – you could see it on his face with a gleaming smile, raising his cheeks with delight. Buster didn’t serve the purpose to protect Danny, as he was clearly too old to do so. Yet, the dogs company was enough for the man to love him all the same.

This had me thinking: I hadn’t made Katie aware of my attempts to get to the shop, she would get the game come Christmas all the same. But maybe just to let her know that I was trying my best for her, it might bring some sense of fulfillment.

On arrival at my house, I thanked Danny very much for his help and bent down to pat Buster.

Keep going strong old boy

I woke up to a very happy little girl on Christmas morning.

Yes, Santa knew exactly what I wanted!”

Katie burst into my room, and I sat up out of bed. She had a huge smile on her face and was waving her new game around. She jumped on my bed and squeezed me tight, like the strong proud hug I gave her after watching her Christmas concert.

Merry Christmas Daddy! Look what Father Christmas has brought me

Deep down that stung a little, although I knew that I had tried my best to collect her the game myself.

Oh wow, look at that! I bet you can’t wait to play it, shall we go and put it in now honey?”

I said, truly thrilled for her.

Definitely soon, I’m so excited! But I think we should go for another one of our walks just before, I bet you can make it to the entrance of our estate today”

The same smile as hers reflected on my face and a tear of joy discretely ran past my cheek. As we made our way down the stairs, I caught a glimpse of my wife’s picture smiling at us both, with pride for sure.

December 02, 2021 22:37

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Michael Regan
00:53 Dec 09, 2021

Wow great story. I could feel the father's pain.


Ethan Horne
20:10 Dec 10, 2021

Thank you, I’m happy I was able to express that :)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.