Santa fills his sack with presents and slides down the chimney with ease. He tip-toes across the living room floor, careful his boots don't make the floor boards creak.
"It's about time you showed up."
Santa looks around, surprised at the strange voice.
"Up here, old man. On top of the tree."
Santa puts his sack of presents down and gazes at the tall decorated Christmas tree in front of him. Red and gold baubles, handmade ornaments, tinsel and flashing lights fill the tree. A beautiful golden angel looks down from above. Her glittery wings shimmer in the dim light.
"Yes, it's me. Now can you get me down? It's not nice having a tree up my bum."
Santa rubs his eyes. Is he dreaming? Has he drunk too much eggnog? Maybe it was the brandy he drank at the last house.
"Please get me out of here. I need a career change. I'm sick of gathering dust, I'm scared of heights and I don't want to spend the next 11 months in a box that gets taped up and put in the attic. It's like a coffin! Please help me."
"I'm just here to deliver presents," Santa replies. He can't quite believe he's talking to a plastic angel.
"You waltz in here one night of the year and take all the credit for the children’s happiness. You give them toys they don't need or deserve. They don't care about me at all."
"I'm sure that's not true." Santa feels for her, but it's not right for him to steal something from a house. He's only taken cookies, and the occasional drink, left out for him on this special night of the year. And carrots for his reindeer, of course. But never anything that belongs to the house he's visiting. "What would you like to do instead?" he asks.
"Not sure, but even work for the dole would be better than this. Or I could volunteer at an orphanage to start with. I want someone who will love me, play with me. You'll be off work tomorrow. How about we do some job searching together? I'd love to see your home in the North Pole."
Santa unpacks the last of his presents and places them under the tree. He thinks about the angel's requests. How could he ignore her? But then again, why should he listen to a talking ornament?
"Alright, let's go." Santa reaches up high and pulls her off the top of the tree. He stuffs her into his jacket pocket and they go up the chimney to his sleigh. "Onwards and upwards," he commands the reindeer.
They dance across the night sky towards the next village. Santa pulls the angel out of his pocket and sits her on the seat beside him. He's glad to have her company. It can be a lonely job.
"Thanks so much for rescuing me from that house. I wonder how long it will be before they notice I'm missing?" the angel giggles.
"No problem. You know, I've been meaning to quit this job too."
"Really? You can't quit. What about the children?" the angel asks.
Santa sighs. "You're right. They don't need more stuff. What children need more than ever is love. People should show their appreciation and love to family and friends all year long. Not just at Christmas time."
"I know. Parents work long hours so they can get more money. They have more money so they can buy better things for their kids."
"But the more they work the less time they have to spend with their kids. I can't help with that."
The angel turns to face Santa. "If you quit, what would you do instead? Would you find someone to replace you?"
"It wouldn't be Christmas without me. I am Father Christmas after all. So yes, I'd look for someone younger to replace me, and retire, perhaps." His achy back and creaky joints aren't what they used to be. And he's sick of doing night shift, even if it is only once a year. A career change might be what he needs too. "I could be a bus driver, a pizza delivery man, or a chauffeur. It would be nice to have a paid job for a change." Santa mutters to himself, grinning as he thinks of other possible job opportunities.
"You'd make a wonderful school bus driver. The children would adore you."
"That's enough about me. We need to find you a job. I'm no fortune teller or psychic, but I'm sure there will be a little boy or girl around who would love you, who needs you." Santa pulls on the reins as the next village appears below them. "Didn't you say you were scared of heights? Don't look down now!" He goes to put her back in his pocket but loses his grip and she falls to the ground. There's no time to go back and search for her. "Oops. Oh well, hope she finds her dream home." Santa carries on with the rest of his deliveries without her.
The sun creeps over the horizon several hours later. "Daddy, it's Christmas. Wake up!"
A little girl crawls over the console of their car, their makeshift home. She kisses him as he opens his eyes.
"Merry Christmas sweetie."
She looks around, but there's no tree, no stockings overflowing with gifts, and no wrapped presents. It looks exactly like it did when she went to sleep last night. "Is Santa not real?" Her lips quiver and her eyes search his for answers.
"Let's go buy some breakfast," he says, as he fiddles with the few loose coins in his pocket.
They get out of the car and cross the carpark to McDonald's when she sees something. She let's go of his hand and runs over and picks up a golden angel in the grass. "Daddy, look."
But where did she come from? he wonders.
She uses her hands to brush the dirt off the angel then gives her a cuddle. "Can I keep her? I promise to look after her." She looks up at her dad. "She looks just like Mummy did."
His eyes well up and he bends down to give her a hug. Even though it's been ten months since he lost his wife and house in the deadly bushfires, every day is still a struggle. He swallows the dry lump in his throat. "Of course you can. Merry Christmas."