on the shelves in oxford

Letters to Santa

John snatched Jane up under her arms, hoisting her into her chair and pushing it close to the table.  She bounced in her seat, instantly snatching up one of the crayons John had brought along with them, and waited for John to sit next to her. He chuckled at her enthusiasm and pulled open his bag, digging around until he found his notebook and placed it in front of her.  With her free hand, she immediately flipped it open to a blank page, staring expectantly up at John for instructions.

“Alright, kid, what are you thinking?  A bike?  Dolls? Puzzles?”  He rested his arm across the back of her chair, leaning in close. Jane frowned and stared down at the page with furrowed brows and a look of fierce concentration.

“No bikes.  Andy at school has a bike an’ he fell off of it an’ now he’s got a big scrape on his knee.  I don’t want a bike.”

John chuckled and nodded.  “Right then, no bikes.  Are you still a fan of that pig show?  Maybe you can ask for something from that?”

Her face lit up and she let out a squeal of excitement.  John glanced around nervously and hushed her, smiling apologetically to the gentleman who was at the table across from them.  The man frowned briefly, but was soon immersed back in his book.  Jane, meanwhile, had started colouring across the top of the page, mumbling the Peppa Pig intro to herself as she did.  Her expression was focused as she sorted through the crayons for the right ones, scribbling with a determined precision that reminded John of her mum.  While she was busy, John wracked his brain in an attempt to think of other ideas for her letter, but found himself suddenly distracted.  

Across from them, pushing a book trolley and scanning the shelves along the wall, stood a tall man in a royal blue Oxford shirt. His dark curls looked shiny and soft in the florescent light of the library, artfully tousled in a style that was meant to look like it was just thrown together thoughtlessly but John knew was done on purpose.  As John watched, he pushed his black glasses back up the bridge of his nose and bent over to replace a book in its place on a lower shelf.  John felt his face flush and immediately turned back to Jane, though he kept studying the man out of the corner of his eye.  Half of his attention remained on the man as Jane finished her first picture and pushed the notebook toward John for him to see.

“Very nice, Jane.  What else?  There’s got to be some other things Mum hasn’t let have before now that you’d like.”  

“LEGO!” she yelled, trading her pink crayon for a green one.  The man sat at the other table huffed in irritation, but John was more concerned about the librarian’s reaction than his.  He had turned around at Jane’s exclamation, narrowing silver blue eyes on the two of them.  At first his attention settled on Jane, his mouth turning into a slight scowl.  His eyes shifted his glare at John, widening when they instantly met John’s.  His eyebrows shot up and he quickly turned back to the bookshelf, the back of his neck turning an attractive shade of red.  The corner of John’s mouth twitched up in a grin and he ducked his head closer to Jane.

“Remember what we talked about, kid?  Inside voices go double in the library.  We don’t want to bother the other people who are here reading, right?”

She hunched her shoulders up to her ears and brought her free finger up to her mouth in a shh-ing motion.  “Right,” she whispered, though even that voice was almost as loud as her normal one.  “Extra quiet. Sorry.”

“Not to worry.  So we’ve got Peppa Pig and we’ve got legos…what else do you want to ask Santa to get you for Christmas?”

 John heard a snort from behind him and his head shot up.  While he had been distracted, the attractive librarian had moved on to the shelf directly next to them.  He sorted through the books on his trolley, his nose wrinkled in distaste.  He glanced at John out of his peripherals, rolling his eyes dramatically when he noticed John watching.  Readjusting his glasses and straightening his already ramrod back, he attempted to affect disinterest in the proceedings at the table. Frowning, John shifted back around so that he was facing Jane again.  

“What are you going to ask Santa to bring you?” she asked John, incredibly serious as she organized her crayons.  Before he could answer, a sigh interrupted him and John pushed back his chair to face the librarian fully.

“Can we help you?” he asked, attempting to keep the irritation from his voice and failing.  The man leaned an elbow on the trolley’s handle and rested his other hand on his hip, watching them with a smug expression.

“Santa Claus and his various reiterations are simply ways in which parents create reasons for their misbehaving children to be forced into acting with better manners.  If you’d like to get specific, he originated from the Greek bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra, who is best known for the fact that he gave three young women dowries so that they would not be forced into prostitution.  Although it acts as a good overall message to illustrate to young people, I’m not entirely sure whether forced marriage and sexual favours in order to survive is really the sort of thing people would enjoy bringing up around the holidays, particularly to children.”

John hissed and rushed to his feet, shooting a glance at Jane before shoving the librarian against the shelf and out of her earshot.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded in an angry whisper.  “You can’t just tell a kid that Santa isn’t real.  Or talk about…about bloody sex in front of them, Jesus.”

“Why not?” the librarian shot back.  His glasses fell down to the end of his nose, allowing him to watch John over the top of them.  “She’s going to find out eventually, you might as well tell her early. It’s pointless to create such elaborate lies to trick your daughter only to have her realize it years in the future and become even further disillusioned.”

“First of all, she’s not my daughter, she’s my niece. Second of all, she’s six.  I’m not about to tell a six-year-old that the big guy in a red suit who’s got her all excited about Christmas is a fake.”

The librarian rolled his eyes, his arms coming up to cross over his chest.  “Very well, but I’m sure her mother will be absolutely thrilled to find out you’re encouraging her to ask for the things that she’s not intended to have.  All that Santa does is encourage children to get their hopes up only to have them destroyed on Christmas morning.”

“Or maybe she’s got an uncle who’s planning to get her something her mum couldn’t because she can’t hold down a job and would rather let Santa take the credit for it to make her happy?”  At his words, the librarian’s shoulders slumped and he shot Jane a glance.

“Ah…sorry.  I guess I…sorry.”  The man’s arms fell down to his sides and he sighed.  “I hadn’t considered that possibility.  I just wanted to help her avoid disappointment.”

John studied him and sighed.  “No, it’s fine, really.  You’re right, in a way, I suppose.  It sounds like you might have been speaking from experience.”

He laughed humourlessly and replied, “I asked for a chemistry set when I was seven.  Instead I got a scooter.  You may have the right idea with that theory.”

“Wait, you were angry you got a scooter?”  The man’s cheeks started to turn pink and John grinned.  “I asked for the Chronicles of Narnia series one year and got rugby equipment, so I suppose I shouldn’t talk.”  John shot his hand out to him, waiting for him to take it before continuing.  “I’m John.”

“Sherlock.”  They watched Jane colour and hum to herself for a few minutes before Sherlock huffed out a breath.  He shoved his glasses back up his face and waved a hand at his trolley.  “I should probably get back to work.  I’m sorry again for all of that.”

“No problem.”  John’s eyes narrowed as he looked Sherlock up and down and he spoke before he thought better of it.  “I don’t know how much longer you’re stuck here, but Jane and I were planning on going out for hot chocolate once her letter’s finished.  Maybe you’d be interested?”

A tiny smile appeared on Sherlock’s lip and he nodded tentatively.  “That…would be nice.  I’m not finished for another hour, however.”

Grinning back, John winked at him.  “I don’t mind waiting if the waiting’s for something good.” Sherlock’s still pink cheeks turned even more red and John burst out into a full blown smile as he waved and returned to Jane’s side.

“So Uncle John,” she started, acting as though nothing had happened in the few minutes he was gone.  “Do you think you’ll get what you want for Christmas?”

John’s eyes remained fixed on Sherlock as he moved down the row, his eyes darting back to John every few seconds.  “You know what, kid, I think I actually might.”