“What are ya doin’, throwin me out into the bitey night? Everyone else is stayin’ in, eatin’ pie and playin’ the pianola. So I snuffled up a few crumbs, alright a whole pie, off Uncle Alfie’s plate. He’s so tubby he didn’t need it and he shouldna left it on the floor. I know the rules. What’s on the floor is mine, what’s on the table is yours. I obeyed to the letter and ya still throwin’ me out with the mosquitos. If Nick were here, he’d stand up for me. I just can’t understand ya, Mum, I didn’t do anything wrong.” Blue, ears hanging halfmast, pressed his nose against the clean glass of the verandah door. “Happens every time ya put up that weird green thing ya call a tree! Ya invite all this mob ya call a family, bunch of freeloaders if ya ask me, then ya stack pointy cardboard boxes on me favourite sleeping place, under that dust-coated, plastic monstrosity, Five minutes later ya throw me outside. Last year it was because I made a bed on a knee rug Aunt Ada made for Grandma. So I got a bit of mud on it…if Dad hadn’t thrown me bed out I wouldna done it. Grandma didn’t need a rug anyway, not in that heat. A bloke’s gotta have a place to sleep. Anyway Nick rescued me, smuggled me into his bed with him and Natalie, and made me official guard of their new kid. Ya gotta admit I’ve done a pretty good job of that since the Goddamn army sent Nick to a war that can’t be won in a place where Christmas is only a dream.” Blue picked himself up and ambled around the verandah to the little boy’s room. He spread himself across the door, on guard.

When the lights dimmed, the noise diminished and the house creaked with sleepiness, Mum stole out in her white-tent nightie to give Blue a frozen chicken leg and a cuddle. “I know you miss him, Blue. I do too. All this Christmas fuss seems pointless without Nick. I keep listening for his laughter.”

Blue nosed the glass door where Mum’s grandson slept deeply and licked his mistress’s hand. Mum looked at the tiny shape and the lonely silhouette of his mother, Natalie, Nick’s wife.

“She’s empty like us, without him.” A tear slipped from Mum’s eye. “You’re doing such a good job looking after Nick’s precious treasures.” Mum fondled Blue’s soft, limp ears. “My dearest wish for Christmas is that Nick could come home, even for a minute.” She sighed. “We’ll just have to settle for second best and fuss over Natalie and the child.”

Feeling appreciated, Blue settled to watch over Natalie and the boy, and the rest of the house, except for Uncle Alfie who didn’t deserve to be guarded if he didn’t obey the rules. The night was a velvet quilt that wrapped the house in peace until some red-coated intruder with a beard just perfect for a bird to nest in, thumped a no-wheeled contraption pulled by giant kangaroos onto the front lawn. Blue tried to head him off, but the old guy was a slick mover.  He was fiddling with the glass door’s handle before Blue got a firm grip on the slippery black leather that covered the man’s mighty legs.

“Only in Australia do I have to dodge dog-protectors. It’s so uncivilized not have a chimney to keep me away from rabid animals. As for Christmas in summer…” The old fellow wiped a creek of sweat from his jolly, red face. Blue was not distracted.

“Look what you’ve done to my boot. The elves will have great trouble fixing this. Be a good dog and let me go. I got work to do—I need to give the boy something very important.” The red-coated fellow reached out to grab Blue’s collar to restrain him.

Blue evaded him with a crafty dodge then planted himself between the perverted night prowler and the boy’s glass door.

“Ya not getting past me, ya turk. I gotta a job an’ I’m doin’ it. I gotta guard the boy …for Nick. He’s away, see, an’ I’ve seen the likes of you on the tele.”

“Aah, someone finally knows where I come from, and it has to be an obstreperous Australian Smithfield who won’t let me do my job. You’ve heard of Nikolaos of Myra, Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus? Why won’t you let me do what I need to do?”

Blue flattened his ears, raised his bristles, stuck his tail out straight, lowered his shoulders and widened his stance. He emitted a mighty growl. His mutton-bone sharpened teeth gleamed in the moonlight. Blue meant business.

A shrill whistle broke the stand-off. Someone was calling him. He sneaked a recce round. Dad wasn’t there.  Mum couldn’t whistle. The kid was asleep. Natalie was a city-girl. If it was Uncle Alfie, he’d leave a deposit right beside the door of his precious Mercedes, a sloppy one that wouldn’t wipe off his white canvas loafers.

Then Blue heard the volcano of laughter that could only come from one person. He kept the red-coated fellow bailed up until Natalie and the boy were safely in Nick’s arms. He had to make sure there was no skullduggery involved. Mum burst out of the house clutching a teatowel. She howled into it with joy. Dad, smiling like a Cape York croc, rocked from heel to toe on the verandah, waiting for the fuss to die down so he could greet his son.

“He’s what I had to deliver, with a few other things. He hitchhiked with me. We can only stay five minutes. I’ve got a few things left to deliver.” Saint Nicholaus indicated the packed sleigh.

“I won’t bite ya next year. Don’t suppose ya givin’ Uncle Alfie a bit of coal, like? He deserves it.” Blue sidled up to his new–found friend.

“Better. He’s getting a frilly apron, a year’s supply of floor washing detergent and a mop.”

Blue licked the old boy’s hand. “Yeah, that’ll do.” He rushed off, then, to enjoy his part of Nick’s attention.


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