Santa, the Christmas hedgehog
On Christmas day a huge hedgehog fell down a drain next to the house. The drain was the size of a decent bucket, and the hedgehog took up the whole thing. It was the biggest hedgehog any of us had ever seen. Mum had been telling Dad for years to cover up the drain because she’d almost fall in it whenever she walked down the side of the house. It didn’t even lead anywhere; it was an old drain from before we fixed up the plumbing, half-filled in with gravel, about a foot and a half deep.
It took a long time to get Santa – we called him Santa – out of the drain. He curled up whenever we touched him, and he was so big and heavy and prickly that it wasn’t just a matter of picking him up from the top. You had to get your hands right under him, which Santa wasn’t making easy. Toby somehow managed to lift him up on the side, slide a dustpan underneath him and pull him out. Mum told Toby to put him down in the backyard. On the way there Toby, being Toby, kept on pretending to trip up or drop him, swinging his arms wildly, stumbling around to the left and right going, Whoa, whoa, whoa. Mum followed him yelling, Careful! Careful! her voice getting higher and higher as Toby continued to stumble. Santa hung half-off the side of the dustpan, not because Toby wasn’t being careful, but because Santa was so fat.
Toby got Santa round to the backyard safe and sound, and we put him down at the bottom of the garden. Mum gave Toby a smack around the back of the head and said he nearly gave her a heart attack. We locked the dog round the front so Santa would have time to get his bearings without being too disturbed. But after an hour he hadn’t moved so Toby put him on the dustpan again and put him in a basket in the spare room. We gave him a blanket and some cat biscuits and he ate them and snuffled around a bit.
Dad told us to leave Santa alone and let him sleep. He told us hedgehogs were nocturnal so we’d release him into the garden once night came. So we had dinner, and messed around. Dad got a bit pissed and Mum asked us to please not drown all our food in tomato sauce, and especially not on the potato salad. She said this was the last year she’s going to put so much effort in, and next year we’re just gonna have barbecued sausages and supermarket coleslaw and packets of chips. And that was alright with us of course; the sausages and chips were our favourite part of the dinner anyway. Mum sighed and said, Why do I bother? under her breath a whole lot.
We ate a dessert of pavlova and scoops of ice cream and instant pudding, and the kids watched the sky with a keen eye waiting for the sun to set. After it disappeared over the hill across town, the kids crowded Dad and asked if we could check on Santa. Dad looked at the sky, which was still quite light, and said, Ah all right then. We all rushed into the spare room and there Santa was, in the basket. He’d eaten most of the cat biscuits and given birth: these four little things, smaller than mice, with white translucent spikes and pink skin, lying there dead.
The kids asked what was happening, and why the baby hedgehogs weren’t moving. Toby gathered them in a semi-circle in front of him, got down on one knee and said, This is what happens sometimes, sometimes things die and that’s just part of life. Mum put her hand on Toby’s shoulder and nodded. And besides, Toby said, the hedgehog couldn’t be called Santa, because she was a girl, so her name must be Mary, and one of these baby hedgehogs was the hedgehog Jesus. Mum took her hand off Toby’s shoulder and prodded the side of his arm. Toby continued, saying that this hedgehog Jesus was going to come back alive in a couple of days and save all the hedgehogs of the world. That’s quite enough, Mum said and yanked Toby to his feet by the armpit, but by then the kids were squealing and dancing around the room. All hail our hedgehog lord and saviour, Toby yelled and whooped, and the kids whooped along too. Mum yelled at Toby to piss off to his room, and that Dad had better fill that bloody drain in tomorrow. Dad had to tell the kids that Toby was joking and the babies were going to stay dead. The kids stopped dancing and whooping, and looked at their feet.
Dad dug a shallow grave out in the backyard, near where the rabbits were buried, and we had a wee funeral for the baby hedgehogs. Mum suggested we sing a song, but the only one we all knew was Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer because they don’t teach proper carols in school anymore, so we sang that. Then we had to call Toby back from his room because he was the only one that could do the thing with the dustpan.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eamonn Marra grew up in Christchurch and now lives in Wellington. He is a writer, stand-up comedian and radio producer. In 2016 he completed his MA at the IIML, where he wrote a collection of short stories titled 2000ft. Above Worry Level.