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(A Christmas Story)

Dmitrii Suslin

Translated from Russian

Jane H. Buckingham

Translation edited by
Shona Brandt

©Jane H. Buckingham 2014


When everyone around is in the Christmas spirit and you are not, it is annoying. It is
doubly annoying if at the same time your pockets are completely empty. Nothing even
with which to buy gifts for children. One thing consoled Lenny Pukhov – he had no
children. But when you have no children, you usually buy gifts for yourself. This was the
first time in Lenny’s life that he had no money to buy himself a Christmas present.
Lenny debated this for a long time. And two questions had bothered him the most.
First – who is to blame? Second – what to do?
He answered the first question pretty quickly. Certainly Nikolai Grigorevich
Schetovodov, Lenny’s former supervisor, who fired him five years ago. Especially hard to
swallow was that literally a month later, he also left the office where Lenny worked as a
locksmith. And, most importantly, for what? He drank a bit! But who does not drink?
Everyone drank and now everyone drinks too and much more than Lenny. But it was
exactly him they made redundant. Schetovodov fired him. The scoundrel! The bastard.
And then he became the director of the bank, and in August 1998 swindled so many
people... Geez! Bought himself a blue BMW. The swine. Deprived him, Lenny, of a tiny
Lenny Pukhov became so bitter. Enough to make him weep. But he was not a man to
cry. Misfortune only made him even angrier. Now he was downright mad. So came the
answer to the second question. Lenny decided to rob Schetovodov’s apartment. A
Christmas gift for him, so to speak.
No sooner said than done. Lenny never suffered from idle fantasy, and if he came up
with it, then he immediately got to work.
The next day Santa Claus approached with a confident gait one of the fancy
apartment buildings, of which there were quite a few on Lenin Avenue. Everything was
as it should be. Red fur coat, white beard, a red nose. Only here, under all these things,
Lenny Pukhov hid. The idea of dressing up as Santa came to him unexpectedly. In the
office where he worked before, Lenny was permanently appointed Santa Claus.
Schetovodov appointed him. He had to go door to door and deliver gifts to kids of his
colleagues. When he was laid off, Lenny, out of resentment, and even more out of
malice, took with him the Santa costume. All these years, it had been collecting dust in
his bachelor apartment. He did not exchange it for drinks only because no one needed it.
Now Lenny remembered it.
As an experienced burglar should, the day before, Lenny found out everything about
Schetovodov’s apartment. He watched the household, when they went to work, when the
maid went to the market. The whole works!
A minute later, he was already at the necessary door. Wooden. Excellent! Italian
locks? What are they to a good locksmith of the highest rank? How many of them had
Lenny picked in his time? Impossible to count. Many people have a habit of often losing
their keys. An acquainted thief has been calling Lenny for a long time. But he does not
want to associate himself with a criminal. Lenny Pukhov is a man who loves freedom too
©Jane H. Buckingham 2014


much. And he is awfully afraid of prison. Now, the lock was already almost picked, and
his hands shook at the thought of “what if you get caught?”
Indeed, the door downstairs creaked and banged, and someone heavy and bulky
began to climb the stairs. Lenny’s heart dropped to his feet, and his knees immediately
buckled. Streams of sweat began to flow under the cotton beard and moustache.
This someone continued to climb up. Lenny felt very cold. Steam even escaped his
mouth. Then he nearly fell from surprise. It became funny at the same time.
Another Santa Claus was coming up the stairs. Exactly the same as Lenny, only with
a staff in his hand. On seeing Lenny, he stopped and asked, “Is this building number
“Yes, sixty,” Lenny replied.
“And which apartment? Ten?”
Lenny started to feel quite bad. “Yes, ten,” he babbled.
He stood with his back to the door, and then the lock clicked and Lenny tumbled
through the open door into the apartment. He nearly fell. And this other Santa followed
him in like the host.
“So, I’m in the place,” he said. “And that means you decided to rob the apartment,
right? Even dressed up as Santa Claus. Not good. Can the real Santa really do such a
thing? Dear fellow, why do you discredit him?”
“I only want to punish him,” Lenny spluttered, moved backwards, and found himself
in a spacious hall, “and I had no bad thoughts.”
“There will be someone to do so without you,” Santa Claus replied. “There are other
forces besides you. Okay, I have no time to chatter with you. The owner will be here
soon, I need to talk with him. Here he is. Got my call. He's rushing over.”
A car door banged on the street. A minute later, someone began to open the door. He
entered the apartment. Lenny became very frightened. He understood everything. Santa
Claus is of course a killer sent by the mafia. He will now kill Schetovodov, and then him,
Lenny, the witness.
“Why the devil did I come here?” Lenny’s brain shouted desperately. He wanted to
run but could not, and instead fell limply into a chic leather chair.
Schetovodov hurriedly entered the room, obviously wanted to take something
urgently, and gave a start. “Who’s here?” he asked.
Naturally, Lenny said nothing, only twitched in the armchair and opened his mouth
like a fish stranded on the shore.
“It's me, Santa Claus.” The second Santa was unlike Lenny. Calm and confident.
Exactly a killer.
Schetovodov saw him and the banker’s eyes widened with fear; apparently he
understood everything, because he fell down into another armchair.
Santa Claus poured water from a pitcher into a crystal glass and handed it to
Schetovodov. Then he looked at Lenny, poured a second glass and handed it to him,
©Jane H. Buckingham 2014


then turned back to the banker. “I have complaints about you, Schetovodov. People
write to me that you swindled them.”
Schetovodov’s teeth knocked against the glass and water gurgled in his throat.
“The money didn’t perish in August,” Santa Claus continued. “Everything was
converted. Down to the last penny. Why didn’t you tell people about it? You swindled
two thousand, one hundred and fifty depositors, Schetovodov. I have them all. On a list.
So what shall we do? Do I freeze you, or will you give the money back?” Santa raised his
“Oh, what jargons they have,” Lenny thought and closed his eyes in terror. “Freeze,
this means kill. And he has an automatic in his staff.”
“I’ll give it back!” Schetovodov shouted. “I’ll give it all back.”
“Good,” Santa lowered his staff, “now go right away and do it. Where you can’t go by
car, go on foot. If you don’t give it all back by midnight on Christmas Eve, your heart will
turn to ice. And you’ll become a snowman.”
“I’ll give back everything, I’ll drive to everyone, I’ll hand it out personally,”
Schetovodov began to swear.
Here Lenny also yelled, “He also wronged me. Listen, man! He fired me. Let him
reinstate me now! And pay me a good salary. He’s the director's best friend. Please order
him! I’ll pray for you then.”
Santa frowned. “Is he telling the truth? Did you fire him?”
Schetovodov, walking away a little, shrugged. “I’ve fired many in my life. Maybe him
“You reinstate him now. What’s your name?” Santa turned to Lenny.
“Leonid Pukhov.”
“Pukhov?” the banker was surprised. “So he’s the drunk.”
“He won’t drink anymore,” Santa said and looked very intently at Lenny. “I vouch for
“All right.” Schetovodov pulled out his cell phone and called a number. “Vanya, is
that you? It’s Nikolai. A person for you. He worked under me at your place. Do me a
favour. Name? Lenny Pukhov. Yes, a locksmith. Yes, the same. Doesn’t matter. We’ll be
even. No, he won’t drink anymore.”
Lenny lit up when he heard this, but Santa was staring intently at him with narrowed
eyes like that of a real old man. Then, when Schetovodov finished talking and put the
phone away, he took Lenny by the elbow and said quietly, “Now everything’s settled.”
“Thanks, man,” Lenny started to thank him. “Now I’m yours, forever. If you need
something done, you tell me, and I...”
“Now, gentlemen,” said Schetovodov, “everything’s settled. Comrade Pukhov will be
hired after the holidays, admittedly not as a locksmith...”
The Santa Claus of Slavic cultures, Ded Moroz – Grandfather Frost, originated as a personification of
frost, the god of winter, a powerful underworld god ruling over frost and a sorcerer. His appearance
resembles that of Santa Claus of the Western world but with a long magical staff.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2014


“What then?” Lenny was surprised.
“For the time being as the concierge. With a probation period. All I could do. Can I
go now?”
“Go, my dear, go,” Santa waved his hand. “I know you’re pressed for time.”
All three of them walked out of the banker’s apartment. Down on the street
Schetovodov jumped into his blue BMW and drove off.
“Thanks, man,” Lenny thanked him again and was about to leave, but Santa grabbed
his arm and stopped him.
“Wait. Indeed we also have to talk,” he said. “You’re indeed, if I understand correctly,
Leonid Arkadevich Pukhov, born 1966, Horse according to the Oriental horoscope,
zodiac sign Aquarius?”
“Yes,” Lenny said and was very surprised. “But how do you know all this?”
“Let’s sit down in the car,” said Santa. “Why talk on the street? Time isn’t at our
disposal.” A white-as-snow Mercedes instantly rolled up to Santa and he hospitably
opened the rear door in front of Lenny. “Be my guest.”
Lenny was frightened. He thought that he would be kidnapped, but could not stand
up against the will of the amazing Santa Claus. He obediently sat in the car on the seat
upholstered with white leather. Santa sat beside him and gave the driver, a very pale
young man in a white suit with a bow tie, a sign to go. The car started.
“Where are we going?” Lenny asked quietly.
“To the Novoiuzhnii district,”2 replied Santa. “To Kadikov Street. There lives a boy.
He's in grade one. A very smart boy. He has already learned to read and write. He wrote
to me that he wants a papa as a gift. You see, he has no father.”
“I don’t understand.” Lenny really did not understand. “What does this have to do
with me?”
“You’ll understand everything soon. I received a letter and ordered my office to
investigate whether there actually is no father, so as not to look for a new one. My staff
carefully studied everything and reported to me that the boy has a father.”
Lenny looked dully at Santa and could not grasp what he was saying.
“Remember Zina Klueva?” Santa then asked him directly.
It gradually began to dawn on Lenny. “The hairdresser?”
“You remember!” Santa was pleased. “And I thought that you didn’t. Well, the matter
becomes easier. If you remember her, then you will recall how you dropped her and gave
the poor girl neither reply nor greeting, not even your address. But she remembers you
very well. How can she not, if your portrait is alive before her eyes every day.”
Lenny grabbed his head. “What is it, she had a child by me?”
“Something like that,” said Santa. “I’m taking you to your son.”
“Oh, no, uncle, we haven’t agreed on that. Stop!”
Novoiuzhnii is a residential complex, consisting of multi-storey apartment buildings and public service
buildings, in the city of Cheboksary, the capital city of the Chuvash Republic of Russia and a port on the
Volga River.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2014


“Why, do you want to run away again?”
“Are you determined to catch me?” Lenny was suddenly angry. “You’re her papa?
Yes? Gotcha!” He showed Santa the finger. “What did you think of that? I don’t
remember any Zina. Never met her.”
“I have to take extreme measures,” said Santa.
Then Lenny became cold. So cold, as if he was submerged naked in ice-cold water.
He looked at Santa and suddenly realized that this cold came out of his eyes. It was as if
a knife was plunged into Lenny’s heart. He moaned from the pain.
“Well?” Santa’s eyes were no longer kind. They were clear and transparent. And even
very stern. His gaze deprived all movements. “Do I freeze you, or will you do what you’re
“I will!” With his last strength, Lenny nodded. “I’ll do everything you say, comrade!”
“So be it,” said Santa. The cold instantly vanished. Lenny was able to move his arms
and legs. Only his heart still seemed like it was covered by a crust of ice. It was aching
unbearably. “Now you go tell the boy that you’re his father, marry Zina, and lead a
normal family life. You have work, or did I make an effort for nothing? And you’ll stop
drinking. Otherwise, you know what will happen. Your heart will turn to ice and you will
turn into a snowman. The same if you turn out to be a bad father. Santa Claus doesn’t
give children bad gifts. Understood?”
Lenny nodded.
“Go. Here’s your entrance, apartment number forty. Don’t muddle up and don’t
forget what I told you. By the way, I’ve put gifts in your bag, make the boy happy.
Indeed, you haven’t given him a present for seven years. Some papa. Then, when you
start working, we’ll settle the accounts.”
Lenny got out of the Mercedes, the door slammed behind him, and the car drove off.
Boys running around stopped and stared at Lenny with surprise. They had never seen
such a dishevelled Santa Claus.
“Oh!” one of them exclaimed. “Wonder who Santa has come for? Probably the artist.”
Lenny did not answer, went into the entrance, and began to climb the stairs. On the
fourth floor near apartment forty, he stopped and rang the bell. The whole time he was
walking, Lenny’s heart was pounding furiously in his chest. At the same time, it was as if
icebound. Lenny was afraid.
A boy opened the door and looked at Lenny enthusiastically. It hit him. Suddenly
Lenny Pukhov felt the icy crust in his heart swiftly starting to melt. He saw himself. As if
coming out of a photo of him as a child.
“What’s your name, kid?” Lenny asked, adjusting the bag behind his back and
assuming an imposing appearance.
“You wrote Santa Claus a letter?”
“Yes, I did,” Maxim replied in a voice choked with excitement.
“Then accept the gift.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2014

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