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The year I hallucinated the Christmas presents

If you read this story, you have to promise not to mention it to my children. They still believe in Santa Claus.

It was the night before Christmas, and I was busy rooting for the scissors and tape, obsessively going over details: What time should I stuff the turkey? Did I remember to chill the wine? Did I sew that button on my husband's jacket?

I asked my husband to get the toys from the attic. He was up there for longer than was comfortable. I hollered up at him to hurry up.

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"I can't see any bags," he said. I thought he was joking. The bags were large and red.

"Look again," I huffed. "They're there."

A minute went by and he said it again. "I can't see the bags."

"Stop messing with my brain," I said.

He finally appeared with one red plastic bag in his hand, except this one wasn't fat with purchases. It was as flaccid as a deflated balloon. He reached inside and pulled out a lone colouring book.

"OH MY GOOD GOD," I screamed, the blood draining from my face. "I forgot to buy the presents."

In a nauseating flashback, I saw myself, a self-professed bargain shopper extraordinaire, cruising the aisles of a discount warehouse, pre-selecting the toys I'd get for my kids from Santa - a giant Lego set, a miniature indoor bouncy castle, a pink-tasselled scooter, a remote-controlled flying bat, a jingle-jangle tambourine, a carnivorous-plant terrarium. I saw myself inspecting and evaluating them for their fun value and ability to stimulate the imagination.

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Those toys, it appears, had stimulated my own imagination to the point that I believed I had actually bought them, and in October no less.

I had said as much to harried colleagues who asked if I had finished my Christmas shopping, meaning that they had not.

"Oh yes," I had gloated. "I never leave things to the last minute."

Now I shouted, "What time is it?"

It was 11:20 p.m. and it was Christmas Eve.

With shaking hands I riffled through the Yellow Pages and grabbed the phone. "Hello, Shoppers Drug Mart? I have an emergency."

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"We close at midnight," said the pharmacist.

"Why are you in such a panic?" my husband asked, serenely surveying the little pile of stocking stuffers: chocolate reindeer, neon yo-yos and oversized crayons. "These are enough."

"Enough? Are you crazy?" I shrieked. "Christmas to a child means abundance. I will not have my children feeling Santa didn't come through for them."

Fifteen minutes later I was racing through the drugstore aisles. Too bad my five-year-old daughter was too young for makeup. Or that my eight-year-old son didn't shave.

Past the laxatives and lubricants, the toilet paper and toothpaste, I found my first score: puppy and kitten calendars. I threw a six-pack of chocolate milk and another of strawberry into my cart, a frog-shaped container of green shower gel. The luminescent cartoon-themed bath salts gave me pause. "Probably carcinogenic." I threw them in my cart.

On a shelf of plush toys I found a hideous mutant Rudolph, which screeched when I touched it. It was exactly the kind of toy I would never allow in my home. I threw two on top of my pile and headed for office supplies.

I was reaching for the coloured index cards - good for crafts, I reasoned - when I noticed the other customers. They were all men, doing what men are rumoured to do, buying their Christmas gifts last-minute. In their beefy hands were bottles of J'Adore and Tabu.

They looked at me with bewilderment. I was clearly a mom, but a mom who had left her children's present-buying to the 11th hour? They looked at their feet as they quietly shuffled by, perhaps muttering a silent prayer for my soul.

I invoked the Creator myself when the cashier rang in the total for my on-the-fly, and to me, useless, purchases: $350.

The morning came far too early. My children, who had slept through the midnight drama, were up at dawn, shouting with excitement.

"Look, Mummy! Look!"

I was bleary-eyed, craving coffee. I could see my daughter cradling her freak Rudolph, laughing delightedly as she made him screech over and over.

I don't know how, but I had done it. I had made Christmas happen. For real.

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About the Author

Deirdre Kelly is a features writer for The Globe and Mail. She is the author of the best-selling Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection (Greystone Books). More

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