by Amy Fontenot
Christmas is almost here! Daddy says I love Christmas more than anyone because it is my birthday too. I will be seven this year. I promise I have been good all year. I help Mommy take care of Baby Benji. He cries and poops, but he is a nice baby. Please bring him a new stuffed bear. He drooled all over his old one. He does not write letters yet. I will teach him soon.
Please bring me a Barbie dream house and My Little Ponies and a Cinderella dress. And could you give me an extra special gift since it is my birthday too? I want Mommy to smile at Christmas. I think she forgot about your magic. When Mommy remembers how nice you are she will be so happy. I asked her to write you a letter too. Her name is Nora Clark. Please read it.
P.S. I will bake cookies for you. Please share with the elves and the reindeer.
I know it’s been quite a few years since you’ve heard from me. How are things at the North Pole? I hope the whole operation is going well. To be honest, I feel incredibly stupid, but I promised Grace I would write you a letter. She’s holding the envelope, waiting for me to finish writing so we can mail our letters together. There is no getting out of this.
As you know, I am not a fan of Christmas. You have to admit, I have plenty of reasons to dread Christmas. If it weren’t for my husband, I would have told Grace years ago that this whole thing was a fairy tale. Unfortunately, Rob was raised with a Norman Rockwell childhood, and his family has always been big on the magic of Christmas. His Mom makes Wassail and homemade gingerbread houses—enough said.
My childhood wasn’t picturesque like Rob’s. Christmas has always been an especially hard time, but Grace doesn’t know about that. Grace wants me to love Christmas. I can keep pretending, but I haven’t done a great job of fooling her. She’s too observant. Her eyes follow me when we go to Christmas parties, watching me tuck myself away in the corner as other moms flit around and laugh. It’s hard for me to smile and be happy, because the past always creeps in with painful memories.
My sister, Hannah, loved Christmas. On Christmas Eve, we would sleep under the fragrant evergreen tree, looking up into the lit branches and waiting for you to bring our presents. I remember the year she squeezed her eyes shut tight and whispered up into the branches. “Santa, can I please see you this year? I want to give you a special present. I made it at school, just for you. You can put hot cocoa in it at the North Pole and think of me and Nora.”
She clutched the lumpy mug as she drifted off the sleep. In the morning, we woke up surrounded by piles of presents. The mug was gone. Hannah giggled and bounced around in her sleeping bag. She clutched her new ice skates to her chest and leaned in close to my pillow smiling. “Next year we’ll stay up all night and make him give us a ride in his sleigh.” Dad cooked pancakes and Mom smiled from the couch as she sipped her coffee.
But the next year, Hannah was gone and I was alone under the tree. It wasn’t the same without Hannah, but then again, nothing was. I laid there straining to hear sleigh bells or footsteps on the roof. My plan was to ask you to fly the sleigh to see Hannah. I just knew you would do it if I asked, but I fell asleep in the thick silence. On Christmas morning, Dad bought donuts and Mom slept in.
By the time Christmas came around again, Dad was living in an apartment across town and Mom stayed in bed most days. “Your mom isn’t feeling up to Christmas this year.” Dad said as we drove to his place. The plastic tree at Dad’s was too small to sleep under, so I slept next to it on the couch. Mom sent over her gift, a scarf, and Dad gave me a copy of The Secret Garden. I didn’t tell him he gave me the same book for my birthday. I toasted waffles for the two of us.
You didn’t come that year.
I was twelve the last time I waited for you. My friends had stopped believing years before, but I held out hope. I just had to be good enough, happy enough, and you would come. My Christmas spirit never compared to Hannah’s. The memories of her staring up into our twinkling evergreen kept my Christmas spirit alive. Neither of my parents put up a tree that year, so on Christmas Eve, I pulled out the decorations myself and hung them on a fake tree. Waiting for your visit and humming Christmas carols, I unpacked the decoration boxes. At the bottom of the last box, I pulled out an object wrapped in newspaper. As I peeled back the paper, my stomach tightened and my fingers trembled. The name scratched into the bottom stole my breath, but I wasn’t really surprised when I saw the handmade mug. I traced the letters with my fingertips. Deep down, I had always known the truth. You had never come. You never would.
A searing heat spread through me. It started at the tips of my fingers near the mug, and traveled up my arms and into my chest. I trembled and pressed my lips together trying to contain the rage and despair that my heart frantically pumped through my body. I tried to hold on to the image of Hannah under the tree, but instead I saw the empty spot where she belonged. Images flashed through my head: Hannah clutching the mug, Hannah singing carols, Hannah baking cookies with our smiling mother, Hannah grinning and running toward the frozen pond with her new ice skates. I glared as she ran off with her friends, leaving me behind. Hannah frozen and blue on the broken ice… Hannah’s coffin lowered into the cold ground.
I screamed as the mug flew from my outstretched hands and shattered against the wall. I immediately wanted to undo what I had done. I wanted the mug back. I wanted Hannah’s joy and innocence. I wanted Hannah.
I boxed up the tree and threw it in the dumpster. I stopped begging my parents to celebrate Christmas. Christmas was no longer about hope. It was just a painful reminder of innocence lost.
Years later I met Rob in college, and we married after graduation. He tried to bring Christmas back into my life, but he failed to convert me. Then Grace was born—on Christmas, no less. Rob wanted our children to have magical Christmases, and I eventually gave in to him.
He promised I could take a backseat and let him do all the Christmassy stuff, but Grace isn’t satisfied with that. She wants me to love Christmas the way she does. She wants me to sing Christmas songs, and cheerfully bake sugar cookies, and fawn over Christmas decorations. She is so much like Hannah. I don’t want to take that joy from her. I want to laugh with her and smile the way my parents couldn’t. I want her to believe in you. I want to find her sleeping under the glowing Christmas tree.
I wish I could believe in you. Sometimes I wish I never stopped. Maybe I can pretend. Maybe it’s not too late for me. I’ll smile and laugh and enjoy this. Not for you, but for Grace, Benji, Rob —and Hannah.
Category: Short Story