THE HOT FUDGE sundae was perfect. The cherry tip sat on the
hardened chocolate like a beacon and the chopped nuts littered the
landscape. The vanilla ice cream was two concave half-moons perched
in the silver dish. The whipped cream swirled like fluffy snow setting
off the lighthouse cherry. George ate his warmed chicken and stared at
the sundae. The kitchen was littered with dishes of ice cream with five
different bottles of hot fudge, five cans of whipped cream, three jars of
cherries, a glazing spray, and four jars of assorted crushed peanuts.
“I think it is your best yet, Mary.”
His wife pulled her Christmas sweater closer together. “I don’t
know. I think the ice cream is a little off … the scooper just didn’t
melt it correctly.”
George gnawed on a chicken wing. Since they had moved, Mary’s
profession as a food preparer had become very part time. People just
weren’t spending much on ad budgets anymore.
George sighed, staring at the sundae.
“I’m now one of these marginalized old white males you read about
in the paper. I have been thrown into the dust heap of failed white men.”
Mary looked at him, her eyes hard behind the rounded lenses.
“Nonsense. People move around with jobs all the time. You are a very
good engineer, George. Your work speaks for you.”
“We should have never moved,” he moaned. “ Now we have this
big house. We should have stayed in your townhome with the small
“Don’t be ridiculous. The best thing we did was move. This is a
lovely house, and we will manage. You are a resourceful man.”
George looked at his wife. That’s what he loved about her. She
was practical. Yes, she looked like a librarian. That’s what his dad had
called her when George first brought her over. “Where did you get
that damn librarian,” he had asked.
George had met his wife online at Match.com.
“Online? Online? What the hell kind of a way is that to meet a
“Maybe you should try it, Dad. Mom’s been gone five years.”
“I would never go on a computer to find a woman. You don’t
know what kind of disease you could get. Are you wearing a goddamn
But he had gone online and found Mary, who had lived in Park
Ridge all her life and never married. She did wear button-up sweaters,
hard, flat shoes, granny glasses, and Mary Tyler Moore hair, but
what his father didn’t know was that Mary was great in bed. They
had become engaged within six months.
“That Mike Soros is a real prick. Telling me how lucky I was to
be getting fired.”
Mary listened while George finished his wine.
“I’m going to tell that Shanti that I don’t want his Panzer turret
pointed at my house.”
“I’m sure he will reposition his tank if you ask him,” Mary said
George chewed on this then swung back to Mike Soros. “I’m not
a team player?! I’m the biggest team player there is!”
“I know you are, dear.”
“I’m not a cyber-man? I have a BlackBerry!”
“Of course you do, dear.”
“I may not use it for everything … but I have one.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it,” Mary murmured, raising her camera
and flashing five quick shots of the melting sundae.
“And he criticized my bike bridge, saying other engineers laugh
“I’m sure no one laughs at your bridge, dear.”
“Asshole,” he grumbled. “He’s just jealous because I built that
bridge to last for the next hundred years!”
“Of course he is,” she continued, shooting five more from the
George finished his meal and looked at his reflection in the
kitchen window. His flat grey hair and beard were not familiar to
him. This other older man without a job had snuck in and eaten his
dinner and drunk his wine. What this other man really wanted to
know was, Now what?
“She’s in her room.” Mary put down her camera and slid the
sundae to George.
“Go ahead. I’m done with it.”
Joy to the World floated down the stairs. Megan was singing in
her bedroom. Mary glanced toward the stairs then motioned George
into the laundry room. He followed his wife into the room, which
smelled like detergent. She shut the door and pulled a piece of paper
from her pocket.
“Megan gave me this right before you came home.”
George looked at his wife and began to read the perfectly typed note.
I have doubts about the existence of Santa Claus. Mrs.
Worthington pointed out in class today that conditions in the
North Pole are very harsh (thirty below) and that Santa Claus
really could not survive up there. Also, she seemed to doubt that
elves were capable of building the facility needed to build toys
and provide shelter to the big man. When I questioned her, she
seemed to contradict herself and violated Dad’s basic rule: Data
should prove to be a coherent thesis. Also, several of my friends
(Jackie) have told me that there is no Santa Claus and that parents
actually purchase the presents. I have some doubts about
this, as I don’t see parents being able to pay for all those presents!
Finally, I have surfed on the Internet in search of eyewitness
accounts of Santa and found none. The few I did find
were amateur videos of some man dressed up like Santa. Dad
always said empirical data is needed to verify any thesis. I
have thought it over, and I don’t physically see how Santa
could pull off landing his sled on our roof, climbing down
the chimney, distributing multiple gifts, then going back up
the chimney and taking off again. Also, a minor point: How
do all the letters get to him with no zip code if they are just
addressed to Santa in the North Pole? Does he have a special
arrangement with the post office?
So I have decided to use a video camera (if you’ll let me) and
wait for Santa on Christmas Eve, setting my alarm to go off every
hour, and then if I do catch him on video, I will post it on YouTube
and settle it once and for all. I promise I won’t be tired the next
day. By the way, can I sleep over at Jackie’s tomorrow night? And
can you get some more milk that is not skim?
Love you. Love you. Love you.
“That Jackie!” George fumed. “I always knew she was a bad influence.
She’ll be getting high and giving her pot next!”
Mary raised her eyebrows. “How about Mrs. Worthington telling
her Santa couldn’t make it in the North Pole?”
“She should be fired!” George fumed. “I’m going to call the principal
Mary shrugged. “It won’t do any good. She’s retiring. I guess she
just figured she’d let that little grenade roll before she left.”
George stared at the letter again and shook his head.
“Great. I lose my job, and now my daughter doesn’t believe in
Santa Claus anymore.”
Mary crossed her arms, glancing toward the closed door.
“I think she still believes. But she is your child and wants proof
that he exists. She is nine. She’s getting to the age where they stop
George leaned back against the washer, deflated. Megan had been
his second chance at fatherhood. He had screwed up with Jeremy
and Jamie. He had put too much time into his career and probably
brought on the divorce, although he really believed Cynthia was chemically
unbalanced. But Megan was the daughter where he would do
everything right. They were very close, and he went to every school
function, every Girl Scouts function, everything! And now he had
blinked, and she was growing up.
George looked at his wife. “She should still believe in Santa. I
remember the best moments of my life were when my mom and
dad tucked me into bed on Christmas Eve and I had those electric
candles in my window. I was just so excited, and the room was in a
dull-yellow glow from the candle, and I was just waiting for Santa
…” He shook his head. “I can’t have her lose that.”
Mary pursed up her mouth, the small wrinkles appearing on her
upper lip. “She believes in logic, facts, proof. I have been doing magic
elves with her for the last week, having them mess up her room, and
I think she believes in them, but …” Mary paused, looking down.
“But kids talk and text and check out everything online. It’s harder
to keep secrets. I remember when I realized there was no Santa. I
was probably Megan’s age. And I cried and cried.’”
Mary put her hands on the dryer and moved some folded clothes.
“It is sad when they stop believing, but they grow up.”
“It was even worse with my other kids,” George muttered. “Jeremy
asked Cynthia if there was a Santa Claus. She told him, and I quote,
‘There is no stupid Santa Claus. We buy all the gifts.’ ”
“That is so sad.”
“I think they blame me for that too. I ruined their life, and I told
them there was no Santa Claus. They forget it was their mother who
wanted to go to Florida for Christmas and swim at a hotel pool on
Christmas day. No tree … nothing. I tried to give the kids gifts, and
she was lying out by the pool.”
George held up the letter. “So what do we do about this?”
“I’m going to leave that to you, George. She respects your opinion,
but you have to explain to her how Santa delivers the gifts.” Mary
looked at her husband sadly. “After that, we just have to accept that
our little girl is growing up.”
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STARRED REVIEW BOOKLIST
"If somebody doesn't make a movie out of this book, there's something wrong with the world. This could have been played as an out-and-out slapstick comedy, but instead the author approaches the story like a character study: a portrait of a man with the best intentions in the world watching those intentions collide with reality. It's a steamroller of a story, starting small, with George's idea, and getting bigger and bigger as George tries to put the elements together, as his obsession takes him further and further away from reality. Beautifully done."
David Pitts Booklist
"The author marries the everyday dramas found in the novels of Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby to the high camp of Carl Hiaasen or Dave Barry.It's not as frenetic as Christopher Moore's The Stupidest Angel or as maudlin as all those holiday staples (read: A Christmas Story), but adults looking for a funny holiday-themed tale that doesn't lose its sense of wonder in the face of realism will find a treat here. A lovingly crafted comedy about the madness that fatherhood inspires."
"Hazelgrove's lively improbable narrative will appeal to the readers in the mood for holiday fiction."
"Charming...Hazelgrove has real compassion for his characters." Chicago Tribune