GEORGE GRUNTED AND picked at his beard, tapping on his
computer, his calculator, scribbling notes to himself, balling up the
paper, and littering the floor with snowballs. He ate Hershey’s Kisses
as he worked. He had started with the glass bowl, then he just
grabbed the bag from the pantry. Snow blew outside the kitchen
window, showing a man under a yellow light with a grey beard and
spectacles low on his nose. Some would say he looked like Santa
Claus doing his taxes.
George sat back in his chair and stared at the screen of his laptop.
He chewed the inside of his mouth. It might all work without too
much alteration, depending on where the roof joists were reinforced.
He could get up in the attic and check on that. The load-bearing wall
should handle the weight, which he put at about three thousand
pounds, give or take a little. Now of course—
He turned and looked at his wife, clutching her robe. “Oh, hi.”
“What are you doing up? It’s nearly four in the morning.”
“Is it?” George looked at his watch. “I guess time got away from
His wife walked up and stared at the paper all over the table.
“What are you working on?”
George paused. Mary was already fingering his drawings, trying
to understand the pictures of reindeer and sleds next to calculations
of payload and stress, with the blueprints of the house showing joist
locations, the exact run of the roof, the pitch—the critical data for a
man trying to place nine reindeer and a sled.
Mary picked up one of the drawings, her eyes bunching. “What
are you doing, George?”
He breathed heavily and set his pencil down. “Megan doesn’t
believe in Santa unless she can see proof that he exists.”
“She is going to stay up all night to videotape him when he comes.
If he doesn’t come, then she’ll know he isn’t for real.”
Mary waved him away. “Kids say things like that all the time.”
He paused. “I lied to you when I told you how Jeremy found out
there wasn’t a Santa. I told you it was my wife who told him, but it
wasn’t. He came to me and asked me how Santa Claus could do it.
He asked how Santa could deliver all those presents in one night to
kids all over the world. And I said, let’s figure it out.”
Mary nodded slowly. “Okay.”
“So I took out my calculator and started figuring out miles per
hour and payload, and basically I came up with a sled weighing three
hundred and fifty-three thousand tons, traveling at six hundred and
fifty miles per second, creates an enormous amount of air resistance
in the form of friction. So I explained that with this heat, the reindeer
will be much the same as a spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.
The lead reindeer would have to absorb fourteen quintillion
joules of energy. Per second. Each!”
Mary shook her head. “George, you’re losing me.”
He breathed heavy, shaking his head.
“Then I told my son that in short, the first pair of flying reindeer
would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the next
pair of flying reindeer. This would create a deafening sonic boom in
their wake, and the entire reindeer team would be vaporized in less
than five seconds. Santa meanwhile would be subjected to g-forces
equivalent to seventeen thousand times greater than the force
of earth’s gravity. A two-hundred-and-fifty-pound Santa would be
pinned to the back of the sled by more than four million pounds of
force and would spontaneously combust. In short, he would be fried
beyond all recognition.”
Mary stared at him. “You told your son that?”
George nodded. “He was nine.”
“I know. I thought in the name of science and deductive reasoning
it was better to work it out with him.” He looked at Mary. “You know
what’s worse? I almost did it again with Megan.”
Mary stared down for a moment.
“I’m sure Jeremy didn’t follow all those calculations.”
“No, but he remembered that I told him that Santa would spontaneously
combust. It was horrible. He has held that against me ever
since.” George nodded to the table. “I’m fifty years old. I probably just
destroyed my career, and I have two kids who hate me and one who
still believes in me.”
“They don’t hate you.”
“Oh, yes they do,” he replied, nodding. “I don’t blame them. I
was always working when they were growing up. I was always lost
in my own world.”
Mary took his hand. “You were a good father.”
“That’s not what they would say. Anyway, I determined I wasn’t
going to let the same thing happen to Megan. I want her to have
dreams. I want her to have a great childhood. I want her to believe
in Santa until she’s ready to give it up. I don’t want the world to take
it from her. Not yet.”
Mary stared at her husband. “So what are you saying?”
George looked at his computer and the pages of calculations. “I’m
saying I’m going to be the Real Santa. She said she wants to see Santa
land on the roof, go up the chimney and down it, deliver the presents,
and go back up the chimney and fly away on his sled. That’s what
she wants to see, and I’m going to make sure she sees a real Santa.”
Mary didn’t move. She stared at the man with his arms crossed.
“But how will you do that?”
“Well, I’ve worked out a lot of it. I was thinking Dean could help
me with the special effects. Obviously, the only real way to pull it off
would be a relativity cloud, but since we don’t have the technology
to produce that, I will have to settle for smoke and mirrors.”
George spun around his laptop. “I initially thought getting the
reindeer on the roof would be the hardest part. But it really is just a
matter of preparation. I’ll have a ramp built here. The reindeer can
be herded up onto the roof and put into line. Fortunately the pitch of
the roof is so slight the reindeer will be able to stand. It is a question
of how much the roof can take. I’m thinking three thousand pounds
at a minimum with the sled and payload. Obviously the sled will have
to be custom, and I’m thinking it will run on rails much the same
way a train does and—”
He looked at his wife, who was now standing.
“Tell me you aren’t really thinking of being the Real Santa!”
He shrugged. “Who else? There will be a certain amount of risk,
and I couldn’t ask anyone else to do it. Scaling a chimney in the middle
of the night could be considered hazardous work by some, but with
proper precautions, I think the risk will be minimal.”
Mary felt her face growing warm. “You are kidding.”
“No.” George picked at his beard. “No. I’m going to do this. I want
to keep my little girl’s dreams intact, and this is the only way. For one
night I will be the Real Santa, and Megan will be able to videotape it,
and if she puts it out on the net, who knows, maybe other kids who
have doubts will see it.”
“But kids just stop believing, George … it’s inevitable.”
He looked at up at his wife.
“I’ve been an engineer who has built bridges and screwed up his
family. That’s all I can say for my life so far. Here is my chance to do
something good. I want to do something I can believe in, Mary. I
want to do this for Megan. I don’t want her to be knocked down by
the Mrs. Worthingtons of the world.”
His wife sat back down at the table.
“But … won’t this be expensive?”
George shifted in his chair.
“There will be costs. But it shouldn’t be too bad. Basically I’m
going to rent some reindeer for a night and hopefully a sled, and then
I’m going to put them on the roof and go up the chimney and down
it. There will be alterations to the chimney and ramps will have to
be built to get the reindeer up and down, but after that I don’t see a
lot of costs.”
Mary looked at her husband.
“There are only eleven days to Christmas.”
He nodded grimly and looked at her. “I need to talk to Dean for
the technical problems. Can you call him for me?”
Mary sat quiet at the table. She remembered the night she walked
home from the library and saw an old woman walking alone with
a cane. At that moment, Mary had seen herself, and she wondered
what would she have to show for her life. She had registered on three
dating sites the next day and ended up marrying into a family of eccentric
Swiss men who engineered cannons for armies and bridges
spanning rivers all over the world.
She looked at her husband and nodded.
“I’ll call him tomorrow.”
Real Santa...Starred Review 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. 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."
Best-selling author Hazelgrove (e.g., Ripples; Tobacco Sticks) captures the human need to believe in something good. This book will satisfy readers looking for a happy Christmas story.-- Library Journal
"Hazelgrove's lively improbable narrative will appeal to the readers in the mood for holiday fiction."