Worthington is the Grinch. She had read the Dr. Seuss book many
years ago and the Grinch was not likeable, but he did have an avenue
for revenge—and Mrs. Worthington envied him for that. Take these
papers she was grading at six PM while the snow swirled outside. They
were supposed to be essays on what they would do over Christmas
break, but had become polemics on how Santa could survive in polar
Mrs. Worthington looked up from a paper with a Santa penciled
in the corner and looked at the clock. What did she expect? A
man who would say, “Don’t friggin’ mess with Santa,” could not be
expected to be on time for anything. He was one of those males so
different from her father, who had worked hard and expected his kids
to work hard too. These kids with their beliefs in Santa Claus had no
idea what real work was.
Mrs. Worthington saw in the window a snow-haired woman with
a beehive and a sweater draped over her shoulders. She wouldn’t see
that woman much anymore. She would walk out of the building at the
end of the year and never return. Some thought she was silly to stay
on so long. She was seventy, but teaching was her life, and she liked
being busy, getting things done. She had never understood leisure,
never understood when other people talked about retiring and doingwhat they want. She was doing what she wanted
HO HO HO scrawled beneath him. Mrs. Worthington scrawled beneath
Santa: DID NOT FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS. Christmas was
something to be endured, but things had gone too far with the Kronenfeldt
girl. Mrs. Worthington would use one of his own against
Santa this time. And her idiot father would be a perfect foil.
He would be her Grinch.
George and Mary knocked lightly on the door of the classroom.
They had received the e-mail requesting a conference about Megan,
and George suspected it had something to do with his parting words.
But as they walked into the classroom, he felt a warm nostalgic glow.
Here was the classroom of his youth; the alphabet going across the
blackboard and the vowels and the flag drooping beneath the loudspeaker
along with the institutional clock with the hour hand that
never seemed to move. He inhaled the sanctum of learning, so safe
and nurturing after thirty years in the business world. Then he saw
“Hello Mr. and Mrs. Kronenfeldt. Please come in.”
George walked in feeling the cold blast of the schoolmarm. Even
the damn apple was on the corner of her desk. To George she was
Mrs. Gary, the cranky old bird in Virginia who flew around the room
smacking him on the head again with her pencil. “No, no, no …that
is not how you make an eight!” The pencils broke and fell on his desk
like spent cartridge shells. He bent to his work, a grimy, sweating boy
who no one wanted to sit next to. “You are the stupidest boy I have
ever had in the first grade!”
“I wanted you to come down here to discuss Megan,” Mrs. Worthington
George tried to focus on the thin-lipped woman with the bifocals.
She had glanced at him as if he were a roach and then talked
to his wife.
“We have a … Santa issue, if you will,” Mrs. Worthington continued.
Mary was sitting with her hands in her lap. Mrs. Worthington
had given up even glancing at George and was speaking directly to
“Megan is a very smart child, and I enjoy her in class very much.
But we had a discussion the other day about global warming …”
Mrs. Worthington pulled the sleeves of her sweater in closer. “Well
… which spun out of control when Santa entered our discussion.”
“I heard you told the kids that it was too cold for Santa’s elves to
build his workshop,” George grumbled.
Mrs. Worthington’s mouth had turned into a small circle, her
eyes over the glasses. “There was some unfortunate discussion of the
Santa topic. Yes.” She turned back to Mary. “But what I am concerned
about is that Megan promised the class something she cannot possibly
deliver on, and I fear she might be the laughing stock of the class.”
His wife leaned forward. “What happened?”
Mrs. Worthington moved her pencil next to a magnifying glass.
“I am used to Santa entering our classroom at this time of year,
but I have to rein the children in and get them to focus, of course.”
“You mean by telling them there is no global warming when of
course all science points the other way,” George muttered.
Mary turned to him and stared.
He shrugged. “Just saying …”
Mrs. Worthington cleared her throat.
“Megan, unfortunately, promised the class she would prove the
existence of Santa Claus by videotaping him and putting it on You-
Tube.” The old teacher paused, sitting back in her chair. “Obviously,
she cannot possibly do this, and I fear she will be embarrassed when
it comes out that she lied to the class.”
“She didn’t lie to anybody,” George snorted.
Mrs. Worthington blinked twice and leaned forward. Another
bad student and, of course, it was a boy. They were always so naughty,
going to the washroom, squeezing themselves, talking about bathroom
functions. And then they grew up into men.
“I don’t think I understand what you are saying, Mr. Kronenfeldt.”
George crossed his arms and sat back.
“I said she will videotape Santa, and she will put it on YouTube.”
“I don’t think furthering the child’s delusions at this point will
“Oh, you’re right. Let’s just tell her there is no Santa Claus and
life sucks, and while we’re at it, let’s have her get a job at McDonald’s.”
His wife and his daughter’s teacher stared at him as if he had
just farted. To George that was their expression. Mary was squeezing
his arm, imploring him with her eyes, but it was too late. Mrs.
Worthington was the type of woman he had battled all his life—humorless,
cold, the nun who would gladly put him in the corner on a
George leaned forward, putting a hand on her desk.
“Let me ask you a question: Did you ever believe in Santa Claus?”
“I don’t think what I believe is the issue.”
“No, really. Did you ever, ever believe in Santa Claus?”
Mrs. Worthington stared at this bearded man with the crooked
glasses and pens in his top shirt.
“No. We were working too hard to indulge in such foolishness.”
“So, you had a lousy childhood.”
“I had a very good childhood. My father was a man whom children
George rolled his eyes. “Have you ever watched Miracle on 34th
“I don’t remember.”
“What about It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas or Holiday
“I don’t think Christmas movies are the topic here.”
George held out his hand, looking at his wife.
“I rest my case. She doesn’t have any Christmas spirit! I’ll bet she
doesn’t believe in the Easter Bunny either.”
Megan’s teacher turned to Mary.
“I have spoken with the principal on this matter, and he concurs.
We really need Megan to tell the children she will not be filming Santa
Claus and putting it on YouTube. The children are so excited by this,
they can barely pay attention, and we need them to concentrate on
“Not going to happen,” George said flatly.
“I beg your pardon!”
“No.” George shook his head. “I don’t think I will give you my
pardon or anything else.” He pumped his finger at the old teacher.
“My daughter still believes in Santa Claus, and I intend to keep that
belief alive as long as I can.”
Mrs. Worthington leaned forward. “You are setting her up for
failure, Mr. Kronenfeldt.”
“No, I’m not. I’m setting her up so she won’t become a jaded old
teacher who pisses on children’s fantasies.”
The room became quiet.
“Then you will not do anything?”
“If it involves telling my daughter there is not a Santa Claus, then
hell no! Megan will get her video of Santa and that’s final.”
“And how is that going to happen?”
“Santa is going to come, that’s how.”
Megan’s teacher eyed the crazy homeless man who had come to
“Dressing up in a suit will not solve your problem.”
“No one is dressing up in a suit.”
“I don’t understand.”
George spread his arms. “The Real Santa Claus will appear with
reindeer and go down the chimney and deliver the presents then fly
away into the night. And Megan will get it all on video.”
“You are crazy.”
George shrugged. “I’d say the inmates are running the asylum.”
Mrs. Worthington sat up straight and pulled her sweater close.
“You cannot lie to these children but for so long!”
George stood up from the small chair with his wife.
“Santa exists.” He pounded his chest. “He exists in the hearts of
“You are a deranged man, Mr. Kronenfeldt,” Mrs. Worthington
said gravely. She looked at his wife. “You have my sympathies.”
The Kronenfeldts left, and Mrs. Worthington sat back down
in her chair and listened to their steps fade. She pulled her sweater
and stared at the apple on her desk. Santa Claus had harassed her
for fifty years with Christmas parties, spacy children, candy-cane
jazzed children, class presents, and the interminable discussions
of the existence of Santa Claus. She stared at her reflection in the
window and nodded slowly.
“I will kick Santa squarely in the nuts once and for all,” she murmured
to the woman in the window.
Real Santa...Starred Review Booklist 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. 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."