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Monday, December 1, 2014

Real Santa Chapter 33 (23 Days Until XMAS)

GEORGE STARED AT the electric candle in his window. It had

been burning all night in his bedroom, and he checked every thirty

minutes to see if the yellow glow had dimmed by horizon light. But it

was just three AM. His parents had tucked him into bed seven hours

before and then gone down the stairs. He had lain awake, willing

himself to fall asleep, but he just couldn’t. So he stared at the candle

and imagined it as a beacon for Santa and his sleigh. Several times

he went to the window to look at the sky, examining the clouds for

a big man with a beard and reindeer.

Then he heard something. He wasn’t sure if he had imagined

the hard steel runner of a sleigh touching down on the roof. George

jumped up and went to his window, a boy lit by a solitary candle on

a snowy city street. He tried to crane his neck and see where Santa

must have landed, because that was where the chimney was. He threw

up the window, inhaling an Arctic blast of Chicago night air. George

stuck his head out and looked up on the roof. The dormer eaves of

his window kept him from being able to see the chimney.

He pulled his head in and ran to his desk, pulling out the Kodak

Instamatic he had squirreled away for this moment. George went

back to the window and held the camera up over the eave, shooting

a cube flash into the night. Then he pushed the window down, feeling

the biting cold still on his face and hands. Several crystals of ice were

on the hardwood of his bedroom. He crept to the door and walked
out into the hallway. He listened.

There was someone down in the living room. Even up on the third

floor he could hear the sound of someone walking. His father had

told him a month ago that Santa would implode on reentry when he

had asked if there really was a Santa. He had stared at George and

frowned with the slide ruler in his top pocket, taking off his glasses.

“Think about it, George. You know those astronauts with a heat shield

in their capsule? Imagine them without that heat shield. They would

be French fries. Besides, the g-force would make Santa combust like

an overboiled egg.”

It had taken him a good two weeks to reason his father had not
said there wasn’t a Santa Claus. He had just said the physics behind

Santa Claus didn’t add up. He had done some reading himself and

reasoned his father could be wrong. Santa might not go up in the

atmosphere and might fly at lower altitudes. His father was just being

cranky, he concluded. Besides, he now had a picture that would prove

his father and all the other doubters wrong. And now he would get

another one.

George crept down the stairs to the first floor, passing outside his

parents’ darkened doorway. He paused and heard the rhythmic low

snoring of his mother. His parents were asleep, and Santa was down

in their den where the fireplace was. He felt the excitement in the pit

of his stomach. No one he knew of had ever taken a picture of Santa

Claus. He would publish it worldwide and start by sending it to the
Chicago Tribune. Surely they would put his picture on the front page.

George made the last turn, holding on to the banister like a man

holding on to a dock. After this, he was going into history. He checked

his camera and saw the glowing orange light. His flash was charged,

and he had advanced the film. He placed one bare foot ahead of the

other on the cold oak boards. His father kept the furnace low at night,

and George shivered but he thought it was from nerves as much as a

fifty-nine degree setback. He carefully placed his toes on the floor, trying

to minimize the creaks and gasps of the hundred-year-old joists.

George heard Santa’s breathing. He sounded like a man laboring

up a hill. Well, of course he was tired! He had probably been up and

down hundreds maybe thousands of chimneys. George didn’t know

how old Santa was, but he had to be over fifty. He probably wasn’t in
 
the greatest of shape with that big belly. George saw the light spilling

from the den into the hallway. The breathing was louder and he heard

the tinkling of metal striking metal.

George raised up his camera and positioned his finger on the top.

He had to be ready because Santa might just shoot up the chimney.
The breathing was loud, and he thought he heard a muffled shit followed

by another muffled dammit. Santa curses! He wish he had a

tape recorder, but the pictures would be enough. He would soon be

famous as the boy who proved the existence of Santa Claus!

George turned into the den and heard an even clearer, “Jesus

Christ. Do they have to make these bolts so damn tiny?”

He paused in the doorway with his heart pounding in his ears,

then peered into the den and saw a formless shape by the fireplace.

There was only the one light on. George saw the Christmas tree and
piles of presents around the base. He’s already left the presents! That

meant all he had to do was go back up the chimney. George hunched

over behind the couch, and again he heard the low cussing: “Piece of

Japanese shit … Japs really screwed us with these …” So even Santa’s

toys were made in Japan! He had to get the picture now before it was
too late. George gave himself a count. One … two … three!

He jumped into the den, swung up his camera, and pressed the

button.
“Santa!”
His father jumped straight up like someone had shot him.
“What the … ?!”
POP!

Santa was blinded, and George had his picture for all time—a

disgruntled parent in the middle of the night trying to tighten the last

bolt on a Schwinn bicycle. His father recovered, holding the crescent

wrench out like a scepter.

“What the hell are you doing up?” he roared.

George stared at his old man. “Dad!”

“Who the hell else do you think is down here in the middle of

the night?”

George shrugged, feeling his face warm.

“I, I, I thought you were Santa.”

His father frowned. “Whadaya, nuts? I told you there ain’t no god
 
damn Santa! Now get the hell to bed so I can get to bed,” he shouted.

George turned and walked up the stairs silently. He cried himself

to sleep and got up late the next morning, causing his mother to feel

his forehead.

“He always was up at the crack of dawn before,” she murmured

worriedly.

His father never said a word about their nocturnal meeting and

neither did he. But George developed the picture and kept it in his

dresser drawer for years. It was now the faded photo of a tired fortysomething

man with a crescent wrench. George tied the end of his

childhood to that picture. And maybe Mary was right. Maybe he was

trying to put the genie back in the bottle for that ten-year-old boy.

Maybe that’s why he went into his bedroom and slipped the picture

into the pocket of his Santa suit.

REAL SANTA...Holiday Special .99
 


Books by William Hazelgrove