THE BICYCLE WAS by the tree when she came down. The blue
Schwinn stood out like a diamond. The red ribbon on the handlebars
beckoned her, and Mary and her father went outside. It had been
snowing all week, and the streets still had a thick layer of slushy white.
Her father walked with her on the new bike, holding it up, letting her
glide through the quiet snow.
Santa had brought her what she asked for in the letter her mother
mailed. Dear Santa, I want a blue Schwinn Stringray Banana bike with
five gears. Her parents told her Santa might not be able to deliver such
a bike. But there it was when she came down the slippery wooden
stairs. Sylvia and Shirley and Daffney were wrong. They had walked
home one day, and she had been the lone holdout: Santa was real.
Riding out in the bracing air, she was a happy ten-year-old as her
father huffed by her. And then it happened. The handlebars shifted,
and when she turned straight the handlebars pointed to the left.
Her father frowned and looked at the bike, pulling out an adjustable
wrench from his coat. “I thought I had tightened that bolt down
enough,” he murmured. Mary stared at him as he tightened the steering
wheel, turning the wheel between his legs. Had he really said he
had tightened the handlebars?
“I thought Santa put the bike together, Daddy.”
And years later she realized how tired her father had been. He
had come home from his sales job, and then stayed up half the night
assembling toys. His eyes were red rimmed with heavy bags under
them. He was bent over the bike with a stubble, cranking the bolt in
the center of the handlebars. He wasn’t thinking, and that’s why he
said what he said.
“You’re looking at Santa,” he muttered.
And Mary had stared at him. He kept torquing the bolt with his
bare hands chapped and slightly red from the cold. He finished and
handed her the bike. “There you go.” Mary held the bike and put one
leg over and then paused. She looked at her father, whose eyes had
started watering from the cold, his long overcoat tailing out in the
“You’re Santa Claus, Dad?”
“Yeah, but don’t tell your brothers. They still believe.”
And Mary felt her breath leave. She felt the cheery white world
go away. She brushed away the tears and pushed off, but the bike
slid in the snow, and she felt the rutted ice on her cheek. Her father
picked her up.
“Hey, kiddo, maybe we should try this when it’s not so cold.”
And she had nodded, keeping her head down, brushing away the
tears she blamed on the wind. Her father never knew he had delivered
the hammer blow to her belief in Santa Claus. Even then she knew that
would crush her mother, who went to elaborate means to keep her
belief alive. But she had lost it, and there was simply no turning back.
And that day is what she thought about when she heard the
reindeer trampling overhead like thunder. It’s what got her staring
out the window at Dean floating in space in the green beret with the
snow and fog enveloping the roof. And as she stood at the window,
she felt like that little girl again who had cried on that cold, snowy
Christmas day. And she realized then what George had said was true.
She would have paid a million dollars to have her belief in Santa back.
“I am practical, dammit,” she muttered, hearing nine reindeer
scuff about on her roof.
But there was something about a man who would lead a sled of
reindeer onto a roof for his daughter. And now that man was about
to go down a chimney. Mary considered for the first time that her
husband just might kill himself.
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