2nd Place – November 2020

Looking for Santa Claus


Gail Armstrong


“Dad, is Santa Claus real?” With hands in his jean pockets and a steady gaze into Dad’s eyes, nine year old Danny asked the question he’s wanted to ask for twelve months.
“Yes, he is.” Dad glanced down as the words stabbed at his gut.
“Frankie said he isn’t real, that you buy us the toys.”
“He’s real.” He felt the cutting pain of lying to his son as his chest rose in a deep breath.
“Okay. I’ll tell Frankie.” He turned and left.
Dad wasn’t ready to go into magic.  He was on the alert from his doctor about an Xray that would tell if he had cancer like Marion his wife of eleven years had. How could he talk about magic today?  It was two years ago this month that he lost his beloved life partner. Life had been a challenge bringing up a four year old and a seven year old without their wise mom.
Danny and his younger sister Lizzie huddled for warmth in front of their neighbor’s garage as the swirling wind embraced them with bone chilling cold of early December.
They watched eagerly as the big white truck with two men drove slowly past and then backed up to the end of the driveway.
The burly man stuck his head out the window and shouted, “Hey kids, do you know where the Wilson’s live?  We have a delivery for their garage.”
“Yeah, right here.” Danny turned and motioned with his arm towards the small building.
“Well, we have two bikes here; we were told to put them in their garage,” as he jumped from the truck.
“They don’t have kids.” Danny’s face scrunched as his eyebrows dipped together.
“I know Danny.” Lizzie shook her small shoulders and crunched up her round face.
One man carried a blue girl’s bike, the other man pushed a green boy’s bike towards them, opened the garage door and put them inside.
“Thanks kids.” He pulled down the garage door, turned and left.
“Let’s look.” A wimpish grin stretched from ear to ear as Danny opened the door. The yellow tag on a handlebar caught his eye. He put his gloved hand out to touch it. At the top, printed in bold black letters, the name Adams jumped out like a Jack in the box. Danny’s face reddened, his body stiffened, as he turned to Lizzie.
“No, it can’t be. It has our name on it. Adams. These are for us.”
“Danny, did Daddy buy them for us?”
“Yup, for Christmas. There’s no Santa Claus.” Hot tears streamed down his crimson cheeks. He wasn’t sad, he was damn mad.
“I knew it. He’s a liar. All adults are.” He slammed the garage door down.
“Will I still get my doll?” A sadness that Lizzie didn’t understand engulfed her petite frame as she burst out crying.  Warm tears blurred her vision as she hung her head and asked her older brother who knew everything, “there’s no Santa Claus anymore?”
“No, stop crying, let’s go.” Danny picked up his sled and with a thrust of his arm threw it roughly onto the ground in back of him.
“You’ll break it Danny.” Intense tears cascaded down her puffy cheeks. Her chest convulsed up and down.
“Who cares? I can ask Santa Claus for another one.” He shook his head and threw his hands in the air. “You know– that fat, white bearded, jolly man dressed in a stupid red suit with white fur?”
“Hey numbskull, are you sledding or not?” Twelve year old cousin Frankie stood at the end of the driveway and bellowed at Danny staring back at the garage.
“Danny turned. Yeah, let’s go.”
“Wow, what happened to you two? You look like you just lost your best friend.” He flung his head back and howled.
“We did, and you’re right, there’s no Santa Claus. He’s a fake, he’s my father.”
“Well, it’s about time you learned that man. What made you decide that?”
“Some guys delivered two bikes to our neighbor’s garage.”
“Yeah, so?”
“They don’t have kids and the name on the tag was—”
“Oh, don’t tell me. Adams?”
“Yeah, he lied to us.”
“Yeah man, for your benefit. He didn’t do it to make you unhappy”
“Well, I don’t like it.”
“Maybe you need to talk with your dad.”
“I will, later. Come on, let’s slide down this hill.”
“Dad you lied; our bikes came today, and we were there.” With his hands on his hips Danny looked directly into his dad’s eyes and demanded an answer.
“Oh boy, that’s unfortunate. I didn’t think about that possibility.” His vivid blue eyes darkened as he sat down slowly on the edge of his bulky chair and exhaled loudly.
“How do I handle this?” he thought.
“Your Mom and I worked long hours to make sure you and your sister had a decent Christmas every year.  I’m sorry you and your sister—he paused. She knows?”
“She does.”
“That’s too bad, she’s young.”
“But it’s a lie Dad.” His voice escalated.
“Well, yes—but we don’t lie to hurt. The fantasy of Santa is supposed to give joy. I’m sorry you’re angry.”
“A fat man in a sleigh being pulled by eight reindeer going around the world in one night is hard to believe. Geesh Dad.”
“That’s part of the magic son.”
“Do you remember the excitement on Christmas eve going to bed early so Santa could come, and racing downstairs in the morning to see what was under the Christmas tree?”
“Yeah.” Danny sighed as his eyes lit up and he calmed down.
“That’s when you and Mom put the gifts under the tree?”
“Do you know how tricky it was to bring them down from the attic and through your room?” He laughed as his belly moved up and down, looked at his son and winked.
“The joy of Christmas is families, people, gift giving, food and laughter. It’s one day when people forget the troubles of the world and enjoy a bit of magic.”
“I’m sorry Lizzie knows Dad.”
“It’s done—you had to find out sooner or later. I’ll talk with her. She’s young and forgiving.” said with a touch of sadness.
“You’ll understand when you have kids.”
“Mom would be sad that you found out this way. She loved Christmas time and she believed in Santa Claus.”
“She believed?” Danny relaxed into a chair.
“Of course, she was a child once too. We all were. Santa was a special part of our lives.”
“Mom would tell you that Christmas isn’t only about Santa and gifts. Not all children have the pleasure of a good home and family or people who love them or the money to buy the type of gifts you and Lizzie have had. Some get nothing. They are not as fortunate as we have been. We’re lucky.”
“That’s sad Dad.”
“Yes it is. Don’t forget that.”
“Mom would want you to believe in the feeling, the spirit of Christmas.”
“What kind of feeling?”
“The feeling of gratitude, love and peace. She would want you to have Christmas in your heart.”
“What do you mean in your heart?” He leaned forward with a tilt of his head.
“Well, Christmas is not a place, a thing or something you can touch. It’s something you feel and share. It’s a time to show love for all people; a time to forget differences.”
“Mom would say it is the coming together of souls who are grateful and thankful for who they are and what they have. It can’t be made or destroyed. Santa Claus and Christmas is within us, even if we are alone and have no one. We can have a Merry Christmas with no gifts.”
“Do you get this at all Danny?”
“Yeah Dad, I do.” His face softened as his mouth opened up into a grin.
“Yes, Santa Claus is real. His spirit lives in everyone who believes in his goodness and magic. We all need fantasy and hope.”
“That’s cool Dad, I can hear Mom saying all that. Santa and Christmas go together like milk and cookies.”
“You got it. So, are we going to be happy this year and from now on?”
“Yes Dad.”
“Lizzie is afraid she won’t get her doll.”
“It’s taken care but don’t tell her. We need surprises.”
“I won’t,” he said forcefully.
“Hey Dad, Thanks for the cool bike and the talk.”
“It’s my pleasure, and your Mom’s.” He glanced up at a picture of his wife.  He felt he hadn’t missed her more than today. “For one moment he thought she smiled. Nah, I’m just exhausted.”
A voice came over the answering machine.
“Mr. Adams, Dr. Rudolph’s office calling. Your Xray came back negative. Merry Christmas.”

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