“There is no Santa Claus!”
Marlie felt the words slap her cold face and they stung. Her eyes grew large and liquid – lower lip quivered. “Is so,” she whispered.
Ricky Marks, a neighborhood menace and proud of it, rolled his eyes and smirked. He strutted through the powdered snow like the destructive little rooster he was. “Is so,” he mimicked Marlie. “Grow up!” he yelled as he towered over her.
The other little kids huddled around Marlie, crying and shaking. “You’re just a mean old boy, Ricky Marks. Santa won’t bring you anything tonight. Just you wait and see.”
Ricky bent and scooped up a good handful of snow and crafted an icy launch but before he could raise his arm the little ones scattered. They likened a sea of confetti against the white snow, in their pink, green and purple coats – their little feet leaving the tiniest trace of their presence.
No matter, Ricky had the neighborhood skating rink to himself and he could spin and glide to his heart’s content. Soon, skating alone became a bore. A boy with no friends and whose parents are rarely home finds little satisfaction in being alone. The sun descended quickly across the silver sky and he watched the Christmas lights pop on, porch light threw cozy yellow haloes over steps and smoke lazed out chimneys and Ricky felt an ache kick his insides. He grunted against his troubled heart and changed out of his skates for boots. For a moment he stood still, no reason to go home to an empty house, no money to buy anything. “Now what?” and his mutter came out like smoke from his mouth.
“What are you doing out by yourself on Christmas Eve?” Mrs. Hanson appeared before him, weighted down with packages, all bright wrapping and spilling bows. Her face was rosy and her grin was wide – deftly she closed the car door with her foot. Trudging up the walk, the packages teetered then spilled across the lawn, like jewels scattered across white velvet.
Without thinking, Ricky scurried to help Mrs. Hanson gather the packages and helped her to her front door. “Oh, you’re a life-saver, Ricky,” she grinned, “but don’t tell Mr. Hanson, he’ll never let me live it down.”
Ricky shrugged. “Nah, I won’t tell him.”
“So, what are you doing out on your own on Christmas Eve?” she asked again but more gently.
“What’s the difference? Not like Santa is coming,” he guffawed.
Mrs. Hanson gave him sad eyes. “Where are your folks? I mean, it’s Christmas…”
Ricky didn’t like the way he felt when she looked into him with her pretty blue eyes – soft and vulnerable, scared and lonely. He swatted her concern away. “I don’t know. None of your business. I’ve got to go.”
“Oh Ricky, don’t be that way.”
He started off muttering, needing distance from the nice Mrs. Hanson.
“If you get hungry, stop by. Lots of food, we’re having a party.” Her voice was like a song, sweet and lilting and it made Ricky’s legs pump harder as he trudged through the snow. He had to get away from her sympathy and the eyes that seem to know everything. “Stupid nosey woman. Why don’t she just mind her own business?”
Ricky didn’t want to think about Christmas. He didn’t want people to know his parents had left him alone so they could go ski with their friends. Or eat his t.v. dinner alone in front of the television again this year. Ricky just wanted to get away and so he walked. And he walked. And he didn’t notice the snow that started so slowly and softly like a whisper – Ricky only knew the need to go. To get away. And Ricky walked some more.
And winter enveloped him and made the world white – Ricky turned in all directions and saw only a colorless world that was frigid and domineering. “Where am I?” Ricky cried and like a little boy he wanted his mother. He wanted to feel safe but there was no safety from the brutal wind and no sign post to safe ground. And in that moment Ricky knew it was over. He would die alone, on Christmas Eve in a snow storm and no one would know or care. So, he lay down in the snow and gave up.
The wind howled like a wolf and Ricky was the prey but there was another sound. A sweet sound, faint but there. His head felt heavy and sleep fought to overtake him but that sound, that sweet little sound wouldn’t let him rest.
Ricky opened his eyes and against the world of nothing but white a red smudge moved. A deep, deep red against the artic blind and the sweet sound grew louder and clearer. “Bells,” Ricky thought and his mind couldn’t fathom how bells could be red and moving toward him.
“Easy does it, son,” the red smudge said and face with a beard appeared next to his.
“Santa?” Ricky mumbled and knew he was dreaming the final dream of his life. “Is there a Santa?” Then the world went black.
It was warm and the air smelled good, of pine and cookies, cocoa and laughter. Ricky opened his eyes thinking a mistake had been made because surely he was in heaven.
“I told you there was a Santa,” little Marlie stood over him.
“Huh?” Ricky struggled to sit up but tangled in blankets on a soft, comfy couch. “Where am I? What are you…?”
“Oh good!” Mrs. Hanson rushed over and was at his side pushing a cup of cocoa in his hands. “Thank goodness you’re allright!”
But Ricky couldn’t see her, he could only see the fat man in the red suit, laughing on the other side of the room. Pulling toys from a sack and giving them to the little ones, gleeful and squealing. “Santa?”
What’s happening on Christine’s Christmas Eve?