The streets were hectic with Christmas shoppers. Christmas eve has that effect. Wallace, however, was stuck in his office, waiting for word about his Christmas bonus, a well needed financial buffer. He looked at the clock. It was long after six. He was supposed to be on his way by now.
Even though everyone in his department didn’t get their checks, Wallace decided to stay. He wanted to be sure. He believed in his heart that a miracle could happen on a day like that. Why wouldn’t it? People feel great on Christmas.
He was waiting for his manager’s answer to his question.
“Mr.Labelle.” A big man, with a stomach that only seemed to be expanding, and big tree trunk legs that somehow held the weight of it all. “Sir. I was just wondering if I’m going to get a bonus this year. I was kind of counting on it.”
“Wallace. Listen.” said Mr.Labelle. “The company suffered too many losses this year. We didn’t hit any quotas, and we’re barely afloat. We can’t afford your bonuses this year.”
“We just can’t afford it. If you want you can take it up with top management. I’m getting snuffed on my part, too. Orders from way up.”
Not much could be argued with a command from upstairs. Those were the orders you accepted like a soldier in the war of financing.
Now, it was too late for him to argue back. Wishing got him nowhere. No gifts for him, his wife, or his son, Goya.
In his car, Wallace kept looking at all the people, wave after wave entering the shops. Some left the stores with big shopping bags, others, wrapped boxes of sealed love, ready to be distributed.
While he etched his way through the scores of vehicles, his wife, Samara was cleaning Goya’s room. She started with the clothes and made her way to Goya’s bed.
She took up a pillow, and fluffed it, slapping it on both sides, shaping it into a fine dough. Under the pillow sheets, she felt a paper. She reached in, and took it out.
Her eyes had just read the first sentences. “DEAR SANTA,” it said. The handwriting was full of childish joy, naivety, and a hint of intense belief.
The door slams downstairs, and Goya yells “daddy!”.
Samara leaves the room, the paper still in her hands, and heads downstairs to see her husband.
Wallace was dragging himself, like a limp piece of wood, drifting through the sea. He was a slave to the sadness that took him over.
Samara saw this. She had become proficient at seeing Wallace’s woes, as often as they were, and as long as they were together, it became a simple task. Usually food would have helped, but at the dinner table, Wallace was distant, empty almost, dragging himself along the monotony of ‘just another day’.
It didn’t help that Goya was talking about the great gift he’s getting from Santa tomorrow.
Christmas seemed to be dead to him. By proxy. Christmas was dead to his family.
“What’s the matter, honey? You haven’t touched your food.” she said.
Wallace was leaning back on the kitchen counter, his head slumped down, and he was staring at his own reflection on the porcelain ground.
“We can’t afford Christmas this year. Orders from high up. No bonuses.”
“It’s okay. We still have everything from last year. It’s not the end of the world.” she said. “Here, look, I found something, it might cheer you up.”
She took out the letter, and showed it to Wallace.
“Dear Santa,” it said.
“I have been a very good boy. Last year I asked for a PlayingStation but you got me a toy gun. I really liked it. I had so much fun with it, but then it broke. This year, I just want the PlayingStation, nothing else. And please, get my mommy and daddy something too. Last year they only got socks and clothes.
Wallace looked, and read, over and over again. A blank piece of paper presented itself to his son, and Wallace could sense every ounce of hope, fear, excitement and innocence his son had. It was something he could never regain himself. A figment of an imagination he had lost long ago. A painful reminder of a yesterday long past, one that he wishes he could relive, if only vicariously through his son.
His hands lost all strength, and the dam behind his eyes faltered under the pressure of pain, and he wept. He looked back at his reflection in the porcelain ground, and all he could see was a crying failure. A man that could no longer provide the cheapest of all things. Happiness.
“What’s going on?” she asked, and walked up to him, embracing him.
“Tomorrow’s going to come by, and Goya’s going to wake up, he won’t find anything. Then what? Then all his hope of a world with good in it, in Santa Clause, in mythology, in God, will be lost, gone.”
“You’re over-reacting. He’s ten. He should know Santa Clause doesn’t exist by now.”
“Not this year, Samara. Not yet. Santa Clause is hope. We can’t rob him of that. We can’t just take this away from him.”
“Santa Clause isn’t hope. Santa Clause is money.”
“Not to him, and that’s all that matters to me.”
“One way or another, he’s going to have to replace that false hope, you know. It’s better if he gets a head start.”
“And see him become like us? I can’t stand it. Not yet. I’d rather die than see my seed fall into hopeless stupor.”
“This isn’t about him and you know it. This is just your ego talking. You just don’t want to look like a failure in front of your son.”
Samara was getting angry. It was that tone she held before a conversation moved from a friendly argument, into a full blown yelling match. Goya knew this all too well. The movies weren’t distracting enough. Bad vibes were all around him.
“Please, I don’t want to fight. I’m tired, and I just want to find a way to get my son what he wants.”
“Well. Too bad. You’ll have to deal with it. Your son’s going to grow up, and he’s going to know Santa Clause was a big lie people made up so we have to buy him gifts every year.”
Just as she said this, Goya let out a little sigh, staring down into his own reflection.
Wallace saw him, a shining glimmer missing from his eye. A former smile designated for Christmas days was gone with belief.
Goya said nothing, and ran to his room. Samara followed him.
“See what you did now?” said Wallace, storming out of the kitchen, heading out to his car.
It snowed heavily outside. The Christmas ornaments hung on every house, the neon Santas with their neon smiles looked at him.
Wallace drove off. The car screeched through the street onto the highway, and before long, he found himself driving through the down town streets. The people were still shopping.
He parked his car, and went for a walk on the icy streets.
“Mommy.” said Goya. “Why did you say Santa wasn’t real?”
Samara, who now had Goya laying on her chest, almost falling asleep, looked down at her son, and said.
“It’s just something you have to learn with time. Santa was a way for us to get you to be good. But now you’re all grown up, and smart enough to be good without any fairy tales.”
“Does that mean I won’t get any more gifts?”
She let out a little laugh.
“Don’t worry about those. We’ll buy you gifts every year. Except, instead of saying Santa got them, you can know we got it for you, because we love you more than anything in the world.”
“Does daddy love me?” he asked.
“More than you can imagine.”
Aimlessly walking took Wallace on an aimless adventure, one of the only form of adventures he appreciated.
He was in the middle of the market place, people still running around, trying to have their gifts ready for tomorrow.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” yelled an old jolly voice.
It was a man standing in front of a church, ringing his bell, laughing, shaking his fake belly and stroking his fake beard.
Wallace sat across him on a bench, across the street, far enough to hear him, not close enough to smell the whiskey on his breath.
Hours passed by, and people threw coins into the cauldron and moved on. The Christmas spirit was finally monetized into the change in their pockets.
The man was done ringing his bell, and his pockets rang enough on their own. As he was about to leave, Wallace ran up to him.
“I’ll buy your costume for fifty dollars.” he said.
The man looked back at him.
“Man, I got this from the shop for seventy five.”
“I’ll give you fifty, and my clothes.”
Wallace was wearing a nice coat, and a fancy shirt. The man accepted, and they swapped clothes inside the bathroom of a diner.
They both stood outside, and the now retired Santa was smoking a cigarette.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what do you plan on doing with the costume?” 7
Wallace was smelling the shirt he was wearing. A distinct odour was stuck on it.
“It’s a gift for my son.” he said, and started leaving.
He got in the car, and looked at the radio clock. It was eleven o’clock. Goya was probably asleep, lost in a world in between this one and the other, travelling through neurons and ideas.
By the time he reached his house, it was already twelve. Samara was asleep by then. He knew because the porch light was off. He walked to their shed, and took out a metal ladder. Some snow seeped through the wooden roof, and fell on the ladder steps, freezing, adding a layer of ice, smooth and malicious.
He set the ladder on Goya’s window sill, and started his climb. Each step was slow and calculated. Slipping would be detrimental.
He reached the window, and looked through. His son under the covers, and in a deep sleep. He tapped the window once, twice, louder and more aggressive each time.
The covers started ruffling, and a tired Goya raised his body and looked from his bed to the window. He rubbed his eyes, and quickly froze as soon as he saw the man behind the window.
“Santa!” he whispered excitedly and ran to the window and opened it.
“Hello, Goya.” said Santa.
“Wow! My mother said you were a lie, but I didn’t believe her. I knew you was real. I knew it.”
“It’s okay. Adults say things to make kids feel better all the time. She just didn’t want you to be sad about it. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to tell you that you have been a really good boy this year, and I wanted to give you a special gift.”
“You got me the PlayingStation?” he asked.
“Even better. Your gift is seeing me and remembering me.” said Wallace.
“Oh.” said Goya. “Did you get my parents anything? Last time you got them socks and clothes. It didn’t look like fun.”
“That’s why I’m here.” said Santa. “I’m here to give you the gift that you can give to your parents.”
“What is it? Can I see it?”
“You can’t see it. But it’s the most important gift of them all. Hope.” said Wallace. “Hope is the strongest feeling there is. Without it, the world becomes empty, and sad. Without belief in a better tomorrow, there can only be a worse one.”
“That’s cool, I guess.” said Goya. “But no one will believe me.”
“That doesn’t matter.” said Wallace. “All that matters is that you keep me in your heart and never let go. I will always be deep down inside your heart, if you just believe.”
“Okay, Santa! I’ll never stop believing in you.”
“Good boy. Now be an angel, and go back to sleep.”
The boy closed the window, and marched back into his covers. Tired, and in disbelief, he laid in bed. Wallace watched him drift back into a different world with a smile on his face.
Both him and Goya had the greatest gift of them all. A belief in a good world. A society where even for just one day, a symbol of hope and virtue triumphed against rationality.
With a smile on his face, Wallace started stepping down. Distracted by the thoughts that would kept him afloat for another year, he forgot about the ice on the steps, and took a wrong pace.
His foot landed on some ice, and the laws of physics obliged. His foot slid, and his shin hit a the metal, and pushed him off the wall, and his body flung backwards, dragging the steel ladder with it. With no grip on the sill, the ladder and Wallace tipped into a free fall, with Wallace on the fore front, ready to embrace the ground with his back.
There was a loud thud. When Wallace’s body hit the ground, the snow around him went into a gust that spread outward and left an imprint behind it. He laid in the cold snow, unable to breathe. The wind was knocked out of him, and the shards from his rib hitting the rock that was now lodged under him, lodged themselves into his lungs, letting the red life matter seep in and out of them, stopping his breath.
He could only look upward, laying on his back, unable to breathe. A gleam in his eye that rivalled the stars he could see. Large fire balls, flying through the universe, each sending its own message through time and space. The shine in his eye burned stronger, and farther, and held a message that could undermine the very order of the universe.
Like a star enveloped under its own weight, his shine too was blown away and burnt out. What was a reflection of pure happiness moments earlier turned into a glare that went through everything, unstopped, unrelenting and empty, but not before travelling into his own mind, seeing his son’s smile throughout the years, the constant belief that one day, Santa visited him, and inaugurated him with his presence.
He saw his son, dancing in his Santa costume in front of his children, and grand children. A happy man, fully aware of the beauty of Christmas, and hope.
Goya slept through that night with the smile cemented on his face. He woke up the next morning, and only had his mother to share hope with.
Christmas Eve. Jaketown University. Goya had his Santa Clause costume on. Red and white, his friends are laughing.
Goya separates from the herd. He smiles, waves, and laughs as he walks off. He gets in the car and drives off. The radio was on.
“Well, would you hear that, folks!” said the man on the radio. “Bishums and Burtrums are keeping their shops open all night long tonight. Ain’t that just convenient?”
The woman joins in. “Yes it is!”
Goya turns off the radio, and takes a right turn. He passes big black gates. On top “Jaketown Cemetery”.
He parks his car, and passes through the graves. White snow covering the graves, only the grey tablets pointing out.
He walks through the graves, and reaches his father’s.
He put down a blanket,sat down, and took out two plates, and two cups.
His father’s grave had a set, and so did he. He poured milk in the glasses, and put cookies on the plates.
His costume, a reminder, not to himself, but to his father. The only true Santa Clause.
He talked, and ate cookies, and drank milk, and laughed. To him, hope wasn’t a Santa Clause costume, or a father figure, or a holy ghost. It came as love, a power so strong that a person could attach themselves to it infinitely. A hope, a belief in passion that could rock the very throne of God, and demand.
“Let me be with that who loved me the most.”
Goya finished both plates of cookies, and both cups of milk. He packed his things, and started walking back to his car. He was shivering. He knew he would be.
He gets into his car, turns it on, and enables the heater. He starts rubbing his arms to warm up.
The car was warm, and he was in the driver’s seat.
He breaks into tears.