Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

Michael hadn’t slept in days, so, when the woodstove in his parents’ living room began to bulge and stretch, he chalked it up to sleep deprivation and gave his eyes a good rub. But when the old black beast had grown large enough to accomodate a man, when its door swung open to reveal the jolly old elf himself, that’s when Michael began to freak the fuck out.

The sun was peeking tentatively out from behind the trees just beyond the big picture window, its rays casting an orangey glow along the edges of the fat man’s red suit. He shook his head and ran his fingers through his white beard.

“I’ve been waiting,” he told Michael.

“You’ve been what?”

“At first,” said Santa—there was no use denying it was him, no matter how long it had been since Michael stopped believing—“at first, I thought it was just my blasted phone.”

“Your phone?”

Santa produced a smart phone from his front pocket. He said, “The misses and the workshop staff have got me using an app for my lists now, but the blasted thing is so quirky.”

“Your lists?”

Santa crossed the living room in two quick steps and bent himself over to stare into Michael’s eyes.

“What?” said Michael.

Santa stood upright again, shook his head, and then crossed back to the swollen wood stove. He reached his arm back into its depths and pulled from its maw his enormous red sack.

“You’ve got something in there for me?”

“Ho, ho, ho,” he laughed. “You haven’t been on the naughty list since you were six.”

Michael puzzled over this for a moment. What had he done when he was six?

“The year you stuck your sister in the eye with the curtain rod,” said Santa, clarifying.

Santa set the bag atop the coffee table and plunged his arm into it, looking straight-up like Mary Poppins.

“I kept waiting and waiting,” said Santa, “checking the app, waiting to see if you’d finally fall asleep. But here we are,” he said. “Almost Christmas morning, and your brain won’t leave you alone long enough for you to blink, let alone close your eyes on purpose.”

“It’s been a rough year,” said Michael.

Santa looked at him as he continued to fish for the present. Michael swore he saw the twinkle go out of the old man’s eyes for a second, but then he blinked and it was back.

“For you, too?” said Michael.

“Oh no,” said Santa, finally pulling his arm out the bag, a small wrapped box clutched in his fist. “Not a rough year for me, but for too many others. Far too many.”

Santa handed Michael the box and Michael asked, “Should I open it now?”

“Up to you,” said Santa.

Michael tore at the wrapping paper, then plucked the lid from small white box underneath.

Inside was a laminated piece of paper with a hole punched at the top, a simple red length of yarn strung through it. On the paper was a child’s hand-drawn attempt at a cardinal, signed in green crayon with the initials M.S.

Michael had seen this before, ages before, but had thought it long gone. It was his, something he’d made for his grandmother when he was small. He remembered how she’d beamed at him—“my little konstnär,” she’d said as she clutched it to her heart.

He looked up to thank Santa Claus, to ask where he’d found it—how—but the jolly old elf was gone, the woodstove was back its normal size, and his family was sitting around him, asking, “Hey, sleepyhead, you awake?” And then, “Hey, where’d you find that old thing?”

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