Christmas, 1949

Mother joined Daddy’s Santa act this Christmas, one: to keep him under control, and, two: to get in on the fun. She first made herself an elf costume, kind of a short one, but Daddy had a fit and made her make a Mrs. Claus suit so they both had to stuff pillows and in their shirts and bottoms.

            Mother came out of their bedroom and we laughed. “I don’t think Mrs. Claus is this fat,” she said.

            “There’s no such thing as Mrs. Claus.” Daddy smiled at her. He stood ready by the door to go out, already dressed in his suit, the big red sack empty next to him.

            “John.” She grit her teeth and tilted her head at Teddy, Leslie, and Georgie. All younger than me and still believers in Santa. Georgie ran around the room shouting “Santa’s here! Santa’s here! Santa’s here!”

            “It’s me, honey.” Daddy had pulled down his beard and rubbed at his black stubble to show her. “Only me. Real Santa will be here later. After you go to bed.”

            Mother rested a pair of old glasses on her nose and pulled down a red round cap to her head. She’d tucked up her hair into the bonnet.

            “This okay?” she said.

            “Fine. Fine. Let’s go.” Daddy pushed her along outside.

            “You’re okay to watch your brother and sisters, son?” he said.

            “I’m okay,” I said.

            And so they went, out into the cold, to walk down Adams Street and take cheer and fruit and candy to the other families. This is what Daddy did by himself until Mother figured it out.  I think it’s pretty kind of them to play Santa since most people on Adams are mostly poor, but not so poor so as not to afford alcohol. We’re not poor. We had the first television set, and we can afford our own alcohol. Daddy just likes going out to get a few free ones for all he does for the town.  

            At each stop, Daddy goes inside ho-ho-ho-ing and lets the little ones sit on his laps and maybe hands out what presents they have under their own trees, and then the mothers and daddys of those other houses give him a little Christmas cheer. I guess as Mrs. Claus, Mother helps him or gives the children kisses. Last year, Artie across the street told me Daddy had so much egg nog, his daddy had to walk my Daddy back across the street afterward. That’s when my Mother said, “No more, John. No more of this shit.”

            One year when I was younger and before we had Georgie, Daddy stomped around as he got ready to go out ho-ho-ho-ing. He came out of the bedroom in his red suit and laid his thin leather work belt, the one he wore to the cleaners, on the coffee table. He sat us down and told us to watch that belt. If we made our mother cry once more he would have to use it, and there would be no Christmas later that night when he got back home. He got back home later that night and still used the belt on us, for nothing really, except that he was still just mad. Mother had went to bed a long time before that and told us we would have Christmas in the morning if our drunk of a father finally came home.

            Me, Teddy, Leslie, and Georgie: we didn’t know what to do after they left tonight. The first half hour we sat around with the television on watcing the Christmas specials. Once that got boring, around 9:30, we tried a round of Tiddlywinks and then Georgie got cranky because she could never make them in the pot. She’s too little for that game anyway and I’m too old for it. I told Leslie to take Georgie to the bedroom and read her a story, but Leslie stuck her tongue at me and so I slapped her a good one. Leslie slapped me back and then Teddy broke us up to tell us Georgie was in the Frigidaire eating the rolled up balls of sugar cookie dough Mother made.

            Georgie got sick from them right away and so Leslie helped her throw up and then stupid Teddy went to the cupboard and brought back one of Daddy’s bottles. “Here,” he said. “Give her some of Daddy’s medicine.”

            “No, Teddy,” I said. “No. That’s bad.”

            “Well you try it if it’s so bad,” he said.

            And so I did. And it wasn’t so bad at the first, but then it burned. It burned like hell. Daddy had screamed that in the bathroom one time: It burns, it burns!

            “Take another one,” Teddy said.

            “No, Johnnie.” Leslie cried. She’d stopped holding Georgie’s head and Georgie looked like she was about to fall asleep with her curly locks on the edge of the commode.

            “It isn’t so bad,” I said. “Maybe she does need some of Daddy’s medicine.”

            Georgie woke up and held her little hand up. “Give me the bottle,” she said.

            “No, no, no.” Leslie yanked the bottle from my hand. She brought it into the kitchen and poured it down the drain. On the television played a parade and singers singing the Twelve Days of Christmas. They were on Eleven Lords a’ Leaping.

            “Daddy’s going to be so mad, Leslie. Bad. Bad, bad, bad,” Georgie said.

            “Oh, shut up,” Leslie dropped the bottle into the sink and it went clank-clank-clank.

            “Oooh,” Teddy said. “You broke it.”

            “Oooh,” Georgie said.

            Leslie’s face went white. She stepped back, still looking at the window above the sink, then down at her arm.

            “Leslie, you’re bleeding!” Teddy pointed at her arm.

            “Here, let me see,” I said, and then I saw what Leslie saw. In the window peeking in on us were Santa and Mrs. Claus. Their faces had melted down on their heads and they smiled horrible smiles. “Ho, ho, ho!” Santa said. He pressed his hands up against the glass and a tree branch blew behind him. Mrs. Claus tapped at the window and said: “Have you been good little children?”

            Georgie went into a panic attack. Panic attacks can happen anytime, anywhere. They usually mean the person has to sit down and breathe or close their eyes or drink some cold water or take a pill. Mother’s panic attacks: she pats her chest and makes little puffing sounds. She turns red and sometimes we have to get her paper bag to blow into. The worst one was after one of our customers came to the front door—Betty Stoltz—and had some words with Mother. Mother screamed at her, said never to talk to her husband again. Betty was a lot younger than Mother and this made Mother so mad. She slammed the door on Betty and then Mother fell down right there in the doorway. We had to get the paper bag.

            Georgie’s attack wasn’t like that, but she did fall down. She fell down on her back and pushed herself by her legs, sliding like a snail on the kitchen floor. She made heavy breathing sounds like she might need a paper bag. She didn’t though and Leslie ran over to her and yelled at her to stop. Leslie’s arm bleed onto Georgie’s pink night dress and this made Georgie howl. Teddy pulled her up of the floor and shook her. “Stop it,” he said. “Stop this shit.”

            Then the back door knob started to turn. This door from the kitchen to the outside was our escape door when we played the Empty Doom. This door was also the door most people came to visit us. Same door Mr. Tucker, the paper delivery man, came to visit Mother sometimes. She called him her backdoor friend and she always laughed when she said it, and we did, too.

            The door opened and Teddy screamed and dropped Georgie. Teddy was pretty tough but he had this scream on him like a little girl, worse than Georgie. He screamed at Claus and Mrs. Claus walking in the door. They looked bigger, like they had real fat on their bodies, and meaner. “Ho, ho, ho,” they said and they had their hands up like they were going to grab us.

            “Stop it now,” I said.

            “Have you been a good little boy?” Mrs. Claus said. She moved closer and now Leslie screamed. Georgie backed up behind Leslie and cried.

            Claus and Mrs. Claus laughed. They laughed and tried to grab us and stuff us in their big red sack. Claus pulled at my ankle but I kicked him and got the back door open. “Come on,” I shouted. My head throbbed. “Let’s go!”

            “But we don’t have any shoes on!” Leslie cried.

            “Come on. Let’s go.” I grabbed at my hair, almost pulled it out my head hurt so bad.

            Claus and Mrs. Claus laughed and let us out the kitchen door.

            “It’s cold out,” Mrs. Claus said.

            Claus stood over the sink. “Goddamn it!” he said. “Damn you kids.”

            I shut the door behind me and Georgie heaved and cried. Teddy bit his lip, whimpered. Leslie tried to slap me again.           

            “Bad,” Georgie said. “Bad.”

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