On the fourth Daze of Christmas,
Patrick Cooper gives to us. . .
Patrick Cooper gives to us. . .
Dead Letter by Patrick Cooper
“You can’t reply to them all, Johnny. There’s too many. Besides, kids gotta learn there ain’t no Santa sooner or later. Better sooner.”
Johnny ignored Simms, his supervisor, and kept on writing. Thank you for your letter. I know you have been a good girl all year long…
Simms sighed and shook his head. “Chrissakes, Johnny. There must be a thousand letters here.” He dipped a hand in the overflowing bin of Dear Santa letters and pulled out a handful of envelopes with NORTH POLE scrawled on their fronts in eager hand. Each December they flooded in by the truckload. Their next stop was the Dead Letter department to be destroyed. “My little Annie,” Simms said. “She has us go through the song-and-dance every year. It’s cute, but shit, what a waste of a stamp.”
Johnny kept writing and said nothing.
“Suit yourself. Just don’t be messing with this bullshit on the clock. Take it home, if you want. I don’t care.”
Johnny got home at six in the evening. With hot cocoa in front of him and the mountain of letters at his side, he got to work. He put the Rat Pack Christmas album on to round out the whole vibe.
Some letters made him laugh. Some gave him a relentless feeling of warmth. Others made him cry, as he remembered the Christmases of his own youth.
He’d buried many of those memories. The ones of his old man cursing out his mother for the eggnog being too cold. The ones with no presents, because dad drank the money away. The ones of mother’s black eyes and broken wrists.
The clock struck midnight. Johnny yawned and continued.
This girl wants a tea party set. This boy, a Louisville slugger.
I just want daddy to stop hurting mommy.
It was like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. Mommy says it’s because he loves us so much. Johnny dug his fingernails into his thighs. I’m not allowed to tell anyone but you understand, don’t you, Santa?
Johnny looked at the return address on the envelope.
Little Annie Simms shook with anxiety. Not because Christmas Eve came with the promise of presents, but because the promise of violence hung in the air. Daddy was still awake. Mommy had taken her “medicine” to fall asleep early.
Then Annie faintly heard a clatter on the roof.
It couldn’t be. Could it?
Her fear vanished. He was here! He was really here! After all these years!
Annie flew from her bed. Her hand reached out for the doorknob. She paused. There was another noise now, coming from the living room. Like someone fell from the ceiling. Then a scuffle. A scream.
It was daddy. Daddy was screaming.
She threw the door open and ran into the living room.
In the glow of the Christmas tree lights, Annie saw a man – dirty, covered in soot. He was smiling at her and holding daddy’s head down into the large bowl of eggnog.
She stood mesmerized.
Johnny smiled and winked at her. He pushed Simms’ head down further, until his face was pressed against the bottom of the punch bowl. Bubbles of eggnog burst at the surface. The bubbles got smaller, then stopped. Simms went limp. Johnny let him go. Simms crumbled to the floor, like a marionette with its strings cut.
“Are…are you Santa Claus?”
Johnny knelt down, eye level with Annie. “I’m one of his elves.”
“Santa read my letter?”
“He sure did. And he told me to come right away and give you exactly what you wanted. Because you’re such a good girl.”
“Santa says you don’t have to be afraid anymore. It’s Merry Christmas from now on.”
“From now on?”
Annie leaned forward and hugged Johnny. He was careful not to get eggnog on her pajamas.
“Now, I’d like to go out the front door. The chimney’s a bit of a pain.”
Through the window, Annie watched the elf walk down the snowy sidewalk. At the corner, he turned and looked back. He put a finger on the side of his nose and nodded.