This story was inspired by a child I overheard
talking to his mother about Santa Claus.  At the
time, I was thinking about all the people being
denied the holidays due to the recession.

Christmas Innocence
by Xander Riley

I awoke before my wife, just as I did every morning.  Seeing her asleep beside me reminded me of how much I love her.  Hair sticking out in all directions,
morning breath in my face, a little drool on the pillow, and that whistling snore – it must be love to put up with all of that.

Slipping out from beneath the covers, I tried to sneak into the bathroom without waking her.  I failed.  She never could sleep without me lying beside her.

“Honey, where are you going?”

“Bathroom.  Go back to sleep.”

“Can’t.  You know what day it is.  She’s probably already waiting downstairs, pacing a hole in the carpet.”
“All right.  Let me pee and we’ll go see if she’s up.”

Our morning ritual started, I let my mind wander back to the Christmas mornings of my youth.  The excitement of new presents kept most kids awake.  With
me, it was never the gifts.  All I wanted was to catch Santa Claus in our house.  To prove to myself that he really did exist, regardless of what my older
brothers told me.  Sheila and I raised Danielle to believe in Santa.  With no brothers or sisters to tell her otherwise, she still believed in Santa.  Next year,
when she starts kindergarten, she’ll learn the truth.  Then, it will be harder to convince her that Santa is real.

Sheila was sitting on the edge of the bed in robe and fuzzy slippers, waiting for me.  I pulled on my own robe and slid my feet into my (not fuzzy) slippers.  
We shared a knowing smile that spoke volumes to each other, then walked down the hall to the stairs.

Danielle was sitting quietly on the bottom step.  She was usually very subdued, but on Christmas morning we expected a more animated child.  Especially
with all the presents under the tree – some of them unwrapped.  Another look passed between us as we descended the stairs.  This time it was a question:
What’s wrong?

“Sweetheart?  Is something wrong?  Why aren’t you playing with Santa’s gifts?”

Beautiful clear blue eyes looked up at us before looking at the front door again.

“I’m waiting for Santa to come back.  He brought the wrong presents the first time, so he took them back to get the right ones.  He’s been gone a long time.”

The air seemed to vanish from the room.  Sheila’s body went limp – I barely caught her before she hit the floor.  I carried her to the sofa and set her down.  
It was only then that I looked around the room.

Our tree was still there with all its decorations.  But all of the presents were gone.  So was my grandmother’s vase and Sheila’s crystal collection.  The stub
of a cigar had burned the top of our coffee table.  A half-empty bottle of our rum was sitting on the windowsill.

All of our efforts to convince our daughter that Santa Claus is real had backfired.  She believed in him, so she was not surprised to see a stranger in our
home.  Thank God that he didn’t hurt her!

Days passed, but the police never caught the thief.  Sheila took Danielle for a drive up the coast while I spent part of her college fund to replace the
presents.  But the time had come to teach her the truth about Santa and strangers.
I was very proud of my little girl.  She understood that the man in our house was a “bad man,” but she still insisted that Santa Claus is real.  The Bad Man
stole the presents AFTER Santa left them.  Danielle still had faith, but accepted reality, too.

New Year’s Day, we went downtown to watch the parade.  Danielle was perched on top of the wall surrounding the library.  Sheila was finally in high spirits
again, and even I let my guard down for the first time since Christmas.  For a few moments, neither of us noticed that Danielle was gone.

Frantically, we searched the street and nearby shops, calling her name.  A shrill whistle from a couple buildings away got our attention.  It was a policeman
waving at us.  Holding his hand was Danielle.

Relieved beyond belief, we rushed over to scoop Danielle into our arms – both of us hugging her at once.  Over the music and the noise of the crowd, the
cop’s voice penetrated the din.

“That’s one smart little girl you got there!  She told me that you’d be wondering where she was and that I should call you over.”

I finally found my voice again.  “Yes, officer.  We know she’s a bright little lady, but she knows better than to disappear like that.  I don’t know what she could
have been thinking!”

“She was simply doing her civic duty.  She wanted to point out the Bad Man that stole her Christmas presents.  It seems that he was here in a Santa suit.  I
didn’t really believe her at first, but then a young boy hollered that he was in their house, too.  My partner took the Bad Man to the station.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

The secret Santa was convicted – eyewitness accounts from three children, plus the fingerprints he left on the rum bottle in our house.  He didn’t get
enough jail time to suit me, but his probation would be spent cleaning the homeless shelter downtown – primarily the toilets.

Sheila’s crystal collection was returned, along with the few presents he had not sold yet.  Danielle had a second Christmas – Officer Crane visited to
celebrate with us.

“Daddy, can I wait up for Santa Claus next year when I’m older?”

“Sweetie, remember what I said about Santa Claus?  He’s not real.”

“Don’t be silly!  Just because you haven’t seen him doesn’t mean he’s not real.  And if he’s a fake, then why is there a boot in the fireplace?  Huh?”

Sure enough, there was a boot lodged in the fireplace grate.  Our little girl was convinced.

At nine o’clock, Sheila carried a sleepy Danielle up to bed.  Officer Crane and I spoke for a few more minutes about the robberies.  Then, he had to get
home to his own family.  I walked him to the door and watched as he walked to his car.  Wearing only one boot.

© Copyright 2009 Xander Riley
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