by Paul Mathers

Like skydiving to overcome a fear of heights, I, germophobe less than an hour out from opening doors with paper towels: insecurities forged in the heart of my bullied youth (will they pull my beard?), enter onto 40 kids, the non-prescription costume glasses blur their faces. What child is this?

I’ve stumbled into a shadow holiday, always Christmas but never Advent, where He who suffered the little children to come to Him is but an unspoken ghost of past. He whose greatest gift non-redeemable with merchants.

I try to banish the hubris of feeling sacrificial. No heretics will be punched. I call out gifts from my diaphragm in my best Brian Blessed, strike poses for parents’ iPhones.

She looks at me earnestly, confronting, desperate. Her brother told her that I am not real. Here we both are and I cannot lie to her. I say, “Santa is as real as human kindness. Santa lives wherever there is good in the hearts of mankind.”

She’ll figure it out.

Full disclosure: last night a friend who is landlord across the street came over and told me of cleaning from his former tenants’ midnight moveout, in the shed he found the corpse of their chihuahua, locked in there as they could or would not take it with them. Frozen in December or frantic starved or both, the cutie that Mrs. Claus once saved from traffic when it escaped the neglectful owners in warmer months, died alone, 100 feet or so from where Santa slept. Santa who could have and would have saved her had he known, forced the fatal shed door down, but he didn’t know. It is a world where the list is not shown us. We fumble in darkness, a bestial lonely cold floating globe. The dog is but a dusting on the tip of human history’s iceberg.

When it first came time for God to reveal Himself, the first chronological truth was 10 dead children, lost flocks, painful sores to potsherd scrape, ineffective, false comforters, and our insignificance.

Full disclosure, little one: All of this confuses me far more than it confuses you. Wizened white-bearded experience tells me: there is no guarantee that all will be calm and bright, richer bad kids will get nicer presents, people will create strife for no reason at all save that they can, and peace on Earth unreliable. There is none good, no not one, a blank list.

And Santa is an hour out from cabernet, poetry, and other coping mechanisms.


And faithless hand-sanitizer.