“Just another stitch or three and it’ll be good as new,” said Mrs. Claus as her husband entered.
“What would I do without you?” asked Santa.
“More than likely freeze,” she replied. “Why don’t you sit by the fire and warm yourself for a bit while I finish?”
“Good idea,” he said, sitting in his favorite chair beside hers. He leaned back and folded his hands across his plump belly and stared out into the night. Being just two days before the busiest evening of his year, he was unusually calm and quiet. She stopped halfway through her final stitch and turned to look at him over the top of her reading glasses.
“Are you going to be okay, sweetie?” she asked, bringing him back from his deep thought.
“Oh yes, of course,” said Santa, smiling. “It’s just a little difficult knowing this will be the last visit.”
“Then make this one the best, dear.”
“I have a feeling it will be,” said Santa, rising to his feet as she finished the repairs. He donned his coat and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you, darling. It’s perfect as usual.”
Santa left the warmth of his home and walked the short distance to the carriage house. The elves had already prepared his touring sleigh which only required the power of two reindeer. After a few steps forward, the world turned into a blur around them as they reached their top speed. In less than a minute, they covered the 3000 miles to their destination.
The automatic doors at the front of the large building opened and he cheerfully walked up to front desk being manned by two nurses. Both had their heads down buried in magazines as Santa signed the visitor’s log. He had the ability to make himself invisible if needed, but enjoyed walking in plain sight among the civilians during this time of year. He looked like any other Santa who just finished his shift at the mall.
He paused for a moment at the door to room 17. After a deep breath and a forced smile, he walked inside to visit with his friend. “HO, HO, HO!” yelled Santa, scaring awake the only occupant in the room. “Merry Christmas, you old goat!”
“Holy Mother of God,” mumbled Henry. “Was that necessary?”
“What was that, Henry?” asked Santa, leaning in with his ear. “I can barely hear you. Let me help you with that.”
He reached into a small black leather pouch hanging on his belt. Rubbing his fingers, Santa sprinkled a fine red powder on Henry’s lips. He coughed once, but his words after were strong and clear.
“I said was that necessary?” said Henry. “You do know it’s very possible to scare people to death in here.”
“Actually, nobody can hear me except you.”
Henry paused for a moment and looked down at his steady hands. “Wow. I haven’t felt this good in nine months. Any chance you could leave that little bag here when you leave?”
“I wish I could, old friend. I wish I could do a lot of things for you, but I can’t interfere with nature’s course.”
“I know, I know,” said Henry. “The craziest thing about having a stroke is that in my head my words and movements are fine. It just doesn’t translate through my voice or body. I’m paralyzed on my left side, but it still feels like I can move. I swear I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. To be honest, I didn’t think you were going to show up this year.”
“I’ve been visiting you on the same day at the same time for eighty-three years. I haven’t missed a year since you were four. Why do you think I’d miss today?”
“I don’t know,” said Henry. “Maybe because I’m laid up in this bed in this damned hospital where people check in, but they don’t check out. This isn’t exactly the most festive place to meet.”
Santa sat next to the bed and took Henry’s hand in his. In the years past, their conversations were always light and airy. They spoke of events – both happy and sad – that took place since their last visit. Their time together was always short, but both very much looked forward to their day. “I need you to listen to me, okay?”
“I’m listening,” said Henry.
“You’re growing weaker every day,” said Santa. “And I’m afraid this may be our last visit. It makes me sad to think of it that way, but I’m also happy that soon you’ll be in no more pain. You and I both know you’re going to a very special place when the time comes. You have nothing to fear, old friend. Nothing.”
“I’m not afraid,” said Henry. “But would you mind answering a question for me?”
“Of course not.”
“Why?” said Henry. “Why have you been coming to see me at Christmas since I was four? Why me?”
“Because I’m more human than you think I am,” said Santa. “Sure, I’ve been given an amazing gift and have an amazing job, but I still need some of the same things you do to keep going. And the one thing you’ve been giving me for your entire life is what keeps me coming back. You simply believe in me. You always have.”
“There are millions of children out there who believe in you,” said Henry. “Wouldn’t it be more fun to visit them instead of me?”
“I only need one, Henry. As long as one person believes in me, I’ll be here. I’ll keep my job and Christmas will always be celebrated. That’s why I only need to choose one. And with you, dear friend, I chose wisely. Next year, I’ll be choosing a new child. I’ll visit them on the same day at the same time every year for the rest of their lives. I’ll do it because I believe in them as much as they do in me.”
“Now it’s my turn to ask you a question,” said Santa.
“In all the years I’ve been showing up, you’ve never asked me for anything. You’ve only asked me to take care of others. What do you want for Christmas, Henry? Ask for anything in the world and it’s yours. Go ahead and take your time. I’ll wait for –”
“I want to dance with my wife,” answered Henry. “I haven’t been able to hold her close to me for almost a year now. I want you to reach into that bag and sprinkle enough of that magic stuff for just one more dance with my bride. That’s all I want.”
Santa pulled out a handful of the dust and threw it high in the air. Henry closed his eyes when he started feeling the room spin. When he opened them, he was standing in a dance hall he remembered from his youth. He looked down at his young, strong hands as big band music filled his ears. Santa had sent him back to Christmas Eve in 1946.
Across the room, looking slightly confused, Henry’s young bride started making her way toward him. He didn’t move a muscle because he wanted to enjoy every second of watching her cross the floor. With tears filling their eyes they embraced – and then they danced.
Still holding his hand, Santa sat in silence as Henry was transported to a beautiful world a million miles away from the cold, sterile reality of his hospital room. It was time to say goodbye.
“Merry Christmas, old friend.”
I wrote this years ago when both my grandparents and my mom were alive. They’re all together now in a place I have to believe exists, if only in my head. I never know when they’re going to take over my thoughts, but it makes me happy when they do. Even if it’s a random Wednesday morning two months before Christmas. When I miss them, I just close my eyes and quiet the world around me. They seem to always know when I need them. Here’s how it plays out in my head:
“Hey, bubba,” she said, patting the chair beside her. “Come sit next to your momma.”
After I sat down she wrapped her arm in mine and gave me one of her world famous smiles. They were always sincere and disarming. When you met her, you were never a stranger for long.
“I love this story,” said mom, watching her young parents glide across the dance floor oblivious to the world around them. “Looks like they do too.”
“I could watch them for hours,” I said, taking in the warm colors and bright sounds from the big band. “I’ve been coming here a lot lately.”
“I know you have,” said mom, squeezing my hand. “Are you okay, sweetie?”
“Yeah,” I said, turning to look at her. “Some days I just miss you more. I miss all of you more. I guess today is one of those days.”
“Well, that’s why you made this place,” said mom. “So you can come visit anytime you want.”
“I’m glad you’re here with them,” I said. “The worst part was leaving you behind at the cemetery. That place seemed so cold and quiet. You’re neither of those things.”
“Ain’t that the truth, honey,” said mom, laughing. “But I’m not there. Neither are they. We’re right here with you. Always. Whenever you need us we’re just a thought away. Don’t forget that, okay?”
“Okay,” I said. “I miss you every day, mom. I hope you know how much I love you.”
“Do you think they would mind?” I asked, standing and then bringing my mom to her feet.
“Not at all.”
As we stepped onto the floor, my grandparents stopped and greeted us with wide smiles. My grandfather waved us in closer to them. I took my mom by her hands and kissed her rosy cheek.
– And then we all danced.