Like all little kids, I loved Santa Claus when I was a child. I loved his rosy cheeks, his jolly ho-ho-ho, and his philanthropic spirit. But most of all, I just loved that he brought me toys every year. Somehow, he always knew exactly what I wanted.
On Christmas Eve when I was six years old, I woke up from that inexplicably thick slumber of a child, my young bladder calling to me. Instead of going back to bed, I tiptoed down the dark hall toward the living room. I wanted to make sure that my parents had remembered to pour Santa a glass of milk to go with his cookies. I could see that there was still a light on, so I knew that Santa had not yet come. After all, didn’t he only visit when not a creature was stirring?
I blinked hard to let my eyes adjust to the light as I stepped quietly into the living room. I opened them and found myself staring at two boxes of Breyer model horses – exactly what I wanted for Christmas - under the lamp table at my mother’s feet. I quickly looked away from them, as if they were Eve’s forbidden fruit, or a scene from a rated R movie. I quickly padded back down the hall, knowing I had seen something I shouldn’t have. I contemplated going back into my bedroom and slipping into bed, pretending that nothing had happened, but thirst and curiosity got the better of me, so I walked back down the hall.
“Mama, I’m thirsty,” I said, just before I stepped back over the threshold where the hallway met the living room.
“You want a drink of water?” my mother asked me. There were no model horses boxes at her feet. I nodded and followed her into the kitchen, checking on Santa’s cookies as I made quick work of a small tumbler of water.
“Don’t forget his milk, okay?” I said before I went back to bed. She assured me that she wouldn’t.
I slept fitfully, trying to figure out what had happened. Maybe I only thought I had seen those model horses. After all, I was sleepy. But I knew deep down that I had seen them. I acted surprised the next morning, and the joy I felt in receiving my gifts was genuine. But still, I couldn’t stop thinking about my forbidden discovery. Finally, I told my mother that I had seen the boxes at her feet.
I’m sure it was a difficult for my mother to decide how to answer me. Should she tell me the truth now, and rob me of that innocent childhood fantasy? Was it fair to me if she continued lying, after I had seen the truth with my own eyes?
“Santa came a little early this year. He didn’t know that I was still up, and he dropped off your toys a little too soon. He made them disappear when he saw that you were awake, too. He had to come back and start over so he could leave them under the tree and have milk and cookies,” she told me.
“Can Santa make himself disappear, too?” I asked her.
She told me that he could.
I didn’t ask any more questions about it. My mother’s answer suited me just fine. But even at six years old, I knew it was more likely that there was no Santa Claus, that my parents had bought my model horses, as they had my gifts every year before. But I chose to continue believing.
I chose to hold fast to an ideal, even in the face of that which would have normally crushed it. I wanted to believe that there was a jolly man who cared for all the little children in the world, even the ones who were poor and whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them presents. I chose to believe in magic and in kindness that I could feel, rather than let my joy be killed by some silly thing I could see.
A box of model horses was not the only gift I received that morning. I know some would say that I am too trusting, too forgiving, and maybe even naïve. But I believe that people are inherently good, and I believe that the world is full of wonder and beauty. To be able to see tragedy unfold daily on the evening news, and to still believe in goodness is a gift. To see the messy collection of flaws that is a human being, whether in the eyes of a stranger or my own face in the mirror, and to still have hope is a gift. To be able to forgive readily is a gift, not to he or she who is being forgiven, but to myself.
They say it is difficult to have faith in that which you cannot see. But when I think about those boxes of model horses, I realize that it can be just as hard to have faith in the things we do see. We are all afforded the opportunity to believe, to have hope and faith. Belief is a choice. One that I’m glad I made that night, so long ago.
Marci Mangham has enjoyed writing fiction since penning her first tome at age eleven. She wrote an unpublished novel in 1994 and is currently working on two novels, one of which is based on a story in this collection.
She enjoys entering (and especially winning) short fiction contests and volunteering for animal welfare causes.
Marci lives in Dallas, Texas with her dog Charlie, and has recently gone back to school
after many years away from the classroom.
WOW! interviewed Marci shortly after she placed Third in the Spring '07 Flash Fiction Contest
WOW! also highlighted Marci Mangham's latest book, Both Ends Burning, A Short Story Collection
Find out more about Marci by visiting her website: http://www.marcimangham.com/