It takes a bold and inventive father to negotiate the holiday head-to-head
like the British word "biscuit", especially at the holidays. As the last chip of chocolate melted into my tongue, I mopped up the milk spatter.
Seven bells struck. I rose and crossed to the chain pull dangling in the stairwell. The action of the thing was stiff, and the mechanism armed with a sharp "clack!"
So long as the rooftop trap worked as designed, I reassured myself, The jolly old elf will never ask about his cookies and milk.
Eight bells struck, and I listened closely for the sproing-snap echoes that would signal his arrival. After a time, my eyelids fell.
I woke with a gasp. He stood in front of the hearth, glowering from on high. The puff of fur at the peak of his cap brushed the ceiling.
For my son. I gathered my nerve, stood, and approached with my hand empty. "I'm Ruben."
His brows knit a touch closer. Slowly, he peeled off one glove. His gnarled hand gently enveloped my own. "Kris," he allowed.
"One second." I went to the chain pull, drew the leather loop over my forearm and pressed it toward the floor with my full weight to reset the trap. I turned and explained, "We don't want anything freezing in place up there."
"Donner and Blitzen thank you."
I tamped down an impulse to ask after Rudolph. "So, 'why'. Right?"
"And make it good," he rumbled. "Really good."
"My boy is ready."
"You may think so."
"How do you have him listed?"
"I'll give you that. But I keep more than one list, Good and Bad."
"By age, sure."
"Lots of lists. You have no clue."
"Whichever, give him a bump. I'll watch over him."
"Ho, ho, ho. His age, I remember what you did to your parents' barn."
"So, who better to keep one step ahead of him?" I rubbed my neck, unused to looking up a foot-and-a-half in conversation.
"You haven't worked with the Olde Magicks in a number of years."
"Or ridden a bicycle lately."
Under that beard, I could not read the set of his mouth as he considered. "You're losing him, aren't you?" His words tolled for me.
I made the bitter admission. "He goes to backroom dealers. Contaminated mana, diluted phlogiston ... he's gonna kill himself with that --"
"Ah!" The Claus admonished me with a forefinger.
"Sorry. 'Stuff', okay? Anyway, he's lost faith in you and me both."
"And that puts it on me ..."
I opened my mouth to temporize.
"No," he pronounced. "I am, after all, actually in the miracle business."
In the corner of my eye, everything changed. I turned to see that our tree had become magnificent, arrayed with fine, cool spears and splats of crystal, flaring sparks in every electric color, fairy creatures flitting and tumbling from branch to branch, and whole images of my family imbued with vibrancy, wellness and depth. At its pinnacle, above the high ceiling, a blue-white star blazed in a firmament of its own.
The boxes, bundles and bags piled at its base sat wrapped in the colors of gardens, the heavens and childhood imagination. Backed against the wall as though standing sentry over the treasures, there rested a stout brassbound chest. The heavy metal straps joined under a blank padlock.
"That opens only to your hand," a rumbling advisement.
"Fair enough. Look, is there anything --"
"Just keep doing those drawings in the papers. We built one full-scale in the Toy Shoppe. It's a real hoot after a round of nog on a silent night."
"You have got to send me a picture."
"No, I don't. Now hold out your hand."
The lump of coal was iron-heavy. "Come on! Is this really fair?!"
Shouting at the ceiling, over the clatter of tiny hooves and the patter of small feet, I knew I'd have a year to shop for "biscuits" and think about it.