Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mom glance at Dad. He said, "Well, get to bed or Santa won't come!" He stood up from his armchair and smiled down at us.
Andy was lying on his stomach beside me, chin propped in his hands. He was still looking at the television even though it was a commercial. I rolled on my stomach and arched my back to look up at Dad, my elbows under me, my forearms and palms flat on the rug. "It's only ten o'clock! There's no school tomorrow!"
His smile became slightly perplexed. He half turned to Mom sitting in her place on the couch. She smiled at me and said, "You can read for a while. Off you go!"
I got up reluctantly, pressing my hands to the floor and moving my feet under me, then leaping to my feet, straight up, thinking of myself as a reindeer springing from boulder to boulder. If that's what they do.
Andy didn't move. Dad came over and picked him up by the waist, doubling him into a letter A, then swung him to his feet. Andy gained his balance and spun to Dad, surprised. Dad said, "Bedtime, Andy. Time for Santa!"
Andy grinned at him and we started toward our room. At the door, we turned back. "Night!" Dad waved and Mom smiled. Dad walked over and sat beside Mom. Andy and I strolled on down the hall, him ahead of me.
In our bedroom, we took off our clothes and threw them on the floor. The next morning we would gather them up and take them to the hamper, but it was too cold to do it now. We quickly put on our pajamas and jumped into our beds.
I pulled the covers up to my armpits, leaving my arms out to hold my book above me. After I read the first sentence, Andy said, "Is there really a Santa Claus?"
I didn't look away from my book. "Sure." He was only eight, so I didn't want to disillusion him.
He said, singsong, "I don't think so." The emphasis was on "think."
How should I handle this? I knew I ought to do something, but I wasn't sure what. "Have it your own way. But if he doesn't exist, where do all those presents come from?"
"Mom and Dad," he said promptly.
I put my finger in the book to hold the place and rolled on my side to look at him at the other side of the room. His head was at the same end as mine. He changed it every few days, taking the pillow where he wanted it and tucking the sheets and blankets under the mattress at the other end. He was lying on his back looking at the ceiling, only his head visible. I said, "Some of them are from Santa. He signs them."
He didn't look at me, but took his arms out of the covers and started flying his hands around, making jet noises. They zoomed through the air, jockeying for position, then crashed and fell limply to the blanket. He put his arms back under the covers and looked over at me. "Mom writes that."
I propped my head up on my hand, my elbow digging into the mattress. "You can't tell that. Anyway, those presents are always wrapped in different paper. They're from Santa."
His eyes narrowed. "Nah."
We kept looking at each other. After a moment, I said, "Anyway, it's the thought that counts."
"Santa Claus. The guy who gives good people gifts."
He nodded slowly, eyes still riveted on me. Then he started to smile. "Yeah!" He looked back up at the ceiling. "I'm going to get really neat stuff!" He rolled over to face his wall, his back indistinct under the covers.
I lay on my back, the book still at my side. What does happen out there after we go to bed? I strained to hear, but the noise of the television masked any other sounds.
I'd like to believe in Santa Claus. I like the idea that someone brings us presents. That he can do it in one night. I can picture flying reindeer pulling a sleigh, although I've never seen either a reindeer or a sleigh.
How did this all get started? I know about the three wise men bringing gifts, but how did that turn into a guy called Santa Claus? Is it just greed, or is there more to it?
Two weeks before, Dad and I had talked about sex. He said I was old enough, so it was time I knew some things. I giggled when I wasn't trying to appear knowledgeable, and learned some things. He said we'd talk again.
There are so many things I don't know. Is there an age when he'll tell me about those? Maybe every year we'll have a talk. About work and driving a car, cooking and college. Everything. For some things, maybe someone else will tell me. Maybe they'll call us all together at camp one summer, all of us who have reached a certain age, and the scout leader will tell us some new thing that we're finally old enough to know about.
When will they tell us about Santa Claus?
I returned to my book, holding it straight above me, but it was hard to concentrate. Tomorrow was Christmas! We'd get presents, and play with them. We'd all play a board game, like Monopoly or Clue. Maybe after the turkey we'd go sledding at Sinnissipi. Someone might have a toboggan, like the previous year, and they'd let me go on it with them.
The book fell on my face. Time to quit. I set it on the floor beside my bed, turned off the light, and drifted toward sleep.
What's a sugarplum?