WHEN SANTA CAME TO CHERRY HILL, NEW JERSEY
by DC Lambert
You could hear the sirens blocks away, and if you didn’t know, you’d think it was a real emergency. Santa Claus had trouble keeping balance, so the fire truck took it very slowly as it crept around Cherry Hill’s subdivisions and rows of fifty-year-old colonials in need of new roofs, furnaces, windows; they could not be replaced, just now, in this economy. Perched on the truck, Santa waved and weaved past illuminated inflatable reindeer and whirling pink snowflakes projected onto garages, and families ran outside to catch a glimpse, shivering a bit in the brittle winter afternoon. This was probably the last year Local 2663 would sponsor Santa. It was time to cut the nonsense. It was time to trim the waste.
People waved at each other, too, as befit the season of joy.
“How yez doin’?” “Good, ‘n you?”
They had to put Michele’s Pop-Pop in a nursing home. It was an hour away. God bless him, he cried; he cried, but what could they do? He kept falling, he’d break his hip one of these days, it was a disaster waiting to happen. The kids didn’t know yet. Well, he’d be happy there. The divorced lady down the street, the one with the trampoline out back? She filed for bankruptcy. She was doing good. Not too bad. Marty’s son couldn’t find a job, but he was doing a lot of handyman work. He was very handy. Some teacher over at the high school won the lottery, the real, actual lottery! $40 million. She walked into school and she was like, I’m outta here. Did she deserve it? People wanted to know.
Not that they wanted to know too much. You just couldn’t stand outside and ignore your neighbors. Also, you had to be cheerful. If you didn’t feel up to a charade, you sent your children out and you stayed inside. But then everyone would know you were hiding inside; rumors would fly, the usual suspects.
The house on the pathway, for instance, the one with the brown siding that needed work. That house. The car was in the driveway.
A boy was out alone, kicking hard at a snowbank so it sprayed like icy diamonds.
Bram, his name was, short for Abraham. His parents, long ago, had fallen in love with the name. They couldn’t remember why, now. They couldn’t trace the line that must connect their past selves naming him “Bram” with their present selves. And each time they said, “Bram,” Bram would hear the hesitation, the bafflement, and believed he was the cause. Which he was, to some extent. His mother had a memory of saying to her play group (she had gone to play groups, then): “Like Bram Stoker!” Now she couldn’t remember who Bram Stoker was. An actor? Why had it mattered to her? What had made her take it upon herself to call her son something so outlandish, so full of such foolish, pretentious hope?
Bram’s mother had swallowed her pills with vodka again, and his father was weeping in the basement, and Bram needed to stay outside as long as possible. He slid along the icy sidewalks after the fire truck.
“Merry Christmas, Santa!” he said, over and over, trying to believe in his own happiness.
At first the firefighters waved back, shouted “Merry Christmas,” and “Hey kiddo!” But soon they couldn’t meet his eye—not out of discomfort or irritation or shame on the boy’s behalf, but merely because they were weary of the spectacle.
Image credit: Steven Depolo on Flickr
DC Lambert is a public school teacher serving an inner city school district and the author of War on Excellence: Our Giant Secret Education Bureaucracy and Me, a nonfiction narrative about the secrets behind the closed doors of our rapidly changing 21st century schools. She earned her MFA from Warren Wilson College Program for Writers. Her award-winning writing has appeared in such magazines as Stand, ACM, Columbia, and Connections, and her academic book, Point of View in Mrs Dalloway: Rooms, Corridors and Houses, was recently published by Edwin Mellen Press. Read more here.