All of us kids woke up early and came downstairs on Christmas morning. The presents were there like always. The fire had burned out overnight but there was still the sweet smell of ashes in the air. Ma was in the kitchen getting breakfast started. We were going to start opening presents when we noticed Pa in the corner, just sort of rocking back and forth. Ma came in, still wearing her bandanna over her hair.
“Why’s everybody so quiet?” she asked. “What’s going on?”
“Something’s wrong with Pa,” I said. “Look!”
“Oh,” said Ma, “so this is where you went after you left the bedroom window open. I had to get up and close it. It was freezing out there. What were you thinking flinging it open like a crazy man in the middle of the night anyway?”
“So much noise,” Pa muttered quietly, still rocking. “There was so much noise outside I had to see what was going on.”
“I didn’t hear anything,” said my big sister Emily. She looked at us. “Did any of you?” We all shook our heads except for my little brother who picked up a piece of candied fruit and started sucking on it.
“He was flying,” Dad said, his eyes wide. “I swear it’s the truth. He was flying along in a tiny sleigh pulled by miniature reindeer.”
“Reindeer aren’t that big,” said Emily. “Some are less than three feet tall at the shoulder.”
“Hush,” hissed Ma.
“He—he had names for them,” said Pa. “Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen and Blitzen.”
“Somebody’s Blitzen all right,” said Ma. “What’s with you?”
“And Donner,” Pa added.
“Like the party?” asked Emily.
“They landed on the roof,” said Dad, oblivious to the question. “So much noise. They were stamping all over the roof.”
“It wouldn’t have been so loud if you’d replaced the insulation in the attic this summer like I told you to,” said Ma.
“How’d you know they were on the roof?” asked Emily. “Did you lean out the window and look?”
Pa kept staring ahead. “I came downstairs. I came downstairs and he came in the house.”
“We were robbed?” said my little brother. “On Christmas Eve?” He started crying. I nudged him.
“Cool it. The presents are all here, see?”
“What happened?” asked Ma. “Did he fall through the roof where you haven’t replaced the shingles?”
“He came down the chimney,” said Pa. “Just popped out of the fireplace with a great big bag.”
“Didn’t we have a fire last night?” asked Emily.
“He was a large, round man in a bright red fur suit trimmed with white,” Pa went on.
“Where do you get bright red fur?” I asked.
“Somebody probably threw paint on it,” said Emily. “Fur is dead, you know.”
“I just sat here and watched him,” said Pa, “watched him pull presents out of this great big bag he carried. He put them under the tree and then when he was done he went back into the fireplace and flew right up it.”
I giggled. “Because his ass was on fire!”
Ma gave me a smack and said, “Knock it off!”
“I looked out the window and he just flew away into the night yelling ‘Merry Christmas!’ loud enough to wake up the whole neighborhood,” said Pa. “Didn’t even go to any other houses. Just us. Just us.” He started rocking back and forth again.
We were all quiet for a long time, then Ma said, “Kids, your father’s been under a lot of pressure lately. Let’s just give him a little bit of time. He’ll come around.”
We all got quiet again and stood around awkwardly. The silence was only broken by a loud snap from the kitchen.
“I’d better go check that mousetrap,” said Ma.