Thursday, December 17, 2009

Under the Pine

She waited for the moment.

No footsteps in the hallway. Her parents’ voices a muffled wave on the other side of the wall. The clock glowing 11:08 on her night stand.

It was time.

She grabbed Snoopy. Cracking the door, she scuttled down the hall, her shadow a silent leap ahead of her heart. Through the sheer curtains in the living room, she could see snow sink through the wonderlight. Swirling snow, tossed by an invisible hand.

It didn’t worry her. Rudolph’s nose was bright. He wouldn’t have any trouble.

He couldn’t.

The tree’s lights reflected rainbows in her eyes. She smiled with a candy-cane mouth. Excitement fizzed from some sleepy center up to dancing lips, and she clutched Snoopy tighter to squelch the squeal inside her chest. Her feet rocked from heel, to tiptoe, and back.

“Oh, boy,” she whispered. “Oh, boy.”

A crackling noise ran from her parents’ room, and up her spine. She scurried past the manger scene, and the piano bench, which still held a plate with two cookies. And the glass of milk to wash down a red star, a blue angel.

Dear Santa, I hope you have time to eat these. You must be very tired.

She crept toward the space she’d picked out. At the back of the tree, in the corner of the room. Where a tangled bow of light cords hid.  But if she hugged her knees, she’d fit just so.
Picking her way through the stack of presents, she thought of the Grinch, slithering his way around the other Whos’ houses, leaving crumbs much too small for the other Whos’ mouses. Her bottom knocked down an ornament, or two, but she didn’t bother putting them back up. Not now.

She couldn’t.

Almost time.  It must be. The sharpness of pine tickled her nose. Looking up, she inhaled the carnival of lights with eyes thrown open wide. Up, up, up they shot. Her head fell back on Snoopy’s tummy. Her fingers reached to touch fresh sap.

Sticky. Her dad told her that bugs could get stuck in it. Forever.

A door creaked. Footsteps pattered. She held her breath, but her heart was a drum.

Pa ra pa pum pum.

“Who’s eating the cookies?”

“My turn.”

“You did it last year!”

“All right. One for each of us. Claire was generous.”

“I’ll take the angel.”

“Fine. But I’m telling Santa you’re the greedy one.”

She saw them. Eating Santa’s cookies. She saw them. Something like sap squeezed up the tube of her throat. And burned.

Her mouth opened.

“I wish we'd gotten one more thing for each of the stockings.”

“Stuff more candy in. They won’t notice.”

“I just don’t want them to be disappointed.”

She pressed her lips together. Hard. Tried to make herself even smaller. Crumb-like.

Daddy’s glasses glowed gold through the branches. Very close now. Her breath whistled as he set the stockings upright against the presents. He adjusted the candy canes to hook just so at the top. His face softened into creases.

She could see a bit of grey in the stubble of his chin.

The hot stuff in her throat sank lower. Into the tender part of her chest. Daddy. It warmed her. The Christmas lights—a kaleidoscope of red, blue, yellow, purple—all blurred into gold.

“There. Perfect.”

She had to sneeze.

She was going to sneeze.   

“This will probably be the last year for Claire and Santa.”

“I’m surprised she hasn’t asked already.”

“She wants to believe. She always has.”

Snoopy’s ear tasted like dirty cotton balls. But biting down worked. She didn’t sneeze.

Instead, she would stay still and silent. As a mouse. Until her parents finished. And when tomorrow came, her smile wouldn’t waver, or break.

It couldn’t.


Stephen Parrish said...

Oh, yes.

Susan Deborah said...

Evoking the christmas spirit . . .

Joy always,

Karen said...

This is beautiful. I love how her disillusionment turned to love. That's Christmas.

Jennifer said...

Okay, just between you and me, I almost cried.

I think that sort of is a marker for growing up--when we feel like we want to protect our parents, and their feelings, too. When we can cleave the disappointment from the love.

I adore this little girl. Because of her parents, I think she'll always believe. And because of your writing maybe we all will, just a little bit more, too. :)

Catvibe said...

This is wonderful. You've captured the magic of Christmas at a time of life when it is still so magical. I especially loved the blur of color as she was watching.

Christmas becomes less and less palatable as we age, doesn't it? The magic dwindles with the consumer gluttony it's become. But young children remind us of the magic parts that are still there.

Sarah Hina said...

Steve, aw, shucks.

Susan, I hoped to do just that. And joy to you, too! :)

Karen, yes, it is. Disillusionment stings, but other riches remain. Thank you, my friend.

Jennifer, I almost cried, too. Thank you for letting me know this touched you so. :)

This little girl twisted my heart. A riptide of emotions shaking her, but love came out on top. And yes, her desire to protect her parents is strong. You pinpointed the moment exactly.

Cat, I do think that magic can be found, if sought. Maybe that's partly because of my own little kiddies, though! :)

Claire is lucky, too. Disillusionment is easier to suffer with arms to fall back in.

Thanks for your warm words. Hugs, my friend!

the walking man said...

You know what I like best about this season Sarah...because of the girth and the beard just about every child under 6 or so gives me that wide eyed look.

Now I am not a seasonal fool but I will wink and smile and put my finger to my lips so they feel like they share a secret.

I have no problem destroying the illusions of adults but I will not ruin them for a kid who still believes.

Chris Eldin said...

Merry Christmas, Sarah! This is a particularly touching vignette. The emotional lives of children are so layered. They can be happy and sad at the same time, I think.

Sarah Hina said...

Mark, I knew you were a good man. I believe in you, too. ;)

For me, this moment was about losing a surface faith to find a deeper, more complex one beneath. To sacrifice, but also to gain. To meet the moment, I guess.

Chris, I definitely think that's true. And things don't change all that much when they grow up. Confusion and fear can still cloud so much.

Geesh. And on that bright note, Merry Christmas to you, too, Chris!! :)

Jennifer said...

Sarah, completely off point here, sorry! I starting reading Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals" last night, and the simplicity, humor and incredible sadness within the first chapter had me both crying and laughing. I remember at one point you were talking about how amazing his latest novel was, and I was just curious of you'd read this. (Disclaimer--I'm a vegetarian, but not, I hope, unbearably, militantly so!)

I just don't know anyone else who has read this book. Except for Natalie Portman, who said it made her a vegan. But I don't really know her. You know? At leat not well enough to leave a non sequitur of a comment on her blog. ;)

I haven't read his novels (hangs head in shame) but you can be sure that I will asap. Do you recommend one over the other to start?

Sarah Hina said...

Jennifer, I haven't read his latest book, though I've been half tempted/half scared to do so. See, I used to be a vegetarian. Then I wasn't. It's something I've struggled with, since being married and having kids. It's complicated, to say the least. I definitely want to get to the point where I'm eating meat less frequently, and avoiding pork and beef.

Ack, it's hard. Ethically, I feel drawn to vegetarianism. For the environmental impact, too. I will probably read his book sometime. And struggle some more with it.

But, yes!! You should definitely pick up Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Cat read it on my recommendation. Anyway, I just loved it. I cried like a baby. But it's uplifting, too.

I bought Everything is Illuminated, and was disappointed. I actually gave up on it, though I know other people who think it's the superior book. But knowing you like (I think) I do? Yeah, go for the Extremely Loud. And if you EVER want to talk more at length with me about it, or anything else, feel free to write me an email! I've been tempted to write you, but just didn't have an address. Mine's in my Blogger profile. :)

Jennifer said...

Thanks for responding, Sarah. I almost didn't say anything because I don't want to bring up anything touchy and I never know when/for whom this might be touchy. In "Eating Animals" he even discusses how people assume vegetarians are always trying to convert people if they talk about their food choices.

But it is such a powerful first chapter, both in what he says and doesn't, and how he eases the reader into the issues. It's framed around his grandmother's feelings about food, shaped by her experiencing starvation during the war. Funny and sad, both.

Being a parent, I think, makes us all struggle with these issues. My father is a pediatrician and when my kids got sick a few times last winter, he said they clearly are missing something in their diet, and they should eat meat. !! So I feel pressure or judgment on the flip side!

I'm going to order Extremely Loud right now. I'm sure I will want to talk about it, and maybe even "Eating Animals" too. Hmmm, maybe I should start a blog. ;)

Seriously, thanks for offering email--I'm sure I'll be taking you up on it! :)

Sarah Hina said...

I wouldn't be entirely surprised if Santa got me the Eating Animals book for Christmas. I know it's been mentioned around the house. ;)

No worries on bringing it up! My best friend has been a vegetarian for 15 years now. I lasted for a couple of years in my early twenties. And believe me, I know there's judgment all around. I got tired of dealing with my dad's condescension about it. It must be especially hard to deal with regarding your kids. People make the most ridiculous leaps and assumptions!

Thanks, Jennifer. I always love our discussions. They're ALMOST as good as your blog. :)

Vesper said...

Sarah, this is a perfect Christmas story, so sweet, so heartwarming, so full of love.
I loved the pacing, the suspense, the details, everything.

All the best to you and your loved ones.

Anonymous said...

this was wonderful...

one you can read again and again...

I truly hope all your dreams for Christmas come true…

Hope, peace and love…

Sarah Hina said...

Vesper, all the best to you and yours, too! :)

I appreciate all your kind words here. We feel closer to some stories than others, and this was one of them for me.

Winters Reaper, I'm grateful for your visit and for the lovely comment. Thank you so much.

I hope all of your Christmas dreams come true, as well. :)

Aniket said...

Now you better keep it down yourself and not get caught okay?

My brother has always been my not-so-secret Santa. But for making him do what he does... I'll always believe. :)

Oh, and on your discussion with Jen, I wish I could eat non-vegetarian food. All my friends just can't help gloating how good it tastes. I've tried but I never could make myself to bite on it. :(