PARK RIDGE WAS festive with Christmas trees and wreaths
in store windows and people dashing here and there as the elevated
rambled overhead. George was to meet Jeremy and Jamie for their
annual Christmas dinner before his ex-wife took them to Florida on
Christmas day. Every year George would suggest they spend Christmas
with his family, and every year they declined, citing early flights
and logistics and their mother’s intransigence against anything concerning
So it had all come down to a Christmas dinner with his two
children at Winterbeans. George walked into the dim light and was
greeted by the hostess, who said his kids were waiting for him at a
table. His former town had the small town quality of people actually
knowing you. George could still walk in, and the bartender would
bring him his ice tea and chopped salad while he caught up on the
local papers. It was really what George had craved. A nestled home
in a community of people who knew your name and cared that you
existed. So why in the hell did he move out to the country?
George couldn’t quite answer that except to say he wanted a fresh
start with Mary. Shortly after Megan was born they had decided Mary’s
condominium was too small, and George drove out and saw the rambling
white farmhouse and a life among the cornfields of his new family.
An American Gothic existence appealed to him, and the bonus was the
bridge project over the nearby river was a three-year gig.
Then of course the economy tanked, and George’s house along
with everyone else’s lost forty percent in value. Not that he was considering
moving back, but it was strange to not even have that option.
And now his former life was staring him in the face with the twin
eyes of filial accusation. You always worked. You were never there for
us. You and mom always fought. You left. Mom left. You left us in that
shitty house with no money.
“Hey, guys,” he said gingerly, sliding into the booth.
Neither texting head rose from their collective laps. George pulled
off his coat and scarf and watched his son and daughter stare down
under the table. He noticed his daughter’s hair was flaming red with
one side shorn up like the old group A Flock of Seagulls. His son
looked like a mountain man with shaggy hair down to his shoulders
and a beard approaching a Civil War general.
“And what can I get you to drink?”
George looked up at the pretty waitress.
“I’ll take a Boddington … kids?”
“Miller,” came from his son.
“Same,” came from his daughter.
George held his hand up to the waitress.
“Ah, Jamie, I think you are a little young to be drinking beer.”
She shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“Whatever, Dad. I drink all the time.”
George laughed and winked at the blonde twentysomething.
“How about a Coke?”
“Fine,” Jamie grumbled.
George nodded. “A Miller and a Coke then.”
She left, and George looked at his kids. Jamie laughed at something
on the screen, and George noticed several more studs on her
right eyebrow along with freshly minted tattoos rolling up both arms.
Goth. Biker chick. It was strange to think of his own daughter with
her ripped black fishnet shirt hiding a black lacy bra in terms of one
of those Goth girls he had seen at Depeche Mode concerts.
“So … how is school, Jamie?”
“It blows,” she muttered.
“Well, there must be some classes you like in your senior year.”
“It all sucks dick.”
George stroked his beard and turned to Jeremy.
“So, son … how is college?”
“Same. It sucks,” he murmured, fast-action thumbs not slowing.
George sighed and leaned in.
“Hey, guys, this is our Christmas dinner. Why don’t we put the
Jamie looked up at him as if he had just hit her.
“You make me come down to this lame dinner, and now I can’t
even use my phone. I’m seventeen you know, Dad!”
“I know, I know. I just thought we could … talk while we are in
“Talking is so lame,” Jamie muttered, but she shut down her phone.
Jeremy put his phone in his coat and stared at his father.
“So how is everything out in Bedford Falls?”
George watched the drinks come.
“Just a wonderful life,” he murmured.
Jeremy drank his Miller and frowned.
“I’ll bet … after you leave us in the shithole.”
George put down his beer.
“You have a nice house.”
“Not as nice as the one you live in,” Jamie sneered, sulking with
“We don’t live in a mansion, Dad. We live in the shithole you left
George held his beer between his hands.
“I didn’t leave your mother. She left me. Remember, guys?”
“That’s not what she said,” Jamie muttered.
George didn’t want to go down this path because it only led to
Dad is an asshole. He picked up the menu and tried to steer away
from the village of filial discontent.
“So, what are we going to have?”
“I’m not hungry,” Jeremy growled.
George looked over his menu at his two sulking kids.
“C’mon, guys, it’s on me.”
“Yeah, it’s the only thing we get out of you,” Jamie said, scowling.
“Now that’s not true—”
“I want a new car, Dad,” she declared.
“Talk to your mother.”
“That’s what you always say, but you don’t pay her anything!”
George put down the menu.
“That’s not true, Jamie. I have paid your mother on time every
month, but she blows it on vacations.”
George stared at the two hot eyes of sooty mascara.
“You left her without a penny,” she cried out. “And now everybody
has cars, and I have to drive that old shitty station wagon you
left Mom with while you moved out to your estate with your perfect
daughter and perfect wife and left us to rot here!”
George breathed wearily. “I don’t have a perfect daughter or perfect
wife,” he said quietly.
“Oh, really? Megan is so smart. Megan is so sweet. Megan is so
cute,” his daughter mimicked in a high-pitched screech. She jammed
her finger in her mouth. “It makes me want to barf!”
“I never treated you any different than I treat her, Jamie.”
“Yeah … Right.”
Jeremy raised his beer.
“I think Jamie’s got a point, Dad. I mean, what’s this Santa you’re
going to be or whatever?”
George stared at his son.
“Who told you?”
“Mary did. I called her, and she said you were out seeing some
guy about reindeer. Reindeer, Dad? You never got us reindeer.”
“Yeah,” Jamie sobbed. “You never got us any reindeer!”
George paused then leaned forward on his elbows.
“Megan is at the age where she is beginning to question Santa …
so I decided I would be Santa for her.”
Jeremy squinted. “But you are getting real reindeer?”
“Well, yes. You see, she wants to videotape Santa, so I’m going to
have the reindeer and a sled and I’ll be in it on the roof—”
“Wait a minute.” Jeremy sat up in his army jacket and stared at
him. “You mean you’re going to put reindeer on the roof for your kid?”
His son slammed back against the booth. “Great! What … are
you going down the chimney too?”
George paused. “Yes.”
“Dad …” Jamie’s face resembled prison bars with her inky tears.
“You never went down the chimney for us!”
Jeremy shook his head.
“Yeah, I mean, what the hell, Dad? What’s this costing you?”
“Well, the reindeer are hefty but the digital projectors are really
setting me back.”
“WHAT?!” His son glared at him and slammed his beer down.
“Ah … yes, to project on smoke the image of Santa acceding to
the roof,” George mumbled, not feeling good about any of this.
“You never used digital projectors for us,” Jamie wailed. His
daughter was now crying profusely.
Jeremy shook his head and looked at his father.
“You told me when I was nine that Santa would spontaneously
combust from the g-load. Do you remember that, Dad, when I asked
you if Santa was real?”
“Yes, and I regret it, son.”
“You never even told me about Santa,” Jamie wailed, wiping black
mascara on her napkins.
“But for your new daughter you’re going to recreate Santa Claus.”
Jeremy leaned into the table. ”Do you see, Dad, why we might be a
little pissed about that?”
George nodded slowly. “Yes … but I never meant to favor one
child over another.”
“Well, you are, Dad, you are.”
“You are giving her a Real Santa, and you won’t even give me a
car,” Jamie screamed, standing outside the booth suddenly. “I hate
you! I hate you! You’re a … dickhead, Dad!”
George realized then the entire restaurant had paused to watch
his daughter call him a dickhead dad. He spoke out of the side of his
mouth. “Jamie, sit down!”
The Goth woman with mascara flowing would not stop.
“YOU WONT EVEN GIVE ME A CAR! YOU’RE A DICKHEAD!”
Then she stormed out the door, passing patrons—a heavyset,
ink-stained Goth woman, pierced and tattooed in seventeen-year-old
angst. The restaurant stared collectively at the man who wouldn’t
even give his daughter a car. Scrooge. Dickhead!
“Well that didn’t go well,” he muttered.
Jeremy shrugged. “You can’t blame Jamie, Dad. She was only eight
when you left. Mom told her in Florida there was no Santa while she
was with that Guido guy on the beach. It really sucked.”
“That’s just terrible.”
“Yeah, I already knew … but it pretty much blew.”
George sat back down and stared at his son.
“I wish there was something I could do for you guys.”
“I can’t help you there, Dad. You blowing all this money on your
new family kind of speaks for itself.” Jeremy frowned. “I heard you
lost your job.”
“Yes, I did.”
“That’s got to kind of suck, but it doesn’t seem like it’s slowing
The waitress appeared.
“Are you ready to order?”
“Give us a few minutes.”
She left, and George stared at the laminated tabletop. He paused.
“You’re right. I was a bad father in some respects.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jeremy said into his beer.
“But … I always wanted you and Jamie to have the best too.”
“Really? That why you worked all the time?”
“Partly. Partly because I was building a career.”
“Well, good luck with that.”
“Look,” George leaned in. “Why don’t you come out on Christmas
Eve and help me?”
Jeremy frowned. “I don’t get it.”
“Come out and help me be Santa. You can be my helper. You and
Jamie. It’s not the same as being Santa for you, but you could be in
the sled with me as Santa’s helpers.”
Jeremy finished his beer.
“I don’t think so, Dad. You know we go to Florida that morning.”
“I know, I know. Just think about it. It’s something we could all
do together one last time. Maybe I can give you back some of the
magic that we lost.”
Jeremy put his empty bottle on the table and stood up. He zipped
up his army coat and looked down at his father.
“I know Santa’s not real, Dad. Some asshole told me he spontaneously
combusted from the g-load on reentry.”
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