Friday, November 21, 2014

Chapter 24 Real Santa (33 Days to XMAS)

THE WHITE, MOTTLED stucco bungalows with city yards and

a porch were built in the twenties. The porches were for people to sit

and nod to neighbors. It takes a village. That’s what Hillary Clinton

was saying when George bought the three-bedroom bungalow for

one hundred and seventy thousand. He would live in a village, and

his kids would ride their bikes, and he would sit on the porch and

inhale the last scent of the American dream in the American century.

But of course his kids didn’t ride their bikes. And George never

really sat on the porch in the evening and nodded to neighbors. There

were no neighbors, and the people didn’t seem too interested in a man

on a porch swing. Even the nights where he did sit out on his porch,

he felt weird. Most people came home from work and went inside. A

man sitting on his porch in the dark was a little suspect if not crazy.

Park Ridge was a village with parking problems, high taxes, and

stressed middle-class people with homes hammered in the crash.

And then his marriage went south, and his equity swirled down the

drain along with his 401(k), and George was stuck with his home.

That was why the stucco was falling off it and the garage leaned at a

forty-five degree angle. His ex-wife was under the illusion their equity

would reflate and there would be money left over. George knew they

would be lucky if they didn’t owe the bank after they sold the house.

He rang the doorbell and hoped Julie wasn’t home. He had really

come to see Jeremy and Jamie under the guise of dropping off his
support check. He had sat in the tub a long time and thought about

what Mary had said. There was an ache in his heart over the way

things had turned out with his kids.

“Mom’s not here,” Jeremy said, opening the door.

George smiled. “I don’t want to see your mother.”

His son stared at him like he just woke up.

“I came to see you and your sister. Can I come in?”

Jeremy shrugged. George followed his son into the kitchen, where

a mountain bike was flipped upside down with one tire off.

“Jamie’s been working on her bike,” he said as his father examined


“I can see that,” George murmured. “Mom doesn’t care that she

works on it in the middle of the kitchen?”

Jeremy shrugged again. “She’s never here. She doesn’t give a shit

what we do.”

“I see,” George said, glancing into the living room, where an artificial

tree stood with no ornaments. “Does she even decorate the tree?”

Jeremy shook his head. “Not unless we do it. Sometimes she and

Dirk will drink a bottle of wine and decorate some of it Christmas

Eve before they pass out or go upstairs to screw.”

George winced, looking at his son.

“That’s just terrible.”

“Yeah … I’m going to have a cigarette, Dad, on the deck.”

“You mind if I join you?”

“Suit yourself.”

They walked outside onto the deck George had built fifteen years

before. He had designed the deck, had the wood delivered, then

worked on it every weekend. But the Wolmanized lumber didn’t

fare very well. It had turned a dirty grey, and then individual boards

started to give. George thought he had worked out the load factors,

but building a deck was different from building a bridge. Soon they

were all walking across the deck like pogo men.

Jeremy leaned on the railing and lit up a Marlboro. George walked

carefully to the banister, taking in the leaning garage and the old grill

covered in snow. He listened to the leaking gutters and the slow plop

of snow falling between the cracks in the deck.

“I’m amazed that garage is still standing.”
Jeremy puffed on his cigarette. “Dirk says he’s going to knock

it down and build a new one in the spring. Nobody is holding their


With a Facebook suggestion they go to Vegas, Dirk had taken

Julie there to see if their high school romance was still real. A lot of

screwing apparently transcended the years, and his wife moved into

Dirk’s apartment, and then Dirk moved into George’s house. The

word he got from the kids was Dirk watched a lot of NASCAR and

adult Netflix until he blew through his case of beer.

“It’s not a small job,” George said, staring at the garage. “She do

anything about the sewer?”

Jeremy frowned. “Are you kidding? You can’t take a crap without

it backing up.”

George had given her the money for the main sewer line. Where

the five grand went he could guess with the trips to Vegas. He was

sure Dirk had lost it at blackjack and craps. George turned around

and looked at his son in his army coat and jeans.

“Jeremy, I want you to consider coming to my house for Christmas.

I’d like you and your sister to come out and spend the holidays

with me.”

He threw the cigarette over the railing.

“That’s why you came out here, Dad?”

“Well … yes, that and to give your mother a check.”

“Not a chance Jamie’s going to miss Florida. I think she likes

having Christmas on a beach.”

George nodded slowly. “How about you?”

“I don’t know, Dad. It seems a little late for all that now. You didn’t

seem to give a shit until now if I came out or not. You have your new

family.” He frowned. “I guess I just don’t give a shit either.”

George nodded slowly. “You’re right, Jeremy. I want to apologize

for that. I wanted to get away from … from the pain. And in the process

I lost you and your sister.”

“Dad, it started before that. Even when you were here, you seemed

like you wanted to be somewhere else.”

“That’s not true. I wanted to be here.”

Jeremy leaned forward on the banister, flipping ash into the snow.

“Maybe, but you know the last time I remember you doing some

thing with me, Dad? Do you remember sleeping in the Field Museum

with the Cub Scouts with all the dinosaurs?”

George nodded slowly. “Yes, we slept on the floor in our sleeping


“And remember how we got up at one AM, and the McDonald’s

was still open, and we bought burgers and ate it and walked around

the museum?”

“I do.”

Jeremy turned around and held his cigarette low.

“That’s my last memory, Dad. After that, I don’t remember you

and I doing anything together.”

George felt his heart grown heavy again.

“I’m sorry, son. I really am. I screwed up, and … and I’m sorry.”

“That’s alright,” he said, shrugging. “It’s over.”

George jammed his hands down in his parka and stared at the

falling garage.

“Would you at least consider coming out for Christmas? I could

really use your help with this Santa thing, and I just want to spend

time with you.”

“I don’t know, Dad.”

George turned to his son. “Do you think you could give your old

man another chance?”

Jeremy looked down. “I’ll think about it.”


“You better give me the check, Dad, and split. Mom was really

steamed when she heard about you being Santa and all. She said she

was going to take you back to court.”

He raised his eyebrows. “How surprising.”


They grinned, and George felt himself grow a little lighter. He

handed his son the check and walked to the edge of the deck.

“Think about it … okay?”

Jeremy flicked his cigarette into the snow. “Okay.”

“Take it easy, son.”

“Thanks for stopping by … Dad.”

George tried to speak but could only hold up his hand.

Real Santa



Books by William Hazelgrove