Der Weihnachtsmann

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Oeuvre Coterie
A young man--a Santa, actually--enters a home in Germany and learns the meaning of Christmas.

Submitted: December 18, 2015

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Submitted: December 18, 2015



I look out over the side of the sleigh, shining red and clean, and down onto the city of Freiburg in southern Germany--home of the Augustiner Museum, the German Clock Museum, and one of the greatest Christmas markets in Europe. The people fill the huge town square with stalls and chalets stuffed with carvings and food and handmade beeswax candles. Lights cover every available surface, making the whole display seem like a giant firework from above.

Freiburg is an aged town stuffed tight with lots of level, brown buildings.  None of them, except the ancient, gothic clock tower near the center of town, are any taller than four stories. Shops and homes line the narrow streets, some plain brick, others colorfully painted in red or green or yellow.

The roads are winding and car-less; most people here either ride their bikes, walk, or take the train that runs through the town. Powdery snow is floating down to the city, covering the roofs and making it seem like a blurry photograph, difficult to separate one home from another.

I try to take in the sights every Christmas Eve. It's my second year as a Santa, and my first in South Germany. Last year my partner, Fatimah, was in charge of this region, but she thought it would be good for me to see both sides of the country, so we switched.

Fatimah is about fifty years old, with a wisened, dark, face and cool brown eyes, the color and form of almonds. She’s been a Santa for almost twenty years and could probably do all of Germany in one night by herself. Lucky for me the rules mandate that every country, from the smallest to the largest, have two Santas every year.

I hover the sleigh above a roof near the edge of town and start making my way into the homes. Most Santas spend years of training learning how to enter homes and bypass security silently and without a trace, but I had a head start on that when I joined. If any sign is left, it ruins the wonder of Christmas.

The house I’ve landed on is tall compared to the others, some kind of inn I think. It has a wide chimney coming from the left side and the bricks are unpainted and rust-colored.

I slide down the chimney quietly and carefully, the bag designated for the inn over my shoulder. I’m acutely aware of the fact that I can be heard or seen by anyone in the room below. We do have memory technology that we use in cases of emergency, but only emergencies. Some of the side effects are ongoing memory loss, damaged vision, and post traumatic stress.

Not exactly inviting Christmas cheer into the home.

Thankfully the lobby I land in is empty and silent, save for the soft twinkling of ambient German Christmas music.

The lobby has three or four couches and about as many chairs with inviting, spice-brown seats. The fireplace is gas-burning with fake logs, turned off out of respect for both me and the holiday. A few lamps are alight on top of polished wood end tables decorated with holly. Across from the fireplace is a tall, silver, plastic Christmas tree adorned with gold ornaments.

Unslinging my bag, I tiptoe quiet as a breeze to the tree. My bag is made of light, tough hide, designed to be portable and strong. Inside is a motley arrangement of boxes and gifts, all colorfully wrapped in shimmering paper. The guys who work the wrapping station back at The Pole--Santa HQ--make sure that all of the wraps in a bag are different so every parcel feels special to the opener.

I arrange the gifts under the tree so that they curl around the visible side of the tree like a giant cat, big gifts in the back and small ones in the front.

Standing back, I admire my work for a moment before I retreat safely back to the chimney and shimmy my way up quickly.

This process is repeated for all of the other houses on my route--except the last--without incident. The nearest I got was a man who was up late playing video games (I had to skip him altogether), a few angry cats, and two dogs that I had to calm with the treats I carry in my pocket for my dog back at The Pole.

The last home on my list is the Siskin family. Bernhard, his wife Marielle, and little Alphons, age six. Their list is short and their bag is small, for which I’m grateful. Bigger families are harder because I have to carry more gifts down that chimney. Thankfully, I’m tall and narrow, perfect for getting down the tiny chimneys, and I almost never get stuck.

I did once, though, my first year. I was so embarrassed I almost didn’t call for Fatimah to come help me. She still calls me Duck, because I ‘stuck like duct tape’.

The Siskin house’s fire has recently burned out, leaving only cherry embers in the charred hearth. I have to resist the urge to cough from the smoking wood as I make my way down into the living room. The home is old and well cared for, tucked neatly between its neighbors. Small for it’s street, it’s only two stories, and the living room equally tiny. Petite and squashed, the tree is tucked into a corner between the fireplace and a card table, covered in multicolored lights and a random mash of ornaments. I notice an Incredible Hulk ornament, a blonde angel-like character, and an intricate, glass snowflake, reflecting rainbow light onto the walls.

On the worn green couch a woman lays sleeping. For a second I panic, worried I’ve been spotted, but I see that the woman is sound asleep, snoring lightly. She has curly blonde hair that is frizzy and tousled, and she’s dressed in a floral dress and a red apron, as if she’d come home and passed out on the couch without undressing.

I have to look closely in the dark, but there is also a second figure curled up in the arms of the first. A young boy, Alphons. He has his mother’s blonde curls and is dressed in pajamas advertising some cartoon character. He is allowing a small trail of silvery drool drip onto the cushion under him.

I smile and continue to the tree, extra careful to be silent, horribly aware of the risk of discovery. I’m already done stacking Alphons’ and Marielle's presents before I realize there aren’t any for Bernhard. Odd, considering he’s on the list.

Der Weihnachtsmann,” a slow voice says from behind me. I whip around, the fluffy ball at the end of my hat slapping my face softly. The woman is awake and looking at me calmly, Alphons still placidly drooling.

I freeze, hoping she’ll just fall back to sleep and think this was a dream, but she stays wearily awake, staring at me.

Hallo,” I say in German. “What is your name?”

“Marielle,” she tells me. I nod, waiting again in vain for her to fall asleep. Marielle is unmoving, still and alert. Then, still in German, “What is your name, der Weihnachtsmann?” German for Santa Claus.

“I don’t have one,” I lie. Thanks to my classes at The Pole, I’m fluent in both German and English, along with my native Spanish.

“Every man has a name,” Marielle laughs tiredly, “but I suppose you are no ordinary man.”

“I suppose not,” I say. Then I ask, “Where is Bernhard?”

Marielle’s face falls suddenly and even before she says the answer a rock drops in my gut and it is obvious to me. I curse myself for being so insensitive and asking her this.

“Bernhard jumped in front of the train on Christmas morning last year. This is our first Eve without him,” she reveals. I look away from her self-consciously, guilty for my question.

“I’m so sorry, Marielle.”

“We will be okay,” she tells me. “My Alphons is a strong boy, like his father used to be.”

“Like his mother is,” I add, making her smile. I feel like this somehow rectifies my mistake.

“He doesn’t understand what happened,” she says, turning sad again. “He thinks that his father was struck by the train as an accident. I tried to tell him what happened, but he doesn’t need to know that yet. I want to give him the gift of remembering his father well.”

“Yes, memories are everything,” I lament, feeling the smooth surface of the memory eraser in my pocket. When this is done I’ll have to mutilate Marielle’s mind. Not only will she lose this, but probably pieces of her husband and her son, and Alphons might lose his mother altogether.

“What were you before you were der Weihnachtsmann?” Marielle asks, snapping me out of my reverie.

“I was no one,” I tell her, not completely lying.

“Everybody was somebody, even you,” she insists. “I promise I will not tell.”

I flinch and pause, then speak.

“I was a thief. A very good thief.” She raises an eyebrow. “I swear to you I am not anymore. I want to take nothing from you, Marielle.

I think back to my days in Puerto Rico, sneaking into the huge homes and casino hotel rooms. I would go in and out without a trace, not counting the missing possessions of the aristocrats that lived there. I told myself that they didn’t need it, that they would hardly know it was gone, but I was wrong. They did notice. And they were pissed.

I was on the run when recruiters from The Pole found me and brought me in for training. They trained me for active duty and wiped my criminal record clean. They trusted me to go into people’s houses once a year and give rather than take. A new yet rewarding concept.

I came extraordinarily close to taking the crystal ashtray off of a mantle in Hamburg my first year, but beside it was a framed photo of the home’s entire extended family, gold rimmed and lovingly polished. There had to be at least one hundred fifty people in the photograph, all dressed in fur coats and expensive hats in front of a comically large outdoor Christmas tree, still rooted in the ground. Seeing all of the people brought together like that forced me to see what Christmas was supposed to be: a time of sharing. Food, family, gifts, all of it was meant to be spread around from person to person.

“I come to give,” I say finally.

Marielle grins at me, warm and quiet, giving me the greatest feeling I can think of. It was like a hot shower after a long day, like falling in love. Who knew that lips could curve in such a way that it brings a person already on their knees to sink and float simultaneously?

“I know,” she whispers.

The sleeping boy in her arms suddenly awakens, drowsy at first and then electrified with excitement. His eyes widen to the size of moons in the dark and he whisper-shouts louder and louder to his mother, “Mutter, Mutter! Der Weihnachtsmann! Der Weihnachtsmann!

“Yes, mein liebe,” she says to him, laughing and stroking his curls, attempting vainly to soothe him.

Alphons leaps from the couch where his mother still lay and bull rushes me, arms out like a cannonball with arms. He flings himself from the ground and into my chest, wrapping his arms around my neck and crying into it, “Danke, danke! Thank you, Weihnachtsmann! Danke!

“You’re welcome, kind,” I say to him. I feel like I’m about cry too, the burning sensation from holding back the tears beginning to swell in my eyes, a fire symphony.

Marielle kneels down and joins us, embracing me through Alphons. She smells like pies and spices, and up close I can see how drained her watery eyes are. She’s given everything to her son this last year, and now I can give her something.

“erry Christmas,” I whisper to the two of them.

Fröhliche Weihnachten,” they whisper back, like some kind of promise or prayer, something sacred.

Eventually I’m forced to pull away, leaving behind the cinnamon smells of Marielle’s apron and Alphons’ clammy fingers. I rise to my full height and they stay on the ground, waiting patiently for my move.

My hand slithers into my pocket where the memory eraser is resting and I feel it over with my thumb. It’s cold and dangerous in my hand.

I glance at Alphons and Marielle. Marielle is clutching her son tightly and openly weeping joyously. This shouldn’t be taken from them, that’s not what this day about. We Santas come to people’s homes to bring light to these people’s lives, not to extinguish what little they have left.

Gute nacht,” she sobs. My heart urges me to go to her, but my head intervenes and reminds me that I’ve already done too much. “Goodnight, Weihnachtsmann!

Slowly a close-lipped smile stretches my face, and I take my hand out of my pocket, empty. I snatch my bag and whisk up the chimney without looking back, flying over the roofs back to the sleigh. The wind is cold and biting, but I hardly feel it. I beam up at the night sky and the Christmas village in the square. If I run and look straight up at the sky, I can imagine I’m home with my brothers, or zooming to The Pole with Fatimah, or smiling with Marielle and Alphons. In that sky, anything can happen, and I swear I see their faces in the constellations.

Gute nacht,” I say.


2285 words.

© Copyright 2019 Darwin James. All rights reserved.

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