Silver and Salt

Written By: Rob Thurman

Silver and Salt

by Rob Thurman



Christmas sucked.

The display windows covered in velvet ribbons and tinsel. The tinkle of ringing bells around every corner. The snow, the presents, the frigging good cheer.

Yeah, it sucked all right. Sure, it was only once a year, but that was one time too many. Carolers, months of Christmas music, candy canes, and all but Cindy Lou Who skipping down the sidewalk.

It was too much. Too damn much.

I was seven when I knew there wasn’t a Santa anymore. I was thirteen when my sister started the whole ‘is there really a Santa’ thing, and ‘the kids at school say….’ The usual stuff and that she was seven, the same age I’d been, only made it worse.

So I lied. Sure there was a Santa. And when Mom told me to take her to see store Santa, I hadn’t bitched too much. She and Dad both had to work. They worked hard. We weren’t poor, but we sure weren’t rich either. Dad was a good hunter and that put food on the table, but it didn’t pay the electric or the mortgage.

Plus I remembered what it was like, how knowing had taken the magic out of Christmas. I didn’t want to admit it. I was tougher than that. I didn’t want to admit that even six years later I missed waiting to hear hoofbeats on the roof, the jingle of bells, the thump of boots hitting the bottom of our big, old fireplace.

Yeah, I didn’t want to fess up to it, but it was true. Now Christmas was just another day. I wasn’t into Jesus or church, mangers or angels. You got presents and, sure, that was cool, but the excited knot in your stomach, the blankets clenched in your fists, the listening for all you were worth that Christmas Eve night.

Gone.

It was stupid to miss it. I was way too old for that shit. You could ask anybody. If the kids at school found out, they’d laugh me out of class. If the teachers found out, they wouldn’t know what to think. Probably send me to the counselor for soft words, ink blots, and a note for my parents. But they didn’t know, and every teacher would tell you: I wasn’t a dreamer. No way. I was a smart-ass kid. My dad told me so, my teachers, the principal…who spent more time lecturing me than my teachers ever did. He told me at thirteen I was too young to get into trouble, too young to be cynical. And definitely too young to have such a foul mouth.

He didn’t get out of the office much.

Smart-assed and foul-mouthed, you’d think there was no way I’d get glum every Christmas, but I did. Every single one. And no matter what had happened that one particular Christmas when I was seven—the Christmas I’d first lost the spirit, I’d never get it back. I’d never get a do-over. No matter how much I wanted to.

Jackass, I said to my reflection in the display glass of the store. Suck it up. Get over it. You’re not seven anymore. You’re not a little kid. There are no do-overs in life.

I pushed the door open to the department store, the only one we had in Connor’s Way, a town so small we had two stores, three restaurants, and one stop light. It had been home since August now. It was one of those towns where everyone knew everyone and everything you did got around if you weren’t careful. I was thirteen…there were plenty of things I did I didn’t want getting around.

Tessa slid her hand into mine and I grimaced. Little sisters, what a pain in the ass. Big eyes the same brown as mine looked up at me and she smiled at me with that big-brother worshipping smile. I sighed, squeezed her hand, and tugged her along. “Come on. Before the line gets too long.” She was a pain, but she was my pain and family’s what counts. Dad said that over and over again. People are people, but it’s family that counts.

Along with the brown eyes she looked like me. Slightly dark skin, curly black hair. We were related all right. You could see that a mile away. Dead on our dad.

“What kind of cookies should I make Santa?” Tessa chattered. “Chocolate chip? Peanut butter? Oooh, Snickerdoodles. Everybody loves Snickerdoodles. Right? You like Snickerdoodles, don’t you?”

I rolled my eyes and was thankful the line wasn’t that long. Santa was pretty much what I expected: fat enough to strain his big black belt and with a beard so fake and bushy that rats could’ve nested in it. He had glasses perched on the end of his red veined nose and his lap was full of a sobbing, kicking and screaming two-year-old with a load in his plastic pull-up that had to weigh more than he did.

“Eww,” Tessa said, tugging at my hand. “I don’t want to sit there.”

“Then just stand beside him and tell him what you want for Christmas,” I said impatiently. “His balls could probably use the break.” Hundreds of kids slamming down on them day after day, no way I’d want his job.

“Balls?” She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t see any balls. Snow balls?”

Jesus. I was in for it now. “Hey, it’s your turn,” I said with relief, letting go of her hand and giving her a light shove. “Remember to hold still for the picture or Mom’ll kill me.”

She moved up beside and tip-toed up to whisper in his ear. The camera flashed and even though it was a little early it did make a cute picture. Then Tessa leaned back and bounced happily in shiny patent leather shoes that went with her best red velvet dress.

The fake Santa blinked at her, twitched a forced a smile and hurried her off with a candy cane. As we waited for the picture to pop out, I asked, “What’d you ask for?”