I'm drunk, teetering east down Ellice at Spence just after midnight on Christmas Eve-Eve when Santa’s boot trips me up. I manage to get my hands out in front of me in time but they slip on the ice, splay out to the sides, and my forehead smacks the ground. Rolling to my back, I try to focus on the 99 Cent Pizza sign. My vision goes yellow and red neon.
After some time, my ass gets cold, and I remember how sitting on cold concrete is supposed to cause buttcheek acne so I hoist myself up. Everything hurts.
But I take comfort in knowing nothing could hurt more than the moment I saw my ex stroll into the Christmas party with that beautiful Scandinavian-looking blonde bitch clutching at his wrist, 20 minutes ago. Frozen sidewalk don’t got nothing on beautiful blonde bitches.
His boots, attached to two long, red-velveted legs, splayed out from underneath a bush like a jolly Wicked Witch of the East. They’re impressive. Shiny, black, polished, probably real leather. I think about waking him up just to tell him he should invest in some of that overpriced water protection spray from Quarks. But then I think, maybe best not to wake the stranger sleeping downtown. Mom would tell me to walk away swiftly, in a zig-zag pattern in case he has a gun. But the zig-zagging is hard for me right now so I just take really wide steps like a cowboy. I’m halfway down the block when he groans, all hurt-like. Shit. Dad’s in my head now, saying, “Hundreds of people die of exposure on the prairie every winter, it’s a real bitch.” So I turn around and cowboy-walk all the way back to him.
“Hey there, friend. You good?” I nudge his ankle. Then a little harder, more of a kick. He stirs too quick and upsets the bush, showering himself. When he sits up, some snow is glommed onto his patchy black goatee, the saddest looking Santa beard I’ve ever seen. But he’s hot, and young, the kind of guy I’d single out at The Pal if I were in a mood. When he stands I see he’s tall, too. Shoulders you could balance dinner plates on if he weren’t swaying so damn much.
“I’m good.” He says it quiet, a little hoarse, not really looking at me. He brushes some snow off the fuzzy white trim sewn down the front of his too-loose Santa coat.
“You tripped me, you know. I probably have a concussion.”
“Shit. Sorry.” He finally looks right at me and does a double take. I’m a decent looking person, I know that much. Not enough to ever have a real career selling my body or face on Instagram or something, but enough to make a guy look twice if he ran into me on the street. Enough to make him want to make me happy. “Man, I’m sorry. You need me to walk you to Health Sciences or something?”
I rub my head a little, in the wrong spot. “I think I should be fine. I’ve got an ice pack at home.”
There isn’t really anything to say now, and he’s smirking at me. Holy shit is he cute. Like the perfect combination of Jason Momoa and Teen Wolf. When Dad applied for our Métis cards years ago, he told me if I don’t have babies with a Native guy I won’t pass my status on to the next generation of us. Ever since I hit 16, my ovaries have been on the lookout for a pretty Native boy to brown-up my weak genes. The ovaries like Santa. A lot.
“Well, g’night?” He smirks and veers west, flicking the wet pom-pom of his hat over top of his head to hang as it should. There’s no one around so I watch him until he turns a corner three blocks down. Then I turn east toward home.
Home is an apartment in the exchange district I managed to score before the Human Rights Museum went up and boosted the prices of every property within a five kilometre radius of its architectural prestige. It’s a space I share with a sickly beta fish and some Kijiji furniture and four aloe vera plants because they keep sprouting baby aloe veras that need to be re-potted. I admire the way they grow their families big, but do wish they’d take into consideration the high price of clay pots these days.
I roll myself between the sheets and kick off my socks. My fists are heavy like bricks, too heavy to hold a phone over my face to watch an episode of Love Island, so I let them sink into the mattress and leave my mind to swim. I start off thinking about the Scandinavian but that makes me pretty dizzy and sick-feeling, so instead I think about Native Santa. I think about him giving me his metaphorical Yule log on the sticky leather seat of his sleigh. I think about the elves walking in and what a scandal that would be. Maybe one of them tells Mrs. Claus, and she kicks Santa out of the North Pole and he has to fly all the way to my place. I’d make some tea and put some jam-jams on a plate and he’d realize this was where he was meant to be, all along.
Between the headache, the chipper sun, and the bone-chilling non-breeze coming in through the cracked-open window, there’s nothing I want to do less this morning than brave the mall with every other shithead who forgot to get gifts for their families before Christmas Eve dinner.
I end up in one of those novelty stores with a bong-and-dildo section in the back and find the perfect gift for Faye right away: a bright blue bubblegum machine that sings Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland every time you turn the crank. Faye is the kind of kid who’d be able to appreciate the song all year round just because it’s pretty.
I was already moved out when Mom and Dad got pregnant with Faye. Whenever I take her out for ice cream or to the movies, people think she’s my daughter, and that’s okay.
I’m about to re-merge myself with the mob when the window display catches my attention: his and hers Christmas sweaters. The “his” sweater reads Jingle my Bells and the “hers” sweater reads Feel the Joy, two mittens sewn on where the tits would go. Mom will laugh her face off, and Dad will laugh his face off at Mom laughing her face off. They’re perfect.
On my way out toward the parking lot, I see him. I’m sure it’s him. Hot Native Santa. He’s standing between the two sets of doors underneath a heater, ringing a bell for the Sally-Ann. Maybe I have no right, but I’m relieved, seeing him do something charitable. Most people only do volunteer work to put it on their resume, and if he’s got a resume he’s got some sort of ambition that stretches beyond passing out under various shrubbery.
“Ho ho ho,” he says in a Nish drawl to an old white man who drops a quarter into the collection pot. “Merry Christmas, hey?”
Ducking behind an ATM, I dig through my purse for a fiver, comb my fingers through my hair, and readjust my tits in my bra so they sit the way they should, up and out.
A few months ago, Mom gave me shit about my love life while I was over for Sunday dinner. “It’s been two years since numb-nuts and you haven’t even been on a date yet. You listen to me, Lynn, don’t end up alone just because you’re scared. Scared never got anyone anywhere.” Look at me now, Ma, being all proactive and shit.
“That’s real generous,” he says when I slip the five through the slot. “Merry Christmas, hey?”
I can feel my face heat up, try to keep my voice even. “My head still hurts, you know.”
He takes a step back and squints his eyes at me, then claps. “Hey! The tripper!”
The heat ebbs. “So you remember me?”
“I was pretty sloshed, wasn’t I?” In what may be the hottest gesture any person has ever made, he sheepishly palms his forehead and runs his hand over his eyes, nose, lips, then pulls at his jaw just enough to show off a row of crooked but white, white teeth. Pointy incisors, like a wolf.
He’s laughing at me. But it’s not a mean laugh. It’s like wind through chimes made of dried cranberries and walnut shells. It’s beautiful
I gulp. “Yeah, same though.”
“Whatchu got there?” He points to my bag of Christmas gifts and I hold it open for him to look inside. He reaches in and pulls out the Jingle my Bells sweater. “Shit that’s funny.” He looks at the tag. “My size, too!”
When he puts the sweater back he brushes his hand against my thumb and I gasp. He’s laughing at me. But it’s not a mean laugh. It’s like wind through chimes made of dried cranberries and walnut shells. It’s beautiful.
It takes me a second to realize he’s turned his attention away, ringing his bell again. I’m hovering. With a wave he doesn’t see, I turn and push myself out into the winter air. Four steps into the parking lot, I slip on a patch of ice and land on my ass in front of a Subaru skidded to a stop. I flee, not looking back to see if Santa had been watching.
At home, I wrap the bubblegum machine in shiny red cellophane and tie a silver ribbon around it. The sweaters get hung carefully in the bedroom closet. I’ll tell Mom and Dad Amazon lost their gifts.
You didn’t ask him what his fucking name is, I scold myself, hugging my own shoulders in the bus shelter.
The 92 stops a little bit past my family home, the one I know Roy is driving right now. I made some cookies for Roy to thank him for last week when he kicked some dude off the bus who tried to pull his sweats down in front of me and Faye, and I want Roy to get the cookies in time to bring them home to his wife, Cathleen, for Christmas morning.
It must be nice for Roy to have someone to go home to after a night of toting around underage junkies and overage boozers. I bet Cathleen makes him a big omelette breakfast, cuts an orange into pinwheels, and puts a little sprig of parsley on the plate so he’ll feel like an important man. I try to imagine making Santa a breakfast like that, but all my head conjures up is a bowl of Mini Wheats.
I didn’t even ask his fucking name.
A guy in dark wash jeans and a brown leather jacket, backpack slung over one wide shoulder, sits down beside me in the bus shelter. “Geez, you look cold.”
It’s Santa. Sans suit.
“What’s your name?” It leaps out of my mouth and I want to put it back.
He chuckles. “You’re not the smoothest operator, hey?”
I let go of the breath I’ve been holding. It’s a relief to have my incompetency out in the open. “No. I’m not. Sorry.”
“I’m Nick.” He offers me a large brown hand and I take it. It’s so soft. There’s this misconception about hard working men that the hard work makes calluses. Maybe that’s true for white men, but hard work spins Native men’s hands into silk. It’s just a fact.
“Wait,” I say. “Nick? Your name is Nick. You dress up like Santa and your name is Nick?”
“Yeah, I know. A little, the fuck they say ... on the nose?”
He’s smirking at me, waiting for something.
“Oh! Lynn. My name is Lynn. Your name is Nick and my name is Lynn.” He’s laughing out loud now. “If we were a celebrity couple in US Weekly, they’d call us ‘Nynn,’ or ‘Lick.’ I guess celebrity couple names aren’t quite as cute when you’ve got mono-syllables.”
“You’re pretty funny, Lynn.”
When I asked the universe for a sign that I should leave my ex even though I still loved him and he would probably end up telling all our friends he dumped me and not the other way around, and a bird immediately shit in my hair, I knew there was a reason. So when the universe sends me Saint Nick, three different times in less than 24 hours, I know not to fuck around.
“Do you have plans tonight, Nick?” It comes out so steady and pointed that we’re both a little surprised.
He smirks. “It’s Christmas Eve.”
I smirk back. “So?”
On the bus, I give Roy his cookies and Roy gives me a wink to tell me he approves of my handsome company. Nick really does look handsome. I’m grateful for his nice clothes. My parents aren’t ones to make snap judgements but if the story of how Nick and I met gets brought up, the Levis will soften the blow.
“This is my family,” I say, holding out my phone to show Nick the home screen. “Mom and Dad, and my sister Faye.”
“That’s your Dad?”
I want to have more in common with Nick than I actually do. I want us to share a history.
I don’t know why I don’t tell Nick that the brown man in the photo is my Step Dad, and that I actually get my diluted Métis heritage from Mom’s side. Maybe because it’s too complicated for a first date. Maybe because my bio dad is a coke-addicted white fuck living inside a cloud of cigarette smoke and fart gas whose Great-Great-Great Scottish Granddad probably stole beaver pelts from Nick’s Great-Great-Great Anishnaabe Granddad. Maybe because I want to have more in common with Nick than I actually do. I want us to share a history.
Nick pulls out his own phone. “This is my brother, Jerry. We live together on Furby, good side of Portage.”
His brother doesn’t quite have the movie star looks that Nick does, but he’s a respectable seven. In the photo, the two men are leaning on either side of the entrance outside Sergeant Sundae in summer, a massive sprinkle twist cone clutched in each of their fists. Nick laughs with his mouth wide open and Jerry watches him with pure appreciation. I can relate.
“What about your parents?”
“We don’t have any. But it’s cool, hey? No biggie.”
I want to pry. “Am I keeping you from Jerry tonight?”
“Naw.” He tucks the phone back into his jeans pocket. “Jerry’s got this girlfriend now. Samantha. They’re out looking at Christmas lights and drinking hot chocolates or some shit. I was just gonna go home and watch a movie.” Nick stares out the window and I catch his amused gaze in the reflection.
“This isn’t weird,” I say. ”I mean, kind of weird. But it’s Christmas. You need people at Christmas.”
I wonder what Nick’s Christmases were like growing up, if he had a tree, presents, parties. I wonder if he had that quiet, magical, early-morning moment when you slide down the stairs on your butt on Christmas morning so no one can hear you stealing the first peek at the full stockings and nibbled-on reindeer carrots. I wonder if he had Santa at all.
The bus hits a pothole and my body slams into Nick’s. He steadies me with one arm and leaves it there, resting across the back of my neck. “Watch it, you’ll get another concussion.”
I see Roy smile at us in the rear-view. Pretending not to notice, I settle into the crook of Nick’s arm as if it’s the most commonplace, natural thing that’s ever happened, to anyone.
Nick holds my hand on the walk to Mom and Dad’s from the bus stop. I’m wearing mitts and he isn’t and I feel a little weird about it.
Mom and Dad’s place is lit right up: inflatable penguins, bulbs on every small peak, plastic Santa upside down in the snow bank as if he’s just fallen off the roof. Dad complains about the electric bill every year but he puts it all up for Mom just the same. I know he likes it too, all the pomp and circumstance. It’s the way we’ve always done it, the way it’s supposed to be. I turn to Nick to share in the awe of the Christmas display but he’s got this look on his face, and suddenly I want to shield him from it.
“It’s too much, I know it’s too much.”
“No, no. It’s cool. Festive, hey?”
A festive reminder that your Christmases sucked, I think. Oh well. I can make it up to him next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.
I usher Nick quickly around the side of the house and in through the door so he doesn’t have to see the elaborate Candy Cane Forest in the backyard.
“Everybody, Lynny’s here!” The dining room erupts with the voices of my aunties and uncles and neighbours and the guy from the liquor store who puts aside a few bottles of Rum Chata for Mom every Christmas season in exchange for a meal. Kids run in and out of the room like bottle rockets, their party clothes in various stages of being yanked off. The place already smells like spilt beer and I feel a tension in my neck, that I didn’t even realize was there, release.
Nick tugs on my sleeve. “I thought this was a family dinner.”
“This is my family.”
“Well shit. Alright then.”
I strip off my jacket and am thankful I chose fashion over comfort tonight. My green dress cuts down in a sharp V, and Nick notices. Mom zeroes in on us from across the room, a heat-seeking missile locked in to her daughter’s love life.
“Who’s the stud, Lynny?” She steadies herself with one hand on the back of Uncle Denny’s chair, who’s already passed out with a shrimp tail stuck to his lip.
“This is Sa– Nick. We’re going out.”
Nick gives me a side-eye glance. “Hey there, Mrs ... uh... ”
“Call me Lisa. All Lynny’s boyfriends call me Lisa. But what am I saying, Lynn hasn’t had a boyfriend in years!” Mom slaps Nick on the shoulder as if this were some joke they shared.
“Thanks for having me, Lisa.”
I need to get Nick out of the danger zone before she grabs his bicep, or worse. “Where’s Dad?”
I wonder sometimes if Dad is playing Double Agent for the right side. And then I wonder if there even is a right side when it comes to pulling shit out of the ground that oughta be left alone.
“He’s in the living room with the Almanac Club,” she says with a wave of her hand. “Don’t stay in there too long or your brain will turn to grain!” She lurches toward the kitchen, snorting at her own joke.
Dad is sitting on the couch with Grandpa and the guys from work, Cliff and Victor, talking about weather patterns and the quality of soil, sipping whiskey on ice and hiding the burn behind faux-satisfied Ahhs, like Britney Spears in a Pepsi commercial. Dad is a liaison of sorts between the reserves and the big mining companies, says his job is to make sure the council are getting their fair cut of the profits from whatever minerals they manage to extract. Cliff and Victor call my Dad “Double Agent” because he looks like a cousin but knows how to talk to the white guys on site so they’ll actually listen. I wonder sometimes if Dad is playing Double Agent for the right side. And then I wonder if there even is a right side when it comes to pulling shit out of the ground that oughta be left alone.
“Hey Sweet Pea, I thought I heard you come in.” Dad hauls himself off the couch to give me a hug, notices Nick. “And who are you, big fella?”
“Hey sir, Mr ... ”
“Leroy, just call me Leroy.”
“Dad, this is Nick. My boyfriend.”
Dad makes big eyes at the both of us, and pulls Nick into a hug. “Bring it in then, kid! Welcome to the family!”
A tingly joyful feeling spreads all over me, through my feet, right into the carpet. Welcome to the family. “I’m gonna show Nick around the house.”
“Have fun, you two.” Dad winks, sinking back into the couch and a conversation about tractor tires.
In the hall, Nick grabs my wrist. “Hey, you called me your- I don’t think-”
“Trust me. It’ll be easier for you to survive this if they think you’re my boyfriend.”
I lace my fingers with his and point to a photo on the wall with my other hand. “Have you ever been to the Assiniboine Race Track? Out past the perimeter? This is my family there last year with the winning horse, Charity. I’ll take you when it opens in the spring. They have the best churros.”
I pull Nick through the house, up the stairs to my old bedroom. His grip on my hand has loosened. He’s becoming more comfortable here.
“I told Mom and Dad they could change it if they want, turn it into a playroom for Faye, or a home gym or whatever. Part of them must think I’ll be back someday.”
Nick paces the bedroom examining bowling trophies, twilight posters, an unnecessarily large stereo, South Park stickers stuck to the light switch. I perch on the edge of the double bed and watch him. I picture what he’d look like in a tux.
“Think we should go back down? Don’t want your Dad to think we’re doing something, hey?”
I smile with my eyes, pat the bed beside me. I’m channeling Samantha Jones. Or maybe Carrie. Carrie was in it for love.
He sits, looking everywhere but my face. He’s nervous. It’s so fucking cute.
I’ve never initiated a first kiss before but there doesn’t seem to be anything to wait for. We both know it’s time. I lean toward him, wait until he looks at me through his long eyelashes.
“Don’t be scared,” I whisper. “Scared never got anyone anywhere.”
“Lynny!” Faye flies through the door, pink feather boa trailing behind her. She jumps up onto the bed and tackles me.
“Hey Kiddo!” It’s not the best timing, but I can’t be mad at her.
Faye notices Nick and retreats into a possum position, hiding her face in my lap.
“Faye, sit up. Meet Lynny’s boyfriend.”
“I’m not-ˮ Nick starts.
“Faye, don’t be shy. Nick is one of Santa’s helpers!” That gets her attention. She peeks up at him from behind her feather boa.
“No, I’m really not-ˮ
“Oh, that’s right! Nick isn’t allowed to tell anyone about his job! Santa’s special orders.”
Faye buys this explanation with a giggle and sits up. She looks into Nick’s face to share a moment with him, prove she wouldn’t dare tell his secret. He gives her nothing back.
“Come on, Nick,” I say. “Tell her about Santa’s workshop! The elves, and the-ˮ
“No!” Nick shouts.
Faye and I are equally stunned.
Nick shifts, looks at the floor.
“Hey, Kiddo. Why don’t you head downstairs and paint Uncle Denny’s toes while he’s sleeping. He likes purple.” This cheers her up a bit, but not fully. Not all the way. Faye slips off my knee, shy, and the boa slips around the corner leaving a few stray feathers limp on the floor.
It’s quiet for a moment. I’m pissed and he knows it.
“You should be.”
“You kind of sprung that on me though, hey?”
“All you had to do was talk about reindeer or some shit. I know you never had a real Christmas, but come on! You know the basics, don’t you?”
“I had a real Christmas. Lots of 'em.”
“Okay, but not the right way.”
He looks at me like I’ve hit him. “The fuck you mean, the right way?”
I’ve entered sensitive territory. I should’ve known better than to peel back this particular band-aid so soon in our relationship. “I didn’t mean it like that. But you should know that our kids will have Santa.”
Nick’s eyes go big. He stands and moves toward the hall. “I’m gonna go. Jerry should be home soon.”
“What?” I chase him down the stairs, into the dining room full of my aunties and uncles and kids and the Almanac Club. He can’t leave. If there’s anything I know about fighting it’s that you can’t walk away angry. You do that and you might as well give up. You might as well tuck him into bed with a naked Scandinavian and a tube of edible chocolate.
He pulls his boots on and I panic. “This is just our first fight! That’s all this is! The first one is always the worst!”
Nick’s eyes dart around the room apologetically. “Merry Christmas, hey?”
A chill rolls in, then the door shuts.
I don’t want to cry, I really don’t. It just happens.
Upstairs, face down on damp Care Bear sheets, I’m glad Mom and Dad didn’t turn my room into a gym.
Everyone leaves soon after, and I hear Mom putting Faye to bed across the hall.
“Why was Lynny crying, Mama?”
“She chased her boyfriend away, baby. She’s just mad at herself.”
“I didn’t like him very much.”
“Really? I thought he was lovely.”
I wait until I hear Mom get in the shower, then go down to the kitchen. Dad is sleeping at the table. Uncle Denny’s still here and hasn’t moved. I sit between them with a butter tart and a generous pour of Rum Chata. Dad opens his eyes, blinks at me, and pats my back. He knows something’s wrong but he also knows he’s too sloshed to have a decent conversation about it. The pat works just fine.
I’m about to throw in the towel and crawl into bed with Faye when I see it: Nick’s backpack, wedged between the dining room chair legs, left behind in the flurry of his great escape. I unzip it, hoping to find something to make me hate him. Like hard drugs, or maybe the Sally-Ann collection pot. But all I find is the Santa suit.
It’s actually a pretty cheap piece of shit. The fur around the jacket collar is coming off in clumps, and at least three buttons are missing. The velvet is stained brownish, like it sat in a house with smokers for years. But most of all it looks emptier than I thought a piece of clothing could look, limp, like the shredded rubber remnants of a popped balloon. I try to rouse an image of Nick in the suit but can’t anymore.
I bring the backpack up to my room and put the suit on. I have to hike my dress up over my hips to get the pants to sit right but the extra bulk almost helps them fit better, like I have a jolly belly. The hat smells like sweat and dandruff but I pull it on anyway. Adjust the damp beard on my face. Turn to the mirror. Give myself a sure nod.
I tiptoe into Faye’s bedroom and lean down to gently rock her awake with my white-gloved hand. She blinks sleep at me, then jumps.
I put my hand over her mouth, and gruff up my voice. “Hi Faye. It’s me, Santa.”
Her eyes are so big. She isn’t sure whether or not to trust me.
“Okay, I’ll prove it. You’re the only girl on your hockey team, and last week you scored your very first goal, didn’t you? None of those boys scored any goals, but you did.”
Faye giggles and presses her cheek to her shoulder. I do that, too, when someone talks about my achievements. We’re pretty alike, me and Faye.
“I heard you got a visit tonight from my helper, Nick.”
Faye’s voice crackles with sleep. “He made my sister cry.”
“Don’t you worry about your sister. She’ll be okay. I was the one who told Nick to pretend, no matter what. He was just doing his job. Can’t have any kids knowing my secrets, even sweet, smart kids like you, Faye.” I give her a boop on the nose. It seems like a Santa thing to do. “Now go to sleep, alright? Santa loves you.”
Faye nods furiously, falls back down onto her pillow with a soft thud and scrunches her eyes shut tight like a promise. I kiss her forehead and back out of the room.