The Last Carol

 

By Kip Hanson

 

 

My brother is a real baby sometimes. I can understand the kid’s only nine, but…okay, it’s like this. It was two days before Christmas. He’d been bugging me since breakfast, saying it was Christmas Eve-Eve. And that night, we were sitting around the tree: arranging the presents, hanging tinsel, stringing the lights. Mom and Dad and Kyle and me. Of course, Dad had come home late – another executive advertising meeting, he claimed – so Mom was a little bitchy. He told her if she didn’t like it, she could always get a job of her own. She shut up after that.

But there we were, and it was okay for a while. Listening to Christmas carols. Drinking hot apple cider with those little cinnamon sticks. Dad was slurping away at some eggnog. Normally I don’t go in for all this family stuff. I would rather have been in my room listening to some of my own music. Reading Harry Potter, playing Call of Duty, whatever. But I admit it was sort of festive. And then the whole deal with Kyle started.

I looked over and there were tears running down his face. What the hell? So my Mom started coddling him, as usual. “What’s wrong, honey?”

“Is…is it true?” He was huffing like a little steam engine.

“What? Is what true, dear?”

And he started spouting off that I’d told him there wasn’t a Santa Claus. Last week. The place exploded around me. Jesus, you’d think from their reaction I’d told him God was dead. They looked at me like I had cancer.

My Dad got all parent-like. Disapproving. Like he had a right to be. “Did you say that, Raymond?”

“I…jeez, wasn’t it about time, Dad? You guys sure weren’t going to do it.”

So he grounded me. Two days before Christmas. Nice.

 

Alright, maybe I shouldn’t have told him. But how long should a kid go on believing in Santa Claus? Puberty, maybe? How about high school? I’d already heard enough crap from my friends about what a dweeb the kid is. Someone had to tell him; who better than his big brother? Still, I didn’t think he’d make such a big deal out of it. Anything for a little attention, that’s our Kyle.

After the dust settled we had dinner. Ham and green beans and potatoes. I fucking hate ham, Mom knows that, but Kyle had made a special request. I’d been pushing the last piece around my plate for twenty minutes when the doorbell rang. Christmas carolers. There were a ton of them out there, happy, smiling, their breath steaming in the cold. There were the McIntyre’s from the end of the block and the Johnsons from two doors down. The Wilhelms and Zinnsers. Counting all the kids, there must have been twenty of them. And there was Mrs. Berglund, standing in the back like a fugitive. Monica Berglund, home-wrecker extraordinaire. I supposed she was a Ms. by now.

Anyway, I hate caroling. I was glad when my parents said we didn’t have to go this year. Still, I knew all the words by heart, so when this chubby girl standing in the front – the Johnson kid, I think – started mumbling like you do when you forget the words, I sort of joined in, just to help her out.

Last year we went out with the Berglunds. Back when there was still a Mr. Berglund. That group was even bigger than this one; twenty-five or even thirty of us. We went up Franklin Street and down Kensington. We went over to the Cedarvale Apartments, where all the Mexicans live. And when we hit Walsh Avenue, Kyle pussed out. He was cold, so Mom took him home. The rest of us kept going though.

We stopped at the Albertson’s, and then at the Harden’s – everyone knew they were lesbians, but still they were real nice. And toward the end we stopped in front of old man Ambrose’s place. That crotchety bastard. If he’d known I’d egged his house that Halloween, he might have done more than wave at us out the window.

We were halfway through Silent Night when I turned around and there was my Dad, kissing Mrs. Berglund. Right on the lips. They were standing at the back, all clandestine-like so nobody could see them. But I did. You know, I can understand the whole holiday cheer thing, but Jesus, get a room. Maybe it was the eggnog, making them feel frisky. There was even some tongue action. When they finally broke, right during “sleee-eeep-in-heaaaaa-ven-leee-peeeace” this big gout of steam popped out between their open mouths. It sort of hovered there, so you couldn’t see their faces. It was kind of funny, actually. I looked around for Mr. Berglund but he was nowhere to be seen. He must have gone home early.

But that was last year. Nothing happened between my Dad and Mrs. Berglund after that, but let me tell you, my folks have had some real knock-down, drag-out fights since then. So on Christmas Eve-Eve, after the carolers went on their way, Monica Berglund bringing up the rear, we went back to the tree. Dad had more eggnog. This time Mom joined him. They were kind of quiet. Dad kept looking out the window, like he expected company. Mom was biting her nails. Kyle and I sat between them, looking back and forth like referees at a silent tennis match. Finally Dad stood up, parent-like once again. Go to bed, boys. Busy day tomorrow and all that. I was happy to go.

 

They started in about half an hour later. I had the pillow pulled down over my head. They were shouting so loud I’m sure the neighbors could hear every bitch and bastard and asshole. Maybe Mrs. Berglund was listening. And when I rolled over, Kyle was there, standing next to my bed. That kid is a real pain in the ass, but this time I knew where he was coming from.

“Alright. Get in.” It’s not like he was going to leave me alone anyway.

We lay there in the dark, listening to them go at it. After I while, he whispered, “Are they going to get a divorce, Raymond?” I could tell he was crying.

I gave them six weeks until the For Sale sign went up. “I don’t know, Kyle. I don’t think so. Just go to sleep.” His best friend Scotty’s folks had split up that summer, so I knew he was worried about it.

There was a bang on the wall, then the sound of breaking glass, like my Mom had chucked her glass at the wall. Or maybe at him, and missed. She couldn’t throw worth a damn.

I could see Kyle looking up at me in the dark. “You should go out there, Ray. Tell them to stop.”

“What? Are you out of your fucking gourd? They’ll stop. They just need to work some things out. Quit worrying about it.”

I could hear her now, bawling. Dad shouted at her once more for good measure and then the basement door slammed. He always went downstairs when he was pissed.

“Hey. Kyle.”

Silence.

“Listen. Even if they do split up, we’ll still be together, okay? We’ll go with Mom. Everything will be cool.”

“Okay, Ray.”

“Kyle…I’m sorry I told you about Santa Claus.”

A long pause. The sound of Mom crying in the living room. “Scotty told me last year, but I didn’t believe him. Then when you said it, I knew it was the truth.”

“Oh. Okay.” You little shit.

“I’m sorry you got grounded.”

“Don’t worry about it. Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve. You’d better get some sleep.”

 

 

 

 

Kip Hanson lives in sunny Phoenix, where he chronicles the life of an exiled Nordic Warrior King at http://misterass.com. When not wasting time blogging, he works toward another Pushcart nomination, figuring even a blind squirrel can find a nut now and then. He writes to keep the flying monkeys away.

 

 

 

 

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