Pink Santa is a Christmas novelette of twelve chapters, posted serially by me, your evolutionarily viable host, Cheeseburger Brown.
When I came downstairs the other morning my ten-month-old son walked across the livingroom, grabbed hold of my leg and said in a voice as clear as a bell, "Hi Dada!"
"Goodmorning," I said to my wife. "Apparently our son can walk and talk."
She shrugged and smiled. "He's been doing it all morning."
"Good work," I told him. The first year of life is full of marvels, and they whip by like a deck of shuffling cards. One day the kid is a helpless lump of Christmas ham, the next day he's strolling around greeting the pets. "Dog!" he cheers.
And now, we continue the Christmas tale:
On Saturday morning the children awoke feeling much less jolly than Mr. Baron had. They were crammed together into a narrow bed with itchy blankets in a room chocked full of narrow beds with itchy blankets, all filled by other people who were not feeling very jolly, either. They coughed a lot. The whole place smelled like farts and liquor.
Mike sat up and rubbed his eyes.
He thought he was back at the orphanage, so he spent a moment feeling around the bed in search of Wah the teddy bear. It was only when he found his fuzzy sock friend instead that Mike remembered that they had slept at the YMCA.
"Hey Chloe," he said, touching her shoulder, "where's Santa?"
Chloe blinked and yawned. "Saint who?" she asked sleepily.
"Santa Claus," said Mike. "You know, Brother Dominick."
Chloe sat up and looked around. She crinkled her nose. "I smell pee," she said.
They got out of bed and put their coats on, then padded toward the end of the big sleeping room. Some other people were waking up, too, but they didn't look at Mike and Chloe. Mike's Santa was sitting on the end of one of the beds, talking to a man who was crying. The man had greasy hair and his fingernails were so dirty they looked black. "What's wrong, Santa?" asked Mike. "Why is that guy being sad?"
"Hush now," said Brother Dominick softly. To the sad man he said, "Bless you, my son. Go forth and sin no more."
"Yes, yes," said the man, wiping his nose on his sleeve. "Thank you, Father."
Brother Dominick eased himself up from the bed and waved at the children to follow him. They walked out of the sleeping room into a hall where people were lining up to get some soup. They got in line. Mike tugged on Santa's pants. "Why is everybody sad here?" he asked.
"The people who sleep here have no home," explained Brother Dominick. "They're like orphans, even though they're grown-ups. They don't have anything to eat, and they don't have anyone to care for them. Some of them are sick, and some of them have children of their own they're worried about."
Mike bit his lip. "But why was that guy crying?"
"Most of these people are good people," said Brother Dominick, "but some of them have done some bad things. Sometimes when life is difficult all they do is think about the bad things they've done, and it makes them feel worse."
"And you make them feel better?" asked Mike.
Brother Dominick nodded. "Anyone can make them feel better, as long as you're willing to let them know you care. There isn't much that's worse in this world than feeling all alone, and feeling like it doesn't matter to anyone that you're sad. Wouldn't you say, Chloe?"
Chloe looked surprised, then nodded seriously. "Yeah," she said. "That's right."
"It's a simple thing to do," said Brother Dominick, "but it isn't always easy. It's simple because all you have to do is care a little, but that can be hard because it can make you feel sad, too."
"So what do you do with their sad once you've catched it?" asked Mike.
Brother Dominick sighed. "You hope you're happy enough to carry it, and not let it weigh you down."
Mike blinked, hugging his fuzzy sock. "Are you happy enough, Santa?" he asked timidly.
Brother Dominick tried to smile. "Today, my boy...maybe not."
Once they each had a cup of chicken soup the three friends walked outside. The day was bright and clear, the blue sky without a single cloud in it. The sunlight was warm and it was melting the icicles hanging from the buildings, making rows of little drips all along the sidewalk. Chloe and Mike moved out of the way but Brother Dominick didn't seem to mind the drops falling on his white-haired head as he walked along.
"So," said Chloe, slurping her soup, "what happens now?"
"We're going to the hospital to visit Brother Paolo," he replied.
"But what about Mr. Baron?" she pressed.
Brother Dominick shrugged. "He knows about us. We've lost our secret. With him ready for us, I don't think there's anything we can do. Mr. Baron has a lot more money than we do, and he can use it to defend himself."
"So kids are going to get those cruddy toys that break on purpose?" cried Chloe, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk.
"I'm afraid so," said Brother Dominick, eyes down.
"But, but -- you can't let that happen! You're..." Chloe trailed off, then frowned and said loudly, "You're Santa Claus."
Brother Dominick seemed surprised. He looked up at Chloe and Mike who were watching him intently. "What did you say?" he asked quietly.
Chloe blinked. "I said you can't let that happen."
"No, the other part," said Brother Dominick.
Chloe swallowed, then said sheepishly, "I said you're...Santa Claus."
A little bit of the jolly rosiness came back into Brother Dominick's cheeks, and his mouth looked like it may even curl into a small smile. "Chloe, are you telling me that you believe? You believe in Santa Claus?"
Chloe said, "I don't know what's true, Brother Dominick, but I know what's good. And you do good."
Brother Dominick reached out and squeezed Chloe's shoulder tenderly. "You're a wise girl," he said. "And you make an old monk's heart feel light."
"We have to try," said Chloe with conviction. "We just have to."
"Yeah," agreed Mike. "If we don't, who will?"
Brother Dominick began to nod. "You're right. Both of you. You're absolutely right. We can't give up, can we?"
"No!" cheered Mike and Chloe together.
"Alright," agreed Brother Dominick, standing up straighter. "Let's get to the hospital and visit Brother Paolo, then we'll come up with a new plan. We won't let Mr. Baron ruin Christmas. We can't."
"Yeah!" hooted the kids.
Brother Dominick, Mike and Chloe ran into a new problem once they reached the hospital: Brother Paolo was not in his room. The other people sharing the room were all asleep and couldn't be asked for help, so Brother Dominick decided they would have to go searching.
It didn't take them long to wander into a dayroom where Brother Paolo sat in a wheelchair surrounded by a ring of sick or injured children, all of whom were staring with rapt attention as he told a story. He said, "...And so the tree was decorated, and it was the tallest, most wonderful Christmas tree there had ever been. The children held hands and sang carols, and they didn't mind the cold one bit because of the warmth in their hearts. The end."
The kids clapped and giggled. "Tell another one!" begged a boy with his legs in plaster casts.
"Yeah, tell us another story!" added a girl with a patch over her eye.
Brother Paolo looked over at Brother Dominick. "I must take a break, friends," said Brother Paolo. "I have visitors."
He turned his wheelchair around and rolled over. Mike ran up with wide eyes. "Are you okay, Brother Polo?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine, little Michael," said Brother Paolo with a wheezy chuckle. "I just need to spend a few weeks off my feet while my hip gets better." To Brother Dominick he added, "I hope someone's been found to cover my territory while I'm healing."
"Don't worry about it," said Brother Dominick.
"Where's your territory?" asked Chloe.
Brother Paolo smiled. "Oltre Giuba, in Somalia. That's in Africa."
"Africa has lions who live there," noted Mike.
"Quite so," agreed Brother Paolo.
They had lunch together in the hospital commissary, sitting in orange chairs at yellow tables under buzzing fluorescent lights. Brother Dominick paid for everyone, and before he handed the money over to the cashier he folded the bills into the shapes of a tiny house, a spoon, and a hockey stick. The cashier frowned. "Why's it all in funny shapes?" she asked.
"To be funny," said Brother Dominick.
"Har de har har," said the cashier without laughing or smiling.
As he ripped open a paper envelope of pepper to pour on his pasta Brother Paolo turned to Brother Dominick and said, "So, I trust you will be getting together with the rest of the platoon next. Tell me, what's your plan?"
"No, no," said Brother Dominick softly, stirring his stew but not eating it. "I've sent them all back to their regular duties. I can't justify wasting more of their time on Special Operations missions doomed to failure."
Brother Paolo scoffed. "You're always so dramatic, brother. It was a set-back, that's all."
"The children won't let me give up," said Brother Dominick. "So I've promised them we will try. But we'll try just we three."
Brother Paolo drew his mouth into a thin, grim line. "You expect to fail," he said.
"You were there last night," said Brother Dominick. "You saw what happened. We're all lucky not to be in prison. I can't lie to children...when I estimate our chances I'm being realistic."
"Reality isn't good enough for hope," said Brother Paolo. "You're young, so you can be forgiven, but understand me, brother: you've allowed Baron's heartlessness to dim your fire. With your feet on the ground like that you'll never get anywhere unlikely."
Mike giggled, because he thought it was funny for one old man with a white beard to call another old man with a white beard "young." Mike said, "Maybe Santa needs his flying reindeers."
Brother Dominick sighed. "My boy, the truth is that reindeer cannot fly. If they try to fly, they get hurt."
"Not regular reindeers," agreed Mike, "but Santa's special reindeers do fly. I've seen it on shows. There's Rudolph and Donna and Blister and Cutepid and Basher and Halley's Comet."
Chloe put down her pickle and rolled her eyes. "That's just TV, Mike. It's not real. It's just pretend. It's special effects and stuff."
"But they're magic," insisted Mike.
"Mike," said Brother Dominick heavily, "I said we brothers never lie to children, didn't I?"
Brother Dominick nodded back seriously, then stared over everyone's heads, squinting into the fluorescent lights, as he said, "There is no such thing as magic. What we manage to do, we do with our hands and our voices. We cannot wave wands to make wishes come true. This isn't a Harry Potter story."
Mike felt desperate. "That's not really true, is it, Brother Polo?"
Brother Paolo pushed his tray aside and folded his hands on the yellow table. He cleared his throat and said, "Michael, I wish Brother Dominick was wrong, but he isn't. God's laws are absolute, my child. Like all things and creatures we can only live according to the ways of His realm: gravity causes every one of us to fall."
"I don't understand," said Mike glumly.
Brother Dominick explained, "The laws bear no exceptions in this world, Mike, because the laws are the world."
Mike scratched his head.
Chloe frowned. "You guys don't make any sense," she said loudly, banging her fork down on the table. "There is so real magic, and you know it. That's what you try to get kids to believe in when you do something nice for them -- that impossible things can happen. That's what hope is, isn't it? Wishing for impossible things because you don't want to know better!"
It seemed like everyone in the commissary had been caught up by Chloe's exclamation. Other chats faded away, and the doctors and nurses and patients sitting nearby leaned in to hear what the old men with white beards would say to the outspoken little girl.
Brother Paolo chuckled. "She's a sharp cookie, this one," he said, gesturing at Chloe. "Hope is the heart's imagination. Like all imaginations it thrives on the unlikely."
"You're right, Chloe," agreed Brother Dominick, "that is just the kind of magic we try to make."
Mike looked up hopefully. "So some magic is real, Santas?"
"Yes," said Brother Dominick, his beard bristling and his eyes sparkling. "I stand corrected. There is magic in this world, Mike, and it lives through those who keep trying to do impossible things -- or at least very, very unlikely things."
"Like stopping Mr. Baron!" cried Chloe.
"Well, yes," agreed Brother Dominick, becoming more serious again. "That is indeed very unlikely, which is just our problem. I'm willing to try -- but try what?"
Everybody put their chins in their hands and thought very hard. Nobody said anything for a few minutes. Finally Brother Paolo said, "Our lunch is getting cold. Let's eat, and hope inspiration finds us in the afternoon."
The afternoon, however, turned out to be much tricker than the morning.
The trouble started as they were wheeling Brother Paolo up to his room to have a nap. When they came out of the elevator the Santas looked at each other with worried expressions: over the usual ward announcements from the nurses they could hear the squawk and squelch of police radios.
Brother Dominick peeked down the corridor, then jumped back. "It's the civils," he whispered to Paolo. "Fudge."
"Yum," said Mike.
Next, they heard one of the police constables ask a nurse, "Have you seen an old man with a white beard and a robust build accompanied by two young children?"
"Oh no!" said Chloe. "We're trapped."
Brother Paolo held up a finger. "I have a plan," he said. "Follow me!"
After a visit to the opposite end of the ward to enlist the help of some of Brother Paolo's new friends, and then a stop in the children's dayroom to collect more children, the plan was put into action...
The police found themselves delighted to come across a bearded old man accompanied by two young children. "Freeze!" yelled the two constables.
They were less delighted a moment later when they turned around to find a second bearded old man, also accompanied by two kids. One of the kids had an eye-patch over her eye. "Uh, freeze?" suggested the constables, frowning.
"Is there some problem, officer?" asked one of the old men.
"I hafta go pee!" cried one or two of the children.
One police constable turned to the other, who shrugged. They were very confused!
Just then, a doctor with a white beard turned into the corridor pushing a wheeled gurney. The patient on the gurney was covered by a sheet up to the neck, and she moaned as the doctor stopped the gurney suddenly to avoid crashing into everyone else jamming the way. "Whoa!" said the constables.
"I need to get this patient to the operating room, STAT!" grumbled the white-bearded doctor.
"But this corridor leads to the lobby, Doctor," said the constable.
"The operating room is in a different hospital," explained the doctor. "She's being loaded on an ambulance. STAT!"
"What's wrong with her?" asked the constable. He noticed how the patient had the head of a young girl but her body was as long as entire gurney. He furrowed his brow, puzzled.
The doctor said, "She's got a rare bone disease. Her legs are too long."
"Poor kid," said the constable, waving the gurney onward. "Go on, get her to the ambulance, Doctor. Make way!"
"STAT!" added the doctor.
The constables held back the pair of bearded old men and young children in order to let the bearded old doctor pass through with his extra long young patient. The doctor wormed the gurney between them and then, as he prepared to turn the corner toward the entrance of the hospital, the lower half of his patient suddenly sneezed.
"Bless you," said the doctor.
"Thank you," said the patient. And then the patient's hips said, "Yeah, thanks Santa."
The police constables spun around, their mouths open. "Hey!" yelled one of them, pointing at the spot where the doctor and his gurney had been before they had raced off toward the lobby. "Freeze!"
Chloe and Mike sat up on the gurney as Brother Dominick rolled it past the triage nurse, past the reception desk, and then right into the waiting room. "Whee!" squealed Mike.
Brother Dominick pushed the gurney right out the front door and onto the sidewalk. The kids jumped down. "Let's go!" said Brother Dominick, throwing off his doctor's gowns.
When they stopped running they were blocks away. Chloe and Mike waited while Brother Dominick leaned against a shop window to catch his breath. It was a store that sold televisions, and the the kids noticed that the televisions were showing a picture of Mr. Baron! "Santa, look!" cried Mike, pointing.
Brother Dominick went inside the store, and Mike and Chloe followed him.
Inside the store they could hear the sound from all of the televisions, and the reporter was saying, "...Baron went on a rampage in Toronto's Senator Grill today and, strangely enough, the apparent target was Santa Claus himself. Imagine that! Maybe Baron Toys doesn't like competition, ha ha ha. Baron's doctor, Dr. Geoffrey Porter, is quoted as saying that Baron is under tremendous stress as his company prepares to roll out their new line of subscription toys, coupled with stressful preparations for a large family dinner at the Baron Estate tonight."
Brother Dominick got a faraway look in his eyes. A moment later he actually giggled!
"What, Santa?" asked Mike, pulling on Brother Dominick's jacket.
He said, "Mike, Chloe -- maybe we can do this."
"Really?" cheered Chloe.
Brother Dominick winked. "I have an idea. It's a very unlikely idea, but I believe we can do it. After all, we must try."
"What are we going to do, Santa?" asked Chloe as she broke into a wide grin.
"We're going to Mr. Baron's house!"