Brett and Emilia tiptoed in the deep of the night. As they approached the fireplace hung with stockings for three, Emilia’s stomach tingled with anticipation.
There wouldn’t be much. Since Father abandoned them, she had noticed Santa was not so generous. A book. A mandarin orange. Maybe some chocolate or a small toy. She still loved the wonder of it all.
When she saw the stockings, her jaw dropped open in shock. Brett gasped. The stockings hung limp and empty.
Brett looked down into her sad brown eyes. “Let’s tell Mother.”
They rushed into Mother’s dark bedroom. Brett slowly peeled back her comforter, and shook her by the arm.
“Mother,” he whispered.
They knew from experience it was not a good idea to wake Mother up too suddenly.
“Mother,” he repeated a little louder.
Mother shifted and mumbled in her sleep.
Emilia gently peeled up Mother’s right eyelid and looked at her blank glassy eye. “Pssst.”
Mother blinked and some life returned to her face. “Wha?”
“Santa didn’t come,” cried Emilia. Tears started to trickle down her cheeks.
“Our stockings are empty,” said Brett.
Expressions flickered across Mother’s face. Surprise. Horror. Determination.
“It’s simply too early,” she said. “He hasn’t come yet.”
“But it’s starting to get light out,” said Emilia.
“Nonsense. Go back to your rooms and go back to sleep,” ordered Mother. “I’m sure Santa will come eventually.”
Brett shrugged. “Whatever.”
“Are you sure?” asked Emilia.
“Get back in bed!”
They returned to their rooms. Emilia snuggled under her covers, staring up at the ceiling. There was no way she was falling back asleep. She settled down to wait.
She started to hear sounds. Mother’s closet door sliding open on its squeaky track. Rustling. Thuds. Quiet cursing.
Mother’s footsteps echoed on her hardwood floor. Coming out of her bedroom, down the hall and into the living room. There was more rustling and crinkling. Time crept slowly by.
“Guess what?” called Mother suddenly. “Santa came.”
Emilia couldn’t believe it. How could that have happened? Was this like the time the tooth fairy never came, and Mother did not make a very secret job of hiding a quarter under Emilia’s pillow after she told her about it?
She and Brett came out of their rooms and slowly walked to the fireplace. Their stockings were now enticingly lumpy. Only Mother’s hung flat.
There wasn’t the usual excitement opening the gifts in their stockings. When Mother left to prepare breakfast before they opened the presents under the tree, Emilia turned to Brett.
“There is no Santa Claus, is there?”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry you had to find out while you’re so little.”
Emilia’s heart felt heavy. “How old were you when you found out?”
“I was about four, Em. Same as you.”
She looked at Mother’s stocking. Still hanging empty. Expectantly.
Emily always insisted Mother hang it up every year. Never really noticing in the excitement of Christmas morning that there was never anything inside Mother’s.
“Maybe next year we should do a stocking for Mother,” she suggested.
“Stockings for three?” said Brett.
“Stockings for three,” she agreed.
© Jan Mayes
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash