Mom lived three years as a chimney. We were now five, six and seven. When we asked for a brother, Mom said the chimney had been boarded up. Yet every winter, Dad layered wood and paper beneath and lit it. Our brother sparked up beaming through the plumes of whirling gold and spitting legions of fireflies and gilded creatures.
I lay between older and younger sister on Christmas Eve in bed. It was a fat, cotton-bearded man that spiraled around our hemisphere that night.
“So if Mom is a chimney, how can she get that monster out?” asked Margaret, the youngest. “Her pipes can only hold so much and I saw Santa at the mall. He’s huge and eats plates of cookies.”
“Mom is not a chimney, okay?” said Bernice, the oldest.
We stared up at a pockmarked ceiling that parted the clouds into reindeer, stingray hot pink bicycles with fringed handlebars, puppet theaters, monkeys, bat mobiles, and our own separate rooms.
“What? You didn’t hear Mom? Her organ pipes sang when each of us dropped like firewood. Bernice, you were the first. I’m guessing the fire was out or Dad caught you.”
“No man can ring around the world in one night. Mary Beacon’s dad is not as fat and he can’t even mow the lawn without turning purple. Mary said he was put in the hospital after raking leaves,” said Bernice.
“Then who was that in the photo that Mom framed?” I ask.
“You with Santa,” said Margaret.
“Well, I sure wasn’t happy and that guy wasn’t fat,” I said.
“He had his hairy arm up your dress. And that beard was made out of cotton balls,” said Bernice.
We stared at the ceiling and saw the lit tree with tons of presents around it. There was an electric train track, a football uniform, a cowgirl outfit, and a horse.
“That couch is the same one we sat on in the photo at Aunt Marta’s and Uncle Arnolds,” said Bernice. She sat up in bed. “Go get the photo, Lisa.”
“We’re not supposed to open that door,” I said. “Dad said Santa wouldn’t come if we did.”
“Remember when Uncle Arnold used to babysit? If you don’t get the photo, he’ll be the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and back in our room in no time.”
“Why did he put us back in diapers when I told him we wore big girl undies?” Margaret asked.
The galaxy of ceiling turned on its axis. Uncle Arnold sucked into every crevice.
“Uncle Arnold is Santa,” I said.
Bernice rolled over and lay on top of me. “I believe he is.”
We stared at the ceiling and watched Uncle Arnold slinking down the chimney and into a cascade of flames.
“Let’s go light the fire before it’s too late,” I said.
None of us hesitated.
Meg Tuite is the author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (2013) Sententia Books and Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, three chapbooks and a poetic prose/poetry chap w/ David Tomaloff coming out in 2015. She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014) written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She teaches at the Santa Fe Community College, is fiction editor for Santa Fe Literary Review, a featured columnist at Connotation Press, and has a monthly column in JMWW. She lives in Santa Fe with her husband and menagerie of pets. Her blog: http://megtuite.com