“Anything you want to tell me?” he asked, sitting down across from his daughter.
She stayed silent. In her five years of existence she had learned the value of silence in some circumstances.
“Something about why the chimney collapsed with something inside last Saturday?”
“It wasn’t supposed to be just anything, Dad. It was supposed to be Santa!” She was bored of silence at this point.
“Santa?” Dad’s eyebrow raised, as if by magic. She was always amazed by that expression. She couldn’t figure out how to raise just one eyebrow at a time; both sides always went together for her. But when you’re old you can do those things.
“You were the one who told me he was real,” accused the girl.
Dad sighed. “Yes, but what happened?”
“Santa came down the chimney and it fell on him,” the girl said matter-of-factly.
“Look, Sarah, I want the whole story, all right?”
“O-o-o-ka-a-a-a-ay,” said Sarah, rolling her eyes. Grown-ups could be so stupid sometimes. “Bobby down the street had a really great idea. He usually does, like that time he thought of making a boat for mice out of your hat.”
“What? I thought that hat was blown away when I left it hanging on the side-view mirror just before we took that trip to Kansas.”
“Well, you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dad. Anyway,” she went on quickly, noticing the effect her snide comment had. “Bobby had this idea to go to the North Pole with Santa.”
“How? This doesn’t involve my hat, does it?”
“Sadly, no,” Sarah said, quoting a line from one of her favorite movies, complete with overly heavy French accent. “His idea was to capture Santa and get him to take us with him on his sled.”
“It’s a sleigh.”
“…Whatever,” said Sarah, making a three-finger W and a disdainful face. “So we made plans. We would do the job at our house, ‘cause Bobby doesn’t hear Santa coming down the chimney in his house. But I hear him here.”
Dad nodded. What Sarah didn’t know is that her Uncle, who stayed with them in the holidays, dropped a large weighted pillow down the chimney, which was abnormally wide anyway. Then he made “Ho, ho, ho” sounds and ate the cookies and milk.
Sarah went on. “So we rigged a net in the chimney and—“
“How did you do that, Sarah?” Dad had a little bit of warning in his voice. The kind of warning that would mean a spanking if you said the wrong thing. But of course, she couldn’t lie or there would be another spanking.
“Well, um, we had Bobby’s little brother, Jimmy, climb up with the net and some magic tape. He did a really good job, ‘cause we offered him gummy bears if he did it right,” Sarah said quickly, seeing Dad’s look. “Anyway, he did that and we waited. Bobby made me promise to come get him before Santa flew away.”
Dad saw now what had happened. In the weeks before Christmas Sarah’s Uncle had been bragging about the new weight he would use for the Santa pillow: a barbell turned sideways to fit through the chimney. This would’ve pulled on the net, which was probably anchored to the corners of the chimney. The chimney, as well as being abnormally wide, was abnormally unstable. Obviously the barbell had pulled the thing down. Uncle would have noticed immediately.
Realization dawned on Dad like a nature movie in fast-forward: quickly. Uncle had left early Christmas morning, not even waiting to say goodbye to anyone. He had obviously seen the chimney and left immediately, taking the cookies with him.
But… “Santa would have been really heavy, Sarah. How did you hope to catch him with Scotch Tape?”
“I don’t drink, Dad, and especially not scotch.” Sarah was once again quoting something she had heard, this time from her Aunt from Britain. She didn’t know what it meant. At least, Dad hoped she didn’t.
“I meant magic tape.”
“Yeah, I talked to Bobby about that after Jimmy accidentally pulled the net back down with him, getting all the tape stuck to his shirt. We still had to give him the gummy bears.”
“’Cause we had promised, Dad.”
“So we climbed up Santa’s ladder in the backyard—“
‘Santa’s ladder’ was a ladder Dad kept in the backyard during the holidays for Uncle to get up onto the roof. Sarah had obviously noticed.
“—And tied the net to some ropes and tied them to the top of the chimney and let the net down. It worked. I even jumped in to test it.”
“Yes, Dad, I did.” She rolled her eyes again. That was the expression she was good at. “And it worked. So I clumb out—“
“That’s ‘climbed’, not ‘clumb’.”
“Dad, my preschool teacher was annoying enough with all that stuff. Don’t you start.” She was picking up too many things from her mother. “Anyway, I clumb out and went back to bed. In the morning the chimney was down, and no Santa.”
“How early in the morning?”
“11:49, I think.”
“That isn’t morning. That’s still night.”
“I couldn’t wait any longer, and I had already heard Santa go down. But I didn’t find him. I found a big workout weighty thingy… thing. I think he might have changed shape!” She whispered the last two words, leaning forward conspiratorially.
Dad nodded. Sarah could tell he didn’t give a nickel for how much Santa changed shape. “So that’s why the chimney fell?”
“Yep. Can I go play?”
Dad sighed. “Not with Bobby, okay?”
“But then I won’t have any fun!”
“That’s the plan.”