Sitting Fourteen

The Pop Quiz

Since lunch, Christopher had tried to reach Shelley on the phone, only to get her answering machine ten times. He left ten messages.

Each one was a little different–the first three a trifle frantic, the next three were a little defensive, trying to explain why he had made his stand with Mr. Markins, and the last four had increasing degrees of groveling, begging for her forgiveness.

There was no response.

So Christopher was grateful that he had the diversion of going to Fenswick Park for the 10:45 meeting with Golda and her friends. As he walked toward the park, he had second thoughts about the rendezvous. What was he trying to do? How would his presence be perceived by these unknown children?

He arrived at 10:40 and promptly at 10:45, Golda came walking up to him. Standing about twenty yards away was another girl. A boy, who was sitting on the ground, grabbing little sticks and stones and casting them down in disgust.

As Golda walked up, Christopher asked, “Why are your friends staying over there?”

“Because of you,” said Golda.

“What’s wrong with me?” asked Christopher, still a bit bruised from the luncheon calamity.

“I tried to explain to them that I had a great conversation with you, and you seemed okay, but they just can’t believe that any grownup could be trusted or helpful,” said Golda.

“But I’m not a grown-up,” insisted Christopher. “Not a typical one.”

“I’m sorry, but they just don’t believe me,” said Golda. She turned to exit.

“Wait!” said Christopher. “Tell them to give me a chance.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” said Christopher. “Test me. Question me. Something.”

Golda paused. “Tell you what,” she said. “Let me go talk to them again and I’ll be right back.”

Christopher watched closely as Golda reasoned with the pair. He tried not to be too observant lest he scare them away, but still peered in their direction to find out what might be the end result. The three argued and fussed, and Golda finally put a finger on each of their noses, making a final point. They nodded their heads and she slowly made her way back to Christopher.

“So what’s the word?” said Christopher anxiously.

“They want to test you,” replied Golda.

“Test me?” asked Christopher.

“Yes. A series of four tests, to see if you’re really different, or if you’re just an average grown-up, trying to pretend you care about kids.”

“Okay,” said Christopher, uncertain but satisfied to have an opportunity.

Golda motioned to the two kids to come over. As soon as they arrived, the boy stepped in and took charge. “My name is Harry Ventner, and I will be conducting your test. This is Shanisse Martinez, and she helped me come up with the questions.”

Shanisse folded her arms across her chest, glaring at the Chris.

“So what do you need to know?” he asked.

“Question one,” said Harry. “Name Santa’s reindeer.”

“Let me see,” began Christopher. “What was the song again…?”

“You can’t use the song!” interrupted Harry, wagging his finger in Christopher’s face.

“Oh, that’s mean,” said Christopher. “You are tough. Okay. Here we go. There’s Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Donner…”

“That’s six, mister. There’s two more,” challenged Harry.

“Okay,” said Christopher. “Let me start again. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer…VIXEN! There’s one.”

He continued. “Comet, Cupid…I got it. Donner and Blitzen.”

“He got them,” said Shanisse, surprised.

“It took two tries,” noted Golda.

“Give me a break,” said Christopher. “I think even Old Man Claus might forget sometimes.”

“He is not an old man,” said Harry. “You are.”

“Right,” said Christopher, realizing he needed to be more careful. “And don’t forget Rudolph!”

“Rudolph is retired,” said Shanisse.

“He’s been replaced by his son, Randolph,” added Harry.

Randolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?” queried Christopher incredulously.

“Yeah,” said Golda. “What’s your problem?”

“No problem,” said Christopher. “You know what they say about Rudolph. He is…or was…Santa’s designated driver when Mr. Claus had too much nog in his egg, making for a foggy night.”

Christopher laughed. Alone.

“Was that supposed to be funny?” Golda asked.

“No,” said Christopher. “Just an anecdote.”

“Part two!” announced Shanisse. “Follow me.”

Christopher rose and followed the children across the playground over to the slide. Harry spoke up. “We want you to climb up the slide and slide down.”

“What?” exploded Christopher.

“I told you that’s what he’d say!” exclaimed Shanisse. “A real child would never say ‘what’ to the chance to go down a slide.”

“Then neither do I,” concluded Christopher determinedly.

He carefully put his big feet onto the steps and maneuvering his chubby bottom onto the slide. He pushed off, getting caught halfway down the descent because he was too thick. All at once there was a cracking sound.

Golda ran over, waving her hands in the air. “You didn’t make it, and you broke the slide!”

Christopher struggled, finally freeing himself from the apparatus and rising to his feet. “The issue was not whether I would make it all the way, but whether I was willing to go down the slide. Am I right?”

The kids looked at each other and had to agree.

“Next question,” said Golda. “It’s dinner at your house. You hate vegetables. But which vegetable would you rather have your mother serve? Broccoli? Asparagus? Or carrots?”

Christopher paused, thinking deeply. Obviously a trick question. “Well,” he said. “Asparagus is too weird. Carrots…uh…I don’t think so. All right. Broccoli.”

The three children burst out laughing.

“I told you he was just a grown-up,” said Harry.

“Wait!” Christopher objected. “Doesn’t broccoli taste better than carrots or asparagus?”

“They’re vegetables!” said Shanisse. “You don’t plan on tasting them.”

Golda stepped in. “The issue is which vegetable can you slip into your hand easily under the table and have the dog eat without your parents knowing.”

Harry concluded. “Any kid would know that dogs don’t eat asparagus or broccoli. Your best chance would be carrots.”

The three children nodded in unison.

“Good point,” said Christopher. “You got me on that one. I am learning.”

“I think he’s flunkin’,” said Harry.

“C minus,” offered Shanisse.

“Let’s give him one more chance,” said Golda. She faced Christopher. “Why does Santa bring toys?”

Harry jumped in. “And be careful. Don’t give some dumb grown-up answer.”

Christopher wanted to win. He desired their acceptance. As silly as it seemed, the past few months had been difficult for him–especially since he had started seeing Shelley, who made him feel immature because she didn’t share his enthusiasms.

He walked back over to the park bench, followed by the three young ones. He sat down, looked at them, and said, “I suppose I could tell you that Santa brings toys because he loves children, but everybody says they love children. But not everyone brings them toys. I suppose some people think Santa brings toys because he’s copying the gift of the Wise Men, who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to little baby Jesus. But it’s more than that. Then there’s the idea that Santa isn’t real, and we use him as a way of making a holiday of gift-giving, so big companies can make big money. But I don’t believe any of those to be true. I think Santa brings toys because he’s still a child himself and he just likes toys, and he’s looking for other people who like them, too.”

A quiet settled on the park as three children considered the fate of a grown-up. They looked at one another and concurred.

Harry stuck out his hand towards Christopher. “Good answer. Only a kid would have known that.”

Christopher took the hand of the little fellow and then shook each child’s hand as a confirmation of their union.

For the next hour they talked. The children shared their dreams. They told of additional dreams, where they were being prompted to hurry and make their night visions come true. Christopher revealed some dreams of his own. Soon there was a unity only experienced by those who share a common heart. The children forgot that they were too young and Christopher forgot that he felt rejected by the adult world around him.

At the end of the visit they agreed to meet back in three days to put together some plans to make all their dreams come true. As they left they held hands and made a promise, reciting these words: “May we work together to let Christmas be Christmas.”

That said, the children ran away to their homes, and Christopher ambled down the path alone, towards his car.

Emerging from behind a tree, dressed in a navy-blue wool trench coat and a matching fedora, with a beard that lay upon the coat like freshly fallen snow was an aged man with a cane.

He watched as the foursome departed, and then chuckled to himself. He turned and walked away, with an intermittent giggle punctuating his pace.

Published by Jonathan Cring