“Let’s go,” Santa Claus said. “Magdalena is waiting.”
We turned around, and I gaped. He was bent over, pulling on knee-high boots. They were made of felt and had long, pointed toes. When he straightened, he was even bigger than he had been; at least eight feet tall. His hair and beard were long and gray; his face was as exotic as the Far East, as old as Egypt, as regal as a Mayan coin. His flowing robe shimmered, a deep purple that caught the light and changed to blue, and then back to purple. It was decorated with the silver and gold figures of strange stars, planets and the Moon. He pulled the hood up over his head.
He was completely transformed.
“You look…different,” I stammered.
“I look exactly like me, because that’s who I am,” he said. “My name is Santo. Call me 'Good Santo', or 'Santo the Good', if you prefer. It means the same thing, and I answer to both.”
“I mean the real Santa Claus…” I tried. “You don’t look like the real Santa Claus any more, at all.”
“Of course I don’t look real,” he said. “What a foolish thing to say. There’s nothing real about me.”
He was the ancient king of someplace far, far away… a true king. Without his red fur suit, he looked fit and strong. His eyes were almond-shaped and bottomless-dark, a lot like Chloe’s.
“Isn’t he adorable?” Chloe asked me. “The not-real Santo is so much better than a fat man with a red nose, don’t you think so? There’s not a thing jolly about him… and he’s so old you can hardly find his beginning on the Map of Time.”
“I don’t jiggle like a bowl full of jelly, either,” he remarked, looking at Chloe fondly. “And I don’t smoke a pipe, except sometimes when Magdalena isn’t around. But I am very, very old… older than the time on a flat-lined watch. That much is true, sweet you.”
“Well, being old suits you,” she said. “I think you’re absolutely lovely.”
“How did they get it so wrong?” I asked him. “Rudolph, and the red suit, toys and candy canes?”
He thought about it for a moment.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s like when they ask you if you’ve had a tetanus shot recently. I never have any idea how to answer.”
He shook his head, and turned to the door.
“Come with me. Hurry.”
Farther up the hall, he pulled out a ring of keys and spun the lock on a wooden door. It opened onto a dark stairway, lit by torches set at intervals. The shadows flickered and squirmed on the stone walls and steps.
Santo led the way up. He took the stairs two at a time, up and up, faster and faster, flight after flight. Chloe was on his heels, light as a ballerina. I lagged far behind, puffing. I hoped they would start flying again, but they didn’t.
They both waited for me at the top, standing at an open door with the night sky behind them.
( -A Christmas Song for Chloe, to be continued)