“Come over here,” Good Santo said. “I’ll show you.”
Chloe caught my hand and pulled me forward. The old man reached into the back of the sled and pulled out a burlap bag. It was ancient and ragged. The faded letters on it said ‘One-Hundred-Percent-Unbleached’. It seemed to be empty. When he opened it, there was an odd breath of air. It smelled both musty and spicy, like a forgotten space that has been closed for years… but also like fresh flowers from the summer of a century ago.
It was cinnamon, dust, and sweet memories, all at once, and it made my heart hurt just a little.
“The Christmas gifts are in this bag,” he said. “The not-real ones, the ones that matter most. Would you like to see one?”
I nodded, and he reached into the bag and then held his hand out, palm up.
“Don’t touch it,” he said. “Or look at it for too long. It will burn and blind you.”
I leaned forward and peered at what he held. It was a small paper star. Looking closely, I could see tiny letters and
symbols printed on it, in pencil. I couldn’t quite make them out, because they squiggled and squirmed, moving on their own. Santo pulled his hand back.
“I see letters and numbers,” I said. “What do they say?”
“It isn’t what they say,” Santo answered. “It’s what they do.”
He held the star up to the light.
“This one’s for a girl who isn’t far from here right now. She’s seventeen, at a Christmas dance tonight all by herself. She’s sitting on a bench against a wall, drinking a paper cup of awful punch and trying not to show how sad and frightened she is.”
Chloe looked inexpressibly sad.
“I know her,” she whispered. “I can see her.”
She gazed at the star, rapt. The snowflakes that were caught in her hair looked like diamonds. There on the dark rooftop, high above the lighted city night, I thought that she was the most beautiful person that I had ever known.
“The girl is alone, in every way you can imagine,” Santo said. “She’s watching the people dance. She sees them laughing, and she can’t imagine herself ever laughing. She’ll have her gift tonight though, even though she won’t know it. In July, she’s going to fall in love… and she’ll be loved right back. It will be unwrapped for her this summer.”
He reached deep into the bag, and pulled out another paper star.
“This is for a woman in Buenos Aires,” he said. “She’s eighty-six years old, and has lived in the same house since she was a young woman. She’s so used to being lonely that she doesn’t even recognize it any more. A kitten will be born tonight. This March, it’s going to show up at her back door, nearly starved. She always wanted a cat, but when she was little, her mother wouldn’t let her have one… said they were filthy. The woman never lost the habit of thinking that was true, even though part of her always knew it wasn’t.”
“Even if they have other faults they won’t admit to, cats are very clean.”
He turned the star over in his hand, and slipped it back into the bag.
“The old woman won’t be lonely anymore. It’s just a cat, but it’s what she wants and who she needs, even if she doesn’t know it yet. One more?”
He reached into the bag, and read out loud what was on the next star.
“A flat tire. It’s for a father in Kansas.”
“A flat tire?” I laughed. “For Christmas?”
“His little son will start kindergarten next September. On his very first day, he’s going to run out of the front door of the school at three minutes past three. He’ll spot his daddy’s car and dash across the street, excited, without looking both ways. He won’t ever see the truck that runs over him. The father will grieve for the rest of his life, which will seem endlessly long.”
“This is your idea of Christmas?” I was aghast, and felt a flash of something like hatred for Santo. I looked at the star between his fingers. It looked exactly like the others. “You fly around the world with… this?”
Chloe put her hands on either side of my face and turned it to hers. I saw her tears.
“Things move,” she said, very softly. “Sometimes they move by themselves, and there are no endings. If you can’t see that, you’ll always be real. I’m not crying for the little boy… I’m crying for you. There are no endings, and I can’t color you until you believe that.”
”Sometimes things move by themselves,” Santo echoed. “Next September, I’m going to give that truck a flat tire, at eight minutes BEFORE three. The truck won’t make it to the school. When the boy runs outside, it will be stuck with its flashers on, eleven blocks away.”
He put the star back.
“It’s a gift the boy’s daddy will never know he got, but… it’s his heart’s desire, all the same.”
“Miracles,” Chloe said. She held my face in her hands, and my eyes with hers. “Christmas isn’t real… it isn’t supposed to be real. It’s just tiny, invisible miracles that move. Simple as that.”