“Come look at Santa,” said Gabe. “He’s stuck in the snow.”
A fresh wave of nausea swept through Midge and she felt every single year of her eighty on this earth, some twice. Still she had to smile at her husband all hunched over at the front door’s side lights.
Such a good man. So many good years.
Pushing the power button the remote in her housecoat pocket, Midge switched off Bangor’s only eleven o’clock newscast.
“…onset after infection is rapid, so be…” the anchorwoman managed before the screen darkened.
Shame on them for making up such horrible stories just for a few rating points. Especially at Christmas. Probably promoting some new apocalypse movie. She was so tired of those. She was so tired, period.
Cane in hand, Midge joined Gabe at his post. “You know they can see you, right? It’s dark outside and you’ve got every light in the house on.”
“Bah,” he laughed, waving a dismissive hand at her. At least Alzheimer’s had been kind to her big teddy bear. “Better call Jerry down at the PD.”
“Oh, you’ll do no such thing.”
Gabe sometimes forgot the fellas down at the station were no longer at his beck and call. His decline had accelerated since summer and his docs said it would continue even faster. With luck, he might make spring. Her docs weren’t as optimistic about her cancer.
Dabbing the corners of her eyes, she pushed him gently aside and peered out. “Lord in Heaven.”
The light from their living room cut a swath across the snow-covered lawn as the door swung wide. At the edge of the walk, Santa Claus struggled to lift his feet from the eighteen inches that had fallen since noon.
As best she could tell the streets were empty and unplowed. Except for the man in the red suit standing there, reaching for them. The costume hung like sack and his bony ungloved hands and sunken eyes only added to his wretched appearance.
Sakes alive. He must be half frozen.
Midge grabbed two blankets from the quilt rack, tossing one over Gabe’s shoulders and handing him the other. By far, he was still the most physically capable of the two of them. “Go help that poor man in.”
Ever-present smile in place, Gabe nodded and trudged into the snow.
Pulling the phone from her housecoat pocket, Midge dialed 911.
“All lines are busy,” said an automated voice. “Please hold or try your call again later.”
Two additional tries, yielded the same.
The unexpected blizzard had done a number on the state, sure, but enough to tie up 911? The newscast occurred to her again. People attacking one another downtown, but that was just ridiculous. The worst thing a snow like this ever brought was a skirmish or two at Shaw’s for the last loaf of butterbread. People ought to be nice and neighborly. Here in Bangor, anyway.
Gabe reached their visitor but his attempts to wrap Saint Nick’s frail representative were thwarted by pawing hands, like a drowning swimmer trying to pull under a rescuer. His jaw worked slowly, unable to form anything more coherent than a moan.
Mercy me. They needed to get in out of the cold or, soon, she’d need 911 to pull two men out of the snow.
“He’s delirious,” she shouted. She’d seen Gabe simultaneously immobilize two brawling churchgoers in a bear hug a few decades ago. “Just carry him.”
Gabe swept the blanket over the man’s shoulders, a perfectly timed moment of lucidity allowing him to cocoon the man. From behind, he grabbed the man at the waist and lifted him from the snow.
A long minute later, Midge closed the door against the swirling snow as Gabe stomped ice and slush from his boots. Red droplets plipped to the floor.
“Are you okay?” asked Midge, tugging at Gabe’s hand.
“Oh, sure.” Gabe gave their visitor a shake. “He nipped me. Feisty fella. Better call Jerry down at the PD.”
Midge nodded, pushing the pang of sweet sadness away and turning her attention to their Santa. His feet were bare, the color of the snow.
Frostbite for sure.
Santa’s neck twisted to one side and then the other as he tried to reach Gabe. Then his attention settled onto Midge.
“Should I let him go?” asked Gabe.
“N-not just yet.”
Their visitor’s eyes were white as if covered by cataracts but she could see they tracked her, even through her own. His Santa hat was frozen to his forehead and his cheeks were cracked like old plaster. Red streams ran from icy lips. Santa snapped at her and Gabe pulled him back, hugging him tighter.
“See,” he laughed. “Feisty.”
Midge glanced back at the HD, then into the eager, patient expression of her husband.
Before Gabe could react, she thrust her hand into his struggling bundle. Pain from her own protesting muscles was answered by the jolly old saint’s kiss.
“Midge!” Gabe spun the visitor clear. “We’d better call Jerry–”
“No, no, no,” said Midge, staunching the bite with her housecoat. “Just put him back on the porch.”
Without a word, Gabe placed the man on the porch and gave him a shove into the snow when he tried to force his way back in.
“Come sit with me.” Midge turned the HD on, switching away the newscast for the holiday music channel and its roaring fireplace screensaver.
Gabe closed the door and looked at the figure writhing in the snow. “But Santa Claus?”
“He’ll be fine, dear. That’s the real Santa Claus, you know?”
Gabe’s voice was a whisper. “Really?“
“Oh yes.” Midge nodded and placed her head on Gabe’s arm as he sat. “He just gave us the best present in the whole world.”