Saint Even's Day by Craig Calhoun
I remember that June 25th. My little brother, Aaron, was sitting cross-legged on the carpet next to his bed. He had his beloved Castle Greyskull playset open in front of him and was holding He-Man in one hand and Skeletor in the other, re-enacting one of their confrontations at the foot of the castle’s green plastic drawbridge. He was on the verge of tears as the two antagonists crossed swords without much passion. He would stop the fight every few seconds to kiss them.
On the other side of our bedroom, I was lying on my bed with my headphones on, holding on to my portable tape recorder just as desperately, listening to recordings of the prank calls that I’d made every day during that forty-five minutes after school when I was in charge until Mom came home. Most of the recordings involved me snickering while I ordered Bahaman vacation literature to be sent to random names and addresses that I’d picked from the phonebook. I was eight years old. I knew how to be bad but not how to be clever.
At around eight-thirty my mom tapped on our door. She had last year’s Christmas lists in her hand and looked as upset as my brother and I did.
“Hi, guys,” she said softly, touching Aaron’s knee. Mom was a dental assistant and normally by now my brother, sister, and I would already be in bed and she would be laid out exhausted on the sofa, reading from a romance novel while she smoked cigarettes. She never smoked in front of us. Only late at night. I could smell the smoke move through the vents.
June 25th was Saint Even’s Day. One of the only days that she ever allowed us to stay up late. Mom always dressed impeccably on that Saint Even’s Day she wore a sleeveless blouse and a skirt with black nylons and high-heels. She had to look impressive for her negotiation with Saint Even. Her perfume followed her into our room and her hair flowed in a calculated way, pins directing which way the red waves broke. She put her hand on my head and slid the headphones off. She had on this pale blue eye shadow.
“What do you think he’ll say?” I asked her, hopeful.
She turned her bottom lip down and tilted her head. “I don’t know, honey. But Saint Even will be here soon. Come on now, let’s gather everything up.”
I groaned and pounded my fist on the mattress before I ejected the cassette tape from my recorder, “I wish Dad was here to talk to him.”
“I know, honey. I do too. Your dad would be able to get everything back. He was smart and loved you all so much.” She turned and looked at Aaron. “But you know I try hard for you too, don’t you? I try my hardest.”
“Yes,” Aaron and I answered together began carrying all of last year’s Christmas gifts with us into the living room.
“It was the same way when I was a girl. I know how much it hurts, but we have to do it.” My little sister, Melanie, stumbled into the living room carrying four plastic ponies in her arms, tears moving down her cheeks. My mom swooped over and stroked her head. Aaron quietly said goodbye to He-Man and I placed my tape recorder and my three Hardy Boys books on the ground underneath the ficus in the corner. Melanie put her toys next to mine and then Bobby placed his toys next to hers’. We sat down to wait and I remember wondering: Who was Saint Even to do this to my brother and sister? It wasn’t our fault we were related to Harold Cooper. My mom looked down at us and smiled sadly, bravely.
Every year my mom told us the story of our great-great-great grandfather, Harold Cooper. When he was a boy, had been so incredibly naughty one year that Santa had no idea what to do with him. So, Santa thought long and hard and decided to give the terrible little Harold everything he wanted for Christmas. But in the summertime Santa’s half-brother, Saint Even, would come and take every single toy away.
Harold had been so naughty, in fact, that Santa then ordered Saint Even he must do the same for all of Harold Cooper’s descendants forever and ever. Santa, having a good heart, decreed that the parents of the children could meet with Saint Even afterwards and defend their kids. If they could prove that they loved their children enough, they might be able to get Santa to bring all the toys back on Christmas Day.
We were never allowed to talk about Saint Even. It would not be good if people thought Santa could not handle things and had to ask for help. The penalty for talking about Saint Even to other children would be that Saint Even would take every toy, every single year and we might never get anything back. For the rest of our lives.
“Alright,” Mom said sadly, “Saint Even will be here any minute. I’ll be in the bedroom if you need me.” She walked down the hall and waved at us before she shut herself in her bedroom.
After a few minutes, Saint Even came out of her room and filled the hallway. Melanie started to shiver. He was dressed in his usual black parka and black boots and black fur hat. His upside down Santa Claus face was the worst thing about him. We looked at the floor. He moved quietly towards us, moving through the darkness. He was enormous.
Hey there, kids.
His voice was always muffled behind his mask. I remember that it always sounded like he was about to cry. He sat down in the easy chair. Bobby and Melanie began to cry and Saint Even sighed heavily.
After a few seconds, he said, Bobby, come here, he said and pulled out a piece of paper from his coat that had our misdeeds listed on it. You are getting so big, do you know that? Look at you. Wow.
You’re just so big, he whispered. Playing any sports? I shivered at his voice and looked down at his dirty work boots. He sighed again. Ok. So I hear that you’ve been making prank phone calls after school, and recording them on that tape recorder Santa gave you. You know that’s wrong, don’t you?
I could feel the breathing coming from the holes in his mask. I always wanted to try to look behind it, but I couldn’t make myself do it.
“Yes,” I said, still staring at the ground.
Why’d you do it?
“I don’t know. I’m sorry. Did Mom tell you that I was sorry? I won’t do it again.”
Saint Even didn’t say anything. I felt him grip my shoulder. The black bear team pounded on the walls again.
Yes. She did. But I have to do this, Bobby. He put me down on the ground and walked to the other side of the room, picked up my tape deck and placed it in a black bag. Fair is fair! he said.
Anger rose up from my legs and I was up. “I hate you!”
He bent down again and took my Hardy Boys books.
“I hate you!” I screamed. Aaron, afraid, whimpered at me to stop.
Saint Even looked at me. This time I didn’t look away from his upside-down face. I’d never felt anger like that before.
I don’t want to do this, Bobby.
I sat back down between my brother and sister and glared at Saint Even. I hated him and I hated Harold Cooper, whoever he was, for bringing this thing into our lives.
Saint Even then sat down with my brother and then my sister, chastising Aaron for wetting the bed and Melanie for sucking her thumb. Melanie shrieked when he spoke to her. When he was finished, he stood up, his black parka filling the room. He smelled like cigarettes, like the vents. He disappeared back down the hall and went into my mother’s room.
Twenty minutes later, my mom came back out. Her eyes were red. “I did the best I could, kids. We’ll just see what happens at Christmas.” She rubbed the tears off our cheeks. “I’m sure you’ll get everything back this Christmas. Just be good for Santa. Promise?”
In unison we promised.
“Bobby?” my mom got down on her knees in front of me. “Saint Even told me you said you hated him?”
“Yes, mom, I’m sorry.”
I noticed a small twitch at the ends of her lips. “That’s very mean. Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
She touched my face.
Summer passed and fall did too and soon it started snowing. We got the advent calendar out and the little angel moved from one day’s pocket to the next. Stop motion Rudolph came on TV along with Charlie Brown and the Grinch and soon enough Jimmy Stewart tried to kill himself in black and white again.
My mom always allowed us to wake up early and take our stockings back to our room with us. So at one-thirty, Bobby and I moved silently down the hall to the tree and quickly ran back to bed to scratch lottery tickets and eat candy while we waited another five hours until morning.
That night, lying there aching to open presents, I promised Santa that if I got my tape recorder back, no more prank calls. No more recording pretend wolf howls and playing them while Melanie slept. I’d record good things like when my mom told us stories about my dad. The brave things he’d done in the army or how he had once beat up a burglar who had broken into their apartment before I was born. I could be good. I aimed my thoughts towards the ceiling and the North Pole. I could be good.
© Craig Calhoun 2012
Craig was born in Tucson, Arizona and moved to Toronto, Canada in 2008 where he started writing fiction to pass the time while the immigration paperwork went through. His short stories and poetry has appeared in Descant, The Incongruous Quarterly, Steel Bananas Quarterly, and Liars' League London.craigcalhoun.tumblr.com
Saint Even's Day was read by Matt Alford on December 5th 2012