Tina was not yet quite five years old, but she feared Mr. Binkley was up to no good when she saw him in her backyard at three o’clock in the morning. It was Christmas Eve, and she couldn’t sleep because she kept looking forward to tomorrow and all the gifts and food. Or maybe she was asleep and was just dreaming about the gifts and food.
There was a full moon, and peeking through her small bedroom window, Tina could see everything very clearly. That was how she was able to recognize Mr. Binkley. There was no fence separating her house from the one next door where Mr. Binkley lived. Instead there was just a hedge formed from a row of shoulder-high evergreen bushes that looked like Christmas trees. Tina thought Mr. B was a strange man sometimes, but she wasn’t afraid of him. If he had been coming toward her house, she would have called her mother. But he was walking towards his own garage—but on her side of the hedge. It was almost as though he didn’t want to be seen from his own house, but didn’t care if anybody else saw him. He entered the side door of his garage and disappeared.
A dim light glowed through the window of the Binkley garage, and a few shadows passed across the window. Then the light went out, the door opened, and Santa Claus came out carrying a sack filled with colored boxes. Now Tina figured she must be dreaming. She pinched herself on the arm. It hurt! She wasn’t dreaming! After she calmed down, she looked more carefully and realized that “Santa Claus” was really just Mr. B dressed in a Santa costume and with a false white beard. “Santa” then walked back on Tina’s side of the hedge and went into the back door of the Binkley house. It wasn’t a white Christmas, so there was no snow to capture footprint evidence. But Tina had eyewitness evidence.
On Christmas night there was heavy snowfall. The next day, snow had piled to about a foot. It was now a white Christmas. So all the local kids swarmed to the park at the end of the street, where they could throw snowballs at each other or sled down the small hill at the edge of the park. There was also a small pond, but skating was forbidden because of the thin ice. Tina soon spotted the bright blue and red plastic sled of her next door neighbor Marie Binkley—Mr. B’s daughter. Marie was a couple of years older than Tina. Though they were neighbors, they mostly saw each other on holidays, because they went to different schools—Marie went to parochial school, while Tina went to public kindergarten. Tina figured she would tease Marie and find out if she still believed in Santa Claus.
“Hey Marie, did Santa Claus bring you some nice gifts?”
“There is no Santa Claus. My dad dresses up as Santa and then leaves the gifts under the tree. He thinks I don’t know, but I saw him last year. This year he gave me this sled—Santa Claus and my dad are both Giants fans.”
“That’s a nice sled though. I still have this old wooden toboggan from last year. I don’t believe in Santa Claus either. My pop just leaves toys under the tree without bothering to dress up. Got some good stuff this year. This hoodie I can wear without a hat whenever it snows or rains. And I got a Barbie puppy doll. It’s nice, but I’d prefer a real puppy. Maybe they will get me one next year.”
“I’m too old for Barbie dolls, but ‘Santa’ gave me a Bratz doll dress set. That lets you dress Barbie as a tomboy or terrorist or whatever. Apparently, now women can marry other women, it is okay for us to be tomboys. But you’re lucky, Tina, ‘cos you don’t have to wear a uniform to school. At St. Lawrence’s we have to wear uniform plaid skirts. Dunno what plaid has to do with religion. I saw on the Internet that the Christmas tree wasn’t really Christian either but was part of some Pagan deal. It’s weird the way grownups make us believe in Santa Claus and all those traditions when we can just look up stuff on line.”