Rachel’s First Christmas
‘Oh my God! I think he’s dead!’ Someone screeched from the crowd. ‘Call an ambulance!’
Rachel was on the ground, pinned under the man like doll; her limbs were outstretched and flailed for assistance. Hundreds of eyes were taking in the spectacle as she tried to escape. The faces around her were all masks of panic and confusion.
‘Get him off me!’ Rachel shouted ‘Please!’
A round, hairless man scurried to the scene and hoisted Rachel by her underarms from beneath the red and white heap before he turned the man onto his back.
‘I shouldn’t have come!’ Rachel shouted to no one in particular. ‘I’ve killed him,’ she mumbled weakly as she began to sob.
‘Get up girls!’ Sang Sophie’s Mother from behind the bedroom door ‘Rise and shine!’
Sophie and Rachel shed their blanket skins and oozed out of bed. With crust in their eyes and the soft, sweet fuzz of sleep in their brains, they made their ways downstairs.
‘Today’s the day, Rachel!’ Sophie’s Mother exclaimed as she danced around the kitchen pouring milk and cereal into matching pink bowls. ‘How did you both sleep? Or were you too excited?’
‘No, Mom’ mumbled Sophie. ‘We do this every year and I swear it’s only you who loves it. We’re twelve. Surely there’s an age limit?’
‘Preposterous! This is a yearly tradition for us and it’s Rachel’s maiden voyage!’ Sophie’s Mom padded her way over to where a dishevelled Rachel sat carefully spooning cereal into her mouth and attempted to smooth out the bird’s nest of her hair.
‘Thanks so much for this, Mrs. Bennet. I really am excited.’ Rachel said half-chewing.
If Rachel’s parents had any inkling as to where she was going today she would be in trouble. The Cohen family would most definitely not approve of this traditional outing. Rachel had been asking for years if they could have a tree, but the answer was always the same. ‘We’re Jewish, honey. We have Hanuka and Hanuka doesn’t have pine trees decorated with chintzy ornaments.’ The Cohens would have driven over to the Bennet’s at Mach speed and bundled Rachel into the car like she was off to Abu Ghraib. In fact, even Abu Ghraib would have been a more preferable destination than Santa’s Grotto.
‘Are you sure you won’t go to Jew hell for this?’ Sophie turned to face Rachel as she shoveled more cereal into her mouth.
‘Not sure.’ Replied Rachel. ‘Guess we’ll find out soon enough.’
‘Imagine’ began Sophie’s Mom ‘not having Christmas…’ She shuddered and then rested her arm protectively around Rachel’s shoulders ‘It’s practically child abuse.’
‘It’s her religion, Mom. She’s not being burned with cigarettes.’ Sophie rolled her eyes and cleared away the empty bowls from the table. ‘You’re being a little racist, Mom. Come on, Rachel; let’s get you ready for the freak show.’
‘It wasn’t racist!’ trilled Sophie’s Mom after them. ‘Is Jewish a race?’ she wondered out loud, shrugged and busied herself with the dishes.
They’d been in line for over 30 minutes and both Sophie and Rachel were fidgeting with their scarves and picking lint balls from their gloves. Sophie’s Mom, on the other hand was singing along to the carols blaring through the mall’s ancient, tinny sound system and swaying back and forth like a festive zombie.
‘Mooooom’ called Sophie as she poked her in her shoulder. ‘You look demented, cut it out.’
‘Be nice to your Mother, Soph. Oh look, Rachel, you’re next!’ Sophie’s Mom gushed and squeezed Rachel’s hand a bit too hard.
Rachel was called up the stairs and approached the large, bearded man tentatively. She reached out one hand with caution, but then quickly withdrew it. He was beckoning her in all his Santa splendour to come closer. The lights, the smells, the intoxicating Christmasness absorbed her. The flashing coloured bulbs and reindeer headbands, the smiling elves all welcomed her with outstretched arms and encouraging nods of heads. Rachel stumbled forward and felt a bit woozy; as she moved closer to perch on the mythical figure’s knee she felt her face break open into a wide smile. ‘This is it’ Rachel thought to herself, ‘just like in all the movies.’
But just before Rachel’s backside could touch his velvety lap, she was pushed to the ground. The growing crowd watched with hands clasped over mouths, as Santa himself gripped his chest and fell atop her, gasping for air.
more by LEE ANNE HILL
photograph by DFC