That Santa Can Dance

By Patricia Fox

My mother was dying. Really this had already been happening for years but it was now those final breaths, those last precious moments before an astral plane. That mansion atop a long, winding road upwards. It was a dream I had several months before her death about my mother, father and myself in a car. We arrived at this glorious Victorian house and a friendly, gracious priest we knew for years when both my parents worked for the Catholic Church, stood in the attic window, waving his greeting to us. This priest, this jolly Santa Claus, had been dead for a couple of years.

I shared this dream with my mother at the time it happened and she remarked that in the bible, Christ says, “My father’s house has many mansions.” We both wept.

Now I could plainly see my mother’s anxiety. She did not have a full story of what might be coming next for her. Neither did I, but the years since this time have shaped that picture for me more and more. Leaning close to her ear I said, “Remember that lovely mansion in the hills, where Father Mertz is?” She nodded. “I don’t know, mom, maybe think of that.”

“That helps,” tears were in her eyes. The nurses brought in IV anti-anxiety medication for her.

In the hospice room, it had started to smell of death and a corresponding despair. My three older brothers and I escaped to a neighborhood bar as my older sister stayed behind, escaping in her own way by eating junk food. There was one of those noisy, garish, dancing, Santa Claus statues in the back of the bar, crammed in between some tables.

We tossed back several rounds. At the time, my poison of choice was Stoli and tonic with a twist. I don’t think I had eaten much that day. It was Christmas but none of us had an appetite as we digested how this cancer was having a final feast on our mother. We ordered another round, one of my brothers ordered some greasy food. My cell rang, it was one of my best friends, she’s an ER doctor. I stepped out outside the bar door. It was a mild December by Minnesota standards, no substantial snow or bitter cold… yet. I filled her in on the latest, she burst into tears. Without saying a word, she confirmed what I already knew. On the radio inside the bar, I could hear The Doors playing, “This is the End.”

I hung up, walked back inside. I sat down with my brothers who were huddled together in a brotherly treachery. There had a falling out, years before. There was a business they shared. I overheard them whispering about lies and lost money and the IRS investigation. There were tears, apologies and beggings for forgiveness.

The greasy food arrived. We all dove in. They asked who called. I told them. They asked what her medical opinion was. I shook my head. We set down our forks.

Someone decided we should go back to the hospital. They went to the door. I wound my way to the back of the bar, to that dancing, totally insane fucking Santa Claus. I punched him. He went flying into the couple sitting at the small table nearby. My brothers pulled me out of the bar, the bartender pointing the way.

I don’t remember that part. They told me about it the next day.