Susan Henderson

Untitled Thing About a Wasp

I'm trimming the rose bush when a wasp goes up my shirt. It's zinging from skin to fabric, can't get out, and I shout, "Ha! This is great!" I'm finally feeling something after years (and I only notice it now) of not feeling anything. Must have stung me seven or eight times already. I can't stop laughing.


A Christmas Story a Little After the Fact

My kid's writing a letter to Santa, stops and says, "If Santa's a fake and I'm sitting here writing a letter to him, I'm going to feel pretty stupid."

I say, "Don't use the word stupid."

He's got a big old list. There are some kind of gloves that play music when you move your hand around. He asked for a skateboard because he knows I'll say, No, but Santa usually comes through. He wants fishing hooks and equipment for tying flies. He's six and doesn't think about what a slob he is and how bad it's going to hurt when he steps on one of those hooks.

I tell him to write "new sheets" and "undershirts" on his list, but he doesn't. I guess he'll be surprised.

We write "Santa, North Pole" on the envelope, stamp it, and that's that.

Most of my childhood Christmasses, I don't remember. I just remember the ongoing argument between me and my brother—that the other one was spoiled and getting better stuff.

Being the "winner"—i.e. having some concrete assurance that you were loved despite your behavior that year—was far more memorable than any actual gift. With one exception.

My brother was the all-time champion, reigning in the number one present of our combined childhoods. My grandpa from Montana had sent us two packages. We put the them under the tree. But sometime well before Christmas, my brother's present started to smell so my mom said he could open it early, and better do it outside, over the trash can.

His gift: roadkill. A porcupine—the whole thing—and there was a note stuck to it that said, Keep the quills.

My mom said I could go ahead and open mine, too. It still stings, remembering getting under the wrapping paper and seeing the enormous lack of effort shown in his choice for me that year: a nature puzzle.

I take my kid's hand as we walk back from the mailbox. He's wearing his rain boots for no reason and has a goofy skip-bounce to his walk. He says, "Mommy, how do you know if you've been naughty or nice?"

I'm sorry it's set up like that in his mind—that the years we aren't able to save much (and this is one of those years), he's going to think he was naughty. I'm wishing as hard as he is that he'll get the things he asked for on his list.

I wonder who will open my kids' letter. I'm thinking of the box of candy that sits on top of our piano—the one he sells for Tiger Cubs. There's a good bit of money in the box.


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