Johnny America


Christ­mas Pictured


Christ­mas could­n’t come ear­ly enough for James. Af­ter see­ing the first roll of film de­vel­oped a week be­fore as a means of test­ing the cam­era, all he could do was wait. Every­thing was ready, from the makeshift dum­my that lay in his bed to the route de­vised as an es­cape once he got the proof he sought. Two, maybe three more hours, and he’d have pho­to­graph­ic ev­i­dence to prove San­ta’s ex­is­tence, one way or the oth­er. He was sure he’d seen him at least once the year be­fore, and re­vealed the dis­cov­ery to his father.

The plan fell in­to place once the cam­era ar­rived in the mail. It was the first thing James had ever re­ceived that was ad­dressed to him, though it was pur­chased with a mon­ey or­der by his moth­er with an or­der form torn from one of the many com­ic books that his fa­ther would bring home for him. It was small­er than the palm of James’ hand but could pro­duce pic­tures near­ly as well as the cam­era his moth­er used to cap­ture mo­ments from birth­day par­ties, mem­o­rable va­ca­tions, and hol­i­days past. It was ad­ver­tised as a Minia­ture Spy Cam­era, use­ful in Top Se­cret In­ves­ti­ga­tions, and James’ in­tent was just that.

The first batch of pic­tures, tak­en as a prac­tice test, lay on James’ night­stand. Sev­er­al pho­tos were of his fa­ther, on his way off to work at his Mon­day through Fri­day job in the city. There was one of him at the front door. In it, on­ly his back is vis­i­ble. James had wait­ed for him to turn around and wave or say good­bye un­til the last pos­si­ble mo­ment, then de­pressed the tiny but­ton. An­oth­er pho­to shows his fa­ther get­ting in­to his car. The pic­ture served to re­mind James of things he had ei­ther for­got­ten, like the three large suit­cas­es in the back­seat, or had­n’t no­ticed, like the Sun­day pa­per rolled up on the dri­ve­way. The pho­tos were tak­en two weeks ago. James had them de­vel­oped at the lo­cal drug­store and brought back by his moth­er lat­er, un­like the pic­ture’s subject.

Sleep and prick­ly tin­gling were James’ ad­ver­saries. On a nor­mal night, even any oth­er Christ­mas Eve, he would have been fast asleep in his bed­room up­stairs, not wedged be­tween the so­fa and the back wall of the liv­ing room. The twin­kling lights on the tree were in synch with the blood try­ing to pump its way to his legs, fold­ed awk­ward­ly un­der­neath him. The dim il­lu­mi­na­tion they pro­vid­ed was scarce­ly enough to stop him from nod­ding off time and again. He pinched his arm and face, de­ter­mined to re­main alert and un­cov­er at least one open mystery.

A noise came from out­side that roused James, sleep get­ting the drop on him for how long he could­n’t be sure. From what he knew, the fire­place would be the point of en­try. His po­si­tion was such that he would have a di­rect line of sight to the hol­i­day in­trud­er’s path to the tree. Just a flip of the light switch above then a well-aimed snap­shot, and he would make a bee­line for the hall­way and the stair­case be­fore he could be iden­ti­fied. But his in­tend­ed tar­get was de­vi­at­ing from his rou­tine. An­oth­er sound, this time from the front door.

When the man closed the door qui­et­ly be­hind him, James crouched fur­ther out of sight. The man, though not near­ly as large as sug­gest­ed in his well-es­tab­lished pro­file, blocked any means of mak­ing an es­cape un­no­ticed. Once he made his way to the tree, al­beit un­armed with his stan­dard sack of presents, James re­al­ized he would be ex­posed. He slid the cam­era un­der the so­fa and tried to come up with a plau­si­ble al­i­bi, sol­id enough to pass off as truth to a per­son who knew things about children.

The man re­mained at the door­way, eval­u­at­ing his sur­round­ings. He re­moved his jack­et, leather and brown rather than woolen and red, and hung it on the coat rack. As he made his way to the stairs, James saw the bot­tle of wine and the ab­sence of white hair or a beard of any kind. He was­n’t sure if it was the same man he rec­og­nized last year. Per­haps he was in dis­guise. He ap­peared young to have been de­liv­er­ing gifts to chil­dren around the world for so many years-even younger than James’ own father.

Foot­steps sound­ed over­head, to­ward his par­ents’ bed­room. There were a few words spo­ken that James could­n’t make out. The noth­ing, save for the oc­ca­sion­al sound of what may have been his get­away ve­hi­cle, rest­less­ly parked on the rooftop.

James re­trieved his cam­era and re­mained in po­si­tion. He silent­ly made ad­just­ments to re­store feel­ing in his legs. There was still a chance to ob­tain the in­for­ma­tion he sought, as long as he main­tained sur­veil­lance. He could still have his moth­er re­trieve the de­vel­oped prints from the drug­store. At the very least, they might al­low James to rec­og­nize the man if he came back the next year. He imag­ined his par­ents’ ex­pres­sions once he turned over his findings.

Filed under Fiction on December 24th, 2006

Care to Share?

Consider posting a note of comment on this item:


Previous Post


Next Post


Join our Irregular Mailing List

For very occasional ramblings, word about new print ephemera, and of course exciting investment opportunities.