I heard a clip-clop of hooves at 4:00 this morning, crept into our living room, and caught him in my chair, sipping from a mug.
"Why are you up so early?" he asked.
"Me too. Shhh," he said, raising a finger to his lips. "Don't wake the children."
He had a white beard, a nose like a cherry, and a belly that shook like a bowlful of jelly — to coin a phrase.
"Mr. Claus," I said shyly, "Do you remember ... ?"
"Marshall Field's? Zorro cape? Runny nose?"
"You've done OK," he said. "A few years there, I was worried. But now, your wife is too good for you and you've got great kids."
"You know them?"
"Remember who you're talking to."
"So, how many languages do you speak?"
"All of them. Including Klingon."
"How many cups of cocoa do you drink?"
He patted his stomach and made a sour face.
"The same. And these days, chipotle pepper, almond dust — some of the stuff they put in cocoa!"
"Why do you do it?" I asked. He puffed on a candy cane he had where his pipe used to be.
"I guess so every child will know they're so special and loved that a total stranger knows it," he said. "They don't have to pass a test. They don't have to win a contest. They get a gift just for the way they make us feel when we look down at them when they're sleeping. Or even squalling."
"Can I sit on your lap?" I asked.
"Why not, for ol' times sake. What do you want?"
"The Bears in the Super Bowl," I said. "A Cubs-White Sox World Series."
"Give me something I can work with!"
"OK," I said. "Give every child in the world a chance. No matter where they're born or who they are, give them a chance."
His red face softened and he put out his hand.
"Why don't we work on that together?"
He got to his feet and hefted a huge sack.
"I've taken care of Elise and Lina," he said. "Now Donder and Blitzen and I have to get over to Annie and Veda, Hannah, Jack, and Frances, Eden and Danielle, Evelyn, Tess, and Ashley, Robbie, Jade, Dawit, Dylan, Samir and all the other hardworking stars. Sure are a lot of Ashleys these days."
"Will I see you again?" I asked.
"Who knows? We work the same shift. But that's why it's good to hold on to this time," he said. "That’s why it's good to hold on to each other. And oh, thanks for the cocoa. Thanks for not making it a mocha latte."
By the time I crept into their bedrooms to kiss our daughters, I could see the shadow of his sleigh crossing the moon.