My sister was always afraid of Santa.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. She wasn’t afraid to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall. She was a big fan of Santa on Christmas morning. But Christmas Eve? Not so much.
Every year, the family collects by one of the upstairs bedroom windows to look for Santa’s sleigh. I was always beside myself with excitement. The magic was about to begin. I’d been waiting for this since December 26th of the year before.
My sister, on the other hand, had one goal – get the hell to sleep before the big guy got there. And looking for reindeer just slowed down the process. She could handle at most a couple of minutes of it before she was yelling at all of us to just get in bed.
As I was a big fan of Mr. Kringle, I could never really understand her discomfort. Maybe it had something to do with his being able to get into locked houses. Or maybe she just took the whole “you better watch out” sentiment more seriously than I. All I know is that she was equal parts excitement and fear on December 24th, while I was just pure excitement.
Except for one year.
Now the blame can’t be laid on Santa for this one. Nope. I place it squarely on the shoulders of another bearded man – my dad.
You see, his birthday is just a few days before Christmas. Today, in fact. (Happy b-day, Pops!) And one year, my older cousin gave him a birthday card during our Christmas Eve dinner. On the front was a cat with a huge, human smile.
The first time I saw it, I thought it was mildly creepy, but then my dad started talking about a movie that the card reminded him of. Well, not the card exactly, but the smile. That damn smile.
My cousin had never heard of the movie, so my dad regaled her with the tale of Mr. Sardonicus a poor man cursed with a grotesque smile after digging up his deceased father to acquire the winning lottery ticket in the older man’s pocket.
Dad has a flare for horror stories, so he was particularly dramatic as he told of the moment that the man’s wife first saw his cursed face. Wondering why her husband wasn’t speaking, she slowly lifts a candle in the darkness and there he stands in all his glory.
Later that night, lying in bed I was suddenly struck with the image of looking over at my sister only to have her looking back at me with the smile of that stupid cat. The Mr. Sardonicus smile. The thought scared me enough I started crying.
Well she heard me. And thought I was crying over Santa. So she started crying.
Shortly after, my parents came up to check on us and found us sitting next to each other in bed, still crying. Needless to say, not what they were expecting.
My dad felt horrible. He hadn’t realized that I was lurking and listening in on the horror stories and it certainly hadn’t been his intent to scare the bejeepers out of his little girl.
I got over it, of course. Somewhat. I mean, I stopped crying and stopped being scared that all the people I knew were going to be cursed with evil smiles. The thought of Mr. Sardonicus stopped being something that popped into my head every Christmas. I remembered the card as being unsettling, but not the exact image.
It was nice.
Years later, I came home to spend Christmas with the folks after my first semester at college. As I put my stuff down in my bedroom, I noticed something on my pillow.
There, smiling up at me, was the cat card.