His eyes were scabbed wounds inflicted by the night’s drinking. Crusted, rusty and painful to the blink he shook his head for clarity. Numb hands extending to insolent fingers that scratched and scratched but the sticker wouldn’t budge. He rubbed the butterfly emblem, turned the bike upside down, twisted it into his armpits and tried the leverage routine. Nothing. The sticker, placed upside down, refused to yield. The bike, bought with odd jobs and plasma, resisted his spirited adjustments. The sun was rising. The child was stirring. It was Christmas. And it was horrid.

The wife left when the silence became too much to bear. He reminded his soul of this as the whiskey dove into the coffee mug. She couldn’t handle the stress of Allison. The never-knowing she represented. He topped the mug with coffee and took a sip. The trailer was chilly but nothing like last year. His tongue burned as the whiskey soothed his shake. Allison seemed snug a moment ago. Blankets, night-light, stocking cap, heavy coat, and the Santa doll tucked under her arm. Warm all night, he hoped.
The porch greeted him with warped attention as match met cigarette. The smoke smelled of the wife. He closed his eyes and remembered but when the moment became too much he opened them and listened for the child. Focus, he thought. This is hers. He exhaled and saw the old days formed from smoke sitting dead in the still air. He gulped the coffee.

I’ll never be enough.

He knows if he stands too long on the deck it’ll give way. He wants to go inside but the smoke is good. Smooth.
In childhood he waited on this morning for sunlight. His Father woke them with a blessing and praise for the Savior Child as the son fidgeted in footie pajamas hoping for a train.
Lord we celebrate your birth this moment so many years ago as you prepared to die for our Sins and Transgressions…
The Father spoke more as the boy thought of Batman and the Green Hornet.
Socks, a book of parables and a Cowboy/Indian play set he settled for. Money was tight all over.
Money was tight now.

I sold my blood and put the sticker on upside down.
He went inside to listen for Allison and pour another drink.

The sun rose slow and gray. He stood on the porch again.
The child would wake, and as she’d done for nine years, stare at the gifts and offer a faint smile.
He exhaled and wondered why he didn’t leave first. The wife listened to the doctor, as he did. She heard the words of assurance.
Nothing wrong physically. We don’t know. Allison just won’t speak.
The child sitting on a doctor’s table turning a block in her hand. Her brown liquid eyes immersed in the rotations and angles. The wife shook her head. The husband thought of drink. He finished the cup. The smoke faded as the sunrise turned orange from gray. He knew not his daughter’s voice.
The cold touched his skin but faded against his thoughts. She will wake soon and expect Santa.

Santa put on the stickers wrong honey.
But he’s so busy.
Maybe he was just confused in the dark.

And the girl would smile a Mona Lisa smile and he’d sipped the coffee. Christmas was the morning on which every parent becomes magic. Every mystery of the world is revealed as the children squeal and laugh and dance with joy. The magicians sit on couches and wonder at the power of the child’s joy. But his magic was never enough. He saw her smile. He watched her move around the tree, touching the gifts. She’d look at him in disappointed silence and the Father wanted to scream and cry but the girl then smiled crookedly and maybe it would be okay after all.

Maybe his magic was enough.

Through the narrow trailer walls he heard neighbor kids laugh and shout at presents. He pushed open the door to listen for her footsteps. Before she left, his wife woke the child on Christmas. The night before she would position every toy just right. The day then spent presenting the magical scene and still the silence. Perhaps, he thought, the wife believed Christmas would make the child talk. Maybe the songs, the images, the movies, the anticipation would make the child suddenly declare a blessing upon us all, everyone.

The trailer was garish with lights he’d found. Dumpsters, garage sales. He reached down into empty pockets to find the recycling money, the pan-handled and prostituted money to buy lights. Below the rotting liver and dying soul, he believed it was Christmas that would save the girl. She’d speak with more light. Another nodding reindeer. If only he could find one more lighted string to adorn the deteriorating trailer. She’d smile. Laugh. Speak.

The wife sent him a letter; scribbled words requesting forgiveness. What am I to do with the silence? You know. Don’t make me say it. She looks at me and moves her hands, like I know? and still it’s not enough. Here’s some money to help.

Through the open back door he hears her move around. The child goes to the bathroom as Father sets himself near the mutated bike.
He tries again to upright the butterfly but the drink adds impairment. He worked with her to understand the signals she gave. Sign was all they possessed but the old man failed every attempt. He signed Happy Birthday but just knew to all heaven he signed Go Get Corn instead. He was never enough for the beauty of her silence. He shook with fear and thought of another drink. All he wanted was to hear her squeal. He longed to hear her squeal and to know the sound of her dead voice as it bellowed with joy. In drunken states he prayed to a sober god for the miracle promised in black-and-white movies.
A word.
A complaint.
A simple phrase.

I Love You Too Daddy.

And his heart would break.
The tears would come.
He’d say I’m sorry.
She’d say, for what?
Everything honey, you deserve a better world than my magic can bring.
But it’s all alright now Daddy. Santa came last night and made it perfect.

She flushed the commode.
He stared at the mutated butterfly and promised the empty promise of never again. Next time-sober. Next time his magic would be enough.

He closed his eyes.
Neighbor kids squealed with joy as the smoke of ghosts floated before him and the wife said,
This silence is killing me.
She moved away as the cool morning sky turned blue and he heard the child move around.

Take a sip of drink. It’s going to be alright in about ten minutes. Maybe less.
The child comes down the trailer hall. He looks at the bike and hopes she sees, but doesn’t notice.
Her footie pajamas break the hall shadows. She looks at the tree with its leaning, sparse look. She walks to the bike and notices immediately. Her small, dirty fingers run along the inverted butterfly. She lingers as the Father finishes his coffee.
Merry Christmas sweetie. You like what Santa brought?
The child lifted her Santa doll and leaning close to it she moved her mouth in silence.
He felt a tear and a shake and the lump he’d heard about as she put the Santa doll to her ear.
The three stood there as the Santa doll answered.
She rubbed the butterfly again.
The Father saw a tear on her cheek and she wiped it with the Santa doll.
She pointed at her chest and then pointed to the upside-down butterfly.
Merry Christmas sweetie.
She pointed again to her chest and then the butterfly. She repeated the motion as the Father said,
Oh, ok. You and then the bike. The butterfly? You like the butterfly? I’m glad. You know Santa was busy and it was dark. No? What? You and the bike? You…

She took his hand and rubbed it on her head.
Then she rubbed his hand along the crooked sticker.
He thought he understood. But my magic, it’s no good. I don’t…
He said, you feel like the butterfly?
She grabbed his neck and held tight. He wrapped his shaking hands around his daughter, the silent angel of his cluttered mind and he held on until her crying finally stopped.
She kissed his moist cheeks and then kissed her raggedy Santa doll.
He cried and laughed as her imagined voice reminded him.

Her magic was enough for them both.