The sign said, Crystal Cove State Park Campground. This was Laguna Beach, Calif., Dec. 24, 2013. I saw Dawn open one eye.
“Hey, go back to sleep or Santa won’t come!”
Dawn elbowed me one hard. “Ain’t never come before. Don’t even know where we live now. You askin’ for another stupid ol’ Christmas tree?”
Ma said we were makin’ our way one step further from the devil and one step closer to a home of our own. But I’d settle for a tree.
“Billy,” Dawn’s voice had a chill, one I hadn’t heard before. She put her finger to her mouth. “Listen.” I heard it too. Something was goin “click click click” like wood wheels on a train track. I peered out the trailer cab window. First I saw the ocean all lit up by the highway lights. Then I looked down to the sound. , A big old goat trotted by not five feet away, followed by five pair more, the last pair being three with a white baby on the back of his ma. If Dawn’s eyes were saucers, you could put a gallon jug on each.
“Let’s go.” Dawn’s pink robe disappeared out of the trailer headed ocean’s way. That meant she made my choice too. I tried to catch up but got stopped dead in my tracks. Two big ocean blue eyes with broken glasses stood starin’ through the juniper bushes straight ahead of me.
I screamed like a rabbit just caught by a coyote.
Dawn ran back at gale force, putting her body right in front of mine. “You let him be!”
But that Umbrella Lady just looked Dawn up one side and down the other and snorted. Then she shimmied and sauntered, like she had ants in her pants, and started down the path, sayin’ “Oh, just hurry up now!”
I don’t know what gave, but next thing I knew we were walking behind what looked like a skinny Christmas candy cane covered with extra green, red and silver wrappers. I peered hard to see if there were any rattlesnakes comin’ out of her wig like the kids at school said.
“Eleven fifty five p.m.” The Umbrella Lady pointed towards the tunnel. “Let’s go!”
All of a sudden, Dawn and me were on the other side of the tunnel; each of our feet just took themselves. The goats made a circle as if they were one puppet and, with the strings pulled, they all folded their legs under now, looking up..
The Umbrella Lady’s voice was as raspy and hard as her 20-some scarves looked soft. “I’ve got a date tonight so I’ve got to hurry.” Dawn’s chill was all over her body now. I decided the Umbrella Lady was one of the demons like the one Ma said took over Pa. But the goats just stared at the Umbrella Lady peaceful like. I figured right then they were hypnotized so she could eat one every night for dinner.
“And now…” I closed my eyes and just waited on fate. Dawn too. But when I peeked, I saw twigs and needles start poking from under that umbrella, making it look like a mushroom getting fatter and fatter. “Crack, crunch…” And that skinny Umbrella Lady in all her Christmas trappings started wrestling with that umbrella one-handed like she was taking a baby back from a grizzly bear, until it gave a big ol’ “pop.”
The next thing Dawn and I knew that umbrella was a tree just standing on its own, pine cones sparkling with snow, and red-orange juicy carrots all around. And there, on top, rested the North Star.
The Umbrella Lady ran around to all of the goats now, feeding them carrots, chatting away. She picked up the youngest goat and put it in Dawn’s arms. “What think?” The goats nodded solemn-like. Lord, they looked satisfied as a Baby Jesus all full of milk.
“You, boy. What do you want for Christmas?” I stood at attention now, with what felt like a big ol’ apple stuck in my throat. It was like testin’ at my new school.
Ma always says I know best. And I did. “I got all I want, ma’am. I got Dawn. And my Ma.”
“Yes, yes, I thought as much. But we haven’t much time. The gates close at one.” The Umbrella Lady reached high into the tree. “Here it is!”
The Umbrella Lady held a shiny silver key, attached to a Christmas tag. She wrapped my fingers around it. “Merry Christmas Billy. From me to all of you.” She pointed high into the canyon. “The goats know the way.”
I opened my hand. The tag read 12 Canyon Crescent. Then, that Umbrella Lady, turned the umbrella upside down, stepped in, and floated off towards the North Star, singing, “All you need is love.” Her voice was right pretty now. “And remember to feed the goats. Carrots!”
Dawn pointed to the tree as it lay on its side now, all wrapped up to carry in what looked like moon-spun fishing net. I hoisted the tree over my shoulder. It was time to head home.
Amy Bazuin-Yoder, Ph.D writes about girls, women and societal well being.