"Christmasville," by Scott Hermanson

Scott Hermanson

Scott Hermanson

Scott Hermanson is an Instructor in the Department of English at Arizona State University. Before coming to ASU, he taught at Dana College in Nebraska and the University of Illinois at Chicago. His previous publications have all been in literary and cultural criticism, exploring the intersection of nature and contemporary fiction in works of Richard Powers, Mike Davis and Walt Disney World. His most recent work, an interview with the novelists Richard Powers and Tom LeClair, appeared in Electronic Book Review.


Rachel knelt down on the porch, and with the utility knife, sliced open the cardboard box labeled "spare lights-box 12." She reached in and pulled out a twisted green mass of wires and lights. Three, possibly four strands were knotted together having been unceremoniously stuffed in the box by her father. She made a half-hearted attempt to unravel the mess, and even that little bit of work had caused her to break a sweat. She sighed and slumped onto the porch swing next to the giant stuffed Santa. She reached over Santa's lap for the large glass of lemonade and took three deep gulps. The temperature was already over 80, even this early in the morning.

"Too damn hot for a velvet suit," she said. "I don't envy you." They swayed back and forth for a few minutes. Above them, the plastic holly boughs and mistletoe seemed in danger of melting from the heat. "It's a tough gig you got," she said. "I imagine you could go for a swim, or at least a pair of shorts."

Across the street, Wayne Wilcox was up dangerously high on a stepladder adjusting a fallen plastic penguin, garroted by a strand of wire. Of the six he had marching across the eaves of his house, three were dangling over the edge, victims of last night's thunderstorm. Next door to him, she could see that the storm had also knocked down a few of the lighted snowflakes that the Temples kept in their tree. Up and down the block it seemed everyone was fixing damage to features. For Rachel's part, she had at least two strands out and a few elves that were tipped over; some destruction, but nothing major. Three houses down, she could hear Frank and Frances Horowitz arguing over where to put a new lighted reindeer.

"I say we put them on the roof," Frances said, "We got nothin' on the roof but that old Santa."

"That Santa's fine all by himself up there," Frank replied, "and I ain't climbing no ladders that I don't have to. We'll put them out in the yard by the nativity."

"You can't do that, you idiot. There weren't any reindeer in Bethlehem. You got to be consistent. Put them up on the roof with the Santa. That's their, what do you call it… their natural habitat."

"Frannie, I ain't climbing no ladder. They'll be fine down here with the lambs and the camel. It'll be a zoo-like thing."

They were having much the same argument five years ago when she left. It was amazing how much the neighborhood looked the same. She would've thought that with the constant use and constant breakdown, that the neighborhood would be in a perpetual revolution of change. But even with all the new product s that kept coming out, most houses looked the way she remembered it. Part of the reason was that these people bought in bulk. In their basements and garages and attics were stashed four or five replacement parts for each feature. As a kid, she'd been down into basements of the Wilcoxes and the Horwitzes and others. The rooms all looked like hardware stores just before the holidays. Shelves were stacked with packages of lights and bulbs, extension cords hanging from nails, plastic wreaths, stockings. In one corner would be the large items; a life-size Santa or two, benchwarmers ready for action. But this reverence for tradition masked a lack of imagination. They couldn't, or didn't want to imagine a new picture. Her dad was no exception. He would refuse to put in new features regardless of how worn the old ones looked. As a kid, Rachel liked to look through the catalogs and point out the new innovations to him.

"What about this tree made of white lights?" she'd ask. "When you plug it in, it turns and it has a lighted star on top that turns the other way."

"Where we going to put that?" he'd say. When she would list off four of five of the tired, duct-taped and staple-gunned features that could be retired, he'd always find a reason for keeping them.

"You can't get rid of the choir boys. They're tradition, Rachel"; or "Lose the snowman! Rachel, people love that snowman. Frosty gets his picture in the Republic nearly every year" or "Oh we can't get rid of the silver bells, honey. We're the only house that has them. We're the 'silver bell house.' People would complain."

Then out would come the roll of tape, the wire cutters or the soldering iron, and by Saturday night, everything would be humming smoothly. In the dark the tape barely showed. Many of the families were like this, somehow keeping the same features intact and lit for years. There would be changes, of course. People would buy a house, excited about living in Christmasville, and then invest thousands of dollars in upgrading the decorations. But in this neighborhood, nobody could afford to do that on a regular basis. So even the redesigned homes quickly acquired a patina of old age, seeming to have been that way for much longer than they were. Rachel finished the last of her lemonade and struggled out of the porch swing. "C'mon Santa. These lights ain't gonna hang themselves." There would be at least a dozen or so cars tonight, and she didn't want to disappoint them. Saturdays were always busy, even in July.

Two hours later, Rachel, drenched in sweat, again sat swinging next to the stuffed Santa. The new strands of lights were up, and the outside of her house was back in order. The rest of the street was deserted. The penguins had been resurrected. The Horowitzes had, for the moment, reached détente. The sun beat down on the pavement, singed the grass, and drove everyone inside for the rest of the day. Rachel, about to head inside herself, noticed a solitary man walking down the sidewalk.

He was tall, thin, wearing a white t-shirt and, despite the heat, black jeans. He looked hazy through the heat rippling off of the sidewalk. The locusts had started their buzzing, the slow pulse of their song matching his pace.

When he reached her walk he turned up toward the porch. Rachel was unsettled by what she saw. It was Derek a boy she had known since she was six. He had grown up in Christmasville, but they were never friends. The last time she had seen him was shortly before his trial. He had killed a woman, pushed her out into the path of a truck. It was a robbery gone wrong, she remembered, and for the few months before she'd left for college, it was all anyone talked about. Now he was walking up to her porch.

"Rachel. Hi," he said and smiled.

"Derek?" she said, certain it was him but still not able to believe it.

"Yep." He continued smiling. "I see you've taken over the Woodyard fantasyland." He stayed at the foot of the stairs, making a show of looking over the decorations.

Rachel fought down an urge to panic and run back into the house. It wasn't as if Derek was threatening in any way. Like a lot of people she had bumped into since returning, there was almost no discernible change. The move across five years was seamless. It was hard to think of him as having killed someone. But then again, that thought always accompanied whatever else she thought of Derek.

"Well, when Dad died, I came back." I'm talking to a murderer, she thought. I'm talking to an ex-con. "But you? I didn't know..." Rachel was going to say she didn't know he was out, but stopped. Was it rude to ask a man how he came to be out of prison? Would that set him off? It was like she was staring at a snarling dog. Don't show fear, don't make any sudden movements.

Derek smiled at the hanging question. "Yeah, I'm out. I've been out for about a year now."

Derek had always been a bad kid, she recalled. Well, bad was probably too strong a word. He never really hurt anyone. He was a bully as a young kid, but seemed to outgrow that. His delinquency shifted into a more benign rejection of rules. He never did well in school and was frequently in trouble. In the early grades he was rebuked for talking in class and having a sloppy desk. As he got older, graffiti and petty vandalism were his vices. Then smoking in bathrooms. By the time they all jumped over to the high school, Derek was also having the occasional brush with police: shoplifting, underage drinking, and a DUI. None of this, however, foreshadowed that he would kill someone. People figured he was high-spirited, immature, and that when he left school and got a job, he'd settle down. When he was arrested for that murder, the whole neighborhood was shocked.

Now here he was on her front porch, talking as if he were just another neighbor welcoming her back to the block. "I moved back, same as you. Although, not to the old man's place. I've got an apartment at the Westport."

"That's nice," she said and it sounded ridiculous. Chitchat seemed woefully out of place in talking with a murderer.

"Yeah, well, it's okay. Not like I had a lot of options." He stopped talking, and they stood there in the heat. He seemed to have run out of things to say. She wondered why he was here, why bother coming over to say hello or whatever. He just stood there, now, looking up and down the block. She couldn't stand the silence for long.

"So what have you been up to since…since you moved back?" she asked.

"Oh, this and that. It's tough to get a job when, you know, you get out. Mostly it's been some construction. A guy I knew from before let me in on some work." He still stood at the foot of the porch steps, far enough away that talking required a conscious effort to raise their voices. He shifted his weight from leg to leg and perpetually looked up and down the block. She thought that she should probably invite him up onto the porch, but just then he started backing away.

"Well, Rachel, just wanted to say welcome back, I guess. I'll see you around," he said, and he turned and walked away.

Rachel stood in the shade of the porch watching him leave. After he had turned the corner, she looked down at the Santa.

"What the hell do I do with that?" she said.

Rachel didn't see him again for a couple of weeks, and she began to think about the visit less and less. It helped that there was so much to do around the house. The amount of work astounded her. She tweaked and tinkered features for nearly two hours each night over the last couple of weeks and in the process gaining newfound respect for her father. She constantly was replacing burned-out bulbs, re-hanging dropped snowflakes, and re-anchoring fallen angels.

She had been devastated by her father's death, coming so soon after her mother's. When her mother had died during Rachel's first year in college, she had grown very close to her father. Prior to this, she wasn't terribly close to her family, far more interested in leaving town for school than maintaining close ties. But after her mother's death, her father became the center of the world. They suddenly seemed alone in the world. Three people make a family; two people are a desperate struggle against overwhelming odds. She even considered moving back home and taking classes at the community college, but he insisted she stay at the university and finish her degree. Then he convinced her to remain in Chicago and take the job that she would quit right after he died.

Now she found herself attending to the old house. In the lonely emptiness after the upheaval of burying her father and then moving back home, Rachel thought that she would completely update the yard as a tribute to what her father meant to her. The little fantasy world looked worn, tired. A few of the houses had started bringing in more technology: projections, giant inflatables, fiber optics, even computer-controlled displays. The Chiltons had actually gone to a theme the past few years, completely overhauling their features each November. This year's theme was Punk Rock Christmas, with a mohawked Santa, elves in leather, and a life-sized cardboard cutout of the Ramones standing in for the wise men. Rachel thought it brilliant, but she shuddered at the thought of the expense.

Her grand designs melted away in the summer heat. And while she was disappointed that time and hard economic facts would keep her from doing much more than holding her own, she discovered that she liked the old displays and the routine of their upkeep. She became an acolyte of the features. She rose early in the day to minister to their needs, silently walking through the morning dew, making the rounds of crèche, elves, candy cane forest and the ginger-bread house. She was like a monk at matins, honoring the new day with simple work in the service of others. And in remembrance. Having lost her mother and then her father in a relatively short span, she found the upkeep of the house as a kind of prayer. Like the Catholic rituals from her school days at St. Albert's, she did these things in remembrance of them.

It was during one of these morning rounds when Derek showed up again. She was duct-taping the plastic leg of one of the elves. She had severed it with her Civic in a rush to get to work yesterday. Deep in concentration nursing the elf back, she hadn't seen or heard him walk up.

"Morning." He had said it softly, but it still scared her.

"Jesus," she said, "don't you own a car?"

"Actually, no," he said. "You wouldn't believe how much insurance costs for an ex-con. Plus, they won't honor my good-student discount."

Rachel smiled at the joke. "No, I don't imagine so," she said and looked up at him. He was dressed the same way, jeans and a t-shirt despite the heat. She once again thought how difficult it was to think of him as a killer.

He looked down at her work. "Elf-surgery, I see."

"Yep. Almost makes up for giving up on med-school," she said.

"Keeping this up takes a lot of time, I guess," he said and picked up one of the other elves. "I remember dad always bitching about it. And it wasn't like we had a lot of features. Hell, we hardly had anything and still, he was out there all Saturday morning trying to fix things. Of course now, with them new people in there, the house looks much better. They got all kinds of features. They got cars stopping all the time. Even in daylight. They must hire some people or something to keep all that going. You ever think of hiring anyone cause this shit must take a lot of time?" He talked a good deal more than their first meeting. The rambling monologue made her more nervous than the awkward silences of two weeks ago.

"No, no help. I couldn't afford it," she said. "Besides, it's not that bad. It keeps me busy." She finished with the leg and stood up, anxious to leave Derek. "There. Well, it was nice seeing you again Derek, but work calls. I've got to go."

"Sure, right. Me too. I'm supposed to be laying some brick or something for this guy's driveway. But listen, if you got a second, I just wanted to show you something." He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a photograph. "I've got this picture you might want." He handed it to her.

She looked at the picture. It was a shot of her father and some woman she didn't recognize. They were on a covered porch, sitting next to each other on a wicker couch. He had his arm around her and they were both holding a glass of wine.

"It's my father. How come you have a picture of my father?" she asked.

"You know who that is next to him?"

She looked at the picture again. She was a plain woman, wearing khaki pants and a pink blouse. Short hair. Smiling into the camera. "No. Should I?"

"That's the woman I killed," he said quietly.

Suddenly, she was cold in the July heat. "Who is she?" she asked Derek.

"Her name was Whitney McGuire," he said, still speaking softly.

"I mean, why is my father with her?" Rachel was having trouble making sense of the picture. The three pieces, Derek, her father and this woman just did not fit together.

"You sure you don't know her?" he asked.

She looked again at the picture. The woman was about 40 or so, she guessed. Blonde hair, dressed nicely, but entirely unremarkable. Her father's arm held her close. The picture must have been taken a while ago. Her dad is slimmer, and he has a goatee. He stopped growing that after her mother had died.

"No, I don't think I've ever seen her before." She looked up at Derek. He was studying her, the first time he had looked directly at her. After a few seconds, he looked over her shoulder at the features in the yard behind her.

Sure is a lot of shit to take care of," he said. "You ought to hire somebody to do it. Then you could have a life again." He looked back at her. "Well, you keep that and I'll let you get on to work. If I find anything else, I'll bring it over," and he walked away.

Rachel watched him walk up the street. What did he mean, "If I find anything else?" She looked down at the photograph. The pale blue golf shirt her father was wearing she remembered, but almost nothing else in the picture spoke of a connection to her. The woman was a mystery, but even her father looked like a stranger. He grinned slyly as he toasted the camera with his glass of wine. While not morose or severe, her father was a serious man, not given to moments of bonhomie. It was like looking at a stranger. She couldn't recall her dad saying much of anything about Derek and the crime. Certainly if he had known the woman he would have said something, but she didn't remember any conversations on the subject. There must have been a funeral, her name in the paper, but he hadn't mentioned the incident at all. And yet, he clearly knew the woman, perhaps even friends with her. Rachel found herself obsessing over the photo and Derek's visit. She began searching in the library, looking up news accounts of the incident. She read the sensational coverage of Whitney McGuire's murder. Initially, newspapers reported that she had been hit by a car, but in a matter of days it was discovered that she had been pushed into traffic. Witnesses described seeing a young man chase her and then throw her into the path of an oncoming truck. Police reported that her home had been broken into and ransacked, but jewelry, electronics, even her purse, were still in the house. Then Derek was arrested. He plead guilty to burglary and involuntary manslaughter.

Rachel could find little about McGuire's life. She was single, survived only by an aunt who lived in Florida. She worked for an insurance company as a claims adjuster. She was 38 when she died. She had willed her estate to the Humane Society. That was it.

Three days later, Saturday night, Derek showed up again. It was after dark, and all the houses were lit up. A light stream of cars were cruising the neighborhood, one or two every ten minutes or so. Rachel was on the porch sitting next to Santa and drinking a beer when he walked up. Again, he stopped at the bottom of the porch stairs. He was dressed like before, a plain blue t-shirt this time, and he was carrying a shoebox.

"Are these visits going to be regular thing with you?" she said.

"They bother you?" he said.

"Do they bother me? You mean am I troubled by an ex-con showing me pictures of my father and a murder victim? No, it happens so many times I'm used to it." She stared down at him. He was turned away from the porch, looking at the elves and the manger.

"Why do you think these people come out here in the middle of summer?" he asked. "I mean, I can understand November and December, but who the hell cares about Christmas in July." He looked up at her. "You got another one of those by any chance?" he said, pointing at her beer.

These are my choices, Rachel thought. Another Saturday night staring at cars staring at my house, or beers with a killer while staring at cars staring at my house. Without saying anything, she went into the house for two more bottles. When she came out, Derek was sitting on the stairs looking at the cars. She sat next to him, handed him one of the bottles and took a long drink from the other.

"Thanks," he said. He took a small, almost demure sip and placed it in between his feet.

"You see that old Pontiac coming down the street?"


"That's Amos. He comes through here every week."

She looked at the car ass it passed the house. Inside was an old man wearing a hat. The car was huge, an ugly green color, and rusting around the fenders. Derek waved to the man, but he just looked out the window and slowly crept up the street.

"He's been driving through the neighborhood since I was a kid. Dad said he used to come by with a wife and little kids, but then one week he was by himself. Divorce, I think. I was surprised to see him still coming by after I got out. I figured he'd be tired of this by now"

"I guess he likes Christmas," Rachel said.

"Maybe, but what the hell is it to keep driving around like that week after week. What's he looking for out here? What's he going to see that he hasn't seen a hundred, shit a thousand times before?'

Rachel thought of her mornings out on the lawn, fixing the features. "Maybe it's a ritual for him. It's what he does."

"It's a fucking waste of time and gas, is what it is," he said. He swore again, but not violently. They sat in silence for a little while, watching the cars go by. Most had families in them, mini-vans with kids in back. There were a few couples; no other singles besides Amos. They stuck their heads out of windows and pointed to particular features. A few waved to Rachel and Derek as they went by. She watched the lights reflected in the hoods and roofs of the cars. The fantasyland scenes along the street distorted as they passed over the car's fenders and hoods. Rachel considered the man next to her. "What's with the shoebox?"

Derek looked over at the box next to him and then took another drink of beer. "You know, I didn't mean to kill that woman," he said. "I never pushed her. I mean, I never pushed her into that truck. She panicked and ran out there on her own."

"Why did you say you were guilty, then?"

"Best option at the time. They had me. They threatened to prosecute me as an adult. Then it could be a murder charge and some serious time."

"So what were you doing with her?" she asked. "Why did she panic?"

Derek didn't answer. Instead he stood up and walked back down the steps.

"So you're taking off again?" she said. "You're just going to drop by, say something to spook me and leave? How many times is this going to happen?"

"I don't…" Derek started to talk and then stop. "I'm not trying to spook you or scare you." He looked out at the lights in the yard. "I'm trying to figure some things out."

"Like what?" she asked.

"Like what I'm supposed to fucking do with my life." He stood at the bottom of the steps and looked up at her. "I killed that woman. Even if I didn't push her like they said, she'd still be alive if I hadn't gone over there that night. I've spent a lot of time thinking about that. About how to fix that."

"Doesn't seem like something that is fixable," she said.

"Well, that may be true. But then there's something like penance, right. An act of contrition, maybe that's what I'm doing."

"I don't see what that's got to do with me. If you want to make amends, do something for her family or something."

"She didn't have a family, as far as I know. There's nobody to say sorry to. I said sorry to court officers, judges, lawyers, but that doesn't mean much, does it. Just a thing you do to try and get out as soon as you can." He climbed back up the stairs and sat down. "And now I'm out, but I'm still in, you know. Still guilty."

"A priest, then. Go to confession," she said. Derek laughed.

"I'd sooner go to Santa up there," he said. "What's a priest going to do, tell me to real off a few hundred Hail Marys and then I'm good? No, you're all I got."

"What do you mean, me? You can't be sorry to me. You didn't do anything to me."

Derek finished off his beer. "Why did you come back here? You were gone, right? Chicago or someplace? Why didn't you just sell the house when your dad died and then use the money for something? I mean, now you have all this Christmas crap to deal with, a shitty little house that sits in the middle of a freak show. Why get dragged back to it?"

Rachel looked out at all the features in the yard. The thousands of little colored lights in the trees, the elves by the driveway, the manger out near the road. And then all the little houses down the street, each brightly glowing in lights. She could hear the carols from the Horowitz's house. The whole thing seemed remarkably silly in the July heat. It seemed silly year-round, she supposed.

"I came back because it was a place to go. It was a place I knew and understood. I knew things would be simple and easy here. Just keep the lights on." Ritual, she thought. She was a monk.

"Simple and easy," Derek repeated and nodded. He climbed back up the stairs. "I can see that. We'd all like that, wouldn't we?" He reached over and picked up the shoebox. "I'm not here to make things complicated for you. I can leave. I'm not trying to make anybody's life worse off than it is." He held the box on his lap. "I can leave this with you, or I can take it with me now. But this box ain't simple or easy, for either of us. But you don't have to deal with it, if you don't want. It can be mine alone."

"What's in it?"

"Yeah, well, that's the thing, ain't it?" He held up the box to her.

"It's got something to do with that picture you showed me, doesn't it?"

Derek nodded. Rachel considered sending him away, but only briefly. She took the box and opened it. Inside were twenty or thirty envelopes, letters opened, read and carefully replaced. On some, she recognized her dad's handwriting. These were envelopes stamped and addressed to Whitney McGuire. On the others, her dad's name, Nick. No address, no stamp, just a plane white envelope with his name on it.

"These are letters they sent each other." She said it more as a statement than a question.


"You've read them?"

"Yep." She opened one from the top, one that her father had written.

Perhaps in another time, love, another day, things would be simpler. What we have—what we had—was amazing, but there are doors that I cannot open. And sadly, I must close this one. I will dream of you, always. And always regret that while you were free, I was caged. I can't keep you, nor can I have you. You must go, and I must stay.

For the next hour, while Derek wandered into her house for more beer, Rachel sat reading the letters sent between her father and Whitney McGuire. The letters were in no order and had no dates, and some were obviously missing, but she pieced together an affair that lasted over the course of three or four months. They had met when her father did some work with Whitney's insurance company. There were apparently a couple of other coincidental meetings, then planned encounters. Something ignited and they began seeing each other surreptitiously. Then her father decided to end the affair. There were letters about him needing to think about his daughter, needing to be fair to his wife. One letter mentioned her mother seeing a doctor; the first signs of the cancer that would kill her. Whitney apparently became possessive and then vindictive. The last few letters contain threats of blackmail from her, and then return warnings from Rachel's father. The box ran the gamut from innocuous to passionate to vicious.

When she finished, Rachel felt exhausted and empty, like she had been swimming for hours. She looked over at Derek, who had a resigned look on his face.

"Where did you get these?"

"While I was in prison, dad sold the house and moved away. Just before I got out, he had a heart attack in Phoenix. I had to sort through what was left of his stuff, bank accounts, insurance stuff. He had one of those U-Store-It places. There was a whole bunch of shit in there, boxes of papers, photo albums with me as kid and when my mom was alive, stuff like that. There was a couple of guns and weird shit like a broken fan and car door. And this shoebox, which when I found it I thought were letters he and my mom had written. But then I read a few, and saw the picture and figured out who the woman was. It took me a while to figure out who "Nick" was. There was never an address on those envelopes, never a last name in the letters. It was when I was looking through some other papers that I saw one with the familiar handwriting. It was signed Nick Woodyard."

"Some papers?" she said.

"Yeah, my dad did some work for your father, I guess. He put in a patio or something. He had people sign a standard agreement when he did these odd jobs."

Rachel remembered now. When she was a girl, shortly after they moved to the house, her dad and another guy had spent a weekend digging in the backyard and then pouring concrete. She remembered the other guy drinking beer and swearing a lot. And smelling pretty bad.

"But I still don't understand why he had the letters?"

"That's what I was doing when Whitney McGuire was killed." Derek took a deep breath. "My dad sent me over there to scare her. He told me that she was fucking around with one of his friends. I was supposed to go over there one night, force my way into the house, and make sure she understood to leave this guy Nick alone. I wasn't supposed to hurt her or anything, just scare her, threaten her. Make sure she knew that worse things could happen. Then I was supposed to get these letters back, make her give them to me."

"So you took the letters," she said.

"No, it never came to that. When I shoved my way through the front door, she bolted and ran out the back. I chased her through the backyard into a bunch of trees. I grabbed her arm as we came out the other side, and that's when she jerked free and fell out into the street." Derek looked very pale in the colored lights on the porch. It was late at night now, and quiet on the street. The other houses had turned off their displays, and Rachel's house shined very bright in the surrounding darkness. Derek continued talking after a few minutes.

"Her house was broken into the day after I was arrested. I think it must have been my dad that did it. He needed the letters. Or rather, your dad, Nick did."

Rachel looked down at the letters. All the pink and purple stationary, they looked like petals from some large flower. She set the box down next to Santa; the Santa that she had helped her father stuff and arrange on the porch swing. She remembered that autumn day, when she was just starting high school, when they decided the house needed a real Santa. She and her father had spent the morning ripping up old t-shirts and towels and stuffing them into arms and legs and the belly. She remembered her father walking Santa around the yard, dancing with him, pretending to box with him. And she remembered her dad insisting that Santa sit on the porch swing so she would always have somebody with her when she wanted to swing.

Derek was sitting on the floor; his head back against the wall, eyes closed. All around her were the trappings of a holiday that wouldn't actually arrive for five more months: plastic strands of pine boughs, Styrofoam snowmen, little Norman Rockwell villages in picturesque placement on blankets of fake snow. Her father had spent most of his spare time building this illusion, adding pieces each year, covering up the cracks and split seams of those that were showing their age. This had been her father's hobby, nights and weekends convincing people that there could be Christmas in July.

Now it was Rachel's illusion. She would be the one propping up the plywood cutouts and putting fresh coats of paint on faded and broken statues. She walked down the steps into the yard. Facing away from the house, looking out toward the street, all the spotlights shone back at her, blinding her. All she could see were shadows of small people standing perfectly still, waiting for the next car to come by.