Tim Hennessy lives in Milwaukee, WI. His work has appeared in the Publishers Weekly, Tough, Midwestern Gothic, Crimespree Magazine, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is the editor of the Milwaukee Noir anthology from Akashic Books.
Krystal was reciting her Christmas list at her mother when the blue and red lights flashed. She’d told her about Fantasia the Unicorn before, but knew her mother had forgotten. The police car followed behind them. Her mom swore; the first sound she’d made since they left Nana’s house. The lights bathed the dark mini-van with bright colors like the holiday displays they passed. Her mom hadn’t listened; cars raced around them as Mom focused on staying in her lane.
Her mom pulled the van over, repeating the Bad Word, the eff-one, the one Krystal got hollered at for when she used it. The policeman came to the window and asked if Mom knew why he stopped her.
He shined a flashlight into the backseat and breathed out deep through his nose and shook his head when he saw Krystal and the baby; he pressed a button and talked into his radio. Thankfully, her sister’s car seat faced backward and she didn’t stir.
“Were you drinking tonight, ma’am?”
“We were at church, Officer.”
“At this hour?” He asked for license and registration.
“Did you see Santa at the party, Momma?”
“Shh,” She hissed.
“Not now!” Her mom’s sour breath hung heavy in the air. She glared at Krystal with tired eyes.
Santa was always watching. She wanted to make sure he listened too. Last time, she asked for a kitchen set and got clothes that stunk like Aunt Beattie’s dog-filled house. Now her cousin gave her a dirty look when she wore her favorite, the Elsa shirt.
The police officer returned and told her mom to get out of the car. Momma argued, pleaded with him and when she opened the door the noise and dome light woke the baby. Momma couldn’t soothe the baby or sway the officer.
The girls had gone to Nana’s so their parents could go to a Christmas party. Krystal watched her mom layer herself in Spanks, nursing pads, and apply her fun face, all in the name of a good time. Now her mom penguin walked on a painted line alongside the road. She stopped periodically and cussed at the officer.
Krystal loved the lavender-scented detergent Nana used.
Krystal hit the release button on her car seat and got out of the harness. The wails rang in her ears. She was a big sister even if she didn’t like it. Krystal nuzzled the baby’s cheek like she’d seen her dad do when he slept over. She sang Frosty, making up the words she forgot, not noticing the other police officer arrive until he neared the van. Scared, Krystal dove to the floor and crawled into the back. She found the basket of fresh, clean laundry and piled it on top of herself. Krystal loved the lavender-scented detergent Nana used. If she hid, maybe they’d be too busy searching and her mom would run away or be able to pass the test.
The cop opened the van door and the baby screamed. Krystal wanted to tell him to leave her sister alone but was terrified she might get shot like her uncle. That’s why her mom told her to stay away from police. The cop carried the baby back to his cruiser and didn’t return.
Rattling chains woke Krystal. The van sat secured on top of a flatbed truck. An orange glow illuminated the tow lot. Krystal peered out of frosted windows. A hulking figure secured the van then walked past an office building with a blinking red neon CLOSED sign. Was it Santa? He exited, padlocking a tall chain-linked gate. The groan of a sluggish freight train echoed off the empty warehouses and startled Krystal.
Did her mom get away? Maybe they took her sister instead; everyone else liked babies. She yelled for her mom, but no one came. Her numb toes hurt. The chill in the air made her tear up, but she wouldn’t cry, not yet.
She pictured wrapping paper. Presents wrapped in shiny paper with bows under a tree. The gigantic chocolate frosted donuts Nana bought her. She imagined tearing open present after present. Nana would make sure Santa knew about Fantasia the Unicorn and that she was a good helper.
If only he could see her now.