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             The Star of Bethlehem sits watch atop our Christmas tree like a holy beacon, casting a yellow light across the living room. No more than a few feet away, my mother’s snores slip out beneath her bedroom door, and echo ever so slightly in the base of our fireplace. About an hour ago, I heard her tip-toe upstairs to my room to kiss my sister’s sleeping forehead, and soon felt the peck of her warm lips on the stubble of my own cheek. She still smelled a bit like the twelve hours of bedpans and soiled linens she had cleaned that day, but the familiar scent of her shampooed hair calmed me.

                 A few minutes later, I heard her rustle through the hallway closet to uncover a small bag of gifts. She carried them downstairs to lie beneath the tree, and after a few bites of the cookies my sister left for Santa, went to bed as the clock struck midnight. I now listen to it chime one as I sit at the top of the staircase, looking at the quaint postcard that is our living room, holding my father’s 12-gauge shotgun.

                 Soon, my father will slip in after working second shift at Callahan Metal and a “third shift” at McKinney’s tavern. He will stumble in through our front door with shaky limbs and breathe stinking of cheap bourbon, like some intoxicated yeti. He will accidently trip over our coffee table, kick our terrier Pickles, or knock over our floor lamp as he makes his way to his bedroom. If he’s as bad as he was last year on my sixteenth birthday, it’ll be all three.

                If he’s as bad as he was on my sixteenth birthday, he’ll be too numb to hear the pull of the trigger and the explosive blast from the barrel. He won’t feel his entire body flying backwards across the room, and the pieces of his skull being blown apart like the down of a goddamn thistle.  Maybe before the synaptic collapse, he’ll catch a glimpse of my name on one of those carefully hung stockings. I hope to God it jolts his mind back ten years to this very night. And I hope the face of my seven year-old self will flood his thoughts like scorching eggnog and haunt him into death like the ghost of fucking Marley. The face of a boy watching his drunken ass of a father knock the candles off the mantle and set all the gifts ablaze. The outline of his broad face will shout to the house “Jimmy, what the fuck you doin’?! I told you not to play near those candles!”, and the words of his lying tongue will be etched into his mind for all eternity, the way they are in mine.

                 The doorknob turns, and the oaf staggers in. I can smell him from my perch on the top step, but his clouded perception completely masks my presence. Right on cue, he bumps into the coffee table and lukewarm milk streams down onto the floor.  He manages a “Shit”, but slogs on through, leaving foamy white footprints on our carpet. Stopping in front of the tree, I hear him unzip his work pants and, probably thinking he’s in our bathroom, begin to piss on some gifts beneath the tree. I rise slowly and position my arm on the banister using its mahogany rail as a brace to steady my aim.

                “Always watch that recoil”, he used to say when he’d drag me out hunting with him. The he’d shoot an example shot a few feet to my side or over my head and ask if I understood, laughing if I flinched from the sound. I didn’t want to hunt. I liked drawing and music. But since my mom insisted my father “at least pretend he had a son” and according to him, art was “for fags and pussies”, hunting always won as our bonding activity. I hated waking up ungodly early to kill something smaller and weaker than myself, but tonight I really didn’t mind it.

                The gun, smooth and strong as a reindeer’s antler, nestles between my elbow and forefingers. I peer over the top of the barrel until the back of that vile Santa Claus’ head is in full view. With the pull of the trigger, my entire body is jerked back, but I am still able to keep myself standing. The shot whizzes through his head, leaving little wounds like Christmas lights peppered across his skull. He falls forward with the momentum of the shot and collapses into the bottom half of the tree. Lying draped over a large present, his body twitches as if pulsed by some quick electric shocks, and finally falls limp. The wounds, gushing a red rich as the velvet on St. Nick’s coat, blends with the sour milk already on the floor like some demonic lava lamp. An ornament I painted for a grade school art project falls from the tree into the sickening mixture with a soft jingle bell pitter-patter. I hear clatter and banging from my mother’s room as she springs out the door to see the vile holiday massacre in her living room. Behind me, a sleepy voice calls “Jimmy” and I turn around to see my sister in a too large nightgown, worn teddy bear dragged behind her. She rubs her eyes, and lifting the bear to her chest, asks, “Is Santa here?” “He just came,” I say. “Go look what he left you.”