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Global Warming

science fiction by Shauna Roberts

The first hint of the disaster appeared as filler on the evening news, another novelty item like the earlier “Big Alligators Found In Ohio’s Little Beaver Creek” and “Ice Floe Carries Polar Bears Into San Francisco Bay.”

When the perky news anchor leaned toward the camera, I stared at her exposed cleavage and paid little attention to her words. “This fall we’ve seen seals on ice, caribou on ice, even a frozen mammoth on ice. But this is a first. A bicycle on ice.” The film clip showed a bobbing ice floe with a partially constructed bicycle on top.

“Huh.” I went to grab a Pabst and adjust the A/C unit. I grimaced as I turned the knob to a cooler setting, thinking of the electric bill. But this November was even hotter and more humid than last year’s. The doctor had warned me that such weather could trigger Joey’s asthma.

When I returned to the living room, Joey was watching a toy store commercial. “Uncle Dave, I want a bike.”

“Ask Santa,” I said, holding the icy beer can against my forehead for a moment before popping the tab.

“I want it now,” he whined.

I ran my hand through my hair in irritation. “No.”

He cried and wheezed simultaneously. I sighed, pulled his inhaler out of my pocket and handed it to him.

I knew what I wanted from Santa. A drop in beer prices. A hot babe who knew how to handle a grieving eight-year-old. A better-paying job that that provided health insurance.

A week later, Joey and I watched the Thanksgiving parades while eating turkey TV dinners. On the news afterward, the oddball story at the end was again about ice floes, this time carrying boards and a woodworking bench complete with tools. I felt queasy.

Joey screwed up his face. “The whole world’s coming apart.”

I tried to pat his head but he pulled away. “It’s just a few icebergs breaking up, that’s all,” I said.

Joey looked as unconvinced as I felt. I switched off the TV. “Only a month ’til Christmas. We should finish our lists for Santa.”

He flashed a rare smile, jumped off the couch, and ran to his room. “Don’t run in the house!” I yelled, then went to dig out the antique Selectric III typewriter from the back of the coat closet. By the time I had it set up on the kitchen table, Joey was back, clutching his letter. He watched as I got two envelopes out of a drawer and searched for the stamps.

“Go watch TV while I write my letter,” I said. “Anything but the news.”

I knew I shouldn’t snoop, but I read his letter to Santa anyway. He asked for a bicycle, a dog, friends at his new school, and shoes that didn’t come from the Salvation Army and have newspaper stuffed in the toes. He had written, then scribbled out, Mom.

When my hands stopped shaking and my eyes cleared of tears, I checked the phonebook for Santa’s address, typed the address on the front of the envelopes and sealed Joey’s letter in one.

My own letter took longer. I hated to beg, but I had Joey to think of now. Should I go for broke and ask for everything we needed? Or would the old man think I was greedy? I had sent three guys to the hospital in a drunken bar fight. Was I on Santa’s good list or his bad list?

I decided to tell Santa the truth of our circumstances and listed plainly the things we needed — a new A/C unit, boards to fix the back steps, food, school clothes for Joey, and a way to pay for Joey’s asthma medicines. I didn’t beg until the end.  “Santa, I can take care of finding Joey a dog, but please, please, could you bring him a bicycle?” My hands shook again as I tucked my letter into its envelope.

Three weeks later, Joey asked when we were going to put up the Christmas tree. We couldn’t afford one, not if we wanted to eat the last week of the month. “Let’s start our own tradition, now that we’re a family,” I said.

“Not a real family,” he grumbled. “Not a real Christmas without a tree.”

I got some grocery bags from the pantry and insisted Joey walk with me to the pines that grew near the creek. We collected pinecones until we had several sackfuls. On the way home, I kicked the gravel along the roadside, looking for a flash of something shiny. I picked up a quartz pebble, then another. Joey caught on and soon had found more pretty stones than me.

Back home, we arranged the pebbles and pinecones on the hearth, leaving the center clear for Santa. Then I zapped two frozen dinners, and Joey turned on the TV. We watched the end of an episode of  Star Trek. Then the news came on.

Ice floes led the news, and the bosomy anchorwoman’s face wore lines of strain. “Serious news tonight from the North Pole. Let’s go to a live feed from Seattle.” The camera showed a trail of ice floes floating past the coast. The camera zoomed in. I saw piles of toys, herds of shivering ponies, a red and silver sleigh, carcasses of reindeer.

“This next footage is shocking,” the newswoman’s voice said.

The camera panned downward. Tiny men dressed in green and red clustered around the cameraman’s legs. Some held tightly to each other. Others stared blank-eyed. I clicked off the TV and said, “Let’s play checkers.”

Joey doubled over, wheezing. “Santa Claus”— Joey struggled for breath—“ain’t coming to town this year, is he?”

I handed him his inhaler and wrapped my arm around him. For once, he didn’t pull away, but burrowed his head into my shoulder.

I would check every thrift store and go to every garage sale. Joey would have a bike for Christmas.

Copyright January 2011 by Shauna Roberts

Shauna Roberts lives in Riverside, California.  She writes fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction and has had several short stories published. She is a 2009 graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and has won several awards for medical writing. Her first novel, Like Mayflies in a Stream, was published in 2009 by Hadley Rille Books.

[return to the January 2011 main page]

7 Responses

  1. Haunting, well-written story.

  2. Thank you, Farrah.

  3. Semi-nice ending to a really creepy story. I love-hate good ones like this.

  4. Mark, thank you . . . I think! 😉

  5. Incredibly imaginative. What a cool idea. Well done.

  6. Wonderful story! Loved the ending!

  7. Wow…that’s just killer…

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