“Make sure no ordinary human can enter the North Pole!” Conor commands, “Or else the mystery will be dead and Christmas will be ruined and it will be all your fault!”
Under an open ladder, covered in tinsel, I sit on my knees with my hands on the floor between them. I stick out my tongue and pant as loud as I can.
I’ve been cast as Santa’s guard dog in a children’s game of “Santa’s Workshop”. Every year at the O’Kelly Christmas, my older brother and I join my cousins in our grandma’s basement to create our best North Pole.
My brother, Conor, plays Santa every year. Every year, he prescribes everyone else’s roles. Every year he picks Shannon, our prettiest cousin, to be his Mrs. Claus. He picks my cousin Michael to be his best elf. And once he has given out all other roles, he picks me to be his guard dog.
I obey. I become the trusty guard dog. I sit at the bottom of the stairs under my doghouse and watch the stairs. I make sure no adults come down and ruin the game. I watch.
I watch Mrs. Claus make Santa hot cocoa. I watch the best elf wrap up all the presents. I watch Santa laugh as he loads up his sleigh. I watch them play.
After hours of watching, not playing at all, I put my tongue back in my mouth, stand up like a person, and fall quiet. I walk up the stairs and leave the North Pole behind.
“Oh! Megan! Is the game over?” my mother asks when she finds me poking around under the Christmas tree.
“No.” I hide my face in presents.
“Well, we are about to sit down to dinner so will you go down and tell them to take a break?”
“Ok.” I crawl out from between two boxes and head back down to the basement, “Guys, Mom wants you to come up for dinner.”
“How do you know?” asks Conor.
“Because she told me when I was up there.” I say.
“… You left?”
I turn around and dash up the stairs just in time to hide my tears from my brother. I run into the bathroom and disappear into the wallpaper as the water in my eyes blurs the flowery pattern. I hear a scratch at the door. Jake, my big old golden retriever sits on the other side, his paws between his knees, his tongue out, panting loudly. I open the door. Jake barges into the bathroom, licks my face, rests his heavy head on my lap and whines. We cry together. Us dogs have to stick together.