I cringed slightly. My obvious naiveté was very much beginning to crowd all other thoughts in my mind, but I still knew that doing Mrs. Claus any harm was not among my intentions. I had been listening, and as I'd been listening I'd been absorbing more and more of the validity in her assessment of my state of mind. I decided consciously that I should find my own control in the situation, and in my mind that meant trying to extract myself from this enamored state I had somehow fallen into. I silently (and quietly at that) told myself that I was going out, all the way out, all the way back, out of love with Mrs. Claus. By the time she finally said something frightening enough to make me cringe, I had started to regard her differently. It wasn't much -- she just looked older -- but she still seemed like the same person. I had a momentary thought that I was glad for the preview; who knows what she would look like if she suddenly decided to throw the illusion aside and come toward me with something else.
I sighed. She smiled at me mischievously and said, "Well, my dear, there is a good reason you saw truth in that. It's the same reason you wanted to come to me." She glanced at her hand, still writing with the tines of the fork.
I knew immediately what I'd been missing before. It was the handwriting!! 'That was her handwriting', some phantom voice uttered, only to me.
Gasping, I said, "You! You wer...", and then I tried to compose myself. I still felt so comfortable around her that I almost blurted out things I would only say to a close friend in a familiar and casual setting, but I'm glad to have recovered my formality.
"Mrs. Claus, were you the author of that email?"
Smirking, she said, "Well, I had to get you there somehow."
"And also...the scribe of that rumor about Jippy the dog?"
She just looked at me. The answer was yes.
At this point Paolo was laughing. I looked at him, amused, but as a friend looks to a friend in situations like this, I also hoped for an explanation.
"I'm sorry for laughing," he said, "but that email was very funny." Seeing my look, he added, "I would have told you to talk to Santa!!"
Everyone was looking at me. My eyes had opened to a ridiculous width, and I felt very silly. I looked at Santa.
He smiled. "Here we go again, right?"
I lowered my eyes, and when I lifted them up again I was nearly laughing wondering how in the world this could help.
"What was your childhood ambition? Your silliest one!"
I thought for a moment. I was aware that whenever these questions had come from Santa, I had been able to answer them with ease, and this instance was no exception. I wondered if perhaps the influence of Mrs. Claus was at play. Then I replied, "When I was young I used to envision stepping on the Earth and never taking the same step twice. Never putting my foot, or my shoe, in any exact print I'd made before."
Santa nodded. "What did that ambition grow out of?"
Somehow I understood him perfectly, as there had been a prior idea, a failing one, that I had cast aside in favor the plan I'd just described. Laughing, I said, "An even sillier one!! It was so silly. It was that I would try to cover every bit of ground with my footprints. But then I realized that such a thing would be exhausting and would feel repetitive even if it wasn't. I also realized that I wouldn't get very far."
Santa observed me for a moment, and then said, "You know, the reason we gave you the job in Inappropriate Letters was that you checked almost every available box under "Religious Influences" on the application, and even wrote in a few -- I myself thought that indicated an open-minded soul -- and your essay about your favorite childhood game was fascinating. You wrote that your fantasy world existed inside a tiny closet, and that in it you were very poor and had very little -- only the things you needed for survival, and that in that game you gave great reverence to each of those things. It was both funny and a little sad that you also wrote that you would try to get your friends to play this game with you and that almost no one was really interested, but overall that story told me something. It is very clear that you have always been after the truth. That's why you got the job."