When Angels Sing: A Christmas Story

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by Turk Pipkin



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781565122529
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 01/28/1999
Pages: 120
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 7.25(h) x 0.56(d)

About the Author

Turk Pipkin lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and children. He is author of seven books, including the novel Fast Greens, and is a contributing editor for Texas Monthly. He has written for magazines, television, and film.

Read an Excerpt


In my childhood, year after year I hoped that St. Nick would bring me a red Schwinn bicycle. And year after year, after practically flying down the Lodge's split-log steps on Christmas morning, I'd be delighted that Santa had found us again—so far from San Antonio—but would have to work to conceal my disappointment about not getting that bike. Instead I received other gifts, most of them long since forgotten, and rode David's old bike.

It was much later that I realized why Santa never fulfilled my wish. The problem was that I'd been unwilling to actually tell anyone what I wanted him to bring me. There were a lot of Santas in our extended family, and had I only spoken up or written a letter to the North Pole, no doubt my dream would have come true. But I didn't know there were many Santas, and I felt certain that anyone with flying reindeer and a checklist of every kid in the world could surely see that in my heart of hearts I really needed that bike.

But that final Christmas in New Mexico, I was beginning to worry that Santa had finally discovered my long-held wish. For David's tales of fly-fishing had suddenly swayed my desires away from the bike, so that all I could think of was whether Santa would bring me a split-cane fly rod for the upcoming summer in the mountains.

The much-awaited day dawned clear and cold. David and I rushed our dawdling sister and assorted cousins out of their beds, and we all bounded down to the towering Christmas tree covered in lights and crystal angels, with a large, bright star at the top. Under the tree I found neither bicycle nor fly rod, either of which would havebeen immediately evident. Instead I discovered two identical boxes, one to David and one to Michael, both signed, "from St. Nick."

Racing to see who could open his box first, the two of us soon withdrew matching pairs of ice skates, the black leather uppers glistening almost as brightly as the mirrorlike blades.

"Wow!" said David, a light in his eyes, "I bet we can skate all the way to the North Pole with these!"

After breakfast, the two of us bolted out the front door for the big pond where Da Walker had taught David to cast the old man's hand-tied flies. It was a long walk down the hill and the sun was reflecting brightly from the snow, prompting us to dodge a few puddles that had melted in the road.

"Sorry you didn't get the fly rod," David told me as we clomped and splashed along.

Stopping in my tracks, I stared at him in surprise.

"How did you know?"

"I'd have bought you one myself," he continued, shrugging off my question. "But they cost too much. Besides, your birthday's coming up and I bet you can count on Da."

David was worried that the ice on the pond might be melting like the snow on the road. When we arrived, he made me wait on the shore while he tested the ice. Holding onto the end of an old rope swing that hung from a nearby silver Aspen tree, David walked out onto the ice and stomped his feet. Beneath him, the pond was still frozen hard.

After lacing up our skates, we teetered onto the ice, slowly at first, but quickly gaining confidence. Already expert roller skaters, we took to the blades as if they had miraculously grown on our feet, though I couldn't quite get the knack of stopping.

"David, did Santa really bring us these skates?" I asked as my blades cut a giant circle around my brother. "I mean, is there really a Santa Claus?"

Pushing off gently, David glided on one leg into my path. Then grabbing my jacket, he dragged me to a halt so that we were standing face to face.

"Let me tell you about Old Saint Nick," he said, looking down into my eyes. "I mean, if you really want to know."

I looked up at my brother and nodded.

"I used to think Santa flew out in his magic sleigh every year," he began, "that he slid down all the chimneys in the world. I was sure that he left every one of those great toys himself. And you know what?"

"He really did. I mean he used to. Some of it, I figure he still does. But there are so many more kids in the world now that Santa has to be real smart. That's why he's got lots of new ways to get those toys down the chimneys."

"You mean like helpers?"

"Helpers," David repeated. "Yeah, lots of them. And I don't think he's gonna stop till he has helpers in every city and every block and every house in the world. See, Santa's so smart, most of his helpers don't even know that's what they are."

I was dumbfounded by the simple beauty of the fat man's plan.

"So the question is, Did Santa give us these skates?" he concluded. "And I'd say the answer is, yeah, he did. Now let's go! I'll show you where I caught my big fish."

In a flash, David skated off toward the upper end of the pond with me in hot pursuit. For years I'd been searching for some way to best him in a race. But on skateboards or sleds, paddling, rowing, or simply afoot, he'd always finished first. Perhaps, I thought for a brief moment, ice skates might do the trick. But that thought was short-lived, for ahead of me, David's arms were swinging wide and strong, synchronizing his powerful glide, which I could never match.

Still, I had to try, and my arms and legs pumped furiously as I pushed to close the distance between us before he reached the end of the pond. I knew he was keen on showing me the spot near the springs where he'd caught his first really big trout—a German brown that had dragged him waist-deep into the cold water.

"Spring runs fifty degrees, year round," Da had told my shivering brother after he finally dragged himself and the big trout onto the shore. "When we first moved to the mountain, the spring was our refrigeration in the summer and our water in the winter."

Beneath the ice that Christmas Day, the spring was still running at fifty degrees, thawing our safety net from below as the warm sun shone down from above.

David was well out front when the ice began to crack. The sound was like frozen thunder tearing across the surface in a thousand directions.

"Go back!" David shouted to me, the panic in his voice saying even more than the words. "Michael, go back!!"

Twenty feet behind my older brother and coming fast, I slammed my right skate down as a brake. But jamming it down too hard, I tangled my feet, which twisted my legs and threw me forward into a headlong slide. Already standing precariously on the edge of doom, David held out his arms to stop me. But as I crashed into his legs, my momentum knocked him to the fractured ice. All around us the surface fell into a million pieces, and we plunged down into the icy water.

The shock of the cold slammed into my chest like the giant fist of an angry God. At first there was no up or down, only wild thrashing in search of some escape. But as my body grew more and more numb, I saw that there was light above me, darkness below. And then I saw that the light was growing more distant, and I knew that I was sinking down.

After that, nothing.

Maybe I never wanted to remember—perhaps I truly cannot—but the truth is that after all these years I still don't know how I ended up on shore and my brother did not. All I know is that, more than an hour after the two of us left the Lodge, only I returned.

Half-frozen and screaming for help, I stumbled in the front door. Apparently I had torn off my skates and run the half mile from the pond barefooted. My toes were frozen blue, my feet cut to ribbons on shards of ice, and a trail of bloody footprints traced my path back to the scene of our disaster.

It was almost dark before they found David's body. I was by then in the clinic in Taos, with arrangements being made to airlift me to San Antonio. And though I was unable to remember exactly what had happened, somehow I knew that David's death had been my fault.

To me the only wonder of Christmas is not why that tragedy marked me so, but how the rest of my family can seem so completely unscathed.

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When Angels Sing: A Christmas Story 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very emotional, made me want to cry at the end. I recommend this to everyone who enjoys the winter holidays!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think that this book was an excellent peice of work and I'm surprised by how much i cried during it. Pipkin made me feel as if I was watching everything happen and that I really understood how things happened. For a long while I hated certain charecters and somehow at the end, Pipkin made everyone seem so important and caring. At first my mother had bought this book and when she finished she layed it under the tree on christmas, after my sister read it and cried all the way through just like mother. I bawled all the way through it...the story is so alive. I dont think i can ever look at Christmas the same way again.