By James Valvis

Dear Mister Bill Gates,

Hello.  My name is Tammy Maybury and I live in Redmond, Washington, with my Mom and her boyfriend and my younger brother Brady.  I’m nine years old next month and I like soccer, tennis, chess, and llamas.  I like music too.  My favorite is the Backstreet Boys.  I don’t like Marilyn Manson, though my best friend Shelly does.  Mom won’t allow him in the house anyway.  His music, I mean.  She says music’s supposed to soothe the raging beast, not kick him until he bites.  Shelly thinks my Mom is full of it.  One time, when I got mad for saying my Mom was full of it, I asked Shelly what she was full of.  And Shelly said, “Everything but money.”

We’re poor, I guess.  Mom works as a cashier for Burger King.  She says it’s an honest living, but I know she steals.  I heard her talking about it on the telephone.  She said she never steals from the company, only the customers.  She said if she stole from the company they would find out quick and fire her.  So she steals from the customers because she thinks they’re dumb.  If they catch her, she said she apologizes and gives them their money.  That’s all I got to hear, though, because that’s when she saw me.  She smacked me real hard when she saw me and called me a busybody.  Then I got sent to my room.

My Dad’s not around anymore.  He left after me and Brady told Mom what happened.  Well, he didn’t leave right away.  He got real mad first and drunk.  Then he left.  Mom says I’m not supposed to talk about it, even to my teachers or Shelly.  She was crying and she said she’s counting on me to be a grownup.  She had me by the shoulders and she shook me and shook me until I told her I wouldn’t say anything.  So I can’t tell you why my Dad left.  Mom says it might get into the papers and follow Brady around forever.  But sometimes I wonder if it isn’t herself she’s worried about.  It following her around.

Mister Gates, are you Santa Claus?  I’ve seen you on television and you don’t look like him.  You’re too skinny and you have no beard.  But it could be a disguise.  Because every time I ask Mom for something from Santa for Christmas, she says, “What do I look like?  Bill Gates?”  So I figure you’re Santa Claus.  Because you have all that money and, besides, Mom would know.  Please don’t be mad at her.  She didn’t mean to tell me.  She has a lot on her mind.  That’s why she tells me to shut up all the time.

Shelly says there is no Santa Claus.  Shelly calls me a dumb kid.  I guess it’s because she’s almost two years older than me.  But Shelly got left back last year, so she’s not as smart as she thinks.  She tells me if I listened to Marilyn Manson I would understand a lot more what’s going on.  But Mom doesn’t want me to.  So I don’t.

But Shelly isn’t the only one.  Eric—that’s my Mom’s boyfriend—he says you’re a bad word.  He told me you got rich off kiddie porn on the internet.  I asked him what kiddie porn was and he laughed and told me to ask Brady.  I don’t like Eric.  He smells like beer and says my Dad was a maggot.  Only he’s always drunk so he says faggot.  I agree with him about my Dad, but that’s not the point.

Anyway, Mister Gates, I didn’t want to write Santa Claus when I know you’re Santa Claus.  That would be like lying.  So I’m writing you.  I’m not writing for me, anyway.  I’m writing for Brady.  Brady’s gift.

Brady can’t write yet.  The teachers say maybe he’s mentally retarded.  But he’s not.  He just doesn’t want to talk to anyone.  He doesn’t even come out of his room much anymore.  Right after school, that’s where he goes.  His room.  Mom has to go in there and pull him by his hair to get him to clean the bathroom.  Sometimes I clean the bathroom for him, but I have the kitchen and the vacuuming and taking out the garbage and plus my homework.  Worst job is the bathroom, though.  When Eric drinks a lot, especially on the weekends, he goes in there and makes a mess.  It doesn’t smell like number one or number two.  It smells like something else.  Looks like something else, too.  Sometimes I hear him doing it.  He sounds like a seal I once saw at the zoo.  The walls are very thin here.

Sometimes late at night I hear my brother too.  He sleeps in the next room.  He says bad words.  Not because he wants to, though, so it’s not a sin.  I don’t know how he knows them, but he knows even more than Shelly.  I remember one time especially.  It wasn’t the first time he said them—he’s cussed ever since Dad left—but this was the worst time.  He said the bad words over and over.  At first he was whispering, but then he got louder.  I tried to tell him to shut up through the wall, in a whisper, but he goes into a trance sometimes.  I’ve seen his trance before when we were walking to school.  He just stopped on Pine Street and I had to wait five minutes until he came back.  I asked him where he goes when he does that.  Brady said he didn’t know, but it’s far away.

In his room that night, he kept saying the bad words over and over, over and over, over and over, until he was screaming them.  I heard Eric get up and say a bad word too.  Mom took the Lord’s name in vain.  I got up and went outside and Eric told me to get the bad word back into my room.  But I didn’t.  I stood by the doorway, out of sight.  Mom went into Brady’s room and told him she’d had enough.  She was going to give him something to scream about.  Eric took off his belt and gave it to her.  It wasn’t buckled anyway—so it was easy.  Then she went into the room and gave Brady something to scream about.

After it was over, I waited until I was sure they were asleep again.  Then I sneaked into Brady’s room.  The light was off but there was a glow from the moon.  Brady was sitting up in his bed, just staring, like he’d gone someplace else again.  I sat next to him.  There were red marks on his arms and legs.  Not the face.  Mom never hits in the face.  In the dark the marks looked like little worms rising out of his skin.  I pressed my finger against one, just to be sure they weren’t worms, and Brady jumped.  He looked at me like I was somebody he didn’t know; I guess because it was dark.  Then he was back to that place he goes.  I put my arms around him and held him until he was asleep.  I like having my own room, but sometimes I wish I was sleeping with Brady so I could cry for him when he can’t.

I feel bad because I’m the one who told Brady he better tell Mom what happened.  We were sitting on the porch and he started crying.  I asked him what was wrong and he told me.  I didn’t know what to do so I said we better tell Mom.  Then she didn’t believe him.  But then my Dad left and she did.  She believed him but she didn’t want to hear about it anymore.  And that’s when she made me promise not to say anything to anyone, ever.  She made Brady promise too.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t promise.  Like now.

Anyway, that’s why I’m writing you, Mister Gates.  I’m writing you for Brady.  There are lots of things I want, like clothes and an American Girl doll, but Brady’s gift is more important.  When I asked him what he wanted, he told me a toy truck.  I asked him why and he said it was because then he could go inside the truck and drive away.  So I thought about asking you for that.  But then I realized I didn’t want him to have it.  He already goes away enough—almost all the time now—and what I think he really wants is to forget the bad words.  So that’s what I’m asking for this Christmas.  I want Brady to forget the bad words.  Not forget them like Mom wants him to forget them, but really forget them.  So he can sleep again.  So he can maybe want to stay here with me.  Because I miss him a lot when he goes away.  A lot.

So that’s what I want—even if Brady said he wanted a truck.  Maybe you could consider it a gift for both of us.  I know it’s a big one, but it’s not expensive like an American Girl doll.  Still, it would make us happy.  Brady and me.

Thank you, Mister Gates.  I’ve been a good girl this year.  I hope we get our gift.

Your friend, sincerely,

Tammy Maybury

P.S.  Don’t worry about me knowing you’re Santa Claus.  Your secret is safe with me.