A short story on the topic of “Sacrifice”. Hope it makes you laugh!
Mind being the Santa for a day?
I have family in town a day and can’t make it to work.
The costume is in my locker.
You’re the best,
Rob stared aghast at the note left for him.
Emma looked up from her desk and blinked at Rob with her dinner-plate eyes.
“Is anything wrong?” she asked, “I didn’t think you’d mind.” Rob mumbled something under his breath and stalked over to Harry’s locker. His nimble fingers slid the lock in place and the door practically burst open, smacking him in the nose. He groaned and leaned his head against the wall for a second, then, taking a deep breath he picked up the main piece of the costume.
“I hope today doesn’t turn out to be busy,” he muttered, holding the enormous Santa suit up to his lean frame.
“Oh, no!” said Emma brightly, “This looks like it’ll be the busiest day this week!”
“Great, Em. Thanks.” I’ve prepared myself to substitute for a lot of jobs, but I never thought I’d have to be a Santa.
While Harry was everything Santa Claus should be, Rob was almost the exact opposite. Harry was a rotund, jolly old fellow about 5ft 6in tall with a smile that lit up the whole room and a curly white beard framing his face. He had a great, booming laugh, loved kids and kids loved him. All other parts of the year, he worked at customer service
Rob was over 6 feet tall, lean and serious. He had a loud hoot of a laugh, was a cart wrangler and he’d never had much of a way with kids.
Rob and Harry’s friendship was the perfect example of the phrase: “Opposites attract”. They found each other hilarious and got along wonderfully, even though they disagreed about almost everything.
“How’s it fitting?” asked Emma.
“Are you blind?” Rob pulled on the front of the shirt. It came up to about his belly button and hung in loose folds around his upper half. The pants evened things out a little bit. He was able to pull the waist up to meet with the shirt, but it was still enormous and the cuffs only came down to his shins.
Emma giggled and Rob frowned at her.
“Mind if I borrow some throw pillows?” He asked, walking over to the couch against the wall.
“I don’t think so,” said Emma. Rob nodded his thanks and began stuffing pillows into the extra fabric around his midsection. Just as he was finishing squeezing the giant black belt around the pillow stuffed outfit, the door opened.
“Hey, guys!” It was Grant: Rob’s fellow cart wrangler. Grant waved to Emma, then stopped in his tracks when he saw Rob.
“What the…? Rob, is that you?”
“Shut your pie-hole and give me a hand with this beard.” Grant nodded, his mouth still open, and came around Rob’s back.
Rob handed him the strings to tie behind his head and Grant knotted it tightly.
“So what’d you do to deserve this?” He asked, handing Rob the Santa hat. Rob pushed his black hair back over his head and pulled on the red velvet hat.
“Harry’s family is in town and I’m his choice of substitute Santa.” He spread his arms wide, “How do I look?”
“Horrible. Here are your boots.” Grant tossed him Harry’s Santa boots.
“Like those’ll fit,” laughed Rob, re-lacing his work boots, still leaving about an inch between his shoes and the cuffs of his pants.
“Since when does Santa wear Carhartts?”
“Today.” Rob pulled bits of white beard out of his mouth, “Wish me luck.”
Rob slogged through the cotton fluff that filled the “Santa Throne Room” (as he and Grant jokingly called it) and sat down on the ornate wooden chair in the center.
“Opening time, everyone!” called a voice through the loudspeakers. A clerk hurried past the Santa area, but stopped in her tracks as she saw Rob in the chair. Her brow furrowed,
“Are you Harry Robinson?” she asked, “You seem a little tall.”
“No,” answered Rob, “I’m Robert McKinley: cart wrangler. Don’t ask. It’s a long story.” The clerk gave him a skeptical once-over, ending at his boots. Shaking her head she walked away.
“You’d better know what you’re doing,” she called over her shoulder.
Rob took a deep breath and looked up at a sign overhead pointing very obviously to him.
“MEET SANTA!!!!” it proclaimed, “WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR CHRISTMAS?”
Harry had better count this sacrifice of dignity as his Christmas present from me, Rob thought.
The store doors were officially opened and the sound of people talking and laughing filled the halls, echoing loudly.
“OOOOOOOOH! Mommy look! It’s Santa! Can we go see him, pleaaaaase?” a little girl’s voice squealed.
Wow. A customer already.
“Honey,” pleaded her mother, “I have shopping to do. Can we see Santa some other time?” The little girl’s chin started to quiver.
“Come on,” sighed the mother, “but only a short visit.” The little girl squealed, grabbed her mother’s hand and pulled her along until they reached the official Santa Area. With her eyes and mouth a series of little O’s, the girl walked up the path, touching gently on the foam candy canes along the sides.
Rob hoped he turned out to be worth the build up.
The girl stopped in front of him and smiled. Rob nodded and forced a smile, hoping it could be seen through the beard.
“Hi,” he greeted. The little girl rocked on her feet for a few seconds, still smiling until it occurred to Rob to pick her up. Mentally kicking himself, he put his large hands around her middle and lifted her onto his knee. She giggled and held on.
“So,” Rob began awkwardly, “What’s your name?”
“Lucy,” said the girl, “and you’re Santa!”
“Yeeees. Yes, I am.” The little girl threw herself at his throw-pillow-filled middle.
“Your belly is soft,” she commented, hugging it and smiling.
“Umm… thanks.” Lucy popped back up.
“We’re going to make you cookies for Christmas! I want to make some that are like little checkerboards and are filled with jelly, but Mom says those aren’t your favorites. What are your favorites?” Rob looked up and caught a pleading look from the mother to say something easy to make.
“Well, Lucy,” he cleared his throat, “I like a lot of cookies, but I’d have to say that chocolate chip are my favorite.” The mom looked visibly relieved and Lucy just nodded, still not losing her smile.
“Okay, do you know what I want for Christmas?”
“Uh… Don’t think so, no.”
“I want a pony.”
“…And a castle.”
“Wow.” Rob glanced up at the mother who looked very exasperated. He looked back at Lucy,
“What about shirts or fuzzy socks? Do you want any of those?” Lucy twisted her mouth off to one side,
“Maybe… I might want some stuffed animals, too. I’m still thinking.”
“Honey, we have to go. Say goodbye,” called her mother. Lucy hugged him again, not reaching past the pillows in his stomach, then hopped down and ran to her mom.
“Bye, Santa! I’ll wait for you on Christmas!” she called over her shoulder, waving. Rob waved back halfheartedly, noticing that there was another kid waiting. The boy pulled his head down low into his camo jacket like a turtle.
“Jeremy, don’t you want to see Santa?” asked his mom, hovering over him.
“No,” said the boy, pulling down further into his jacket.
“Come on. Just tell him what you want!”
“Just really quick. Then we’ll finish shopping.” She shoved him down the path. Sighing, Jeremy slowly dragged his feet until he reached Rob. He stood in front of him and stared from over the edge of his jacket.
“Hi,” said Jeremy.
“Hey,” said Rob.
“I suppose you don’t want to sit on my knee.”
“You suppose correctly.” The boy’s mother gave an impatient sigh and made a “hurry up” gesture. Rob nodded,
“So, what do you want for Christmas?”
“A pocketknife,” Jeremy mumbled.
“That’s cool,” Rob smiled, forgetting for a moment that he was Santa, “Pocketknives are pretty handy.” Jeremy suddenly looked interested,
“Do you have one?”
“I have five.” Jeremy’s eyes lit up.
“Cool!” Rob smiled.
It was quiet for a moment.
“Well, Santa,” said Jeremy, staring at Rob’s boots, “Bye. I want to see your knives sometime.”
“Bye, Jeremy.” Jeremy’s mom cleared her throat and Jeremy scuttled back down the path.
Almost immediately, another woman walked her son up the path to Rob. She beamed at him,
“My son has been very anxious to meet you,” she informed him. Then, in a whisper, “I’m going to pop in the store right here to grab a candle while he’s with you. I won’t be gone three minutes. Thanks.” The woman let go of her son’s hand and ran back down the path and over to the candle shop. Her son looked up at Rob with a skeptical look, then sighed and reached up his hands to be lifted onto Rob’s knee.
Rob had a little difficulty fulfilling this request, seeing as the boy was rather large, but in a few seconds, another child sat on his knee. The boy’s expression didn’t change.
“So,” began Rob, “What’s your name?”
“And what do you want for Christmas?”
“I already mailed you my list, remember?”
“Oh.” Rob didn’t know how to reply to that.
“I have some questions to ask you… Santa.”
“First, how do your reindeer fly?” Albert folded his arms.
“They fell in toxic waste on our first test run.” A few heads of the people passing turned to stare at Rob. Albert seemed to accept the answer and went on to his next question.
“How do you fit down the chimney?”
“I’m not as fat as I look.” Albert raised an eyebrow.
“Then how come you look fat? And where do all the cookies go?”
“I have pillows in my suit and I feed the cookies to my reindeer. They need the energy more than I do.”
“Why do you have pillows in your suit?”
“To make you more comfortable.”
By now quite a crowd had gathered at the fence edge to watch the debate, snickering or groaning at Rob’s answers.
“Okay, then how do you get around the world in one night?”
“Well, my reindeer fell in toxic waste didn’t they? They can slow down time to practically a halt as well as teleporting me to all the houses.” A few shouts of laughter came from the crowd, Albert, the man with a mission, didn’t seem to notice.
“How come the handwriting on your letters look exactly like my mom’s?’
“I can forge handwriting. If it’s your mom’s handwriting, I know you can read it, so I’m making it easier for you.”
“How can you have been here for all the Christmases then? You have to be super old.”
“Santa is a job title, not a name. My boss promoted me when he thought I was ready.”
“Why do you live in the North Pole?”
This kid is unbelievable.
“I’m wanted by the CIA. Oh, look! There’s your mom!” Rob gently pushed Albert off his lap and gave him a shove down the path. A cheer erupted from the crowd, accented by whistles and clapping.
Rob smiled and took a small bow before sitting back down. More kids were lining up on the way to the path.
Even after advocating for Santa, he still couldn’t wait to get back to just being Rob.
Wearily, Rob pushed open the “Employees Only” door and stepped inside. Grant was just taking off his orange and yellow safety vest and putting it in his locker. He heard Rob’s footsteps and looked up. His eyes went wide and he went down on his knees.
“Ooh!” Grant breathed, “It’s Santa! I want a snazzy outfit like that for Christmas! You’ll get it for me won’t you Santa?”
“Shut up.” Rob threw his hat at Grant. Grant ducked it and laughed.
“So, I heard your reindeer fell in toxic waste?” Rob groaned and sat down,
“I bet everyone’s heard about that now, huh?”
“Yep. Man, you were awesome. One of the floor sweepers got it on video, that’s how I saw.”
Rob sighed, then gave way to a small chuckle. “I’m telling you, Grant. That kid was ridiculous. I’m sure he could have gone on all day if I didn’t cut him off.”
“I could tell. Need help un-suiting?”
Within a few minutes, the awkward, lumpy-bellied Santa was gone and Robert McKinley stood in his place. Grant gave him a poke in the ribs,
“All ready to go down the chimney now, Santa?” Rob laughed,
“I’ll tell Harry to make you be Santa next time!”
“And I’ll do better than you! I’ll fake a heart attack with the first kid.” The two friends laughed helplessly,
“And then,” gasped Rob, “maintenance can put up a sign…”
“’Sorry, kids,” Grant finished, “No Christmas this year due to technical difficulties.’”
Rob and Grant collapsed against the lockers, howling with laughter. Emma poked her head around the corner at them,
“If you two need to be so loud, go outside. The store just shut the doors and you guys are off anyway.”
Following her advice, they grabbed their coats and walked outside, still snickering. A rush of cold air went over them as they stepped out. They were quiet for a bit, watching everyone get in their cars, then Grant reached up and patted Rob on the back.
“Well, later, Santa.”
“Later, future Santa.”
Grant laughed and walked off to his VW Bug. Rob stood there for a bit longer, then he spotted someone he recognized walking across the crosswalk.
He patted his pocket, then jogged over, just as they were reaching their minivan.
“Jeremy!” Rob called as the little boy opened the door. Mother and son both looked over at him, confused. He ran up next to them, stopped and ran his hand through his hair.
“I have something for you,” Rob went down on his heels, reached into his right hip pocket and pulled out a penknife. Jeremy blinked a few times and his eyes went wide. Rob pressed it into the little boy’s hand and stood up. Jeremy still looked confused, until his eyes rested on Rob’s boots. His smile lit up the whole parking lot.
Rob smiled and gave a casual salute, “Merry Christmas.”
Please tell me what you thought!