Short Fiction: The Real One

The Real One
By: Erin Snyder

This is the North Pole.  Or it might as well be.  It's a tundra, desolate, empty.  Cold.  The heat's barely on during the month before Christmas.  A week ago, there were so many shoppers it was eighty-five.  Day after Thanksgiving, ninety.  But now, tonight, Christmas Eve, it's freezing.  Even under this coat and white polyester beard, it's freezing.

My legs are stiff from sitting all day, from kids jumping up and down on my lap or kicking me again and again while they swung their feet.  It hurts to walk, but at the same time it feels good to be on my feet, to be moving.

I give them everything I've got.  All that energy, all that time.  For what?  Ten bucks an hour?  A month's worth of work.

I reach the food court and stumble over to Starbucks.  The clerk smiles out of one side of his mouth and calls me Nick.  I force a grin and ask for a coffee, taking out my wallet.  He waves his hand and tells me to put my money away.  "Merry Christmas," he says, handing over the cup.  "On the house."  Like most of us, he's probably seasonal, and Christmas is just the end of a job.  What's he care if Starbucks is out a few bucks?

I head down a hallway through a door labeled, "Employees only" and find my locker.  I set my coffee on top and open it, pulling out my real shoes and a blue coat I've owned for ten years.

For the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas I don the red and white armor and march into battle.  I sit, while kids plead and shout and wet themselves, and for what?  Just so they'll say aloud that they want a goddamn doll or GI Joe while their parents are in earshot. 

That's our part in the whole system, our part in Christmas.  There are thousands of us, all across the country, grown men in gaudy red and white costumes you wouldn't wear to a Halloween party, shirts stuffed with cotton (though every year I seem to need less and less padding).  But, in the end, that's what makes it work.  I put up with this, and Tommy gets his damned car and Sally gets her bear.  Their parents get to feel like they passed on a bit of Christmas magic, and the mall gets its cut of the profits.

For that, we suffer through the season, picking up colds and developing back problems.  And we'll just be back next year.

Because I am Santa.  The real one.

We all are.

Who else would put up with this shit to make sure everyone gets what they want for Christmas?