Monday, December 25, 2006

Sorry Santa

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

It was late, two nights before Christmas. Strangely, there weren't any kids in the mall that night and Santa sat silently and contemplative, the elves having wandered off to price cell phones. There was no one else around, no one looking. A man in a uniform with the name "Ted" embroidered on the chest snuck over to Santa.

"Hey," he said.

"Merry Christmas," Santa said.

"I gotta talk to someone."

"You want something for Christmas?"

"Yeah, I guess I do."

Santa looked around for a moment, giggled, and patted his lap. "Take a seat."

Ted did.

"So, what can Santa do for you, young man?"

"I'm in love with my mother-in-law," Ted said. "She's all I think about. I know it's wrong, but I can't help myself. This thing could ruin my marriage, I could lose my kids, everything."

"Uhh . . . " Santa said.

"I want you to take it away from me. Take away the desire so I can be happy again."

"I can't --"

"I'll just wait over here until you're done."

Before Santa could say another word, a small woman plopped into his lap. She wore a hideous orange plaid overcoat, green cords, and worn out sneakers. Her long hair was graying and her face haunted.

"Make it so my baby never died," she said.

"Jesus, lady."

"Yes, Jesus," she said. You've got an in with Jesus. He can bring my baby back."

A second woman fell to her knees at Santa's feet.

"Ask him to make it so the war never happened," she begged.

More people came to him.

"Make it so my father stops hitting my mother," a woman said.

"I need my car to hold out for one more year so I can keep a job."

"My kid needs medicine bad."

"Hold on a minute!" Santa said. But his voice was drowned by more requests.

"I need a man who doesn't drink."

"I want my wife to trust me again. To love me."

"Make me stop burning for morphine."

"We can't afford to keep the baby."

"Christ, people!" Santa shouted, struggling to his feet. "I'm just a guy who works at a mall! I can't help you. You people have real problems. I'm just a mall employee." No one else spoke. Santa had tears in his eyes as did the orange plaid woman he'd dumped to the floor. He took her hand and helped her up.

"I'm sorry," he told her quietly.

"No, we're sorry, Santa," she said. "We didn't mean to lay everything on you lie that. We just needed to believe again for a few minutes." She hugged him hard. "We needed to believe there was someone who could make it all better again."

"Sorry, Santa."

"We're sorry, Santa."

They all gathered in a huge, sniffling hug and stayed that way for a few minutes until mall security told them the place was closing. They peeled away reluctantly and said their goodbyes.

"Have a nice Christmas, Santa."

"Merry Christmas, Santa."

"Merry Christmas," Santa said.

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