Last week I dashed into that place I dread even more than finding an irregular mole on my arm. The Mall. But these days it’s hard to find a Macy’s that isn’t attached to a Big Fat Pita and a Sunglasses Hut. So off to the mall I went hoping that 9am on a Tuesday would diffuse some of my expected misery.
I dashed in, eyes firmly planted to the floor just two feet in front of me. I tuned out the Holiday music, ignored the offers to test drive a drone and quickly dispatched with my returns and purchases. The ink was barely dry on my parking stub, this was going better than I’d hoped.
Now all I had to do was clear the one hundred or so feet back to the entrance to where I’d parked. Easy. Like a marathoner closing that last half mile, my focus was solely on the finish line. I declined the perfectly complected guy’s promise of a “youthful, radiant glow” with just three applications of the hope in a bottle he proffered.
“Honey, that ship has sailed,” I said to him picking up the pace.
The drone demonstrator was working on a new victim but the girl in the elf hat and pleather Daisy Dukes had her sights set on putting me in a brand new hover board.
“Does it come with a free hip replacement,” I asked barely slowing. She disappeared like a struck whack-a-mole.
I was just a few steps from victory when the corner of one eye yanked me to a halt.
Why is it always the left one?
There sitting in a bedazzled high back chair was the mall santa. As they go he was pulling off a pretty good rendition. He sat all alone, and looked less than jolly. Sure it was an odd time of day, but I was leaning toward this being another thing that the internet has ruined.
I took pity on him and approached. “No worries, I won’t sit on your lap. You don’t want to lose your job and I don’t need another night in jail.”
“Merry Christmas,” he said keeping up the charade.
That seemed to stump him. I pulled up a chair. “Sorry, I came over because you looked like you needed cheering up and now I’ve driven you to drink with two little words.”
“No, you’re right.”
“You have alcohol?” My enthusiasm was returning.
He shook his head. “You know how little this job pays? At least the Easter Bunny has access to candy. I’ll never pay off my student loans.”
“Yeah, this year bitch slapped me to the bone too, I won’t bore you with the details.”
We sat in shared dour silence amidst the fake Christmas trees with empty wrapped packages around them. Then I saw the makings of a tiny smile breach his face and rampaging white beard.
“So you know I can’t make good on this, but how about you to tell me what you want for Christmas?”
I thought long and hard and realized that I was so battle scarred that I didn’t really want anything. I told him so and got up to leave.
“I hear you. I’m in the same leaky boat.”
He stood as well and suddenly wrapped his red velvet arms around me in a warm hug.
“Feel free to pass this along, but only to the good ones,” he whispered.
I was so stunned and at the same time embarrassed as I felt tears beginning their descent.
“You could at least have bought me a drink first,” I smiled back at him walking away. “And hell, Merry Christmas!”