Today is second day in this Advent Calendar of short fiction.
Our piece today is just a little something I wrote last night. A little warning, I didn’t have much time to edit this, so it might be a little rough. I hope you can enjoy it anyway.
The line seemed to extend without end, but she had to face it. This was her last chance.
There were only ten people ahead of her, but ten could feel like twenty the way some of those kids kicked and screamed in protest, playing on the tears while their mothers made attempts to placate them with promises of sweets and toys.
Samantha took a deep breath to fortify herself for the trauma of waiting amidst the tantrum-prone toddlers and texting mothers while she waited for her turn to see Santa Claus. Well, for Max to see Santa in any case.
Her four-year old gazed mesmerized at the mall’s ‘Christmas Wonderland’, astounded by the great castle adorned with silver and gold, laid out upon a hill of snow. They could not see Santa from where they stood, but they could hear him, his jubilant and booming ‘Ho-ho-hos’ echoing to where they stood.
Three other people had already joined the line behind them. Sam glanced back at them, observing them with just the quickest of glances before looking forward once more. At least a third of these women weren’t the actual mothers of these kids. They were—what was the appropriate term now? Daycare Providers? Childminders?
The term didn’t matter, the idea was simple enough: they cared for the children of woman so they could go out and pursue their own careers.
Sam’s gaze slipped down to Max again. He was still in awe of the snowy set-up, no more aware that it was only a staged presence, than he was that Santa was some fat bloke dressed in a red suit earning dollars by the minute his butt was nestled in that palatial chair.
“Mommy! I want to see Santa!” Max exclaimed, his eyes no longer captivated by the splendor. Instead, they revealed an intention to compel her to break the law of the line, to cut ahead.
She ruffled the top of his head. “We have to wait, Max.”
This was their fourth year coming. She had always considered herself lucky that he actually enjoyed sitting on Santa’s lap, needing no extrinsic reward to convince him to take the one photo. This was the first year that he would actually ask for something; he had told her in the car that he had something very special to ask for. With tomorrow being Christmas Eve, there wasn’t much time left for last minute shopping. That wasn’t her biggest worry, though. She could only hope that it wasn’t too far out of her budget, not that there was much of that to begin with anyway.
It was hard, being a single mother, raising a little boy with only the barest help that her mother could afford her from time to time. But she didn’t regret it; she had never loved anyone as much as Max, not even his father.
Four people stood between them and their end goal now. It had gone quicker than she had thought.
“Are you going to sit on Santa’s lap, Mommy?” Max asked.
Sam had been rather hoping to avoid that ordeal herself. She preferred not giving old men any opportunity. “Don’t you want to take a picture by yourself? Like a big boy?”
Max frowned, contemplating his two options.
Only three more people; than it would be their turn.
“I want to take a picture with you,” he insisted at last.
Sam couldn’t refuse him. She took his hand in hers and squeezed it tight. “Alright, baby.”
His face lit up and Sam felt her heart warm at his gesture. How could she refuse him anything?
At last, it was their turn. They ascended the steps to Santa’s winter kingdom where two elves dressed in silver stood at attendance. Sam scrutinized them; they seemed cheerful enough, considering that they were pubescent teenagers donned in a silly garb. More power to them.
Max escaped her grasp and eagerly skipped to Santa’s side.
Santa laughed, a jolly good “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and lifted Max up on his knee.
Sam shook her head, astounded by the exuberance of her son. At least this Santa seemed like a good sort, and with Max on his lap, she’d probably be delegated to kneeling beside him.
Santa looked to her, his face covered by the thick faux beard and locks of white hair. His hazel eyes were easy enough to discern, though, beneath the bushy eyebrows. They glinted in recognition. “Sax?”
Sam stiffened. What demonic forces in the universe had designed this?
She took a step back.
“God, Sax. It’s been a long time.”
Max’s head swiveled back and forth, his eyes wide in surprise. “Mommy, you didn’t tell me you know Santa!”
“I’ve known your Mommy for a long time,” Santa told him, quick to resume his character’s persona.
Sam glared at Santa—Timothy, that was his real name. “You know everyone, don’t you Santa?”
Timothy’s eyes sparkled, mischievous. He had always enjoyed teasing her. Well the joke would be on him if he pushed too hard. “That’s right. But your Mommy has always been one my favourites.”
“Cool!” Max exclaimed. It was a small blessing that he was ignorant of what was really going on. “What about me?”
“Of course…” he gazed at Sam for help.
“Max,” Sam prompted him on cue for Max’s benefit, not his.
“And I know you’ve been a good boy, Max.” Santa patted him on the back.
Sam watched the encounter, feeling somewhat like a member of an audience watching a play, not really present, only an observer of a scene driven by dramatic irony.
“Now, what would you like for Christmas, Max?”
“My Daddy,” Max asked without hesitation.
Yeah, the universe really did have it in for her today.
“Oh. Oh!” It finally clicked in Timothy’s head. His eyes found hers, at once accusing and bewildered.
She shrugged, folding her arms across her jest, her eyes narrowed. “Well, Santa. Think you can do something about that.” It wasn’t her fault he had run off with some other girl. He had never been father material to begin with.
He swallowed. “Well…I’ll see what I can do.” He cleared his throat. “We should take that picture now.”
“Mommy! Come in!”
Max was persistent. She had no choice. Avoiding eye contact with Santa, she knelt down beside her son and held him tight around the shoulders and forced a smile towards the camera.
A flash of light captured the moment. Their first family portrait.
“Now how about a candy cane?” Max accepted the offer and skipped back away.
Sam turned to Timothy before following her son away. “I haven’t changed my number.”
It was an offer, a small one, but who was she to deny the universe’s small signs.
“I’ll call you later.”
“You get one chance,” she warned him, then followed after her son.
Max radiated with an effervescent glow as they walked from the mall into the brisk winter air.
They would be fine, just the two of them, but Sam wouldn’t begrudge Timothy if he made a true effort. At least getting Max a father was something well within her budget.
May inspiration flow like ink upon your quill,
© 2015. Faith Rivens.