So, still working on this one. The ending isn’t there yet. But I will continue to work on this and maybe put the finished product up later this week.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

The little girl on the screen was excitedly describing how the Go Go Bird would fly in her house just like the one on the commercial did. Her mom was behind her, supervising the Zoom Call with Santa, Post Oak Mall’s way of dealing with the pandemic’s war on Christmas. 

Stan tugged on his white beard, grown just for this season.“Well Hannah, it sounds like you really want this GoGo Bird. I will let me elves know.” 

Behind Hannah, her mother was shaking her head frantically. 

Surely, Stan thought, Hannah deserved to get what she wanted for Christmas. But the mom stepped away from the webcam and Hannah started to talk about her on-line school and how much she like her teacher, Ms. Walker. Mom popped back into the screen, holding a sign:

Please don’t promise anything! We are out of work and can’t even pay rent.

Stan stared at the sign and slowly nodded. It was too late, he thought, he had already promised. He glanced down at the Zoom meeting controls and saw that there were 14 in the waiting room. “Well, Hannah, I have a lot of work to do to get ready for Christmas, just two weeks, you know? You keep being a good girl, and Merry Christmas!”

After another three hours of virtual Santa visits, Stan handed the meeting host responsibilities to the the next shift’s Zoom Santa.  Since his wife died four years ago, he found that the part time gig at the mall helped him get into the Christmas spirit. Connie had loved Christmas and to Stan, the holidays should have ended with her death, but the world kept spinning and Christmas kept coming. He looked down at the notes he had taken from his calls today. He never took notes before, but something about Hannah, no, something about her mother’s tired face and pleading sign, well, it got to him. Several of the following kids told Stan the name of their elementary school, and it was the same as Hannah’s. This school was in the older part of town. He decided Monday that he would call. 

It was after four when Ms. Walker returned his call. 

“I’m calling about one of your students,” Stan said, explaining his job, and the mother’s sign.

He heard her take a deep breath. “I really cannot talk about my students, sir.”

“But I’m Santa,” Stan said. “And I want to help.”

By the end of the week, the teachers from the elementary school were doing the work of Santa’s elves, delivering boxes with wrapped Christmas gifts, loaded debit cards for rent, and a handful of gift cards to the local grocery store. Stan felt like Santa, and kept taking notes after each visit with the children that called the Mall Santa Zoom. Connie would be proud, he thought.

His son called right after his Friday afternoon shift. “Dad, the accountant called me.”

“Merry Christmas to you too, son? How are Amy and the kids?”

“Dad, Kevin said that you emptied all your accounts. He thinks you are being scammed. What are you doing with the money?”

“Worried about your inheritance are you?”Stan laughed to himself. His son Luke was the COO of an oil company. Covid or not, he didn’t lose his job and he was doing well. 

“Dad, you cashed out all your retirement accounts. Who told you to do that?”

“It’s my money, Luke, I can do what I want. Did Kevin tell you I took out a mortgage on the house too?”

“Dad, if you have no income, you can’t pay back a mortgage. Where is the retirement money?” Luke’s voice grew louder in Stan’s ear. 

“Eh, oh well.” He looked over at the pile of HEB gift cards still sitting on his table. When he went to buy them, the manager asked why he was buying twenty thousand dollars worth of cards. When he explained his project, the manager called their headquarters and was authorized to give him another ten thousand in gift cards to help.

“Dad, it was nearly a million dollars.”

“It was.” There was the doorbell and a knock, and Stan guessed it was UPS brining more gifts to wrap. Santa was certainly busy.

Luke hung up. Stan put down the phone and answered the door, “Bruce! What do you have for me today?”

It was the last Sunday afternoon before Christmas and there were at least fifteen teachers in Stan’s living room and dining room. They worked as an assembly line, putting together the boxes of gifts, cards and rent money. Christmas carols were playing and everyone was singing along. Some of the teachers had brought their families to help and they all decided the last delivery should be Wednesday, Christmas Eve. “What about your family celebrations?” Stan asked.

Ms Walker shook her head, “Santa, this IS my family celebration. We don’t need any more stuff at our house, so we are going to deliver gifts, then enjoy a family meal. And we insist you join us, unless you are going to be with your family.”

“My family isn’t traveling, because of the quarantine.” Luke wouldn’t come anyway, he was too busy to see his dad at Christmas, and he hadn’t invited Stan to his house since Connie died. Of course that was more likely because Luke took his family skiing or to Mexico for the holiday. Stan looked around the room, watching these people, wearing masks and even after teaching on line and schooling their own children all week, here they were trying to make sure their students had a great holiday. Even when he was working at the oil company, he would never had done something like this on a weekend- that was his time for golf and sports. And he realized that his son was just the product of his own making. 

“What the hell?” Stan heard Luke’s voice booming from the entry way. “Dad, who are all these people?”

“Luke, what are you doing here? I thought we agreed that you weren’t traveling for Christmas?”

“Dad, what is going on here? Who are these people”

“Santa’s elves,” Stan said. “I told you I’ve been doing the mall Santa thing these past few years.” Stan looked around the room. “I decide this year to start taking the job seriously.”

There was a woman standing behind Luke, and it wasn’t his wife Amy. ‘Dad, this is Mrs. Becker, from Adult Protective Services. I think someone is taking advantage of you.”

“Adult Protective Services? I’m not being beaten in a nursing home!” Stan felt his face grow hot.  The teachers were looking at him and Luke, who was dressed in a cashmere sweater and corduroys, with expensive looking shoes.”Maybe I’m just tired of my tiny selfish existence. This was my idea, mine alone. I got tired of sitting in this damn house all day listening to children tell me their dreams while their parents signaled that they were out of work and money and couldn’t possibly give their children a Christmas.”

The social worker had a pad of paper, about the size of a pocket calendar. She scribbled a few things, then touched Luke on the sleeve, “I don’t see any signs of abuse here, I will let you visit with your father.” She turned and left.