Snapshot with Santa - Christmas Special
My daughter was two months old when Brenda left me. Can you imagine that? Taking my baby and leaving me for another man, in another state…leaving me for another life. On Christmas no less.
Happy fucking Holidays.
I begged her to stay more than I’d like to admit. I bruised my hand on the wall and she bruised my face and she drove off with my little green-eyed baby girl.
I didn’t care much about the holidays after that. I didn’t really care much about life in general after that.
Brenda was always the one who encouraged me to eat healthy, so after she left I binged on fast food until my gut hung well over my belt. My hair started thinning. The perfect look for an aging single loser. I lost my office job for a general lack of giving a shit. With minimal effort, I landed a gig as a janitor at the local mall. The only mall in the area that was still doing good business. The rest of the malls were decaying giant shells, forgotten remnants of a pre-online shopping world.
The janitor gig wasn’t all that bad. Hot women walked around all day long, I got free food at a lot of the stands, and I didn’t have a supervisor hovering over me like my previous job. I went more or less unnoticed. A shadow in the world of high-class retail.
The only thing I dreaded was December. They smothered everything with Christmas decorations, sprawled out a giant red carpet in the middle of the mall with towering golden arches leading to Santa Claus. And the music…the constant fucking Christmas music was too much to bear. It all reminded me of Brenda. Of my little girl out there somewhere, enjoying Christmas without me.
My daughter was only a baby when she was taken from me, she wouldn’t even remember me anymore. For all I knew, my little girl thought Brenda’s new husband was her real father.
I sat in my Chevy after most December shifts, just sitting there for a while, shivering, listening to the terrible Christmas music on AM radio and crying. Sometimes I pulled my .357 pistol out of the glove box and held it on my lap.
I was mopping up an especially grisly vomit in front of Sephora one early December afternoon, leering at a teenage girl at Auntie Anne’s. Her pink thong stuck out of her jeans as she licked the cinnamon sugar from a pretzel, and I was relieved that I would have something to masturbate to tonight instead of memories of Brenda.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder. The mall’s marketing manager, Todd. Real tall prick who wouldn’t normally lower himself to speak to me unless he needed something.
“We’re totally fucked here, our Santa just quit on us,” Todd said. I looked down the mall and noticed the line for Santa was much longer than usual. People looked upset. Upset parents in the mall’s North Pole was definitely a bad situation.
“What’s that got to do with me?” I shrugged and glanced back at Auntie Anne’s but the girl in the thong was gone. I sighed.
“How would you feel about playing Santa?” Todd asked. “It would be a nice pay raise.”
I stood there holding my mop, looking at the line of mothers and fathers and children. I looked down at the vomit sitting in the mop bucket and shrugged.
Soon I was in one of the mall’s backrooms, changing into a foul-smelling Santa outfit they had quickly sprayed with disinfectant. Luckily the previous Santa was a fat fuck, too, so at least it fit me. But the white fake beard was itchy as hell.
Todd led me to the big Santa throne. Soon kids were crawling all over me like ants on candy. One after another they sat on my lap and gave me unconditional smiles as the camera flashed. They begged me for their favorite toys. Their parents smiled and thanked me. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been treated so well, with so much respect.
At the end of the night I got up and stretched. The long hall of the mall was quiet. The elves and manager had already left. I went to the backroom to change and looked at myself in the mirror. Sure, I looked ridiculous, but it felt good to lose myself in the Santa character. In a way, it was like the real me no longer existed when I put on that persona. I realized…this was the first night in a long time that I hadn’t thought about Brenda or my daughter. Maybe I had finally found a new tradition. Maybe I could enjoy Christmas, and my life, after all.
The next week was amazing. I couldn’t see my daughter, and this wasn’t a cure for the grief. But seeing all those smiling faces of joy was at least a big old band-aid on my grief. A promise of a happier life. But, at the same time, I knew this gig was just like the Holiday sales—limited time only. Christmas would be over soon, and then it was back to mopping up regurgitated lunches.
It was a Thursday evening, a few days before Christmas, when I saw them at the back of the line. I suddenly couldn’t breathe, couldn’t avert my eyes. The next kid waiting to see Santa just stood there with his dumb mouth hanging open, confused when I didn’t acknowledge him.
Could it really be them? Could it really be Brenda and my baby girl? Brenda looked just like I remembered, although she had cut her hair short, probably to disguise herself. But there was no mistaking my baby. A small toddler who could stand on wobbly legs now. Her tan skin, crinkly black hair like I used to have, and those dazzling green eyes. Those unmistakable eyes.
The line kept moving, but I was barely paying attention to the kids now, just going through the motions, watching the woman and child approach until it was their turn.
My daughter climbed onto my lap. She smelled like lavender, not like I remembered. But so much time had passed, it made sense. She looked right into my eyes, and I couldn’t blame her for not recognizing me, dressed up as Santa and all. Even Brenda didn’t recognize me, but that was probably for the best. As I sat there, holding my daughter in my arms again, I realized, I didn’t want Brenda back, I just wanted my baby girl back.
We snapped a picture and she told me she wanted a Merry Maggie doll. I told her I would do my best.
I leaned in close to her and whispered, You might get a secret surprise, too!
The little girl smiled and mumbled nonsense and clapped and jumped off my lap and ran to Mom and they got their print and walked away.
I couldn’t let them walk out of my life again, couldn’t let this opportunity pass. They were back in town for some reason, if I missed this chance, I might never see my little girl again. I looked at the line, it was a half hour until closing time and the people lined all the way down to Spencer’s Gifts. I stood up and walked over to the Elf, the twenty-something blonde female manager who was always on her phone. I told her I didn’t feel well and needed a break, hopped over the red velvet rope, and trotted down the mall—chasing my last chance at happiness.
The Blonde Elf Manager yelled after me, threatening to call Todd if I didn’t come right back. But I didn’t care if I lost this job, it had already served its purpose. It had led me back to my baby. If I was still the janitor, I might have never seen her in that Santa line. I knew this was fate. The universe had finally smiled on this old bastard.
I followed the girls at a distance, swimming upstream against the sea of shoppers. They left through the same mall entrance that led to the parking lot where my car was parked.
“Thank God,” I whispered to myself.
The night was blistering cold and dark, so the girls hurried across the dimly lit lot, and I was able to run and jump into my Chevy unnoticed. I shivered and started the engine. Classic rock played on the FM radio while I trailed their car out onto the highway. We drove for about fifteen minutes and stopped outside a large house in a ritzy neighborhood built up on a sprawling hill outside the city.
I pulled across the street and shut off my headlights as they pulled into the driveway. I figured maybe they were staying with a friend or someone from Brenda’s family. But I didn’t remember any friends or family in this neighborhood. They both got out of the car and walked up to the house and entered without knocking.
I got out of the car and stalked across the lawn to a wide living room window. I saw my ex-wife and daughter, and a short man wearing a tacky Christmas sweater. Was this the son of bitch she had left me for? He didn’t look like the pictures I had found online. Maybe Brenda was cheating on her new husband with this guy? History repeats itself.
I watched the three of them sitting around a Christmas tree, Christmas cartoons on TV—my stolen Christmas memories playing out before my very eyes. My scorn for Brenda was rekindled and red hot, melting the snow around me.
I swallowed my rage and walked back to my Chevy and drove away. This was too important to rush. I needed a plan…a plan to get my daughter back and get rid of Brenda forever.
Todd reluctantly let me stay on as Santa even after my little leaving-work-for-no-reason incident. I did my best to smile at the children, but my mind was constantly plotting a way to get my daughter back. If I did get a hold of her, I would have to run, hide somewhere far away.
On my break that day I stood in The Bavarian Eatery, scarfing a hot dog and cheese fries. I watched Mall Security walk by. The security guys were older and more out of shape than me. I looked inside the JC Penney, looked inside the Macy’s. From working at the mall for so long I knew who the undercover loss prevention people were. I had learned enough about retail to know they didn’t carry guns. I had seen plenty of people steal merchandise and run…the loss prevention people never chased them. They weren’t allowed to.
I watched the cashiers. Little old ladies. Teenagers who were hired on temporarily for the Christmas season and didn’t give a single shit about anything. I watched all the parents shuffling along with their innocent little children.
A television played in the back of The Bavarian Eatery, the news, talking about a recent shooting in a Walmart out in California. A real tragedy.
My mind worked as I finished my hot dog and tossed my trash into the overflowing garbage can. I smiled, knowing I finally had a plan to get my daughter back. My life back.
On Christmas Eve the mall was busy as hell, of course, all the last-minute shoppers rushing to the mall as if they just realized they needed to buy presents. The line to get your picture with Santa trailed out of sight. I played along the best I could. Around 8 pm, an hour before the mall closed, I took a quick break, but I had no intention of coming back. Ever.
I walked into JC Penney, still dressed as Santa, carrying my empty red sack. I walked up to an elderly cashier with eccentric hair and giant glasses standing behind the counter. I quietly slid my gun out of my pocket and pointed it at her, low and out of sight of the rest of the crowd. Everyone so wrapped up in their own shopping they didn’t even notice the gleaming .357 in my hand. I knew it had been a full day of business and by this time of night the registers would be bulging with cash. She looked at me with shock, but I told her not to say a word, just fill the bag with money. I told her someone was threatening to shoot up the mall—to shoot all the children waiting in Santa’s line—if I didn’t personally go around and collect the money.
“You don’t want dead kids on your conscious, do you, lady?” I whispered in a manic tone.
She emptied her register into my sack. I did this to a few more registers and fled the store. I hit Macy’s. Boscov’s. Spencer’s Gifts. Other stores I can’t even remember now. When the undercover Loss Prevention approached me, I told them the same story. No one was willing to play hero with a gun barrel in their face and kids’ lives potentially on the line.
It’s amazing how easy it is to control everyone when you just get a little bit crazy.
Once my sack was filled with an unfathomable amount of cash and I had grabbed a Merry Maggie doll, I raced out into the parking lot, jumped in my car, and peeled out, saying goodbye to that God-forsaken mall forever.
I pulled up to the house where Brenda was staying. Her car was still in the driveway, and I sighed in relief that she was still in town. The lights were twinkling, fake icicles dangling from the roof. I was still wearing my Santa outfit when my boots crunched through the thin layer of snow. I knocked on the front door.
I heard voices and laughter and the door swung open and there was Brenda, obviously a little tipsy, tight red dress, holding a tall glass of white wine. She looked at my Santa outfit and offered a confused smile.
“Mommy, it’s Santa Cwaus,” my little girl said with her cute little lisp, running up to the doorway in her Christmas pajamas.
I told my little girl to run upstairs and wait for me. “I’m gonna take you to the North Pole,” I said. She giggled and ran upstairs.
I turned to Brenda, only she didn’t look like Brenda so much anymore. I took off my Santa hat, pulled off the fake beard, took off the jacket—revealing myself. But she still didn’t recognize me. She acted as if she had never met me. She acted as if she had never loved me. Never let me come inside her. Never gave birth to my daughter. I couldn’t even believe the audacity of this bitch.
I threw a punch into her throat and she crumbled to the floor with a gasp. Her new husband, or whoever this guy was, came around the corner and saw me, but he was much shorter and weaker than me. I was on him in no time and shoved the gun in his mouth, chipping his front teeth, and pulled the trigger and his brains layered all the ornaments on the Christmas tree in a thick red gloss. Brenda screamed and I didn’t want her to alarm my daughter even more…so I stuck the gun in her mouth too. She finally went quiet. Only soft whimpers.
I asked how she could leave me on Christmas, but she played all silly as if she still didn’t know what I was talking about. Like I was crazy. Bitch just can’t admit when she’s wrong. So frustrating.
I shot her throat out the back of her neck and the sound muffled into the ruined carpet. I went to the bathroom to wash up and put my Santa clothes back on. In the living room I saw the framed picture of my daughter sitting on my lap at the mall. I took the picture and slid it into my sack.
In Brenda’s bedroom I found a drawer filled with jewelry, some paperwork, and passports. One passport had a picture of my daughter, but they had given her a fake name. I snatched it along with a couple of suitcases from the closet.
I walked into the room that was lit with neon LED lights. My daughter sat on the edge of the pink bed, tears welling up. I sat next to her and patted her on the knee.
“Everything’s gonna be alright,” I said, but she looked unconvinced. I put my arm around her shoulder. “After all, I’m Santa, I wouldn’t lie to you.”
She sucked snot back up her nose and looked at me. I could see a twinkle of belief in her eye. This was my chance. “Listen, I hate to be the one to tell you this. But you were kidnapped from the North Pole when you were just a baby. You’re my daughter. I’ve come to rescue you.”
Her little face was a twisted mess of emotion.
“I meant what I said, I’m taking you back to the North Pole.”
My daughter thought this over. “Can I twalk to Mommy?”
I shook my head. “That’s a bad idea…I have to tell you something. Your Mommy? I know you love her…but,” I played like I was really struggling to bring myself to say it. “Oh man, but, she…she’s on the naughty list.”
My daughter’s mouth dropped in shock.
“But guess who’s not on the naughty list,” I said and pulled the Merry Maggie doll from my sack. Her face lit up as she hugged the doll close.
“You weally awe Santa,” she whispered, then looked up at me and nodded, “Nworf Pole.”
I led her out of the house without her seeing the bodies or the blood. We got in my Chevy and drove off, suitcases in the back seat filled with cash, clothes, and the picture of my daughter on Santa’s lap.
I drove fast through very little traffic and we made it to the airport quickly. I left the .357 in the glove box and took my passport and we ditched my car. I figured it would be a long time until someone noticed my car hadn’t moved. After grabbing a quick Christmas Eve dinner at the Burger King inside the terminal, we took a one-way trip to the southern hemisphere.
I looked at my daughter on the plane, sleeping against the window, snuggling her Merry Maggie doll. She would question why we didn’t actually go to the North Pole. She would have a lot of questions. But she was also very young. Most of these memories would fade. I still had time to mold her into the daughter I always wanted.
For once everything had worked out for me and I wasn’t even sure how to handle that. I ordered a beer from the flight attendant. I tried to hand her cash, but she winked and said, “That’s okay, Santa, this one’s on us.”
I smiled, realizing I was still wearing my Santa outfit, and said, “Happy fucking Holidays.”
It’s another beautiful day in Aruba on my fifteenth birthday. The palm trees are lined with Christmas decorations. My father insists on dressing up like Santa every year, even though it’s a little embarrassing and he sweats like crazy in this heat.
We walk down to a private area of the beach, near a deserted rock cliff, and kneel in the sand next to a small cross. Our little memorial.
This time of year is always hard for us. My mother was murdered on Christmas eve, many years ago. I was too young to even remember her except in my dreams. Dad has told me all about her, though. He looks at me and smiles.
“Your mother always loved your green eyes," he says. He holds a picture of himself dressed as Santa Claus, me as a little toddler sitting on his lap, and sets the picture next to the cross.
“I’m having those weird dreams again,” I tell him, even though I’m afraid to ruin this beautiful moment. “Where I’m getting kidnapped and taken to the North Pole.”
“Bad dreams are normal when you had trauma as a kid—it’s like, what do you call it?—PTSD,” he says, and stares into the distance. He’s always staring off like he’s thinking about something. I never know what he’s looking at or what he’s remembering.
He brought me here, far away from the tragic memories of my youth, to raise me as a single father. He’s amazing…even if he does get a little weird around Christmastime.