“Things aren't always what they seem, and this shopping mall Santa has a secret that only the love of her life can reveal.”
The Santa Drag
by Liv Rancourt
Then there was the year I played Santa. I’m an actress, remember, and since the economy was lousy, I was broke. I was between gigs, tired of pulling lattes and ready to audition for anything. The ad first appeared online in early September. For a couple weeks, I ignored it, sponging off my savings and looking for something more, well, gender-appropriate. Then I did the math and realized that I needed a paying gig or I’d be on the street by December. I called in a favor and borrowed a tricked out Santa costume…..
….On a particularly busy Saturday, I was tired and thinking more about a double shot of espresso than I was about the pile of kids who wanted to sit in my lap. The weak winter sun was making its circle over the atrium where the Christmas tree was set up and my roommate Shauna was buzzing by every so often to giggle at me from the sidelines. Shauna had gone through college with me and now she taught English to high school students. It gave her the best dinner time stories of any of my friends. Teenagers will say anything. She was trying to get all of her Christmas shopping done in one day, which was a good trick for someone with as many fertile brothers and sisters as she had.
“Come sit up on Santa’s lap,” Maya said, interrupting my brief mental vacation. We were in the Christmas Village, which was a collection of six pseudo-Tyrolean houses done at one- quarter scale, surrounding an oversized golden throne, with phony snow covering the mall’s tile floor and even phonier presents scattered around the throne.
“No,” said a little girl with a stubborn crease between her brows. She was dressed in Seattle’s version of Christmas formal, a stiff red cotton velvet dress, likely made from organic fabric dyed with beets and rose hips. On her feet were two-toned leather MaryJanes that probably cost sixty-five dollars. At least the green corkscrew ribbons tied around her blond pigtails looked like they belonged on a child. I made myself as approachable as possible, getting down to her level and producing a big smile.
“Come on, Thula,” her mother said, tapping one French manicured nail on her cell phone. “Go sit up there with Santa so we can take your picture.” She sounded as if this was just one more thing to knock off the list.
“It’s okay, sweetie.” Maya put on her encouraging smile. Maya was a tiny thing, barely bigger than most of the kids we saw, with long dark hair, a tiny gold hoop pierced through one nostril and bugged-out eyes that looked like they’d been molded out of chocolate. She was as non-threatening as an adult could possibly be. The kid stared at her and bit down on her bottom lip. At least she wasn’t crying. Yet.
I sat back down on my fancy Christmas throne and held out a hand. Sometimes less is more when you’re dealing with preschoolers. “You want to come tell Santa what to bring you for Christmas?” I asked, keeping my voice pitched down somewhere under my sternum. It helped that I had one of those raspy lady voices that earned me a permanent spot in the tenor section whenever I sang in choir.
This went on for several minutes. The kid went from biting her bottom lip to letting it pooch out and tremble. Never a good sign. Finally, after a ton of coaxing, she was more-or-less close to me, squatted down on the other side of one of the big pretend presents that ringed my throne. That was good enough for her mom, and Maya snapped a picture.
When she was done, the little girl glared at me from behind the big glossy red ribbon that topped the present. “Bring me a baby brother,” she bellowed and took off running out of the Christmas village.
Mom gave me a meaner glare than the kid had. Hey, she shouldn’t have been mad at me. I hadn’t made any promises. The kid ran full tilt through the crowds of shoppers, then stopped in the middle of an open space and started to cry. Her sobs echoed around the smoky glass dome that covered us and we could hear her carrying on until she and her mom got swallowed up by the Ross store at the end of the north hallway. The whole place fell into a bit of a hush when she was gone, as if we were all exhaling in relief. This close to Christmas, none of us needed a crying child to ratchet up the stress level.
A young mother was next in line. She came into the Christmas Village and positioned a slightly damp baby on my lap, moving as if something hurt. The baby was so young that Mom still looked a little pregnant under her loose denim-blue shirt. Or maybe she was already pregnant with number two. I’m not so good with the principles of baby production. Well, I understand the basic concepts, but haven’t had that many opportunities to put them into practice.
The brief quiet was interrupted by a yodeling squeal that I recognized. I stared into the crowd until I caught Maya looking at me funny. I stuck a smile on that was as close to my normal jolly-Santa shtick as I could get, and she settled back down behind her camera. The reason for my roommate Shauna’s squeal had me completely rattled. In the two or three beats I’d looked out from behind my wire-rimmed glasses as Mack-the-girl, I’d seen Shauna giving someone a big hug. A really handsome someone. Joe McBride. Joseph Timothy McBride. The actor. The real-life, got a soap opera gig and several commercials and you saw him in Scream 2 actor. The only guy I ever really loved.