We’re getting into the home stretch of 2022. Next week will be our last blog hop of the year, and then we’ll be taking a break for a couple weeks to enjoy some rest, relaxation, and family fun.
To get into the holiday spirit, this week we’re sharing flash fiction with the keywords stockings, gingerbread, and lamppost.
Virginia leaned against the lamppost, the icy metal searing the skin of her unprotected palm. Lifting one leg, she struggled to straighten the seam of her uncomfortably tight red and white striped stockings. The bells on the toes of her pointed slippers jangled as she tugged. A particularly frustrated yank unbalanced her and the next thing she knew, she was sitting on her butt on the frozen pavement.
The thin velvet of her red Mrs. Claus skirt did little to cushion her fall or keep out the chilly dampness. Tears burned behind her eyes and she pressed her lips together. Ignoring the cold seeping into her bones, she pulled her feet up and dropped her head onto her raised knees.
It had been hard to admit she needed a second job to supplement her pay as a teacher-on-call if she wanted to give her kids the Christmas they deserved. It had been humiliating to apply to be a mall elf and be relegated to Ms. Claus because she was over forty. It had been downright devastating to be clad in her ridiculously unattractive curly grey wig and padded costume when her ex-husband and his new twenty-something wife had appeared in the line up with their two-month-old son.
Somehow, she’d managed to pretend everything was fine. She’d smiled until her cheeks ached, cooed at the annoyingly beautiful baby, and played her part exactly as she was paid to do. But the moment it was time for a break she’d fled to the back entrance of the mall for some much-needed solitude.
The heavy fire door behind her opened with clang. She curled tighter into herself. Maybe whoever it was wouldn’t see her in the dim afternoon light.
“Are you okay?”
So much for that.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw a black, shiny, knee-high boot with a red velvet pant leg tucked into it.
Great. It was Santa Claus.
This was her first shift with this particular jolly old elf. She didn’t even know his real name. He’d already been dressed and ready to go when she arrived, so had no idea if his rounded belly was as real as the full white beard he sported. He’d dealt with teary children and weary parents with bonhomie and patience, giving every indication he actually enjoyed the role.
It was almost enough to make her believe in Christmas miracles. Almost.
“Virginia?” A large, warm hand pressed her shoulder and she caught a whiff of gingerbread.
“I’m fine,” she lied, keeping her chin pressed to her knees.
“It can be a tough time of year.”
The comment was so unexpected—especially coming from him—she jerked her head up. He was smiling down at her, no trace of pity in his eyes, just warmth and understanding.
“The expectations can be overwhelming,” he went on. “To do all the things, buy all the things, make all the things. Especially when you have children.”
“Yes!” The word burst from her and she jumped to her feet. “I have such amazing kids. They’ve had a tough few years and they’ve been champs. I want to give them everything.” She didn’t mention how tight money was or that they’d be spending the holiday with their dad, stepmom, and new half-brother instead of her. None of that was their fault.
“They’ll know you love them, even if there aren’t dozens of presents under the tree.”
She waved a hand. “I know that. But it’s still hard, not being able to give them what they want. And it’s not like they’re asking for the moon.” She told him what her son and daughter had wished for on their own visit to Santa few days ago.
He nodded, the lips behind the silver whiskers upturned in a small smile. “What about you? What do you want?”
That brought her up short. What did she want? “Is a peaceful life too much to ask?” She laughed wearily. “I feel like I’ve been scrambling just to stay sane the last few years.”
“That might be a little hard to put under the Christmas tree.” Santa’s eyes twinkled. “But I believe in you. You’re a strong, resilient woman. You’ll be okay. I promise.”
She wanted to ask him why he thought so, since they’d only just met. How could he say such things with such confidence? But break was over and they were expected back at Santa’s workshop.
She clung to his words through the rest of her shift. You are strong. Resilient. Maybe she could make it true if she pretended hard enough.
At the end of the day, he waved goodbye and headed out of the mall, still dressed in his costume. She changed out of hers in the small room allocated for the purpose and dragged herself to her car. Snow had fallen while she’d been working, blanketing the windows. She opened the rear door, grabbed the brush, and shut the door.
Then opened the door again and stared.
On the backseat were two unwrapped items. The exact items that she’d mentioned to Santa just a few hours ago. She blinked. They were still there.
If he was responsible for the gifts, how had he managed it? He hadn’t moved from his seat in the workshop all afternoon. And though he’d left the mall before her, she’d only been a few minutes behind. Not nearly long enough for him to search out the items and buy them let alone sneak them into her car. Besides, how would he know which car was hers? And it had been locked, she was sure of that. Also, the snow covering it had been undisturbed until she’d opened the door.
She was still puzzling about it when she arrived for her shift the next day, determined to ask him if he was the person she should thank for taking some of the load off her shoulders.
But she never saw that Santa again.
I'd love to know what you think of this little Christmas story. Do you believe in the magic of the season? Then hop over to Jenna Da Sie and see what she's come up with!
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