Definite trilogy. Not that anyone is clamoring for it, but I'll return the other serial later on--this new series is definitely three parts.
Carl was nearly sixty. His liver was failing in the way most things fail: slowly, unnoticed. His back hurt. His knees hurt. Last week, he’d gone to a doctor, and the doctor told him, “Carl, you’ve the body of a twenty year old if that twenty year old died in 1965.” The doctor laughed. Slapped Carl on the back.
Carl bought a Santa suit. When the Santa suit was on, Carl looked like a fluffy, feather-stuffed comforter. When Carl took the Santa suit off, he looked like a wet cat--hair and bone and little else. Off, Carl was a corpse. On, Carl was vital and rosy and alive. Very alive.
Carl, nearly sixty, with a dying liver and pain in his joints, sat on a plywood throne as child after child after child (after child after child after child) was dropped into his lap. Confessed desires. Dreams. Secrets. Accomplishments. Carl’s plywood throne was in the Vernon Hills Mall, just outside of Wichita, KS. There was a flimsy fence surrounding Carl’s fiefdom, some synthetic cotton pushed around the edges, a small plywood house, a fake evergreen tree.
“My domain,” Carl thought each morning as he slouched out of the plywood house to limp towards his plywood throne.
Vernon Hills Mall appealed to low-income patrons. Seven days a week, from 9AM til 9PM, the customers would march towards the doors unsure of what to buy, then they’d march away from the doors, unaware they’d entered, pretty sure they’d made purchases. Evidence of purchases: bags of useless things weighing them down as they walked away from the doors.
The only time most shoppers remembered entering Vernon Hills Mall was Christmastime because they remembered seeing Santa Claus sitting on his throne, and children lined up to confess/profess/beg. The first year Carl pretended to be Santa, one of those kids was tiny Irene Hurston.
Irene Hurston, in line with her mother, stood impatiently on one foot, then the other, then on both feet but with her hands on her hips. The line moved slowly. Santa--Carl--seemed far away from her. She had a lot to tell Santa. Four years old, Irene had already accumulated a great deal of needs and she’d accumulated a great deal of confessions. She’d also learned that the best way to have her needs met was to confess her failings. Tell Santa how bad you were, Irene thought, and he’d be extra-nice to you on Christmas.
In her head, Irene rehearsed: “Santa, I need a parrot. It doesn’t have to talk, but it needs bright colors. I’ve been--no, I am. I am a good girl, except I spilled pancake mix onto the floor once and when I used water to clean it up I made batter. No. I’m a good girl except once I used a crayon to pick my nose and it got stuck. Santa, I need a parrot. It’s gotta sing like me, but I did drop a glass once. Mommy yelled at me. So I guess I was bad.”
Here’s all you need to know about Irene’s mommy: her name was Tangie--short for Tangerine. And Tangie hated her name, and she hated her father for giving her that name. Also, the only time she came to Vernon Hills Mall was to take her daughter to see Santa.
The most important thing to know about Carl is not that his liver fails or his joints ache. The most important thing to know about Carl is this: he’s the man who named Tangie “Tangerine.” He took a job as Santa at the Vernon Hills Mall just to meet his granddaughter, who is Tangie’s daughter.
Not many fathers would name a daughter after a fruit. And not many grandfathers would sit from 9AM to 9PM, seven days a week, just to spend three minutes with a granddaughter--especially if those minutes required him to be suited up in red, with a fake beard across the face and loose script to recite. Anonymous, disguised. Santa, reciting a script.
The line ahead of Irene got shorter. The line behind her grew. She danced. She shuffled. She looked up at Tangie. She looked ahead to Santa on the plywood throne.
Carl’s right knee swelled. Carl’s left knee also swelled. His butt hurt. Parents plopped children into his lap as if he were a cup of coffee and the child was a donut. Down the children came, then back up, and Carl nodded at each child while giving a hearty laugh, promising the child there’d be toys. There’d be absolution. “Ho-ho-ho,” Carl said every five seconds.
Carl sat there. Waiting. Granting wishes he couldn’t grant. Suggesting children check out the only toy store in the Vernon Hills Mall.
Christmas Eve, a woman old enough to be his daughter plopped a young girl onto his lap and said, “Tell Santa what you want.”
Tangie took a step back from Santa’s lap. She waited by a plywood fence.
The young girl looked up at Carl. Brown eyes, Carl thought. Then he thought, I missed too much.
Irene was in his lap. “Hi Santa,” she said.
“Hello little girl!” Carl responded as jovially as he could.
Irene turned her head to her mother. “He didn’t say, ‘Ho ho ho.’”
“He’s working up to it,” Tangie told Irene. “Just give him a minute.”
“It’s been a long day,” Carl said. He wanted to look at Tangie, thought it would be a mistake. “Ho-ho-ho.”
Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.
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