©1995 and ©2013
Sam Graham got off the bus in Central City. It was cold. Sam turned the collar of his overcoat up so that his ears and the back of his head were protected from the fierce, frigid wind. He picked up his bag and walked to a nondescript brownstone hotel on First Avenue.
Sam registered, paid one week’s rent in advance, and went up to his room on the seventh floor. He sat on the single bed and fingered the corded bed cover. He reached into his pocket and laid a five-dollar bill, two ones, and some change on the bed. He stared at the money for a long time.
When he unpacked his bag, he took a bottle of pills and placed them in the top drawer of the dresser. Sam went out and got a hamburger. When he returned, he put the pills on top of the dresser so he could see them as he lay on the bed. He stared at the bottle in the neon flicker from the hotel sign until his eyes closed and he fell asleep.
The only job he could find was as a Santa Claus in a local department store. Sam would rise at ten, wash up, and go to the store. He ate at the lunch counter. Lunch came with the job.
Afterwards, he would change and sit in the chair next to the toy department and listen to the children.
Although he was not an active Santa Claus, the children seemed to like him so the store manager let him stay on. It would only be two more weeks anyway and help at a minimum wage was hard to find this season.
At nine every night, Sam would change back into street clothes, stop somewhere to eat, and go back to his room. There, he would lie on the bed and look at the bottle of pills until he fell asleep.
On the third day, he met Joey. Joey just climbed in his lap and didn’t say anything. Joey was about seven years old with black hair and brown eyes. His clothes were typical for the neighborhood__ faded jeans, wool plaid shirt, and a zip-up windbreaker with a patch on the sleeve. He just sat there in Sam’s lap for about ten minutes. He left when two small girls came to see Santa. That night, Sam could feel the warmth from the boy’s body on his knees as he lay there looking at the bottle. For a moment, he remembered something and looked out the window. His gaze shifted back to the pills and he went to sleep.
Joey came back on the fourth day.
“What’s your name?”
The boy didn’t say anything. He just sat there.
On the fifth day, Joey came back. Sam asked him again.
“Joey,” the boy answered.
“How old are you?”
“What do you want for Christmas?”
Joey didn’t answer. He left. Sam saw him leave through the side door. Joey was alone.
The next day was Saturday. Sam asked the store manager if he knew Joey. He didn’t. Joey didn’t come until almost closing time. He didn’t speak. He just sat there on Sam’s lap and put his head on Sam’s arm.
When the store started to close, Joey got down. Sam noticed the young boy had stopped in the toy department to look at some footballs. Sam changed quickly. He rushed to the side door which Joey had exited and went out into the street. He thought he saw Joey at the end of
the block. Sam hurried to the corner. When he got there, Joey was nowhere in sight.
That night, he didn’t take the bottle of pills out of the dresser. He lay there and gazed out the window. Somewhere in the distance, he heard a Christmas carol. It sounded like a recording at some store. Funny, he hadn’t noticed it before.
On Monday, he went to work early. In the toy department, he bought a football and a game. In another part of the store, he bought a pair of woolen gloves. The lady in Customer Service didn’t charge him for wrapping the items. After all, she said, he was “Santa Claus.” When they were wrapped, he put them in a brown paper bag.
Joey came in about six o’clock. There were some children ahead of him so he turned and left. Sam was going to call out, but Joey had already gone. At eight o’clock, Joey came back. When he left, Sam gave him the paper bag.
The next day was Christmas Eve. Sam had changed his clothes early because the store was closing at five o’clock.
He was walking out of the store when a small, thin woman pulled at his coat sleeve.
“Mister,” she said, “Are you Santa Claus?”
She was about forty years old. Her black hair was disheveled.
“Yes, I was,” Sam answered.
“I just wanted to say Thank You. I’m Joey’s mother.”
“It’s all right,” he said, “I did it for me mostly.”
When Sam got back to his room, he flushed the pills down the drain. Maybe next year, somebody will need a Santa Claus.
I hope you enjoyed this story. I have been so busy with my freelance technical/proposal writing business, I haven’t had time to create any new stories in the last few months. I wanted to post something reminiscent of the coming season and I remembered this story I penned in 1995. I hope you enjoy reading it.